Centrists Killed the Biden Presidency and Doomed the Democratic Party

by Keaton Weiss

Last week, the Senate’s 52-48 vote against filibuster reform drove yet another nail in the coffin that is the Biden presidency. After having failed to whip his own party’s votes to pass Build Back Better in the last months of 2021, Biden attempted a “pivot” to voting rights legislation in 2022.

It was obvious to most that the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, like BBB before it, would die at the hands of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have been immovable in their opposition to the most important components of Biden’s agenda. The two Senators are now pariahs within their own party, drawing the ire of even the most loyal Democratic voters, many of whom are already contributing to primary efforts against them.

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Of course, the irony here is that Joe Biden, Kyrsten Sinema, and Joe Manchin share the same centrist wing of the Democratic Party – you know, the one that’s always claiming they’re the “adults in the room” who can “work across the aisle” to “get things done.” The last two presidential primaries have been battles between Bernie Sanders advocating for meaningful reforms, and moderates like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton lecturing him and his supporters about how their ideas are unrealistic, and how centrists like them are best-positioned to actually achieve legislative goals, albeit less ambitious ones.

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This intra-party compromise proposed by the moderates wins out more than it loses. In both 2016 and 2020, Democratic voters were successfully duped into accepting this bogus bargain, nominating Clinton and Biden despite being far more aligned with Bernie on nearly every major policy issue.

If there’s one political development worth remembering in 2021, it’s that centrists, not progressives, drowned the Biden agenda in the bathtub and sabotaged his administration. Despite candidate Biden’s nostalgia for “getting things done” with segregationist colleagues in the 1970’s and his predictions of a Republican “epiphany” following his election that would usher in a return to bipartisanship, his first year in office was stymied by the same legislative stalemate that defined the Obama era.

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And once again, it should be noted for the history books that this impasse was arrived at not by radical socialist progressives or far-right Republicans, but by Biden’s fellow “moderate” Democrats, who every election cycle fraudulently claim they’re the ones who roll up their sleeves and make things happen while the ideologues on the extremes only scream and yell.

Will Democratic voters absorb any of this? Probably not. According to Morning Joe, Biden’s problem is that he’s “moved too far left and has not been able to bring those final two Senators home.” Rachel Maddow, in a particularly puzzling segment (below), defended Biden’s blaming his failures on Republican obstructionism while seeming to forget that the very rationale for his presidency was that he was uniquely qualified to overcome it.

If rank and file Democrats have proven one thing in recent years, it’s that they think how they’re told. Despite the truth being clear as day that moderates in their own party are responsible for tanking Biden’s agenda, their MSNBC thought leaders seem intent on blaming both progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans for the dysfunction in Washington. That their audience could be convinced of this even as they’re made to rail against Manchin and Sinema as “traitors” demonstrates a cognitive dissonance that only the most committed party loyalists are capable of.

It’s unlikely they’ll ever snap out of it, and it’s even less likely to matter whether or not they do. Come January 2023, Democrats will certainly be the minority party with virtually no power at the federal level. Between GOP dominance of state legislatures and the gerrymandering that will result from it, and the Democrats’ aforementioned failure to pass voting rights legislation, this dynamic isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

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And so while for progressives it’d be a nice consolation prize to hear our moderate counterparts admit that their approach has been a colossal failure resulting in both political gridlock and electoral annihilation, the real lesson coming out of this past year is that the Democratic Party is on its deathbed, and that centrism was the cancer that put it there.

If there is a way forward – and that’s one hell of a big if – it’s in the form of a new organization that rises from the ashes of the Democrats’ looming obliteration. There’s no course correction to be made within the party, especially not with a “progressive” wing too weak to keep its most basic promise of “holding the line” on the bipartisan infrastructure and BBB negotiations (ie, pledging not to pass the first without the second, and then doing just that).

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As far as the Democratic Party is concerned, the only thing left to do is write its obituary. The cause of death: a parasitic donor class attached itself to it and sucked the life out of it, rendering it incapable of performing even the most basic political functions when faced with life-or-death stakes. Or, as the Washington establishment would call it, “centrism.”

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149. The End of Roe v. Wade: a Debacle 50 Years in the Making Due Dissidence

Photo: Gage Skidmore CC 2.0

This Christmas, America is Officially Pottersville

by Russell Dobular

This is a strange holiday season.  To gather, or not to gather: that is the question for many as Omicron bursts onto the scene just in time to turn our seasonal festivities into millions of individual party games of Covid Russian Roulette.  

Does Aunt Jen look a little under the weather?  Or will it be the friend from work who looks perfectly fine that turns Christmas dinner into a super-spreader event?  

Should I go out on New Year’s Eve, or content myself for yet another year with the depressing televised Times Square ball drop? 

Is it okay to go see the local Christmas tree lighting? It’s outdoors after all. But the new strain is twice as contagious as Delta, so will being outside really make a difference?  

Or do we just stay home and do nothing?  Again?

The only tradition we can truly rely on in times like these are the one thing that, by their nature, will never change: our Holiday Movie Classics.

Miracle on 34th Street (favorite line: Of all the isms in the world, the woist of ‘em is ‘commoicialism’), A Christmas Carol (the Alistair Sims version), A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Story, Home Alone 2, Elf, Polar Express . . .

Even as our world crumbles around us, these remain frozen in time, representing not only a fantasy holiday season, but a fantasy America; one that is vaguely, permanently, stuck somewhere between 1932-1955, and where the nation always lives up to its highest ideals.  

It is a world of small towns, snowy vistas, tow-headed tykes, red rocket sleds, prosperous small businesses, and contented shop keepers. It is an America whose people are innocent and yet somehow possessed of an innate, native wisdom. Salt of the Earth types abound while the bad guys are either banished from the merrymaking in the final reel or invited to join in once they’ve seen the error of their ways. By the end we all learn the true meaning of Christmas, which, in our national cinema, is synonymous with the true meaning of America.  

