Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Corporate Democrats keep on being corporate Dems

David Sirota has it right on the chronic advice to Democrats to stick to "safe" centrist positions:

His wife is currently running as a Democrat for a state legislative seat in Colorado.

The corporate Democrats and their donors have developed a formula they invoke year in and year out, after successes and after failures: Democrats have to rely on centrist candidates and centrist positions.

The Beltway Village conventional wisdom, at least as persistent as the Democratic centrist obsession, is that "America is a center-right country." Just ask Chuck Todd.

Sadly typical of the sclerotic state of major Democratic leaders is that they want a replay of the past to be performed in what they take to be the most risk-free manner: Democrats Look To Their Successful 2006 Messaging In Bid To Retake The House HuffPost 04/21/2018. Nancy Pelosi wants to put corruption front-and-center in 2016, that of the Trump Administration of course. And they should be raising holy hell about that. On the other hand, they are tiptoing around the whole question of impeachment. And the Democrats can't even maintain a united front against an atrocious nominee for Secretary of State like Mike Pompeo. They've also done a pretty lame job in how they've treated the Russia-Russia-Russia issue, because they can't resist the temptation to link it with hawkish foreign policy posturing, which the Democratic base mostly really does not want to hear.

And the former Senate leader Harry Reid, who I liked despite his tendency to centrism on may issues, joins in with the dreary litany: Quint Forgey, Reid warns Democrats to lay off impeachment talk Politico 04/25/2018.

Nothing I could say about that would add to what Oliver Willis has already said:

Ryan Grim and Lee Fang wrote about this direction of the Democratic establishment three months ago in The Dead Enders: Candidates Who Signed Up to Battle Donald Trump Must Get Past the Democratic Party First The Intercept 01/23/2018. They provide an appropriate warning of the actually very risky ConservaDem approach:
In an era of regular wave elections — 2006, 2008, 2010, and onward — sustainable majorities may be elusive. The smartest play for the party that takes power, said Michael Podhorzer, political director for the labor federation AFL-CIO, is to seize the opportunity when a wave washes it into power, implement an aggressive agenda, and then defend it from the minority when the party is inevitably washed back out — much as Democrats did successfully with the Affordable Care Act, and as Republicans hope to do with tax cuts. It’s a strategy that means moving two or three steps forward and holding as many of those gains until power is reclaimed, then moving another two steps forward. But it’s only possible with candidates-turned-lawmakers ready to take bold action when they have the chance. [my emphasis]
And this is the biggest problem with the let's-focus-on-corruption-but-don't-say-impeachment approach. From the standpoint of raising money from big donors, that may look like a play-it-safe approach. But it means that the party also doesn't focus on messaging their support of popular ideas like taxing oligarchs, single-payer healthcare, Medicare for all, free college education, college loan relief, restricting gun proliferation, renewable energy. And forget demanding a real peace policy for the Middle East, or accelerated nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

So they build up support and momentum that would prepare the way for substantial progressive accomplishments when they do have enough power in the national government to demand them.

Grim and Fang contrast that to the approach of Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emmanuel after the 2006 Democratic wave:
... in the 2009-2010 session [when Obama was President], ... then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was in charge of the DCCC, as well as committee assignments, packed key panels with centrist and conservative freshmen and sophomores.

Those centrists were there not because the nation demanded moderation, but because Democrats had recruited them in 2006 and 2008 and put them there. Rahm Emanuel, Pelosi’s lieutenant who, at the time, ran the DCCC, looked for wealthy candidates who could self-fund a race. “The most important thing to the DCCC then was if you were self-funding,” said Michael Podhorzer of AFL-CIO. “That moved candidates toward business centrists and their ability to last after that election was not that great. And it set the stage for Obama’s Democratic majority not being as aligned with his policies as a more progressive majority might have.”

And those committees stacked with new centrists delivered weaker legislation than they otherwise might have. In 2009, Democrats dialed back their ambitions when it came to the size of the stimulus, the strength of Wall Street reform, and the quality and extent of coverage that would be provided by Obamacare — all in order to accommodate centrist members representing swing districts. Polls show that the ACA is not unpopular because it is too progressive; rather, its problem areas are the elements of it that are too conservative — high premiums and high deductibles. [my emphasis]

But the experience of the Obama Administration, including the staggering Democratic losses up and down the ballot in 2016, haven't jarred the Democratic establishment:
Yet the types of candidates Emanuel wanted to bring to Washington in 2006 are the same ones today’s House campaign arm is working to get elected. Even if you agree with the ideological approach, said 2016 congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout, it’s a flawed strategy structurally. Last cycle, the DCCC worked against Teachout, a progressive activist and law professor, in her primary campaign in New York. She went on to win it by 40 points anyway, pulling in 2 points more than Hillary Clinton, but still lost the general election.

“Structurally, they’re going to be idiots because there’s no way they can bring in the talent to do it right,” she told The Intercept of the DCCC’s approach to picking candidates. “Their strategy is stupid in the first place and bad for democracy, but then it’s really stupid because they have 26-year-olds sitting around who don’t know anything about the real world deciding which candidates should win.”
(04/26/2018: Post revised slightly for clarity.)

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