The Dangers of Centrism: A Few Cases in Point | Dems and Neoliberalism on Blog#42
In my long-read for last week, I revisited the origins of present-day neoliberalism (centrism) via its 1990’s triangulation origins. Less than a week later, there are some strong indications that leadership Democrats just can’t help themselves, even in these Trumpian times.
Indeed, what may seem to many a stroke of genius – Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer deal with Trump to lump temporarily raising the debt ceiling and allocating upwards of $8 billion of funding for Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas, even before Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan could marshal their troops and get a vote on separate bills, plays both into the hands of Trump now, and Ryan and McConnell in December, when the debt ceiling will be revisited. What the two Democratic leaders achieved, in the end, is more of a coup for Wall Street as they spared congressional Republicans yet another spectacle of deep divisions and the inability to pass legislation, right on the heels of multiple Obamacare debacles.
In moving with an all too willing Trump behind the backs of McConnell and Ryan, Pelosi and Schumer also spared Wall Street a few weeks of instability and tumbling shares in the wake of congressional uncertainty. They also lent Trump a credibility and legitimacy that just days ago, on the heels of Charlottesville, everyone on the left was unified in denying him.
On the surface, it would seem that in this scenario, there are no losers here. Right? But recent history tells us otherwise. In 2013, when we had a divided Congress, Senator Patty Murray, who was then in charge negotiations with Paul Ryan, the then House Budget Committee Chair, agreed to end benefits for the long-term unemployed. Barely six months later, in the fall of 2014, we began to see a sharp rise in homelessness. Fast forward three years, and a housing crisis is now the prime concern of many states around the nation, with rents having risen, wages remaining stagnant, and affordable housing being non-existent, in an economy that has been rebounding thanks to a “Gig Economy.”
New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes, in his analysis of Trump’s deal with the Democrats:
“Yesterday, President Trump infuriated fellow Republicans by agreeing to Democratic plans for a short-term debt-ceiling hike, rather than the longer-term one they favor. But something far more significant came out of the meeting: Trump and the Democratic leadership reportedly made a handshake agreement to abolish the debt ceiling altogether.”
Isn’t it funny how, magically, we’ve gone from calling President Trump a habitual liar to… making handshake agreements to eliminate the debt ceiling, no less? Have we entered the twilight zone? This is being reported in earnest by top reporters. Did we have a collective nightmare about all those times we were on the brink of defaulting on the nation’s credit? Have Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan magically been erased? Because if the GOP has one nuclear weapon in its arsenal, it isn’t the filibuster, but the debt ceiling, and anyone who thinks Trump can make a deal with Schumer and Pelosi and expect Ryan and McConnell to honor it for him, I have a few bridges I can sell them.
“I never again want to hear someone ask why the Democrats chose Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer as their leaders. The two just made a deal with the guy who wrote “The Art of the Deal” and made it the Art of the Steal. Poor President Donald Trump was lucky he got out of the room with his hair.On Wednesday, Trump threw his support to a deal that gave the Democratic leaders everything they wanted: disaster relief funding and a 90-day extension of both the day-to-day funding of the government and the debt ceiling.That means when the dual deadline for the budget and debt arrives in mid-December, Democrats will have enormous leverage. They will be in a position to trade support for the budget and the debt ceiling for any number of Democratic priorities, from health care to protection of Dreamers who are suddenly facing deportation.”
It is stupendous for an old political hand to declare victory with such bombast when, of all people, he knows that nothing is set in stone until the final vote has been counted and the bill is signed. This is only a temporary reprieve, not for Pelosi and Schumer, but Ryan and McConnell. That reprieve came with a slap to the face by Trump, engineered by Pelosi and Schumer. Begala knows full well that McConnell has a long memory and the patience with which to wait for his payback. Then, one must not lose sight of the fact that when they still had the Senate, Democrats had more leverage in December 2013 than they will in December 2017. While the necessity for Democratic vote does give them some leverage, it isn’t the same as having one half of Congress. Democrats made deals that ended up hurting their voters who, when the time came to vote, turned their backs on a party that left them in the lurch.
Paul Ryan had this to say about Patty Murray today:
Paul Ryan has been exposed as a fraud by economists like Paul Krugman for years. Ryan has been billed as the GOP’s economic policy expert for years and each time he’s made proposals, they’ve been ridiculed for their complete lack of substance and math that just doesn’t add up. Paul Ryan’s Commission on Evidence-Based Policy is a total sham and it is a crying shame that Patty Murray, the Democratic Party’s ranking senator, not only would take part in it, but in the name of the Democratic party, even add her signature to a final report in which the GOP proposes by way of economic policy.
