It was early Friday morning, about 2:00 AM Alaska Time. I had just dozed off in my living room chair, watching the endless coverage of the election returns. My wife had, long before, gone to sleep.
The silenced television was displaying the agitated image of Joe Scarborough waving a newspaper article at the camera while his wife, Mika, was sitting next to him with that downcast look that she favors during his unhinged rants. I toggled the sound on and Scarborough was in full bellow, telling at the camera “…you Democrats have got to stop this ‘woke’ Socialist nonsense…it is driving people away!”
The article Scarborough was waving at the camera is entitled “Centrist House Democrats Lash Out at Liberal Colleagues, Blame Far-Left Views for Costing Party Seats” and can be found here.
Full disclosure: I dislike Joe Scarborough-immensely. I have always considered him a bully with a mediocre mind wrapped in a moderate Republican sweater. Readers will understand, therefore, why it was especially galling to me to learn of these attacks, in the middle of the night, through Morning Joe. After all, it is Scarborough’s party—not the Democrats—who must account for themselves to the majority of the American people.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
The article that excited Scarborough describes attacks from centrist Democrats during a conference call among the Democratic Caucus on the day after the election.
“…in the aftermath of their unexpected losses, Democrats argue that the Party needs to come to terms with a bigger problem: Republicans have successfully cast the most vulnerable Democrats as “socialists” and tied them to liberal ideas, including Medicare-for-all, the Green New Deal, and cutting police budgets.”
Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) responded sharply to her colleagues. “To be real, it sounds like you are saying stop pushing for what Black folks want” while accusing the Moderates of only “…being interested in appealing to White people in suburbia.”
Elsewhere, the article describes Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Florida Democrat who suffered an unexpected loss to a Republican challenger, as “…arguing through tears that the party’s infighting on Twitter needs to stop.”
Yet the infighting will continue, thanks to outside provocateurs like Scarborough and the Right-Wing media cabal that champions Trumpism.
The New York Times interviewed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) after the Washington Post article revealed the Progressive-Centrist divide in the Democratic caucus. AOC gave a strong defense of her progressive Caucus. She and other progressives were “good soldiers” for Biden during the general campaign. She expressed disappointment with the Centrist Democrats’ attack on the progressives. She sees the so-called “moderate” leadership as shifting the blame for their losses to the Progressive members who, not incidentally, gained seats this election.
AOC told the NYT that she is going to watch and judge the actions of the Biden-Harris Administration who she believes will do fine. In the tradition of the revolutionary Gospel of James, she and other progressives will judge the Biden-Harris administration by their works and not by the lip service they pay to progressives on the campaign trail. You can read about AOC’s strong Catholic faith in this article.
AOC and other progressives such as Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), think that a real “post-mortem” of the Democratic losses is a necessary exercise, and they are confident that it will reveal the simplest of truths: the losing moderate incumbents in Trump districts ran “poor campaigns” and got whipsawed by the Trump turnout, which was highly successful. While Joe Biden got the highest popular vote in history, Donald Trump got the second highest.
As for the criticism that the Republican messaging was effective against vulnerable Democrats, what happened to the Democratic messaging?
The venerated Congressional elder James Clyburn (D-SC06) joined in the chorus of criticism of the progressives. He was especially critical of the Medicare-for-all proposal advanced by Bernie Sanders and the Squad in the House. “Socialized medicine does not reflect our values.” Clyburn said in the caucus meeting.
Yet the facts-on-the ground, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, is that universal health care in some form is a very popular policy. The Foundation found that a wide majority of Americans support public health care options, including Medicare-for-all. Moreover, a Public Affairs Research Poll shows that the Public—by nearly 2:1 --trusts the Democrats more than the Republicans on health care.
It seems clear to me that the fault is not in the stars but in Brutus the Centrist himself and his lousy messaging. Representative Clyburn would be at a loss to explain to me and other Democratic progressives how our incumbents could get beaten by Medicare-for-all proposal while the Republican challengers themselves support the destruction of our nation’s existing health care system!
The answer is messaging and the utter failure of the House Democratic Campaign Committee to deploy an effective national campaign strategy that complimented the Biden and Lincoln Project messaging on Trump.
The Biden Campaign and the Lincoln Project very effectively attacked Donald Trump, but the party apparatus failed to attack Trumpism in those congressional races.
