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Tipsheet

Liberal Writer Zeros in on the Democrats' Existential Threat

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The Democrats are coming out of the trees and bushes, forming battalion columns, and everyone has their bayonets fixed. It's the legislative version of Pickett's Charge, and they're all geared towards destroying Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The West Virginia Democrat killed his party's last hope of passing a substantial spending bill.  One of the provisions addressed global warming. The meltdown that occurred last week was biblical. Some Democrats were declaring that we were all going to die without the new spending bill. Others scoffed at Manchin's position of power with these negotiations under a 50-50 Senate. I don't get why anyone is shocked? Look at his record. Manchin is the last moderate-to-conservative-ish senator on the Hill. He hails from a deep red state. His likability and retail political skills are what keep him afloat. That's not a knock on the man, who reportedly enjoys a nice glass of moonshine now and then. He's a reminder of his party's glaring and long-term political weakness: the Democrats need more folks like him to accomplish their legislative goals in Congress.

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This isn't new. Again, I feel like folks of all political stripes have been yelling about the Democratic Party's unsustainable future being one made up of college-educated whites. The coasts and the cities will not secure a long-term future. Meanwhile, Trump has created a coalition that is one of the most efficiently dispersed in recent memory. Trump folks live in areas where elections are decided. They're motivated and a mish-mosh of a variety of political views. Many are former Democrats, while others are first-time voters. White working-class voters have flocked to the GOP. Now, nonwhite working-class voters are doing the same. That's electoral death in an election.

New York Magazine does well to highlight that point. It also gives some political cover to Manchin, who is not the sole reason for the Democrats' two years of failure in governing. Jonathan Chait documents what went wrong, which solely hinges on Democrats' inability to prioritize with slim congressional majorities. The social items are now a messy subject to debate among these folks since everyone has lost the plot on simple things like basic biology and scientific facts. Democrats, men, are unable to carry children. Chait credits other Democrats in Manchin's mold, like Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), for being some of the most vocal supporters of tax increases on the rich in trying to maintain the party's populist roots (via NY Mag) [emphasis mine]:

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Manchin is merely the most prominent author of a catastrophe that has a thousand fathers. More facts are certain to emerge in the coming days and weeks. (Those privy to negotiations had every reason to withhold their complaints while success remained possible — collapse will open a floodgate of recriminations.) Even so, several broad causes are already apparent.

The administration’s broad strategy was to use its first major piece of legislation, enacted at the crest of Biden’s political capital shortly after he took office, to stimulate the economy as it recovered from the COVID recession. Only after that would they craft enduring social reforms. The theory, which seemed logical to many of us at the time, was to first ensure a prosperous economy and then leverage the political benefit of that prosperity to pass permanent social-welfare measures. Instead, the American Jobs Plan overshot, injecting more demand into an already heating economy. It did not cause high inflation, but it exacerbated it. And thus, rather than producing a prosperous economy that gave Democrats more confidence to pass Biden’s domestic agenda, it led to a sour inflationary economy that had them running for cover.

[...]

Biden’s plan did include one measure that Democrats intended to seed permanent reform: an enhanced child tax credit. The bill funded the payments for just one year. They believed the payments would prove so popular that the public would demand they continue. Social scientists have unequivocally shown the payments reduced child poverty by impressive levels without the side effects on parental work effort that conservatives warned about. Yet Manchin opposed extending the payments anyway — reportedly muttering in private that his constituents were squandering the money on drugs — and political demand to continue them never materialized.

The failure of this broad strategic gamble was followed by a series of smaller tactical errors. Manchin remained willing to support sizable measures, privately agreeing with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to vote for a trillion-and-a-half-dollar bill in the fall, and then bungling a negotiation between Manchin and Biden in the White House. (The hypersensitive Manchin demanded the White House refrain from naming him as the instigator of a pause in negotiations; inexplicably, a White House spokesperson triggered him anyway by naming him in a statement.)

As the top-line cost of their bill shrunk, Democrats proved unable to prioritize their competing social demands. Rather than anger professional advocates for any of the social spending programs they had supported by removing some programs to save the rest, Democrats continued pretending for months that somehow all their programs could be preserved. They used budget gimmicks to phase in and phase out different programs, to make it appear they were spending less than their programs would actually cost. Manchin rightly demanded they abandon those gimmicks — but the time it took for Democrats to finally comply wasted precious months when the window for agreement was still open. (He has since abandoned his one sensible negotiating principle, and is now supporting a two-year extension of Obamacare subsidies.)

[...]

A key faction of Democrats in the House, along with Senator Kyrsten Sinema, blanched at the tax hikes. Moderates have been privately coordinating their opposition, and it seems very likely that Manchin’s sudden opposition to raising taxes on the rich comes not from him, but from them — he sometimes takes the heat for fellow Democratic moderates. In this case, he is likely channeling their concerns and passing them off as his own.

The persistence of Democratic opposition to raising taxes on plutocrats remains the party’s most damaging political liability. The party’s political and policy agenda hinges on taxing the wealthy. As a political matter, taxing the rich is highly popular. The proceeds from those taxes allow Democrats to spend money on other popular causes. In theory, this method can only work for so long, until you run out of efficient and productive ways to raise taxes on the affluent.

[...]

Stripped of their ability to run on taxing the rich, Democrats lose the backbone of their populist connection to Americans of modest means. The party’s long-term political crisis is rooted in the defections of its non-college-educated voters: The white working class has fled, and now the non-white working class is beginning to drift away, too. The party is being trapped in a worldview shaped by the cultural priorities of its college-educated elite.

Democrats such as Sinema and House moderate Josh Gottheimer pose as enemies of their party’s socially liberal identity, but they have more responsibility than anybody else for its persistence. Without their popular economic message of taxing the rich and helping the working class, there is little left for the Democrats but social issues. The Democratic Party, like any successful party, needs to accommodate a broad range of viewpoints. Refusal to accept pragmatic and efficient tax hikes on the rich is one position Democrats simply cannot tolerate. 

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Now, I disagree that the Trump tax cuts benefitted the rich. Even CNN noted that the middle class would get relief; Bernie Sanders agreed but added that the cuts don't go far enough into the working class. That's different from saying this package was a giveaway to the wealthy. The reason why Biden hasn't touched Trump's tweaks to SALT taxes is that they're popular. It's a good policy. There was talk about making the bulk of Trump's 2017 tax cuts permanent. It's just ironic. Democrats railed against the Trump and Bush tax cuts only to make 82 percent of the latter permanent policy during the fiscal cliff talks under Obama. They could move on Trump's at a later date.

Chait then rails at Democrats for wasting time on budget gimmicks that manufactured a mirage regarding the party's top action items that were not sustainable under this system. Things got even worse when Biden's COVID relief bill did nothing but jack up inflation and create a new recession. The calls for new spending quickly die with all this dismal economic news dropping during a midterm election year.

His final lines are noting since he, a hardcore liberal, knows that the party must allow those who do not prescribe to the 'woke' orthodoxy. It must tolerate those not considered refined by the college-educated elites who have now taken the helm of the Democratic Party. Chait knows the working-class departure is not good news for the long-term health of liberal America. As FiveThirtyEight noted, the white working-class was in lock-step behind Democrats for the New Deal programs under FDR when the workforce was overwhelmingly white and male. With the Left's dismissive and combative attitude towards white voters, these folks are not returning to the liberal fold.  

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