Thursday, June 29, 2017

Nancy Pelosi and the New Deal/corporate split in the Democratic Party today

Joy Reid of MSNBC's AM Joy is a reliable defender of the Democratic establishment. Given the current mood among the party's base voters, even Establishment Democrats have to put on a convincing show of partisanship right now. If the Obama years are any measure, as soon as corporate Democrats win back the Presidency, they and their media supporters will revert to defending the weakest "bipartisan" compromises that cater to Republican conservatives as three-dimensional chess that is part of a very clever long game to someday, somehow, start achieving the sort of things that Democrats put into their official primaries.

This segment from this week, Why Are Democrats Attacking Nancy Pelosi? AM Joy 06/26/2017, deals with progressive criticism of Nancy Pelosi:

I'll confess again to being a bit of a Mugmump on the issue of replacing Pelosi as Democratic House leader. On the one hand, it probably would be a good idea to have a Democratic leader in the House who is not so identified with the Democratic politics of the Bush and Obama Presidencies. But as Jamal Simmons observes, Pelosi by most accounts has been effective in her job as Democratic House leader.

As a national spokesperson for the Democratic Party, I've been disappointed in the lack of clarity and focus that has sometimes affected her in interviews in which she was defending Democratic positions. But that's not a problem that affected her in her weekly news briefing today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds news briefing PBS Newshour 06/29/2017:

But she also has the huge advantage of being a literal "San Francisco Democrat" from a safely Democratic district. That was and is a welcome departure from the long-standing Democratic approach of selecting top Congressional leaders from competitive districts, apparently on the theory that their ability to appeal to swing voters would be particularly helpful. But, as Pelosi herself is shown saying in the AM Joy segment, the Republicans are going to make a boogeyman (or woman) out of any Democratic leader. The Republicans just don't share the Democrats chronic desire to pursue "bipartisanship." Charlie Pierce gives his take on Pelosi's leadership in Okay, So You Kick Nancy Pelosi Out. Then What? Esquire Politics Blog 06/21/2017.

Joy begins the segment by calling Democrats who advocate a new House leader "haters and critics." She sets the segment up on the premise that Republicans demonized Pelosi's image, and now (progressive) Democrats have been naively suckered into carrying water for the Republicans' anti-Pelosi position. Joy cites as a major example of Pelosi's value to the Democrats the fact that she appointed Rahm Emmanuel to lead the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) during the 2006 eleciton cycle. Rahm is the poster-boy for the corporate Dem position, famously telling advocates of the public option for health care in 2009 that they were "f***ing retarded." (Was Rahm Right? In These Times 04/06/2011) Ryan Lizza wrote about interviewing Rahm in his office when he was Obama's first White House Chief of Staff, "I noticed that over his left shoulder, on the credenza behind him, was an official-looking name plate, which he said was a birthday present from his two brothers. It read, 'Undersecretary for Go Fuck Yourself.'" (The Gatekeeper New Yorker 03/02/2009).

As a sideline, I would note that if the ACA (Obamacare) had included the public option that most Democrats wanted and which Rahm so memorably condemned, it would almost certainly have been more popular than it clearly is now, less vulnerable to Republican Governors' sabotage, and more durable in the face of the current Republican efforts to repeal it. Although I'm relieved and a bit pleasantly surprised as how durable it's turning out to be in the first half of 2017.

The AM Joy segment features four guests: former RNC Chair Michael Steele, Nation journalist Joan Walsh, actor-commentator Jamal Simmons and Roll Call's Michele Bernard. Three of the four join with the host in ridiculing the idea of Democrats replacing Pelosi as the House leader. Joy doesn't probe Michael Steele's dubious-sounding claim to be a master of strategic branding who fought successfully against other Republicans to make Pelosi a major image of the Democratic Party. He even says he got them to focus on making Pelosi the main target of their attacks instead of Barack Obama. (Say what?!)

Simmons mentions vaguely that the Democrats need a stronger identification with economic issues. None of the panel, including Joy herself, gives much attention in this segment to the substantive criticism that some progressives have made, not least of which is that she's too much a part of the corporate-financed model of politics that has metastasized since the Citizens United decision in 2010.

Joan Walsh, after 10:00, says:

The whole battle in the party right now, which is a false battle in my opinion, but it's there, between 'identity politics' - so-called - and class politics, that's being fought here too, but in ways that people won't say. Because Pelosi is a associated with gay marriage, being from San Francisco, but also being staunchly for it. She's associated with feminism. She's associated with these things that certain elements of the party think should be downplayed to appeal to white men, white, you know, rather than focusing on the base of our party, which is women, and particularly women of color.
I often quote Joan's analysis, usually with approval. But that particularly comment is one that bothers me. In fairness, her target isn't entirely clear in the brief time she had to speak. The segment featured criticism of Pelosi from Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, who unsuccessfully challenged her in the House for her leadership position. And Ryan has stressed a particular approach to criticizing Pelosi.