The HDCC and its allies should have been pouring their plentiful resources into internet ads targeting veterans, the disabled and the Elderly, and training our incumbents in debate skills, such as “pivoting” For Example:
VETERANS. MY OPPONENT questions MY patriotism, but I have yet to hear him explain his silence on Vladimir Putin’s bounties on U.S. Service Personnel paid to the Taliban! I will never be silent when our military is being threatened!
AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES. MY OPPONENT waves a false flag about “socialism” because HE doesn’t want to answer the question of why he supports the decimation of the Americans With Disabilities Act! Oh he may tell you tonight that he supports the ADA, but have you heard him EVER mentioning it on the campaign trail? Well I have mentioned it. I have mentioned it on the campaign trail AND on the House Floor where I fought to preserve it. I along with some Republican allies created enough bipartisan noise in Congress that the White House backed down—temporarily—on their Executive Order to gut the ADA. The simple, painful truth about my opponent is that he is being supported by the opponents of the ADA because they want to remove YOUR advocate from office and put in their puppet.
ELDERLY. MY OPPONENT likes to call me names and try to label me something that I am not because he knows that IF YOU KNOW THE TRUTH about where he stands you would never vote for him. There are news articles I am passing out that tells you the truth. In Donald Trump’s second term he plans to cut Social Security and Medicare. That’s a fact. Have you heard this from my opponent? Of course not. The political scoundrels who want to eliminate your Social Security are funding my opponent’s campaign! Why is that? Because they know that I will fight to the death to keep your Social Security whole and your Medicare intact! So if you insist on voting for Trump for whatever reason I personally cannot fathom, you had better vote for me to keep him from going over the edge in the next four years.
My mock exchange reflects the temperament that a candidate needs to bring to a political knife fight. I believe that the post-mortem will reveal that some of the candidates didn’t put up a fight. Other candidates may have simply been overwhelmed by the MAGA Red Tide in their districts.
Harsh Reality for Democratic Centrists. While poor campaigning and bad messaging got incumbent Democrats defeated in Trump-voting districts, it was an historic turnout by millions of Democratic Leftists, including the 18-29 year-old demographic, People of Color, and women who got Joe Biden and Kamala Harris elected.
The party needs to build and consolidate its new base—not alienate it or drive it away.
The first 100 days in office for the Biden-Harris Administration will be critical. Here is the policy infrastructure and actions the new administration will use to advance our healing and rebuilding agenda.
Transition Team. Set the table with strong progressive talent and make sure that team leaders are good at conflict resolution. It is better, (as Lincoln found), to have a team of rivals rather than a monolithic policy team;
Executive Orders. Just as Donald Trump used Executive Orders to reverse the policies of the Obama Administration, Executive Orders must be used reverse the most egregious policies of Donald Trump. This is the best way to signal concrete “action” to progressives;
Task Forces and Committees. Many “big” policies will be needed for reform and re-building. All of the key areas require a long-term commitment by experts and stakeholders. Each of these areas must include progressive solutions: Immigration, Green Initiatives, Health Reform, Immigration Reform, Campaign Finance, Justice Reform, Energy Policy, Climate Change, Tribal Self-Determination, Public Lands and Resources.
Coronavirus Task Force. If this is driven by science and reason, it will, by definition, be progressive. Initial formation of this task force is already under way; I quipped that by forming a working task force on the Rona, Biden-Harris has already done more than Trump in nine months.
Scientific Advisory. Reinstitute the Scientific Advisory Boards that Trump dumped.
Student Loan Debt Relief
ACA Amendments (Public Option)
Tax Reform Act
Campaign Finance Reform
A Centrist vision will not be bold enough to carry us forward as we undertake the massive tasks of repairing the damage left by Donald Trump.
The Biden-Harris Administration has 100 days to clearly signal its intentions to the Americans—and to the progressive base of the Democratic Party. While I have a lifetime of loyalty to the Democratic Party, my younger colleagues do not. And there are numerous third Parties forming on the Left that offer a friendly and welcoming space for our emerging base.
If the Center-Right succeeds in turning the Democratic Party into a machine of their image, the Party will become a hollowed-out shell of its former New Deal greatness, just like the Republican Party has become the opposite of the party of Lincoln.