Get It Right: It Is Corporatist Democrats Versus Mainstream Democrats

[ Posted Monday, September 27th, 2021 – 16:19 UTC ]

The mainstream media, as usual, is mostly presenting the power struggle taking place right now within the Democratic Party in a rather slanted way. The fight, we are told, is a fairly equal one between "moderates" or (as is becoming more in vogue recently) "centrists" and the progressives. The progressives are usually painted as the radicals, while the "centrists" are seen as those cautioning moderation and compromise. Virtually none of this is true, however. What is really going on is the old-guard "New Democrats" are being forced to confront the reality that it is no longer the 1990s, and their particular brand of "Wall Street-friendly" Democratic politics is not only seriously on the wane but has now been almost totally eclipsed. Senator Bernie Sanders was at the vanguard of effecting this drastic shift, but it is almost complete. And the old guard is none too happy about it, as they cling to the remaining leverage they still have.

Almost all the conversations about what the progressives are trying to accomplish start out by framing progressives as "far left" or "lefties," or other similar terms. They are painted as the fringe, either explicitly or implicitly. But the reality is that the things progressives are fighting for (in the "Build Back Better" legislation at the heart of this fight) are actually quite popular with the general public (to say nothing of Democratic voters, where these proposals are actually wildly popular). Three progressives wrote a recent opinion piece for CNN where they made this point plain:

Voters support the Build Back Better package's provisions by a 30-point margin, according to an August Quinnipiac University poll. Funding for home-based care for seniors has 75% support across the political spectrum, a July AP/NORC survey shows, with universal pre-K and affordable housing funds both seeing 67% support. More than half of voters are in favor of the child tax credit (55%) and free community college (54%). And about 2 in 3 Americans support paying for these investments by taxing corporations and the ultra-wealthy.

By definition, ideas which garner between 54 to 75 percent support from the public are mainstream, not fringe. And yet, consistently, those who are fighting for these ideas are identified as the radicals, while those fighting against them are seen as protecting mainstream interests. The truth is the opposite. The public as a whole is not urging compromise and "moderation" (whatever that is supposed to mean), the public would enthusiastically support all of these programs -- and polls consistently show that the public is even more in support of the ideas when they are told that the wealthy and big corporations will be taxed more to pay for it.

The fight is not an equal one, either. It hasn't been since at least when Barack Obama was in the Oval Office -- and was either hamstrung by the New Democrats (such as Joe Lieberman) still left within the party, or was an actual New Democrat himself (opinions vary). Back then, the corporatist New Democrats still held most of the leverage within the Democratic Party. Not any more, however -- the center has now shifted.

Bernie Sanders is now the chair of the Senate's budget-writing committee. He has publicly stated that 80 percent or more of the Senate's Democrats supported a six-trillion-dollar package. In other words, that 80-plus percent has already been the side to offer a major compromise, down to only $3.5 trillion. The moderates haven't even made a concrete offer (a firm dollar amount, in other words).

Over in the House, there are only 9 or 10 Democrats publicly willing to buck Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They flexed their power earlier, and got in exchange a firm deadline to move the bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already passed the Senate. Meanwhile, Representative Pramila Jayapal, who is also the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, reports that she's got 60 members willing to vote against the infrastructure bill if the larger reconciliation bill isn't voted on first.

So, in the Senate, it is 40-plus progressives versus two corporatist Democratic senators willing to publicly draw lines in the sand. In the House, the Progressive Caucus (roughly 100 members strong) has even picked up support from other (smaller) ideological groups within the Democratic Party. Versus 9 or 10 corporatists. That is a disparity of at least 6-to-1 in the House and a whopping 20-to-1 in the Senate. And yet the media has been reporting on this struggle as if it is not an incredibly lopsided one where the progressives are obviously the wave of the future.

The fight is somewhat generational, although not strictly. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not exactly spring chickens, to put it mildly. But it is a generational shift in the Democratic Party. Finally the Clinton era is almost at an end. The Democratic Leadership Council "New Democrats" are almost gone. Their whole concept of "support socially liberal policies while simultaneously lowering taxes and reducing regulations for Wall Street" is more than a little passé. Just ask any young Democratic voter, they'll tell you.

So the fight is not an even one (not even close!) in balance, and nothing the progressives are proposing is truly radical, since majorities of the American public (and even larger majorities of Democratic voters) support them.

That opinion piece (written by Representative Jayapal as well as Representatives Katie Porter and Ilhan Omar) makes the true battle lines crystal-clear:

Passing the Build Back Better Act will require standing up to powerful special interests. The investments it makes in improving our economy are paid for by getting billionaires and big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes; insisting to Big Pharma that we negotiate drug prices; and taking on the fossil fuel lobby to address the climate crisis.

