Thursday, September 30, 2021


I don't blame progressives for the mess we're in. I know they're the reason Nancy Pelosi seems ready to postpone a vote on the infrastructure bill -- they're threatening to vote against the infrastructure bill because they want Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to commit to the reconciliation bill in some form. I blame Manchin and Sinema, who clearly -- especially Sinema -- want to kill the reconciliation bill, on behalf of their donors, but aren't honest enough to say that's their plan. Some blame goes to the president and the Democratic leadership for not grasping that it might never be possible to get this done with a tiny Democratic margin in the House and none in the Senate, so maybe they shouldn't have overpromised when there was a high risk that they'd underdeliver.

Mostly I blame the donors -- the petrochemical and pharmaceutical tycoons and other fat cats who don't want to give up anything they've ever been given, and devote substantial resources to ensuring that they get everything they want forever. The president thinks he can tax them more because he was born during FDR's presidency and he was a young man during LBJ's, and he thinks we can return to a time when capital tolerated tax increases intended to pay for greater social spending. He and his fellow septuagenarians Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer believe capital will just ... yield, even though capital has the means to beat this. They should know that the bastards won't go down without a fight, but they remember when it wouldn't have been this hard, so they think they can still win.

Progressives, however, should be the ones who understand what Democrats are up against. If you're a progressive, you don't trust capitalism at all. You believe it needs to be abolished or at least highly regulated, because it's too powerful and too rapacious. And yet when progressives run for office, they too hold out the hope that the fight against capitalist greed can be won effortlessly in an election or two. Vote for Bernie and we'll have nice things!

We can't have nice things because in order to have nice things we have to fight capital. And this is how capital fights -- not by sending out a rich man who looks like Gordon Gekko to say, "Give me all the nice things!," but by deploying someone more sympathetic as the alleged voice of reason. Thirty years ago, I used to read William Greider writing about how fat cats would send small business men to lament the harm that a liberal bill would do to them, when the bill's real targets were actually the fat cats themselves. Want to raise the estate tax on the Kardashians? Think of the poor family farmers!

In this fight, they sent out Manchin, who's meant to stand in for dirt-poor West Virginians in coal country, people presumed to have the elemental values of hard work and thrift. (Don't laugh -- much of America believes that narrative.) Sinema stands in for ... um, I don't know what she stands in for. Maybe she's the kooky upstairs neighbor in a beloved sitcom. But she says that all those liberals in Washington, D.C., like that big spending, but she's a moderate, dammit, and she doesn't trust it! And more people than we'd like to believe fall for that. (At least one Arizona poll shows Sinema with higher statewide approval ratings than Arizona's other Democratic senator Mark Kelly.)

Capital knows how to run this play, which works nearly every time. Capitalism knows how to buy politicians like Manchin and Sinema so they stay bought. For capital, this is a fight to the death. And capital is on the verge of victory -- not just the death of the reconciliation bill but full Republican control of D.C. by 2025.

Old liberals with New Deal dreams should have known capital would find a doomsday weapon, but they didn't. Progressives absolutely should have known the same thing, but they didn't.

The liberals don't want to openly blame capitalists for this impasse -- they believe you can establish detente with capitalism, taking their money while curbing their greed. Progressives -- people who have no illusions about capitalism -- really should have anticipated how hard this fight would be.

Democrats of all stripes need to tap into the anti-elitist anger of Americans, which polls say is actually quite high. But that hasn't happened. Capital has tapped into Americans' anti-spending skepticism instead, while buying off just enough politicians to be on the verge of victory. And that's why we are where we are.

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