The Big Tent and the Narrow Path
Or, why I am friends with the centrist neoliberals for just about one more year.
Everyone cares about politics a whole lot right now, but for another year, all we can do are protest, talk, volunteer, donate. We don’t get to choose candidates or even just vote for months, so I am hereby coming out as friends with the ghouls, the clowns and the slimy rats.
We’re in the protest period right now, and right now I believe in the big tent.
The horrid braindead Twitter beasts — the Daous and Millhisers (look at that pinned tweet my god), Doyles and Garlands and Willises — they are my friends now. The guys (and ladies) who up until three months ago said protesters should go get jobs are my friends. The ladies (and guys) who clutch their pearls at the sight of a burning trash can are my pals. Lena Dunham is good. Heavy-handed poorly informed speeches at award shows are good. I love the celebs. They will save us. Busta Rhymes is good — but then he always has been and always will be. RoguePOTUSStaff is some stupid cosplay bullshit that is clearly fake, but it’s good. SNL is funny. They’re all still dumbfucks — Tanden, Chu, Filipovic, Frum, Albright but not Albright like Madeleine, Watson, Brock, Walsh — but they’re my dumbfucks. Yes to all of them.
I believe all kinds of voices should be heard, especially under this government, which is not only single-party but the single party that only wants to hear itself. Democrats have always — to varying degrees — been the big tent, and hopefully they always will be, because they accept and appreciate difference in a way the Right never will.
When we demonstrate, we should all be there. Our protests must be inclusive, racially, ethnically, economically, sexually, ideologically.
That’s why I’m with all the normies, all the neolibs, all the Russia conspiracy nuts and Comey conspiracy nuts and whoever else wants to stop Donald Trump, no matter what their methods are. It’s good when people call him Drumpf or 45 or whatever, even though that’s supremely silly shit, because 1. It actually works more than it should since he’s an immense narcissist, and 2. If they’re anti-Trump we’re buddies. Tweet 15 times in a row about how Hillary Clinton inspired hundreds of protests without ever showing up to one, that’s cool. Whine about how the alt-left is out to get you even though you invented the term alt-left to make Leftists seem scary and also you very clearly deserve to be gotten, that’s fine. Shower praise on the intelligence community, the same one whose innumerable crimes and sins I’m sure I don’t need to recap here, that’s great.
This is a marriage of convenience, and I’m fine with it, because the goal of undercutting, damaging and limiting Trump is extremely important. I’ll team up with the Mideast butchers and the welfare reformers and the champions of Obamacare, that bad policy we all know and love.
But the path is going to narrow. It has to in order to win elections and in order to achieve good policy in this country. We can all come together to fight Trump — excluding people from that fight would be flat-out stupid. But when it’s time to back a candidate or put them through a tough primary, the opposite is true. Excluding people at that point is necessary, because the Democratic party needs direction and it needs to be molded. We don’t need to maintain a united front, we need to maintain a winning platform. I don’t have to be buddies with Joe Manchin if there’s a single progressive living and breathing in West Virginia come primary time. I want to see someone unseat Claire McCaskill so bad and I’m not sorry.
Why a narrow path? Why can’t we accommodate the Manchins, Heidi Heitkamps and McCaskills of the world — not to mention the blue dog Democrats in the House and in state governments across the land? I linked to it earlier, but I covered this when I wrote about Obamacare, which is a failure both as a health care policy and as a political artifact — and all because of Democrats. Democrats butchered Obamacare in 2009, and Obamacare butchered them in 2016.
It fails as a health care policy — should I be using the past tense? I doubt another open enrollment period will come around under Obamacare — because it accomplishes only a few of its policy goals. It fails as a political artifact because dissatisfaction over it aided Donald Trump in the election. Centrism produced a bad policy, and defending the policy produced a bad political outcome.
If Democrats don’t grasp how Obamacare illustrates the failure of centrism, they might grab the White House back in 2020, but, as in Obama’s eight years, they’ll accomplish little and offer their necks to a different demagogue in 2024.
Obamacare is emblematic of Democrats’ issues, whether in or out of power in D.C.: a muddled, centrist vision that contradicts itself too often, and when it doesn’t contradict itself, produces bad policy.
Big banks destroyed the economy; centrists introduce superficial adjustments. Wages stagnate; centrists suggest edging the minimum wage up very slowly so that employers won’t even notice. Corporate profits skyrocket and household incomes flatline; centrists celebrate the great state of the stock market.
That’s why I say death to centrist Democrats. Their policies and votes are garbage.
I know the arguments for the centrists. They’ll say of Manchin, “He’s better than a Republican,” which he isn’t. He votes like a Republican most of the time, and the rest of the time he poisons Democratic ideas, waters them down, and guarantees they’ll fail, like blue dogs did with Obamacare. They’ll say, “We need him to form a majority down the line.” It would be great for Democrats to have a Senate majority to block Trump — but would Manchin, would McCaskill, would Heitkamp block him? They certainly haven’t tried so far. They haven’t even bothered to oppose Trump nominees who are clearly unqualified, even when it’s obvious their vote wouldn’t actually matter and they could vote their conscience. We have to assume that’s who Manchin is: He wants Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, he wants Steve Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury. If the Senate flips Democratic in 2018 — which it won’t, I’m sorry to say, but if it does — why would we expect Joe Manchin to stand with Democrats against Trump?
From now until the primaries, I’m protesting with anyone who wants to protest. But we need to recognize that milquetoast neoliberalism is a failure of a political philosophy, and it was establishment Dems who led us into this dead end where the Democratic party is essentially out of power in the federal government and almost every state. I would rather say this before it’s 100% true: Democratic centrism is dead. A few centrists might win election or re-election in the next few years, the same way John McCain soldiers on in Arizona. Not many.
Democrats need a new philosophy, a real, progressive one, and that might mean that they lose in West Virginia for 12 years before it takes hold, and that’s OK with me. Joe Manchin is going to lose anyway, so we might as well get started on the progressive project now.
The basic argument for keeping the centrists around is, “Progressivism would never work in that area.” McCaskill, Manchin and Heitkamp have to be kinda backwards, because Missouri, West Virginia and North Dakota are kinda backwards. I simply don’t buy that.
I believe progressivism is possible in all 50 states, but it will take a while for progressive vocabulary to enter our political world. Conservatives are miles ahead on this — they got Bruce Rauner to win in Illinois and Chris Christie to win in New Jersey. It took them a long time to beat the drum on their political philosophy until enough people bought into it — welfare reform, school choice, right to work, all of their key phrases drilled into us until we at least accept the terms — but it worked for them. The Tea Party was a purifying force in this, and it was effective. They identified the Republicans who were letting them down, and they replaced them with hard-liners.
Democrats need to do the same thing. They need to be rigorous and demanding of their candidates and their platforms. Joe Manchin should be out on the street, and I don’t care if a Republican replaces him, because 1. he’s nearly a Republican anyway, and 2. it might take a while for a new, actually good political message to sink in with the people of West Virginia. The first few good progressive Democrats will probably look like nutjobs, the same way the first few neocons and the first few Tea Partiers did, the same way Bernie did to many people. Eventually those nutjobs start looking more and more reasonable, until we reach the point where they’re competing, and their positions are actually good for the public. It’s a long road in some areas where conservatism reigns supreme. But it’s worth fighting.