Blaming Everyone but Themselves

Have no doubt that, if (and that’s a very likely if) Democrats lose the Senate or the House, moderate Democrats will blame the left for their failures. There’s just one problem with that (boldface mine):

It is true that some progressives — either Democratic lawmakers or affiliated activists — hold unpopular views or use unpopular language. It is also true that Republicans have amplified this to some electoral success. But missing in this conversation is one inconvenient fact: Progressives are not actually in the driver’s seat of the Democratic Party.

It’s easy to think otherwise. Even the most sober version of this critique makes it sound as if the Democratic Party is in the grip of its most left-wing officials and constituents. But it isn’t — to the dismay and frustration of those officials and constituents….

Although the share of progressives within the Democratic Party is much larger than the share of progressives writ large (12 percent of the party versus 6 percent nationally, according to the most recent political typology survey from the Pew Research Center), a large majority of Democrats are moderate to moderately liberal on most issues. That’s why — and how — Joe Biden won the nomination for president in the first place, easily beating his more left-wing opponents in the South Carolina primary and rallying much of the rest of the party behind him on Super Tuesday and beyond.

In office, Biden has led from the center of the Democratic Party. His main legislative achievement so far, Covid relief notwithstanding, is a bipartisan infrastructure bill. The next phase of his agenda, the Build Back Better plan, now rests in the hands of the most conservative Democrats in Congress. He does not celebrate violent protests; he denounces them. He supports law enforcement and the criminal justice system — see his comments on the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict — and avoids most cultural battles. This is true, as well, of most elected Democrats in Washington.

There was a battle for control of the Democratic Party, and the moderates won. They hold the power and they direct the message. But despite this victory, moderate Democrats and their allies can’t seem to take responsibility for the party’s fortunes. When faced with defeats — as they were last month when Terry McAuliffe fell to Glenn Youngkin in the race to succeed Ralph Northam as governor of Virginia — they blame the left. It’s the same song, each time. If progressives would just stop alienating the public, then they could make gains and put power back in Democratic hands. Somehow, the people in the passenger’s seat of the Democratic Party are always and forever responsible for the driver’s failure to reach their shared destination.

And, as some asshole with a blog constantly notes, people have to like this crap. And if they don’t:

What was the Democratic Party’s response to a generation of neoliberal economic restructuring? What was its response to the near-total collapse of private-sector unions? What was its response to the declining fortunes of American workers and the upward redistribution of American wealth?

The answer, for most of the past 30 years, is that the moderate Democrats who led the party have either acquiesced in these trends or, as in the case of the Clinton administration, actively pushed them along. And to the extent that these Democrats offered policies targeted to working Americans, they very often failed to deliver on their promises.

If there is a failure of the left, construed somewhat broadly, it is that we were unable to remove these moderates from power or temper their ideology–and they are ideologues, just of a different stripe. If they wonder why so many younger people refer to themselves as socialists, anyone who in the 1980s and 1990s would have been called a ‘liberal Democrat’ (the names change all the time, it’s very confusing!) had no future in the Democratic Party or its allied organizations. And then they wonder about the lack of party loyalty.

And if the Democratic Party is tired of outsiders ‘making them look bad’, there are two solutions to this. First, invite them in–and, yes, that means you’ll have to cede some power. Second, deliver. For example, if Democrats in Democratic-controlled areas had done something about police brutality (not to mention a whole host of other problems), the ‘radical left’, such as it is, would not find purchase. If you exclude people from a party and then do not solve their problems, they will do and say things that are not on message–or more accurately, on your message–because they don’t consider themselves to be aligned with your party.

Of course, this kind of introspection won’t happen, so they’ll just blame The Left. Same as it ever was.

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