No film exemplifies the formula better than Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Capra, an Italian immigrant deeply enamored of his adopted nation and its institutions wove together the “America as Christmas” conceit more effectively and explicitly than any other filmmaker before or since. The “no man is poor who has friends,” thing? I tear up every time. Every. Single. Time.

Far from being naïve about the dark side of America, Capra’s two most enduring films, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, both pit his favorite Everyman, Jimmy Stewart, against figures that represent an America gone wrong: greedy old businessman, Mr. Potter, in the former, and the corrupt Washington establishment in the latter.

But in Capra’s telling, one good, plain-spoken man, sure of his purpose and just in his cause, can always triumph over the rapacious and the corrupt. His honesty and truthfulness will ultimately rally the people to his cause, ensuring that the nation will never fall into the hands of the Mr. Potters of the world.  Hell, even that Sam Wainwright “Hee-haw,” jerk comes through in the end.

It goes without saying that this was always a, shall we say, generous version, of how America worked. Ask any black or brown person. Or all the women that Capra would never have considered choosing as a protagonist. But cultural ideals are always made up of myths and fantasies intended to point us towards our better selves. Without stories like It’s a Wonderful Life, would people ever look around at the country they actually live in and realize how far short it falls of what they want it to be? Of what it’s supposed to be? Of what they’ve been told it was?

It is in that spirit that I watch the film now, in this hellish plague year, and come to a terrible conclusion: 2021 America isn’t the one where George Bailey learns what the world would have been like without him and then returns to Bedford Falls with a renewed sense of purpose and vigor. This is America as Pottersville, the dog-eat-dog slum that Mr. Potter creates in Bailey’s absence.

A healthcare system that bankrupts its citizens; a childcare system that is completely unaffordable for the working class; a political system that is entirely owned and operated by the wealthy and corporate interests; an education system whose quality depends on your zip code; a level of wealth inequality that is truly medieval in scale; a news media that only exists to spread elite propaganda; a workforce that hasn’t had a raise in 50 some-odd years, even as productivity has soared; skyrocketing home prices making the market unaffordable for young families while large corporations buy up what little housing stock is left: this is a society that only Mr. Potter could feel at home in.  

For the rest of us, America has become the nightmare place that George beholds after his near-suicide. Like him, we look around at this horror our society has become, bug-eyed, disgusted, confused, and desperate. Only for us, there is no Clarence the Angel to set things right. The closest thing we had was Bernie Sanders and, in the end, he was no match for the forces of greed and ignorance that have taken control of our country. No one is coming to save us. We’re stuck here in Pottersville. Forever.  

And so it is a strange feeling watching these films this year. They are just as they ever were. But we are not the same. Like the boy in Polar Express, we have lost our capacity to Believe, and all the magic bells in the world aren’t going to fix it this time.  

Universal Healthcare might do the trick. Or Student Loan Forgiveness. Drop a $15 Minimum Wage on us and we may hear the music once more. Hell, even dental, vision and hearing coverage for Grandma would go a long way.

But we aren’t getting any of that. Not ever. Not without social collapse and possibly a civil war in between. We know that now.  

No, we don’t live in Bedford Falls. Never did. Us Americans, we’re straight outta Pottersville.

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149. The End of Roe v. Wade: a Debacle 50 Years in the Making Due Dissidence

Photo: It’s A Wonderful Life, Senate Democrats

Alexander Sammon on the Unmasking of Centrism’s Emptiness and Corruption

Alexander Sammon, staff writer at The American Prospect, wrote a recent article entitled “The Undignified Demise of Centrism.” In it, he concludes:

“Centrism, now, is imperiled as a political orientation not for its competitive viability, but for the emptiness and corruption that has been exposed at its heart. Not a single young voter, or someone politically up for grabs, can look to the leadership of Kyrsten Sinema or Scott Peters and see a politician with a positive vision for governance and society, one they could believe in, knock on doors for, or turn out to vote for.”

As negotiations continue over the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan, so-called “centrist” Democrats in both the House and Senate have raised objections to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package championed by both progressives and the White House.

Moderates holding up the legislative process by insisting that plans be watered down is nothing new. But Sammon argues in his piece that what is unique to this particular fight is that this time, centrists aren’t even bothering to disguise their obstructionism as anything but what it is: hollow and nihilistic corruption.

Kyrsten Sinema is teaching a college course on fundraising (yes, that’s right) while refusing to offer any rationale for her objection to the Build Back Better Act.

Joe Manchin is steadfastly (and successfully) chipping away at Biden’s climate proposals while raking in huge amounts of money from the fossil fuel industry, and having gotten rich off his own coal company which he founded in 1988.

Congressman Scott Peters, as Sammon cites in his article, all but openly admitted the corrupting influence of pharmaceutical donations on his decision making process, insisting that refusing their donations would be tantamount to “defunding” his campaign and “let[ting] Republicans win.”

Unlike most intra-party fights where centrists play an active role in negotiations and submit their own counteroffers to more progressive proposals, this time they’re making no such effort. They’re simply saying no for the sake of it, offering the American people no explanation other than the one many are arriving at themselves, which is that centrism as a governing philosophy is both morally and intellectually bankrupt, and bolstered by nothing more than the undue influence of corporate money in politics.

Alexander Sammon joined our podcast for a deeper dive on this topic. Click the player below to hear our full conversation, and subscribe to the Due Dissidence podcast on Apple, StitcherSpotifyCastbox, Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.

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149. The End of Roe v. Wade: a Debacle 50 Years in the Making Due Dissidence

Photo: Senate Democrats