When I woke up yesterday, Pramila was reminding Democrats that it is worth doing something transformational for the American people even if some of them lose their cush jobs and the Democrats lose control of the House. I'm proud of her. Many members of Congress-- careerists-- are not... and are not amused. "Of course it's worth it if we're making people's lives better," she told a reporter who asked her. "What's the alternative? To do nothing. I mean, that's not gonna get us anywhere… part of what we have to do is really understand the economic frustration that people have right now. And I think that is really important for us.
Before I went to bed last night, Pelosi had sided with House conservatives against progressives and was trying to lure progressive-lites over to the Dark Side. In the end, there was some kind of face-saving compromise made that I absolutely do not think is worth bucket of warm spit: a written commitment that untrustworthy corrupt conservatives will vote for Biden’s $1.75 trillion social and climate spending package if the CBO score of the bill is in line with White House estimates. Unless Sinema's and Manchin's signature are on the document, it will never be honored. Only 6 progressives showed they are progressives last night: AOC, Ilhan, Cori, Rashida, Ayanna and Jamaal. The bill would have failed if not for 13 Republicans, 3 or 4 of whom are not running for reelection.
As Stephanie Kelton colleague Michael Hudson, an economist from the University of Missouri, Kansas City and Bard College, asked rhetorically Is This the End of the Unreformable Democratic Party? "History," he wrote, "has been rewritten daily this week almost immediately as it occurs. A Wall Street Journal editorial on November 4 spun its view of what is at issue for the Democratic Party: “Voters warn Democrats to walk away from the Sanders-Pelosi agenda.” The Democrats’ own leadership quickly agreed with this take, playing the blame game against the Progressive Caucus for insisting on economic reforms that opinion polls have reported are precisely what voters say they want. But these are not the policies that the party’s major donors want. What really is at issue is just whom the Democratic Party (and their duopoly partners the Republicans too, of course) support: corporate lobbyists and the Donor Class, or wage-earning voters seeking economic policies that benefit them as employees, consumers and debtors.
Can there really be doubt as to what is causing the apathy of voters to support the Clintonite Virginia candidate Terry McAuliffe? Was his loss really because voters opposed Sanders and the Congressional Progressive Caucus as radical extremists for supporting the policy platform that President Biden himself ran on and which got Democrats elected? Was it that Democrats are not sufficiently supporting their Wall Street and corporate donors and lobbyists, and that somehow voting for McAuliffe might empower Bernie Sanders, AOC and the Squad?
Democrats calling themselves “centrist” or “moderate” insist that the Progressives surrender to the Manchin-Sinema rewrite of the original version of the Build Back Better (BBB) act and make it into a grab-bag benefiting the Five Percent instead of the 95 Percent by replacing its most popular proposals with giveaways to the wealthy-- as if this will win elections. Or at least, win campaign financing for the party.
One of the most popular proposals in the original BBB act was twelve weeks of paternity/maternity, sick and caregiving leave, child support and pre-schooling support. Such aid is provided by nearly every advanced nation for its for its citizens. But the Democrats assigned Senator Joe Manchin the task of opposing this as an anti-corporate move to subsidize employees getting paid without working. Nancy Pelosi and the House leadership obliged by removing it altogether, but then agreed to a rather stingy four-week support program. Even so, Joe Manchin will not commit himself to support the downsized BBB bill when it is sent over to the Senate, saying that he wants “to work with Republicans on paid leave in separate legislation.”
In today’s U.S. political duopoly the role of the Democratic Party is to protect the Republicans from attacks from the left. What the Republicans and centrists want is the “hard” business infrastructure program, not its pro-labor elements. The Progressives rightly warn that their only opportunity to get the pro-voter BBB version approved by Congress is to tie it to Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. Their fear is that Manchin will make good on his preference to wait a half year (meaning “never” in political time) before submitting the BBB that was downsized first from $6.5 trillion to $3.5 trillion, and now to a reported $1.8 trillion.
Another popular element criticized as being too pro-labor to appeal to voters is dental and vision care for Medicare recipients, and payments for hearing aids and home health care. As medical and health insurance costs squeeze family budgets, most voters also back negotiating drug prices to stop the price gouging by the pharmaceutical companies. Governments throughout the world have long been doing this. But the “centrists” threatened to exclude it, and finally proposed some reduction in the most exorbitant monopoly prices by promising a give-back for their drug-company donors in the form of more patent protection (for research initially funded by the government itself). The aim is to prevent other drug companies from producing low-priced generic versions after the patents expire.
Student debt relief has been drastically cut back, along with plans two free years of community college. One after another, Biden’s campaign promises are being broken-- with Biden himself disowning them and showing impatience at how long it is taking the Progressives to surrender to “reality.”
Already thrown overboard at the start of the Biden Administration his promise to raise the minimum wage. The Senate parliamentarian pretended that this could not be submitted as a “reconciliation” agenda, on the ground that it did not affect federal revenue. That was nonsense, of course. Raising the minimum wage would reduce federal subsidies to families below the poverty level-- a subsidy that has long saved Walmart and other minimum-wage employers dollar for dollar by enabling them to pay less than the actual living wage, with food stamps and other transfer payments making up the gap.
Joe Manchin sheds crocodile tears over how the government will pay for pro-labor policies, but shows no concern about giveaways to the wealthy to the corporate interest or for military spending-- or for tax cuts for the highest income brackets. It is as if only pro-voter policies add to the national debt.