“Members of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking will join House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to announce the Commission’s final report and recommendations, “The Promise of Evidence-Based Policymaking.” The final report, required by the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2016 (P.L. 114-140), was unanimously agreed to by the Members of the Commission. The press conference event will be open to members of the media and invited guests and will be held on Capitol Hill. The event will be streamed for the public.
Speaker Ryan and Senator Murray are expected to make brief remarks. The Commission Chair and Co-Chair, Katharine G. Abraham and Ron Haskins, respectively, will provide highlights of the report and other Members of the Commission will be in attendance to answer questions.”
While he didn’t mention Patty Murray in his blog post about Trump’s tax reforms, Paul Krugman did write this about Paul Ryan and the upcoming tax plan:
“At one level it’s hard to take the Trump administration’s tax “reform” push seriously. A guy gets elected as a populist and his first two big proposals are (a) taking away health insurance from millions (b) cutting corporate taxes. Wow.
Furthermore, Trump is invincibly ignorant on taxes (and everything else) — he keeps declaring that America is the highest taxed nation in the world, which is nearly the opposite of the truth among advanced countries. And his allies in Congress aren’t ignorant, but they’re liars: Paul Ryan is the master of mystery meat, of promising to raise and save trillions in unspecified ways.”
To expect Paul Ryan to produce anything different than the mystery meat he’s served up every time follows to a T, the misattributed Einstein quote: “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”
But Democrats did deliver the votes for Trump. The measure to temporarily raise the debt ceiling and fund disaster relief passed by a vote of 80-17. According to The Hill, Senators who voted against it included:
“Seventeen Republican senators voted against the deal, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Rand Paul (Ky.). No Democrats voted against the measure.”
Senator Ted Cruz voted for the measure, while expressing his preference for a “clean bill.”
What’s at the top of the news, as Pelosi and Schumer revel in their victory?
- The reaction to Hillary Clinton’s new book, in which she places blame on others and some on herself.
From The Hill:
“Clinton’s latest election musings have also reopened old wounds from the bitter primary fight with Sanders right as Democrats say their focus should be on finding an economic message that appeals to the Rust Belt voters who abandoned the party for Trump.
There is an urgency to unite the progressive and mainstream wings of the party ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats will face a brutal slate of Senate reelection campaigns in states that Trump carried over Clinton.
Those daunting challenges have some Democrats fuming at what they view as Clinton’s petty post-election score settling.
“None of this is good for the party,” said one former Obama aide. “It’s the Hillary Show, 100 percent. A lot of us are scratching our heads and wondering what she’s trying to do. It’s certainly not helpful.”
Sanders backers are apoplectic.
The book threatens to once again anger Sanders’s energetic base, many of whom have already been alienated from the Democratic Party after emails released by Russian-backed hackers showed Democratic National Committee staffers opposed Sanders’s bid during the primary.”
- A determination by some in the media based on Facebook’s admission in Congress that it took in $100,000 in advertising from fake Russian accounts last year is spurring think pieces that Facebook and Twitter are what caused Clinton to lose the election. Here is former Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan:
“The news, reported Wednesday by The Washington Post, fits right in with the findings of a fascinating recent study by Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. Analyzing reams of data, it documented the huge role that propaganda, in various forms, played in the 2016 campaign.
“Attempts by the [Hillary] Clinton campaign to define her campaign on competence, experience, and policy positions were drowned out by coverage of alleged improprieties associated with the Clinton Foundation and emails,” the study said.
The Trump campaign masterfully manipulated these messages. Truth was not a requirement.”
There is no denying that this certainly was a part of the steady diet voters were treated to, day in, day out. But it completely casts aside all the other bombardments voters were subjected to by the mainstream media itself from the start of the Democratic primary – to the point where I began to collect links and snippets that I would eventually publish in Alternet about the media undermining the Sanders campaign. The daily deluge took place on all sides of the spectrum in our politics, including from Clinton campaign friend, David Brock – to the point where I devoted several posts chronicling the many ways in which the Clinton campaign was manipulating the media.
Eight months into the Trump administration, is this really what we need to continue to rehash? We have a fake news problem and Russia is a part of it, but so are both political parties, politicians, the mainstream media itself when it gives a voice to partisans who write op-eds on behalf of their party’s establishment, white supremacists and, more than either of those groups, unscrupulous hacks who are raking in the dough spreading nonsense.
The bottom line, though, is what we shouldn’t take our eyes off of, and it is that the Trump administration is still engaged in fulfilling the white supremacist agenda. The Trump administration is still assiduously and relentlessly rolling back decades of regulations and undoing progress that every day citizens depend on:
“Here’s a look at how successful Trump has been so far in cutting down regulations.
