There are various points here from TPM Reader PT that I disagree. I don’t think there was ever a “Clinton / Gore / Lieberman wing of the party”. I also think it’s hard to argue that moderate or conservative-leaning Dems are obsolete when they have it entirely within their power to sink the President’s entire agenda. But there are enough accurate points that I wanted to share PT‘s take.
I’ve been paying a modicum of attention to the ongoing freakout of conservative Democrats in Congress, as I’m sure you have been as well. I have a couple of thoughts about them that I’d like to share with you.
First thought: to understand what’s going on, it’s helpful to think of this faction as a kind of ethnic group within the Democratic Party, and one that has until recently been at the top of the status hierarchy of their society (that society being, again, the Party). They were always the ones you needed to get things done; they could tank — or rescue — any legislation, they were the ones who could cut deals with the less conservative Republicans, they were the ones whose interests were always catered to. If you wanted to get ahead in national politics in the Democratic Party, you had to make sure everyone knew you were in the Clinton / Gore / Lieberman wing of the party, and not with that collection of leftists who didn’t know how to win an election.
But then, in the 20 years since 9/11, something happened. The nation changed, the party changed, the Republicans changed. Seemingly overnight, the conservative wing of the Democratic Party became obsolete. Two consecutive winning Presidential tickets had a person of color on them. Joe Biden, formerly the Senator from MBNA, started his administration far to the left of his past positions, far to the left even of the Obama Administration. Republicans engineered a near-total blockade of good-faith cooperation with Democrats, leaving their vaunted skills at cross-party coalition building useless. Republican extremism — from the refusal to even hold hearings on Merritt Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, to everything the Trump Administration did with nary a peep of protest from others in the party — so thoroughly discredited their party that getting Republican approval for legislation, for nominations, for Administrations, was in any event counterproductive even it it could be achieved.
And then, the final indignity: the left wing of the Democratic Party was threatening to sink legislation that the conservative wing had painstakingly constructed, in the kind of bipartisan compromise that the conservative Democrats found so enthralling; and rather than rejecting their threats, the party’s leadership endorsed the principle that the bipartisan infrastructure bill would never become law unless the reconciliation bill crafted by the more liberal parts of the party did as well. The conservative wing, so accustomed to being ascendant over the rest of the party, was now on the receiving end of the sort of threats that the conservative wing had used so effectively, and so frequently, for so long. It was a loss of relative status of their ethnic group relative to others. And, as often happens, it seems to have left them asking, “If my group can’t be the dominant one in this society, does this society still deserve my loyalty?”
This, I think, is what’s behind the emotion, the aggression, with which the conservative Democrats are reacting to the infrastructure / reconciliation bill issue. It’s a desperation to recover the relative status that they had come to see as their entitlement, combined with an absolute rage that the groups in the party they perceive as their lessers are daring to assert themselves — to assert that they aren’t second-class citizens of the Party anymore.
But I think there’s more to it than that, and it brings me to my second point.
The conservative Democrats have always argued that bringing Republican support onto a bill invariably improves the quality of the resulting legislation, and its robustness. I think that part of what’s happening is that it’s becoming clear to them that this is, at least under present circumstances, a mirage. After scraping and compromising and descoping their bipartisan bill to keep the Republicans on board, the left then shows up with its gargantuan reconciliation bill and the party leadership is falling all over itself to pass it as-is! All of their ostentatious bipartisan process led to them accepting half a loaf, while the other side of the party simply said that they weren’t going to do that and may well get everything they wanted.
And this brings the third point: the quality of outcomes between the two bills, as well as the earlier Covid rescue bill, gives the lie to their entire schtick about the beauty of the filibuster and all the other ridiculous Senate rules and traditions that impede legislating. While they’ve been running around swearing their eternal allegiance to supermajority requirements, what everyone who’s paying attention can see is that, actually, legislating with a simple majority is producing better results. Their entire tired kabuki drama of finding 10 Republican Senators who can be cajoled into supporting legislation is a counterproductive waste of time, made necessary only by their stubborn refusal to face the facts and kill off the filibuster and any other supermajority rules that get in the way. And they know it. And everyone who’s watching knows it. Their proclamations convince nobody.