Neoliberal Clintonite centrists vetoed Progressive proposals to pay for their program by passing one of the most popular taxes of all: the carried-interest tax loophole that frees financial speculators and money managers from having to pay income tax on their profit share and even management fees, lowering the rate to the capital-gains tax rate. The heavy hand of Wall Street campaign donors far outweighs what voters want-- including reversing the Trump Administration’s income-tax cuts for the wealthiest classes.
...The Democratic leadership argues that failure to raise subsidies and tax breaks for the economy’s wealthiest rentier layer while cutting back support for wage-earners will threaten their electoral prospects-- by reducing their fundraising appeal to the Donor Class.
The mainstream press chimes in with the view that pro-labor policies are so radical that they will frighten most middle-class voters as an attack on property and their own hopes to somehow join the ranks of the rich someday. President Biden is blaming Progressives for “blocking” the program by trying to preserve the policies that most voters actually want, and which he himself ran on in his presidential campaign a year ago.
But most voters are wage-earners, after all. And many need child support and other social welfare spending, and lower drug prices and other living costs. Voter polls in Virginia reported that economic issues were their most important concern, as they are in most of the United States.
The problem is that pro-labor social policies are not what the major lobbyists and campaign donors want for themselves and their clients. This then raises the obvious question: Did Democrats lose on Tuesday because their leadership was supporting opposing what their campaign contributors want instead of the Progressive agenda that most voters say want and what they voted for last November?
Put bluntly, is the Democratic Party an agent of democracy, or oligarchy? The past month’s Congressional debacle confirms Aristotle description of democracy. Many states have constitutions that are democratic in form, he wrote, but actually are oligarchies.
The reason, he explained, is that democracies tend to evolve [devolve?] into oligarchies as a result of the increasing concentration and polarization of wealth. That gives the leading families control of the political system. (In his schema, oligarchies aim at making themselves hereditary aristocracies.)
Translating the concentration of wealth into political control has been accelerating since the 1980s, and almost all increase in U.S. wealth and income in the year and a half since the Covid-19 outbreak struck in spring 2020 has accrued to the One Percent in the form of rising stock, bond and real estate prices. In the non-financial economy, prices charged by the oil, pharmaceutical and IT monopolies have led the rise, while housing prices have risen nearly 20 percent in the last twelve months. These sectors are the largest lobbyists and political campaign contributors.
The Democratic leadership policy is to back the candidates who are able to raise the most money. For most candidates the lion’s share come from these lobbyists and special interests, for whom their donations are a business investment. Only a minority of progressive candidates have been able to raise enough small sums from many individuals to become political players.
The situation is much like that of ancient Rome. Its constitution organized voting according to wealth cohorts, mainly measured by land ownership. The wealthiest Senatorial class, followed by the equite “Knights”, were assigned voting weight overshadowing that of the 99 Percent. In the United States, to be sure, all votes on election day are counted equally. The problem is how to be nominated in the first place and vie with rivals in the political primaries. In Rome, to succeed as a candidate running for office required heavy backing by the wealthy. (Crassus played this role, financing Caesar’s campaign, among others.) Leading politicians tended to be heavily in debt to their backers.
In the United States, the debt is not as crassly monetary. What is owed is political support. The job description for a politician is to deliver voter support to one’s campaign contributors. That is how oligarchies suppress democracy, today as in the Roman Republic.
Upon taking office, President Biden said that nothing would really change. This was the opposite of Barack Obama’s slogan of “hope and change,” but it was simply more honest. The Biden Administration not only has maintained Donald Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, it has increased them under the BBB’s SALT provision. Biden has extended offshore oil drilling rights, and policies benefiting the financial and corporate sectors.
This is called being a “centrist” or “moderate.” If the world is polarizing between the One Percent and the 99 Percent, between creditors and debtors, monopolists and consumers, where is the middle ground? The Chinese have a proverb: “He who comes to a fork in the road and tries to go two roads at once will get a broken hip joint.” Being a moderate means not interfering with the economic trends that are polarizing the U.S. economy between the rentier One Percent at the top and the increasingly indebted 99 Percent.
That is the situation confronting today’s economy. Refusing to take steps to change the dynamics that are enriching the oligarchy means not reversing or even slowing the trends that are polarizing the economy. The Democratic Party leadership has opposed the influence of the Progressive Congressional Caucus from the beginning. This is oligarchy, not democracy. It is not even the largely empty formalities of political democracy, to say nothing of substantive economic democracy.
What really is democracy, after all? It is the ability of voters to legislate the policies that they want-- and which presumably are in their economic and social interests. But the process is manipulated by the DNCC’s reliance on the Donor Class. Its political program is simply an advertising vehicle, with no “truth in advertising” regulation.
The question is, can it be reformed? Can democracy succeed without replacing the Democratic Party leadership with an altogether different political system from today’s Democratic-Republican duopoly with its common set of donors?
Hudson, apparently very frustrated, posits that the Democrats' apparent failure is "a duplicitous ploy of President Biden and the Democrats’ quasi-Republican Clintonite core." I'm not there yet... but not closed to the argument. Meanwhile, though, can I ask you to chip in to help Sergio Alcubilla defeat corrupt Blue Dog Ed Case (here)?