That's why corporate lobbyists, Big Pharma, and Wall Street executives have declared all-out war to stop the bill. Rather than understanding that these are investments in our economy -- which should be its mission -- the US Chamber of Commerce has been one of the leaders in lobbying against the bill with reported six-figure ad campaigns trying to block worker protections and climate action. The pharmaceutical industry, which already spent $92 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2021 alone, launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to torpedo President Biden's effort to rein in drug costs. Another corporate lobbyist decried provisions to catch tax cheats as "existential threat(s)."

If we allow corporate lobbyists to dictate our legislative agenda, the economic recovery will grind to a halt.

So will the Democratic Party, one might add. And yet, this true battle is almost never spoken of in the mainstream media (except, occasionally, on cable news).

The dots aren't even all that hard to connect. Just look at what the soi-disant "moderates/centrists" are fighting for. Senator Kyrsten Sinema is fighting hard against having the federal government use its buying power to negotiate prescription drug prices. Sinema has raked in boatloads of campaign cash from Pharma and doctors. The House corporatist Democrats have been on this side of the fight as well -- including several bought-and-paid for representatives that sit on key committees. Senator Joe Manchin refuses to say publicly what he's most objecting to, but everyone assumes it is the parts of the bill which deal with climate change by transitioning the country away from fossil fuels. Manchin doesn't just hail from a coal state, he personally makes millions off his investments in coal companies. Oh, and Sinema's new demand is that Democrats not raise taxes on any corporations or the wealthiest of taxpayers.

To state it bluntly: there is no constituency for any of this outside of corporate boardrooms. The state of Arizona has a disproportionate amount of retirees, meaning seniors are a very important part of Sinema's constituency. Seniors are wildly in favor of lower the price of prescription drugs. Sinema doesn't care, she cares much more about her big donors. Even in West Virginia, people want to see America transition its energy policy. Manchin doesn't care. And there's really only one answer to who is against raising taxes on millionaires, billionaires, and corporate America, and that is: "millionaires, billionaires, and corporate America." The only constituency for any of these positions -- which they somehow have bamboozled the media into calling "moderate" or "centrist" -- is made up of big campaign donors. The only way the public's really going to see any of this clearly is if the media ever stop with their false equivalency and misleading terminology.

President Joe Biden realized late in the presidential campaign that the stars had really aligned for him to not be an incrementalist president but rather a transformative president. He has set this agenda, not Bernie Sanders, to put this another way. This is Biden's agenda for the Democratic Party. So in a very real way, he's already on the side of the progressives, he just doesn't want to disrupt the negotiations by coming out and admitting it too much (one assumes).

This will be a critical week for Biden's presidency. How much leverage the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party can still wield over the majority of the party -- its true mainstream -- is still up in the air. But we'd all help this cause a little bit by speaking about it in precisely those terms. Because this is not an equal fight, the progressives are solidly in the mainstream, and there's nothing even remotely "moderate" or "centrist" about putting the interests of Pharma and the fossil fuel industry ahead of your own constituents.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


7 Comments on “Get It Right: It Is Corporatist Democrats Versus Mainstream Democrats”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    So, why are the corporatist Dems not afraid of losing votes and their next election by their actions against the Biden agenda that has so much popular support?

    Oh, wait ...

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I'm just sayin' ...

  3. [3] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Could you comment a little more on why the mainstream "liberal" media generally is promoting the false narrative you've identified here?

    One thought is that you're basically wrong - it's not that clear that the Democrats have become more liberal or that the American electorate is wildly in favor of the $4-$7 Trillion investment in human infrastructure, paid for by higher taxes on the elites.

    Another is that you're right, and so the media is either blind, or stupid, or biased towards the ever-more-imaginary "center" due to its own inborn culture of "objectivity".

    A final idea is that the political media of national scope is, in fact, following the more corporatist interests of the companies' owners - or even the personal interests of the reporters and commentators themselves, many of whom (I guess) do make more than $400K and so are not going to be immune from the increased taxation that is supposed to support this package.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    We are all one.

    Guess that message doesn't play very well, anywhere.

  5. [5] 
    andygaus wrote:

    [3] John M,

    I feel pretty sure that your "final idea" is the correct one. The media are blind, stupid, and biased, but what keeps blinding, stupefying, and biasing them? Their own financial interests. It's not even necessary to call them cynical liars: when they look through the eyes of money, they see what money sees.

  6. [6] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    You're starting to make sense, Don ... O M G !

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    I think maybe Paul Krugman read this, this is what he wrote the next day:



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