Ryan has a strong prolabor voting record in Congress. Jim Newell reported on Ryan's campaign for the Democratic leadership in Tim Ryan Wants to Make the Democrats Great Again Slate 11/29/2016:

Ryan, who describes himself as “feisty,” has turned more aggressive in recent days. Though Ryan has criticized the party for prioritizing appeals to “subgroups” over a central economic message, his volleys against Pelosi veer close to an identity politics of his own—Make the Democrats Great Again—that relies on hackneyed imagery such as the beer drinker on Steel Street. “This election’s not going to be won at fundraisers on the coasts,” he told the Wall Street Journal, “it’s going to be won in union halls in the industrial Midwest and fish fries in the Midwest and the South.” Ryan also told me that his relative youth would serve the party well with millennials. (Ryan, 43, is not a millennial.)

The “union hall” thing did not sit well with Pelosi. “I’m not going to pay attention to, ‘I can’t step in a union hall.’ I’m a woman of steel in there,” Pelosi told the Huffington Post on Tuesday. “I’m constantly invited by the unions to go to their meetings. That’s just not, it’s just not true.” She also mocked Ryan for not being able to carry his district for Hillary Clinton, and she described his complaint that her proposed internal reforms would only strengthen her grip over the caucus as “pathetic.”

Back circa 1990, the major ideological fault line in the Democratic Party was understood to between traditional liberals of the Ted Kennedy/Walter Mondale mode and Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) that embraced neoliberal economics and hedged on "social issues" like abortion and even anti-discrimination issues. Bill Clinton was the embodiment of that approach. Any such broad distinction is inevitably oversimplified. The Republican were more than happy to portray Clinton as a flaming leftwing radical who was a wimp in foreign policy. And the labor movement nad the most prolabor Members of Congress were the bedrock of the defense of Clinton in the impeachment fight. Most DLC types didn't go as far off the tracks as Joe Lieberman eventually did. In fact, even the DLC got sick of Lieberman's antics sabotaging the Democrats before he left the Senate. On the other hand, the Democrats were all too eager to welcome Lieberman back into the Democratic Caucus after he actively campaigned for John McCain in the 2008 Presidential contest.

That traditional liberal/DLC-Blue Dog split among Dems doesn't describe the current major ideological fault line in the Democratic Party, which crystallized in 2016 in the Bernie-vs.-Hillary divide. At the moment, we can broadly describe the Bernie wing of the party as explicitly social-democratic, even militantly so. It's an outlook that openly embraces the spirit and content of the New Deal in a way even the liberal wing of 1990 was somewhat hesitant to do. On social issues, the Bernie wing is very much in favor of strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws for racial minorities, women and the LGBTQ community. And supportive of a humane immigration reform that gives a straightforward path of citizenship to the millions of mostly Latino undocumented immigrants in the US. And though the foreign policy position of the Bernie wing may not be quite so consistent as on economic and social issues, it's broadly speaking a peace-oriented view with a healthy skepticism of US military interventions. And for the New Deal wing, campaign reform that's definitively overturns Citizens United is a major priority. Because, as Barack Obama himself said of the decision when it was first handed down:

This ruling strikes at our democracy itself.

This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way – or to punish those who don’t. That means that any public servant who has the courage to stand up to the special interests and stand up for the American people can find himself or herself under assault come election time. Even foreign corporations may now get into the act.

I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest.
Unfortunately, Obama's sense of urgency proved to be relatively short-lived. But the New Deal Democrats tend to take those sentiments very seriously, even if Obama may not have.

In retrospect, Jerry Brown's Presidential campaign in 1992 was an early version of today's New Deal Democratic position, supportive of labor, minority rights, women's rights and immigrants, in favor of single-payer health care, and giving a central emphasis to reducing the role of money in politics. And that was 18 years before Citizens United! He was also in favor of a peace-oriented foreign policy that would take maximum advantage of the opportunites prsented by the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union.

Today's corporate Democrats are not worrying about "Sister Soljah moments" or opposing same-sex marriage. On the contrary, they are straightforwardly in favor of women's rights and gay rights and minority rights. But they support neoliberal economic policies: deregulation, privatization (charter schools, private prisons, etc.), low taxes for the wealthy, international agreements to dergulate capital and corporations masquerading as trade treaties, praising of balanced budgets as an excuse to forgo Keynesian economic stimulus. They are also distinctly hawkish in foreign policy, though they typically rely more on "liberal internationalist" rhetoric than Cheney style neoconservative framing, though in practice they often come to the same thing. And they are comfortable with corporate-financed elections and supportive of them, despite ritual denunciations of Citizens United. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are outstanding current example of the corporate Democratic camp.

In this context, Joan Walsh's comment struck me. It almost sounded like she was identifying the New Deal/Bernie Sanders wing with the old DLC approach as though they were opposing minority and women's rights.

The reality is more that the corporate Dems emphasize those issues as a way to avoid advocating aggressively for prolabor economic policies.

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