The fringe is no longer a fringe. They’re the ones making the decisions
The clash of the two Democratic parties is now underway, and the casualty in the short term could be President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda — and in the long term, the erosion of Israel’s standing in Washington.
When Biden ran for president in 2020, he spoke of the need for bipartisan cooperation, for people of differing views to reach compromises, for the two sides to find common ground that would satisfy a broad majority of the population; and for bringing a spirit of togetherness to Washington.
When he spoke of such things, Biden was no doubt proceeding from the assumption that Democrats would march lockstep behind him, and that the only challenge would be winning over a few Republicans to support his ambitious plans. He probably never imagined Democrats would control the White House and both houses of Congress, and yet still have trouble securing agreement — between the two factions of his own party, moderates and progressives.
Biden has been in an impossible dilemma for the past month, trying to satisfy people whose views aren’t just different from his, but diametrically opposed. At this writing, a compromise has yet to be found that will enable passage of both the $1.5 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, as well as Biden’s signature domestice initiative, a massive $3.5 trillion social policy and climate package.
The more moderate wing of the Democratic Party, backed by at least 19 Republicans, wants passage of the infrastructure bill, plus a much smaller version of the social policy package, in the range of $1.5 to $2 trillion; while the progressive wing, with no Republican support, and without key Democratic moderates such as Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, is pushing for the full $3.5 trillion social policy bill to be funded by a corporate tax hike. Even if a way out of the morass is ultimately found, great damage has been done already, and it’s certain to affect Democrats’ chances in the 2022 midterm elections.
When Trump was president, he sometimes took positions that were fundamentally opposed by some elements in his party. But no Republican openly opposed Trump. They all fell into line, realizing that their fates were inextricably linked with his.
Biden’s case is different. The progressive caucus in Congress seems much more preoccupied with what the liberal voters in their own districts who elected them will think, and less with what Biden thinks.
Otto von Bismarck famously said that politics is the art of the possible. But the mood in the progressive wing of the party leans toward the “all or nothing” rather than the “next best” approach.
Manchin and Sinema won’t vote for a $3.5 trillion package that mandates 80 percent of electricity use by 2030 will come from clean energy? No problem, we’ll get even by not voting for the infrastructure bill.
This approach is shortsighted and even a little childish. Manchin represents coal-rich West Virginia. It’s only natural that he’d have trouble swallowing a bill designed to render coal mines obsolete. But the progressive wing cares less about Manchin’s fate in 2024, or about whether Sinema will be re-elected after becoming Arizona’s first Democratic senator since 1996. They care more about themselves and less about the party.
Throughout the 2020 campaign, moderate voices constantly reassured us that there’s nothing to fear from the progressives, that they’re a delusional minority, the fringe of the fringe. “Why do you always talk about five House members out of 435?” Democratic officials would sometimes complain when I raised the subject. But with the Democratic majority so thin, and Nancy Pelosi needing every vote, and with the leftist fringe intent on twisting the president’s arm, the fringe is no longer a fringe. They’re the ones making the decisions.
For Biden, this is all very bad news. It’s not just his favorability ratings, which remain negative, but also that the midterm elections are just a year and a month away. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the internal Democratic discord, and the inability to advance legislation, all cast serious doubt on the president’s ability to enact the highly ambitious reforms he set forth when he entered office.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 880)
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