The New York Times went crazy this week with stories about the terror “moderates” are feeling about the direction of the Democratic Party. It started with this, which quoted two Clintonites, Rahm Emmanuel and James Carville:
“We’re fighting immigration on his terrain and giving up our advantage on health care,” said Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago. “That’s the travesty: We’re ceding an advantage Trump knows we have on him.”
Or as James Carville, the architect of Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory, put it: “This is an election that Trump can’t win but Democrats can lose.”
Then there was this, about how Democrats are “veering left” on immigration – “pleasing Trump.”
Joan Walsh pretty much takes this all out in The Nation, noting that the moderates ought to be worried about the fact that all of their candidates are tanking:
In fact, the Times has a moderation fetish. With Sunday’s astonishing six stories about the dangers of progressive politics, the paper could not make any clearer that it sees itself as the house organ of the establishment, and that its role is warning upstart Democrats not to get out of line. It is clear that the paper’s highest political priority is getting Trump out of the White House, as is proper for anyone who cares about our democracy. But its cramped conception of politics apparently makes it impossible for the paper’s leaders to envision that bold ideas and big plans might be the way to animate an anti-Trump backlash; a return to status quo liberalism is all they can imagine.
So there’s an interesting message here when we unpack the politics.
Let me be kind here, and assume that the “moderates” in the Democratic Party are really not afraid of offending Wall Street, that they are really not worried about their own power and the fact that the mainstream of the current party leadership will be out the door under a Sanders or Warren presidency. Let’s assume that they really would like to provide health care to all and that they aren’t afraid of the insurance industry, that they aren’t too close to Goldman Sachs and other big campaign donors who are terrified of new taxes on the rich. Let’s assume that they are good folks, who worry only that a progressive might lose to Trump, which has to be avoided at all costs.
I know: It’s a stretch. But for the moment, we will accept that assumption.
What if they are factually wrong?
What if, as Walsh suggests (and many others have said, with strong evidence) that the best way to beat Trump is to mobilize an engaged constituency instead of trying to fight for the few moderate Dems who supported Trump?
What if we already tried the Clinton approach, and it failed?
What if their political analysis, not just their agenda, is deeply flawed?
At that point, the “moderates” start to look like they are scrambling for anything that will keep them and their wealthy Wall Street allies in power. Because they lose on the facts.
It reminds me of some of the discussions I have had with some of the Yimbys.
No question: Some of the Yimby folks I talk to are sincere in their belief that upzoning the city and letting the private market build housing will bring down costs. On the other hand, there’s also no question some developers see this approach as a great way to make more money, and that Sen. Scott Wiener is their guy in Sacramento. Just check out his campaign contributions.
But let’s put the real-estate money that helped get Wiener elected aside for the moment. Let’s try – really, try – to assume that Wiener really, sincerely thinks forcing cities like San Francisco to allow more luxury housing will help solve the crisis.
What if he’s factually wrong?
What if all the evidence out there shows that the private market can’t solve this problem, that the tech boom Wiener helped create with tax breaks and the Google buses was a cause of the problem, and that the best way to address it is to stop making it worse?
Where does that leave him?
Right, I think, where Rahm Emmanuel and Jim Carville are – wrong on the facts, with nowhere really to go.
I am happy to argue ideology and talk about how an approach to government that puts people ahead of profits and strictly regulates big business is better for all of us. I am happy to argue that housing should be a right for all, and not a commodity traded on the market. But at a certain point, it’s not even about ideology – it’s about reality, and the big question:
What if the moderates are wrong, about everything?