Thank God this overwrought election is behind us. Joe Biden will be a good (interim?) president. Yet major trials of governing are to come, and Joe will need all the good fortune and support his prayers can provide. I’m sure he also knows he’ll need more than prayer.
The election resulted in some Democratic House losses and a split Senate. As many have pointed out, this will make governing arduous and challenging. The near 50-50 split within the country is peculiarly reflected in the split between progressives and centrists in the Democratic party. It’s not up to Joe Biden to resolve this problem; it’s up to the party.
It will be interesting to see how Democrat leadership confronts the challenge. The essence of that issue is something I and many of you have dealt with: I want all the things that Sanders, Warren and AOC have stood for in their most progressive form. You know the list—climate change, healthcare, racial equity, constitutional reform. Yet the political outlook for getting these things passed is, shall we say, grim.
The centrists counter that, particularly with a split Senate, any gains toward those ends will be problematic at best. To get legislation passed, the Democrats have to become “trimmers,” compromisers, some would say, sell-outs. The conundrum is that the essence of politics is compromise, something Mitch McConnell has yet to recognize.
As writer Camonghne Felix puts it, “community organizers and policy makers from communities who bear the brunt of these problems have been offering up policy ideas and solutions, few of which truly exist at the center.” The center has taken control of the party for too long. It “has left marginalized communities on the fringe for decades and has left them out of conversations about who we are as a country. We cannot demand that people ‘Vote for Democrats’ simply because we are not Republicans.”
On Saturday Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came on strong to The New York Times about the need for the party to move left. She made some vigorous points that without active reform the party is heading for obsolescence by taking the John Kasich approach.
If you’re not door-knocking, if you’re not on the internet, if your main points of reliance are TV and mail, then you’re not running a campaign on all cylinders. I just don’t see how anyone could be making ideological claims when they didn’t run a full-fledged campaign.
For the party, facing the challenge of a lifetime in the next four years, it is past time to get its act together. Eric Levitz talks about the structural, constitutional limitations of governing in the U.S. The Senate is the prime example.
If Democrats fail to pull off an improbable triumph in the Peach State [Georgia], then the Biden presidency will be doomed to failure before it starts. With Mitch McConnell in control of the Senate, Biden will not be allowed to appoint a Supreme Court justice, or appoint liberals to major cabinet positions, or sign his name to a major piece of progressive legislation; and that may very well mean that the U.S. government will not pass any significant climate legislation, or expansion of public health insurance, or immigration reform, or gun safety law this decade.
There are no easy ways to escape these binds. Biden’s bittersweet victory notwithstanding, the election has presented us with a bleak outlook for progressivism. Maybe AOC is right—that the party must commit to some truly progressive reforms to regain trust on the part of the electorate.