2022-07-24 Ted Fertik post-mortem on Democrats' abject failure

Ted Fertik (@tedfertik): A savage post-mortem on the Democrats’ abject failure from @adam_tooze. https://adamtooze.substack.com/p/chartbook-138-build-back-better-dead

Key points:

  1. it was as much the tax as the climate provisions that killed BBB. They were there because Dems committed in 2021, after passage of debt-financed ARP... 1/

to fully fund their other priorities.

But this multiplied opponents, with each tax provision (IRS enforcement, rollback of corporate tax cuts, capital gains, stepped-up basis, ultra-rich surtax, drug pricing) counting its own lobbyists and veto-point members of Congress. 2/

  1. A deeply divided society stuck with a first-past-the-post elections which renders large governing majorities all but illusory.

We might add, certainly the majorities needed to overwhelm US political system’s staggering number of veto points and players @ezraklein 3/

  1. In 2021, within the Dem Party, the most business-aligned wing, which had thrilled to Biden’s defeat of Sanders, woke up in an unfamiliar and unwelcome world in which the President and Congressional leadership took up many of the priorities of the left and few of the theirs. 4/

They had to maneuver carefully, as Dem voters supported the President, and supposedly safe Dem incumbents had recently lost primaries to leftist insurgents. But exploiting narrow Dem majorities and Manchin’s willingness to take much of the heat... 5/

and with help from the anti-tax and fossil fuel lobbies, in the end they were able “to stall the reformist energies that were briefly unleashed on [by?] the left-wing of he Democratic Party in 2021.” 6/

  1. Dems’ failure does not doom the world, for US is decreasing share of global emissions and energy transition elsewhere has momentum. What it does - on both climate and global taxation - is demonstrate to the world America’s utter unreliability. 7/

For American capitalism, it means missing out on profits of energy transition. For “ordinary Americans”, it is “one more sign of the refusal of the American political class to devise coherent and future-orientated solutions for American society as a whole.” 8/

A few thoughts.

  1. Opting for pay-fors and narrow majorities problem go together. Manchin was always a deficit hawk, never going to vote for a debt-financed spending bill. A year ago @EricLevitz laid out this complex set of equations Dems had to solve. 9/

  2. Structural democracy problem and pay-for problem are also not really separate. As @EricLevitz also noted, entire conceit of BBB as a gigantic package was a function of filibuster making it impossible to pass spending legislation except through an arcane procedure... 10/

one of whose rules is that you can only do it once a year. With near-certainty of losing Congress in 2022, Dems were forced into an “all or nothing” posture that of course created a big coalition for “nothing” out of everyone who opposed any piece of “all”. 11/

  1. There’s also a need to put foreign policy in the picture. Whether Manchin would have struck a deal in absence of the inflation ratchet delivered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and western sanctions is unknowable. 12/

What is clear is that the Biden admin thrilled to being able to flex a moral-military position on the world stage, but far from this being a “foreign policy for the middle class,” America’s renewed assertion of hegemony helped shipwreck Biden’s domestic reformism. /13

  1. Biden and Congressional leadership were perhaps unwitting accomplices in the party center's attack on the left. Whatever their sincere feelings, every time they attacked the left over "defund", every time they sided with a conservative Dem incumbent over a challenger, 14/

and decisively at the moment that Biden and Pelosi demanded that progressives allow the infrastructure bill to pass on its own, they bolstered the confidence of the party's right-wing that ultimately things would return to their natural state...15/

in which the corporate-aligned faction sets hard limits on the party's ambitions and the left gets maligned for holding marginal views and a supposed unwillingness to take half a loaf. 16/

Perhaps the biggest gap between Biden and a "Rooseveltian presidency" is that unlike Roosevelt, he couldn't read the political field to be able to see who were really his friends and who were not. /fin


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