Immediately after Tuesday’s election, media commentators from virtually every corner of the political compass rallied around a summary condemnation of the Progressive Democrats.
This can perhaps be explained by a cynical but precise observation which has been adopted from time to time by introspective journalists – political journalists are herd animals, a flock of birds that whirl and spin together in search of the story. After Terry McAuliffe’s close defeat in Virginia and a close appeal in New Jersey, The Narrative unfolded with unwavering ease: Pundits have started to agree that Democrats are reeling from these sudden electoral reversals and that Much to blame is the progressive intransigence of Congress.
Indeed, the word “staggering” seemed to be everywhere Wednesday morning. For a while, The Washington Post had “Democrats” permutations in the dueling headlines at the top of their homepage. CNN, The New York Times, even the month of August Virginie Mercury all have followed suit in one form or another. A Google search for “Democrats Reeling Virginia” returned more than 2 million results Thursday. The Narrative had been established beyond all ambiguity.
But it’s worth digging deeper to understand both the election results and the media attack on the progressives who followed them. First, there are dozens of reasons an exhausted electorate chose to walk away from a party whose president withdrew 84 million votes a year ago and won Virginia by 10 points. . The pandemic continues, and millions of parents and workers still feel the bruises raised over the frightening and frustrating 18 months of overwhelming uncertainty, and whether reasonably or not, have suffered their anger at the party now in charge.
Running against Trump a year after his loss has not been as effective as the Democrats had hoped. Beyond that, brazenly racist campaign tactics concealed in a discussion of ‘education’ have turned the conversation upside down in Virginia … and if we’re talking crude politics, we can’t leave one aside. McAuliffe’s gaffe who made Gerald Ford look like Marcus Aurelius. You can agree with McAuliffe’s statement, but it was kerosene on the GOP fire, they went on a rampage with it, and McAuliffe proved insufficient to deal with the aftermath. Overall, it was an ugly race, and Republicans campaign ugly much more effectively than Democrats.
So there is all of that, but I have a strong feeling that the sudden, thunderous consensus that progressives dragged down Democrats on Tuesday stems from more than just herd behavior by political journalists. With much of the “news” now owned by a few large corporations, there is little affinity for progressive views and values in your average newsroom. “Socialism” is a magic word for the hedge fund class, as much as it is for the poorest members of the Trump base. Often, this media bias is revealed passively: instead of attacking progressives, the press simply pretends they don’t exist.
Wednesday’s rude chorale was much more immediate, even alive. Much of the wealthy elite despise President Biden’s Build Back Better Act because of all the social and climate reforms it contains, and despise progressives for fighting so effectively for it. The companies that own the information have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists trying to break the law, and they did not come away empty-handed. Thanks to the relentless efforts of pro-business senators like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, as well as a handful of business Democrats in the House, the bill is a shadow of what it used to be.
The fact that the bill still exists with a few teeth, combined with the time it took for corporate Democrats to shatter it in the face of vigorous progressive opposition, has been infuriating for powerful people who are all too accustomed to getting their own way. In the aftermath of Virginia, Congressional Progressives were proposed as scapegoats. Indeed, rumors that “a defeat would be the fault of the progressives” had rumbled for days before the vote, from Washington, DC to the very lips of Terry McAuliffe, himself an ally of Clinton and not a friend of the left.
The truth is, the Conservative Democrats have chopped up the legislative process in this case and haven’t stopped yet. Manchin continues to play the role of The Riddler, while Sinema has grown as dark and silent as a nuclear submarine in deep diving. The pressure to pass anything, anything to set the table for next year’s midterm election was extreme before Virginia. After the deluge of headlines and condemnations, this pressure has only increased.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats she plans to vote on the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act on Friday on Thursday. This would decouple the bill, an action progressives have fiercely resisted since the summer. Pelosi seems to be betting that the weight of blame for Tuesday will force the Progressive Congressional Caucus to hoist the white flag and join her in the oil spill of milquetoast history.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if President Pelosi were secretly satisfied with Tuesday’s election results. She’s been looking for the right club to wield against the progressive congressional caucus since it became clear that Manchin would only settle for a hollowed-out shell of a bill. The scorching report on Virginia, if you believe what you read in the papers, gives her that club. The next 48 hours will show us how she chooses to swing it. One thing seems certain: someone will be “shaken” before the deal is done, if at all it breaks down.