When Barack Obama took the lead in the 2008 primaries, many of us who supported him at the time were surprised to learn of people called superdelegates: party big-whigs who got to cast their own heavily weighted votes in the Democratic primaries. At the beginning of that race, a great majority of them had pledged their support to Hillary Clinton, and it seemed possible that if they remained committed to her, she might prevail over Obama in the end, despite losing the pledged delegate count. Chris Rock famously joked that “nobody had ever heard of a superdelegate until it looked like a black man was about to win the nomination,” a humorous nod to the idea that whenever it seems something good might be on the horizon, some unexpected obstacle presents itself and threatens to thwart progress.
Fast forward to this week, when Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, ruled that Democrats could not make a $15 minimum wage part of the coronavirus relief package that they are attempting to pass through budget reconciliation. It’s difficult not to be reminded of Chris Rock’s joke, because just as many of us hadn’t heard of superdelegates until they became an issue in 2008, almost none of us had any idea what a “Senate parliamentarian” was, until this recent ruling of hers against the minimum wage provision. Once again, it seems that just as we’re about to achieve something meaningful, some annoying little thing materializes out of nowhere to stop us.
Of course, this “ruling” by the “parliamentarian” is no ruling at all, but rather, a recommendation. Kamala Harris, as Vice President, has the power to overrule her. Several progressive organizations like RootsAction, Our Revolution, and the Sunrise Movement, are urging her to do just that. However, word from the White House is that she isn’t going to:
White House National Economic Council Director @BrianDeeseNEC reiterates VP Harris won't overrule Senate parliamentarian— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) February 26, 2021
"The Vice President is not going to weigh in."
Says, "We'll respect that process"
Should she “weigh in” and overrule the parliamentarian, it would require a 60-vote majority to rebuke her. Since there’s no possibility of 10 Senate Democrats breaking ranks, this would mean the minimum wage increase would be included in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. In this scenario, Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who both oppose a $15 minimum wage, would have to vote against the entire upcoming stimulus in order to vote against the minimum wage hike.
If the $15 minimum wage is not included in the relief package, it will likely fail as a standalone measure, since in that case, it wouldn’t be tied to any other important initiatives like a crucial relief package, meaning that Manchin and Sinema could cast a No vote without the added pressure of having to reject a stimulus package - one that includes direct cash payments - in the process.
This is why the aforementioned progressive groups, along with writers at outlets like Jacobin and Common Dreams, are demanding that Harris overrule the parliamentarian, who David Sirota rightly points out is effectively an advisor to the vice president in this case. Robert Reich put it especially pointedly:
Why did we all bust our as*es getting Democrats elected to the presidency and in control of both houses of Congress if they can't do a simple thing like raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour?— Robert Reich (@RBReich) February 26, 2021
Good question. Of course, in his mind, he knows the answer - after all, he was among the most prominent progressives who made the case for voting Biden to oust Trump in 2020.
Progressives like Reich, Sirota, the Sunrise Movement, RootsAction, and Our Revolution, have three things in common as it pertains to this issue:
First, they all supported the Democratic ticket in 2020.
Second, they all will support the Democratic ticket in 2024, no matter who’s on it.
Third, and most importantly, they all seem to be under the illusion that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can be goaded into doing the right thing, and be made to understand that they will suffer political consequences if they don’t.
Emma Vigeland, Sam Seder, and Alex Pareene predicted on The Majority Report last Friday that Kamala Harris will pay a political price if and when she seeks the Democratic nomination in 2024 should she not go all-in on the minimum wage. This is consistent with what many others in progressive media are insisting, which is that pressure can be exerted on Harris and that she will be held accountable if she fails to deliver.
As much as I would love to agree with them, the idea that Democratic voters will hold moderate Democrats responsible for their terrible decisions flies in the face of the recent history of Democratic politics. Progressives have been prosecuting the case against corporate Democrats’ abysmal records for the past six years, and yet the last two Democratic presidential nominees have been Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. To believe that rank and file Democratic voters will turn on Harris in the 2024 primaries over her failure to fight for a $15 minimum wage is to believe that Lucy will finally hold still when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football.
In addition to recent examples, there is a decades-long history in the Democratic Party of voters giving their leaders a pass for one betrayal after another. What reason do Joe and Kamala have to believe this time will be any different? The progressives who are currently “pressuring” and “pushing” them, have proven to be reliable Democratic voters come general election season, and the liberal base of the party can be counted on to either defend, excuse, or altogether ignore these policy-based critiques. On issue after issue of material consequence to ordinary Americans, from the Iraq War, to the Bankruptcy bill, to mass incarceration, to corporate trade deals, the Democratic base has demonstrated their willingness, if not eagerness, to forgive and forget every policy transgression committed by their beloved party leaders.
So if past is prologue - and there’s still no reason to believe it isn’t - then neither Biden nor Harris will pay any political price for abandoning the $15 minimum wage fight. Sure, the Democrats will lose the midterms, and Harris could lose the general election in 2024 due to low base turnout. But losing to Republicans is a risk the Democratic Party has always been willing to take if it means stopping leftward momentum within the party.
Claire McCaskill, moderate Democrat from Missouri, lost her Senate re-election race due to low black turnout in St. Louis, and had a job as an MSNBC contributor waiting for her, where it’s safe to assume she earns a higher salary than she did as a Senator. This is one of many examples to signify that in a corrupt system of revolving doors and neoliberal hegemony, loyalty to the system itself will always be rewarded, one way or another.
The system offers no incentives for politicians to commit procedural faux pas like “overruling the parliamentarian” in order to pass a living wage. What we must now realize is that Democratic primary voters are as much a part of this system as anyone else. Liberals have become such useful idiots that they may as well be co-conspirators. No matter what, they can be relied upon to flood the voting booths and pull the lever for whichever party favorite the media tells them deserves their support. They are the true gatekeepers of the status quo, the foot soldiers for the elites. They ensure that establishment politicians are protected from negative consequences that, in any healthy democracy, would result from reneging on core campaign promises and selling out core constituencies.
Will this time be any different? I’ll believe it when I see it. In the meantime, I have a few predictions to make:
First, progressive champion Nina Turner will lose her primary to party loyalist Shontel Brown, who will go on to become the next Congresswoman from Ohio’s 11th District. Second, John Fetterman, the only statewide office holder in Pennsylvania to endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016, will lose his Senate primary to the Biden-backing Malcolm Kenyatta, who will then lose the general election to the eventual Republican nominee. Third, Kamala Harris will cruise to the Democratic nomination in 2024, and lose in November of that year to whoever the Republicans put forward.
I very much hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. I don’t say this to depress you, but rather to save you the time and effort you might be thinking of expending in the hopes that Democratic voters might finally be on the verge of waking up. Because they’re not.
The best we can do as progressives now would be to back as many efforts as we can whose successes don’t depend on convincing Democratic voters to vote the right way. The current union vote by Amazon workers in Alabama is one great example. Such a victory, if it’s replicated throughout the country, could politicize enough working class people that a viable threat to the Democratic establishment can be levied from the Left.
Unless and until that happens, we’re just pissing in the wind, because the bottom line is this: there’s no persuading the liberals of anything - they’re too stupid, selfish, and superficial to absorb any substantive arguments about why they ought to turn on the party bosses. They can be outnumbered, eventually, if we organize effectively. But progressives who still, after the past six years, invest in any project to convince the Democratic primary electorate, as it’s currently constituted, to hold Joe Biden and Kamala Harris accountable, are wasting their time.
Photo: Jessica McGowan, Getty Images