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Corruption Is A Way Of Life In Congress-- It Is Bipartisan... And Progressives Do Not Fit In

Reactionary Centrism

In the House last night there was a long series of votes on amendments to a Republican messaging bill to limit the drawdown of petroleum in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until the Department of Energy develops a plan to increase the percentage of federal lands leased for oil and gas production, H.R. 21. There were 19 amendments by Democrats that failed— basically all but a couple of Republicans voting against them. The only Republican amendment to fail was some typically crackpot nonsense from Marjorie Traitor Greene that only got 14 votes from crazy extremists like herself— including, of course, Rep. Kitara (R-Rio). Blue Dog Josh Gottheimer (NJ) proposed a couple of xenophobic anti-China amendments slightly more sane than hers and they passed with almost every Republican in favor... and 10 progressives in opposition.

Even before these votes are processed by the ProgressivePunch algorithm, the main Democratic villains voting most frequently with the Republicans have shown their hands— 5 reactionary Blue Dogs, of course: Josh Gottheimer (NJ), Jared Golden (ME), Sanford Bishop (GA), Jim Costa (CA) and Henry Cuellar (TX). Which brings us to Akela Lacy’s report from Wednesday’s Intercept, about the corrupt conservative corporate PAC targeting progressives with GOP money. They call it the Moderate PAC, but there’s nothing moderate about it. It’s purely conservative, purely conservative, purely corporate and, more than anything else, purely corrupt; it's an example of what DC is all about.

A top Republican Party money-bags, Jeff Yess, the richest person in Pennsylvania, gave them a million dollars last year. Lacy reported that “In addition to funding Republicans, Yass has funded state-level Democrats who align with his conservative objectives: He put money into the campaigns of Democratic officials in Pennsylvania who played a key role in the charge last year to try to impeach progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.” The PAC hired Biden’s former campaign manager, Greg Schultz, as their consultant. I found expenditures reported for Waterfront Strategies and the super-shady S-3 Partners. A defense contractor is the treasurer. Their immediate goal is to destroy progressive candidates in 2024, although they won't have Sam Bankman-Fried and his corrupt mother, Babsy Fried, working with them in the coming cycle.

Ty Strong, the Moderate PAC president and founder, worked for a decade as a financial and business management analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton before joining a smaller financial firm in Pennsylvania in 2020 that closed abruptly the following year. He joined the Moderate PAC in October 2021. The committee’s treasurer, Marysue Strong, is chief financial officer at ProSync Technology Group, a defense contractor that provides IT services to the federal government. (Ty Strong did not respond to questions about his political experience or whether he and Marysue are related, though public records suggest that they are.)

This sounds a lot like the anti-progressive PAC that Hakeem Jeffries, Josh Gottheimer and Pete Aguilar started last year to defeat progressives. Aside from the million dollars from Yass’ Susquehanna International Group, Moderate PAC got a modest contribution from Pelosi’s House Majority PAC. The only races they got involved with this last cycle was to help Jared Golden and the most right-wing Democrat who ran in 2022, Don Davis, an anti-Choice conservative legislator from North Carolina.

Reporting for The Nation early this morning, Jeet Heer wrote— in regard to Sam Bankman-Fried’s wholesale bribery of the party establishments— that “[E]ven as well-heeled Democrats nervously await further revelations, leftists should welcome this particular plutocrat’s fall into disgrace. Describing SBF as a Democratic Party donor elides the fact that his political donations were spent mainly on squashing the rising left wing of the party. The SBF story makes sense only if we understand that he was a key player in the Democratic Party counterrevolution that materialized following the unexpectedly strong showing of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 and 2020 primaries, the emergence of an overtly leftist congressional wing spearheaded by the Squad, the concurrent rise of radical social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, and a new wave of union organizing. This new new left has been met with a cohort of donors and establishment strategists who, since 2018, have systematically targeted left-leaning primary candidates for defeat. This counterrevolution usually expresses itself though dark money spending— and only rarely and disingenuously articulates itself as an ideology. For the sake of clarity, we can label it ‘reactionary centrism’ (to borrow a term popularized by the political analyst Aaron Huertas). Aside from being generically anti-left, reactionary centrists are often agitated by the rising sympathy for Palestinian human rights among young Democrats. Sam Bankman-Fried can be understood as one of the chief financiers of reactionary centrism.

In early January, the progressive strategist Max Berger posted a deeply researched investigation into the year-end Federal Election Commission filings on his Substack, Party Time. Berger’s inquiry helps clarify the reactionary centrist network. Poring over the filings, Berger “found more evidence SBF was collaborating with AIPAC and Trump-supporting billionaires to stop the growth of the squad and the electoral left.” Further, “SBF wasn’t primarily funding groups that help Democrats defeat Republicans. According to FEC data, over 75% of the money SBF contributed to Democrats in 2022 went to groups that spent nearly all their money on competitive primaries in the Democratic Party.”
Berger contends that the Democratic Party operative Mark Mellman was the likely ringleader of a coordinated effort in Democratic primaries to drown left candidates in a flood of dark money. Funding for this reactionary centrist project came, as Berger documents, not just from SBF but also from right-wing billionaires like “Bernard Marcus (owner of Home Depot), Robert Kraft (owner of the Patriots), and Paul Singer (owner of Elliot Investment Management).” On an institutional level, reactionary centrism expresses itself through organizations like the United Democracy Project, Democratic Majority for Israel, Protect Our Future, Web3 Forward, and Mainstream Democrats. These groups spent a total of more than $70 million to shove the Democratic Party to the right.
Ideologically, the chief proponents of reactionary centrism have been pundits like Matthew Yglesias and even strategists like Sean McElwee (who, because of his close ties to SBF, was fired in December as executive director of the think tank Data for Progress). On his own Substack last May, Yglesias dismissed fears that SBF was trying to buy a Democratic Congress to make the world safe for cryptocurrency. Rather than being driven by the sordid calculus of self-interest, Yglesias argued, Bankman-Fried was a genuine philanthropist motivated by the neo-utilitarian philosophy known as “effective altruism.”
“SBF is for real,” Yglesias wrote. As his first piece of evidence, he hilariously provided this fact: “SBF was raised by a leading consequentialist moral theorist.” But words are not reality. Having a “moral theorist” as a parent doesn’t make you moral, calling yourself a philanthropist doesn’t make you a public benefactor—and aligning with the Democratic Party doesn’t make you liberal. The wonderful thing about the SBF scandal is that it can help the left fight the reactionary centrists, who still pose a major roadblock to progress.

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