Congressional Review Act
Trump took advantage of the obscure Congressional Review Act to repeal 14 rules that had recently been finalized under former President Obama.
The law allows Congress to roll back recent rules within a limited timeframe, and it prevents a filibuster in the Senate.
This has been one of the successes of the Trump administration so far.
Trump and Republicans in Congress used the CRA to kill rules making it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase guns, forcing federal contractors to fess up to labor law violations committed in the last three years and preventing states from withholding funds for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.
Dan Goldbeck, a research analyst for the conservative American Action Forum, called the repeals “historic” and estimated they would produce an annual savings of $1.1 billion.
Before Trump, the 1996 law had only ever been successfully used once before.
Republicans are now using it to repeal the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s attempt to prevent banks and credit card companies from stripping consumers of their right to join class action lawsuits.”
Is this who we want to make deals with? Is this who we want to make look good? Is this who we want to protect from Mitch McConnell’s wrath? Why?
The Trump administration, in spite of its claim that it wants to force Congress to do right by Dreamers, is getting ready to do this:
Merciless and savage: 8,400 people by the end of this month. https://t.co/JwGhz3CKQX
— Renee Graham (@reneeygraham) September 8, 2017
Renee Graham was commenting on this tweet:
— Ali Velshi (@AliVelshi) September 8, 2017
Do Democrats REALLY want to make nice with Trump? And Trump, by the way, made sure to say that he looked forward to more cooperation with Democrats in the future. The problem isn’t that Trump might cooperate with them again, but why Democrats want to make deals with him at all. As soon as the deal between Trump and Democrats was announced, pundits immediately began to use “triangulation” in their analyses. Here is The Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein:
“And with Republican divisions threatening more setbacks on spending and taxes, an old phrase from the 1990s is inspiring an urgent new question in Washington: Will Trump triangulate?
Triangulation refers to the strategy Bill Clinton used to revive his presidency after the backlash against his own chaotic first two years in office let Republicans seize the House and Senate in 1994. Guided by Dick Morris, a mercurial political strategist, Clinton positioned himself as the apex of a triangle between congressional Democrats and Republicans.”
Triangulation is the albatross around the Democrats’ necks. The mere idea of it, the suspicion that Hillary Clinton would engage in it, are what has caused Democrats to lose so many legislative seats over the last ten years.
Pew Research just published new data about the way Democratic voters label themselves:
“Seven months into President Donald Trump’s administration, nearly half of all Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters describe their political views as liberal. The share of Democrats who describe themselves this way has steadily risen and is now 20 percentage points higher than in 2000.
Through the first half of 2017, more Democratic voters identify as liberal (48%) than as moderate (36%) or conservative (15%), based on an average of Pew Research Center surveys. In 2008, 41% of Democratic voters called themselves moderate, while 33% said they were liberal and 23% said they were conservative. And in 2000, Democratic voters who called their views moderate outnumbered liberals by 44% to 28%, while 23% said they were conservative.“
The Pew authors use “liberal” in the progressive sense, assigning “conservative” to what we usually term as centrist, and “moderate” in the liberal sense we are accustomed to using.
This is not a good look for the Democratic leadership. The election returns should have told them this was not the way to go. The suppressed post-mortem analysis of the election told them voters wanted progressive policy. All of the polling so far this year has indicated, over and over again, that voters expect the leadership in Congress to “resist.” How is letting Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell off the hook with their chaotic caucuses leading the resistance?
Neoliberalism has been costly to tens of millions of Americans for a very long time. The 95 million who are in the gig economy may be new to suffering, but there are tens of millions who’ve suffered for decades, if not centuries. Centrist compromises is what pushed Democrats to pass a health law that would effectively cut off its voters in the Deep South from Obamacare. This week, The Guardian published an article about life in Alabama today:
From Ed Pilkington’s article:
“Hookworm was rampant in the deep south of the US in the earlier 20th century, sapping the energy and educational achievements of both white and black kids and helping to create the stereotype of the lazy and lethargic southern redneck. As public health improved, most experts assumed it had disappeared altogether by the 1980s.
But the new study reveals that hookworm not only survives in communities of Americans lacking even basic sanitation, but does so on a breathtaking scale. None of the people included in the research had traveled outside the US, yet parasite exposure was found to be prevalent, as was shockingly inadequate waste treatment.”
Pilkington’s article is devastating in its depictions of present-day conditions. These conditions cannot be attributed to Donald Trump, George W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan. They should be attributed to every single president we’ve elected in the modern era.
Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us, particularly in our politics. As the calls for centrism continue in our media, please remember the people of Lowndes County, Alabama. Please remember those who are trapped in the gig economy. They’re the forgotten voters in every election.
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