Political journalism often portrays progressives as impractical and uncompromising, unwilling to accept the compromises needed to get things done, while centrists are realistic and pragmatic. But what is happening in the US Congress right now is just the opposite.
The left wing of the Democratic Party is proposing sensible and popular public policies, such as negotiating drug prices and repressive measures against the lazy rich who evade taxes, and has shown itself willing to accept big deals in order to advance the president’s agenda. Joe Biden. For example, the $3.5 trillion ($18.97 trillion) in public spending Biden is asking for over the next 10 years is far less than what the progressives originally wanted. The conservative wing of the party, however, seems determined not to give an inch, even if that takes the president’s proposals off the rails.
What’s happening? Contrary to legend, many of the wavering Democrats don’t come from constituencies where the race with Republicans is fierce; in any case, Biden’s economic agenda is popular almost everywhere. For example, its core elements enjoy overwhelming support in the state of West Virginia. Furthermore, does anyone really believe that the outcome of next year’s legislative election will depend on whether the economic package, if it comes into existence, is worth US$1.5 trillion (BRL 8.13 trillion) in $3.5 trillion place?
We could, of course, point to the usual suspects: Big business and wealthy donor money to political causes is certainly making an impact. But something that Eric Levitz of New York magazine said in a recent article impressed me and helped clarify an issue I was trying to unravel. According to him, some Democrats seem to have formed their perceptions of economics and politics in the Clinton era, and have not updated them since then.
In other words, it makes a lot of sense to see Biden’s problems in getting his plans to work as caused by the caucus of sleepers, Democrats who continue to live intellectually two decades ago and have not yet updated their ideas to take the United States into account as it really is. today.
Specifically, some Democrats still seem to believe they can succeed economically and politically by being a slightly lighter version of the Republicans. It is doubtful that this was ever true. And it’s certainly not true now.
On the economic side, there was a widespread perception in the late 1990s that the harshness of US social policy — our high level of inequality, our lack of a European-style social safety net — was largely justified. for the country’s economic success. When Bill Clinton declared in 1996 that “the era of big government is over,” it seemed that the reward for small government was a thriving economy. We were advancing a lot, technologically, and surpassing the other countries with advanced economy on the planet in the creation of jobs; it is hard to imagine today the sense of American triumphalism that dominated the views of the country’s elite around the year 2000.
But that wouldn’t last. The boom generated by the productivity created by technological advances, which began in the mid-1990s, faded 10 years later. And the United States has never established lasting technological leadership; at this point, to use a visible indicator, many European countries have faster and cheaper internet access than the American one.
Job creation in the United States has also lost momentum; the probability that people of primary working age are employed is the same in Europe and the United States.
Beyond economics, in the 1990s many Democrats believed that it would be possible to attract the votes of white voters without a college education through a combination of rhetoric that validated their attitudes —Sister Souljah denunciations, tough positions on crime— and cuts in programs that were seen as beneficial primarily to black people. Clinton actually ended the assistance program for families with dependent children, the one most people criticized for using the phrase “Welfare Vagabonds,” without offering a real substitute.
But none of that worked. If racial antagonism was driven by perceptions of disorderly living in the decaying centers of big cities, it should have disappeared amid the spectacular decline in violent crime between the early 1990s and mid-2010s. It happened. If this antagonism reflected the perception that many black men capable of working were not employed, it should have disappeared when the problem of unemployment among men of primary working age (and the social disorder that accompanies lack of jobs) became so as severe in rural areas with an overwhelming white majority as it was in decaying cities. But it hasn’t disappeared.
Instead, the electoral behavior of white working-class voters seems more than ever driven by racial resentment. And you can’t win back these voters through cuts in social spending; they prefer their racial hostility to be served raw. Trump and his people give them that; Democrats cannot do this without becoming trumpists.
In other words, if there was ever a time when Democratic lawmakers could swim upstream as individuals and position themselves to the right of their party, that time is long gone. No matter how much they force Biden to temper his ambitions; it doesn’t matter how many fervent statements of support for fiscal responsibility they release. Republicans will continue to portray them as socialists who want to wipe out police funding, and voters the disoriented Democrats are trying to win will believe what their rivals say.
So my appeal to “moderate” Democrats is, please wake up. It is no longer 1999, and his political fate depends on helping Joe Biden to govern effectively.
Translation by Paulo Migliacci
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