In my last entry, about the massive betrayal of the American people to a handful of plutocrats via the passage of a license to loot posing as a tax reform bill, I caught a small amount of hell from Democrats, who wondered why I had harsh words for their party. While I feel that I spared the majority of my wrath for the Republicans who engineered this monstrosity, they still asked me: Why criticize the Democrats at all? What’s the point of taking them to task, when they weren’t responsible for the bill in any way and all of them voted against it?
As it always is, this conflict was writ large on the battlefields of social media, where liberals and centrists were agog that anyone would have an unkind word for the men and women of the Democratic Party. Why pick on them? What did they do (other than, you know, lose an election to a candidate so profoundly incompetent and stupid that he has to have his phone taken away from him like a petulant adolescent) to make this catastrophe happen? In one notable burst of indignation, comedian Andy Richter, a millionaire who is paid to laugh at other peoples’ jokes, demanded to know how the vote could have gone any differently, seeing as it was split strictly along party lines. Reminded that more senators on the left could have swung the vote, he expressed a lack of understanding of this fairly basic concept, assuming that any seats lost to a theoretical socialist would have been losses for the Democrats, not the Republicans.
This sort of erroneous thinking (the country’s only self-identified socialist senator won both his national seats from Republican incumbents) is typical of liberal partisans for whom history began with the last election, and for whom politics is in essence a sophisticated, rulesy video game based on debate club, where you are rewarded with power points for making the most respectable argument to an audience comprised entirely of people exactly like you. But in politics, as in life, people learn what you teach them. The Republicans have been taking a master class from the Democrats for 30 years in the consequences of breaking those genteel rules; since the Clinton presidency, they have been in the equivalent of a graduate program. What they have clearly learned, from the party that pretends to oppose them, is that there are none. They will pay no price for their behavior, as egregious as it might be. They alone understand how power works in America, and we are the ones paying the price.
Time and time again, in that great vanished past that we all pretend never happened, the Democrats, when they have been in power, have failed. They have failed, even when in control of the levers of power, to push anything resembling like a forceful agenda, the enacting of which would have any kind of real impact on the lives of working Americans. Why? It’s hard to say. They are poisoned by so many toxins — respectability, a genuine love of capitalism, boardroom identitarianism, a fixation on meritocracy and expertise, and an absolute dread that someone might ever accuse them of actually wielding power — that it’s difficult to identify which specific one dominates at a given moment. But it cannot be denied that every time they’ve had a chance, they’ve failed to pull the trigger on anything truly transformative, while their opponents — their enemies — have destroyed more of the everyday workings of American life in a few decades than in the previous century combined.
Do I really even need to go over the specifics? Do I need to talk about how the Clinton Democrats dismantled the welfare system, built up the prison-industrial complex, and sold out the unions with devastating ‘free trade’ agreements? Do I need to remind anyone of the utterly gutless and enormously destructive way the party laid down for the Iraq invasion? Have we forgotten the way that Obama — yes, the one that we all wish was still President — ramped up drone warfare, enhanced the security state beyond measure, made the Bush-era tax cuts permanent, and failed to punish a single bank for their role in sandbagging the global economy? Has everyone forgotten the witless, stupid, cruel behavior of the State Department under Hillary Clinton, or that the ACA, Obama’s signature legislation — his sole stab at creating a legacy program that might actually help people — was a monstrous compromise that never came close to providing decent universal health care and contained one payoff after another to private insurers? Did we forget their weakness on the Supreme Court post that was theirs to lose, their caving on single-payer when they had the votes to force it, their complete inability to stake out a coherent position on drug reform, abortion, or any social services that weren’t means-tested to death? Card check, banking reform, the militarization of police — the list goes on and on, all to preserve a sense of fairness that there was never any chance they would be rewarded for.
Never mind the sins of the past — look instead to the present and the future. What was the Democratic reaction to this tax bill? Frowny-face emojis and hollow rhetoric. Chuck Schumer, the House minority leader, expressed his opinion in the language of someone disappointed that his Christmas bonus was smaller than expected, and instead of expressing righteous moral outrage at a bill that will plunge millions into poverty and despair, he blathered about bipartisanship and compromise. (He then went on to advise the evil villain Trump to declare Jerusalem the capitol of Israel, setting the whole prospect of a just settlement with Palestine on fire, because if there’s one thing everyone in Washington can agree on, it’s that Israel gets what it wants, always.) Hell, this week they’re praising a senator who actually voted for this soul-sucking tax bill because he wrote a pittance of a check to someone running against a child molester.
Even now, the Democrats are pushing the patently ludicrous idea that the tax bill is bad not because it’s an obscenity that sprays liquid shit all over the American working class, but because it will cause budget deficits, an issue that (a) doesn’t matter, (b) no one cares about, and (c) the G.O.P. have proved repeatedly for decades they haven’t got a molecule of sincerity invested in. The end result is that the Democrats, who are supposed to be the only thing standing between us and a party of looters who want us dead, are going to do what they always do: plead poverty because they have allowed the enemy to strip us of our only resource, and retreat into the false reality of deficit discipline and budget hawkishness.
Naturally, this will blow up in their faces next time they win an election (if that ever happens), because they have been given infinite opportunities to learn that the Republicans will hurl acid with them no matter what they do, and they have failed every time. A party with any sense at all would realize that they’re going to get crucified regardless, so they might as well go for the boldest moves they can get away with and force the enemy to waste tons of resources and political capital trying to undo it. That’s exactly what the Republicans have done. But instead, addicted as they are to a phantom of respectability, they win minor victories only to squander the political power it buys them by reaching across the aisle to an opposition that would rather eat a barrel of shit than help them do literally anything.
What could they have done better? The question is an insult to ask now. It should have been asked decades ago. They abandoned the barest pretense of being a party of the left in the 1990s, spooked by the ghost of Ronald Reagan, and the crows have been coming home to roost ever since. Socialists have been scolded for what seems like ages about the wisdom of incrementalism and the foolishness of making big promises and enacting ‘unrealistic’ proposals like free health care or a higher marginal tax rate. Meanwhile, the Republicans have thrown a hand grenade down the gullet of the economy, and the political consequences to them will be zero. Why not embrace Reagan? Why not chase mythical questing beasts like the middle-class suburban centrist Republican?
This crippling inability to understand opposition comes from the fact that Democratic politicians will not suffer from what the GOP is doing. The class war is not one in which they or their children will be casualties. The minute they made money the driver of their party, they lost the ability to look at money as a political problem. The fantasy of bipartisanship is not a fantasy to them because they share class solidarity over anything else. They are preparing for a world where they must hide in grand castles surrounded by private armies to save them from the wrath of the people they have destroyed. The least we can do is make those preparations worthwhile. Make them afraid. Make them know their enemies are real. Make them believe that they are doing this for a reason, not a letter at the end of a name.
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, Marvel and DC played a game where they would cattily refer to one another as if they were literally unspeakable. It was all just for show; these were businesses engaging in a sporting bit of fun, knowing that their competition was just an abstraction in front of numbers, and that they would trade personnel at the drop of a paycheck. It wasn’t real. So, too, is our political struggle not real — or, rather, it’s only real on one side. Until the Democrats are made to suffer the consequences of their failure to oppose the Republicans; until they abandon the pretense of ‘bipartisanship’ in favor of viewing the GOP as a real enemy, the way the rest of us do; until they learn what power means and what to do with it — they are nothing but the Distinguished Competition, churning out the same product with different names and different costumes, but meant to accomplish the same thing.