In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s elections, media commentators from virtually all points on the political compass have coalesced around a summary condemnation of progressive Democrats.
This could be explained by an introspective journalist’s cynical but accurate observation. now and again — political reporters are herd animals, a flock of birds who turn and wheel together in search of The Narrative. After Terry McAuliffe’s narrow defeat in Virginia and a close call in New Jersey, The Narrative came together with seamless ease: Pundits started agreeing that Democrats are reeling from these sudden electoral reversals, and that progressive intransigence in Congress is largely to blame.
Indeed, the word “reeling” seemed to be everywhere on Wednesday morning. For a while, The Washington Post had permutations of “Democrats reel” in dueling headlines at the top of their homepage. CNN, The New York TimesEven the august Virginia Mercury all followed suit in one “reeling” form or another. A Google search for “Democrats Reeling Virginia” yielded more than 2 million resultsThursday. The Narrative was established beyond all doubt.
It is worth digging deeper into the election results as well as the media attack on progressives which followed them. First, there are many reasons why an exhausted electorate chose not to support a party that won Virginia by 10 points and had a president who received 84 million votes last year. The pandemic continues and millions of workers and parents still feel the pain from a frustrating and frightening 18 months of uncertainty.
One year after Trump’s defeat, the Democrats were not able to run against Trump as effectively as they had hoped. Beyond that, brazenly racist campaign tactics cloaked in a discussion on “education” turned the conversation in Virginia inside out… and if we’re talking raw politics, we can’t leave out a McAuliffe gaffeThis was made Gerald Ford look like Marcus Aurelius. One may agree with McAuliffe’s statement, but it was kerosene on the GOP’s fire, they ran wild with it, and McAuliffe proved himself insufficient to the task of dealing with the aftermath. It was an ugly race and Republicans run ugly campaigns much better than Democrats.
So there’s all that, but I have a strong sense that the sudden, thunderous consensus that progressives dragged down the Democrats on Tuesday stems from more than mere herd behavior by political reporters. With much of the “news” now owned by a few massive corporations, there is little affinity for progressive views and values in your average newsroom. “Socialism” is a conjuring word for the hedge fund class, as much as it is with the poorest members of Trump’s base. Often, this media bias is revealed in a passive way: Instead of attacking progressives, the press simply pretends they don’t exist.
Wednesday’s crass chorale was far more immediate, vivid even. Much of the moneyed elite despises President Biden’s Build Back Better Act because of all the social and climate reforms it contains, and despises progressives for fighting so effectively in favor of it. The news corporations have spent hundreds and millions of dollars lobbying to get rid of the Act. The bill is now only a shadow from what it was thanks to pro-corporate senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Silena, along with a few corporate Democrats in the House.
For powerful people who are used to getting their way, the fact that the bill is still in existence with only a few teeth and the time it took corporate Democrats to destroy it has been a frustrating sight. The scapegoat for congressional progressives was offered in the aftermath of Virginia. Indeed, mutterings that “A loss would be the progressives’ fault” had been rumbling for days before the vote, from Washington, D.C. to the very lips of Terry McAuliffe, himself a Clinton ally and no friend of the left.
The truth is that conservative Democrats made a hash in this instance of the legislative process and have not stopped. Manchin is still playing the role of The Riddler, and Sinema is as quiet and dark as a deep-diving nuclear submarine. The pressure to pass something, anything to set the table for next year’s midterm elections was extreme before Virginia. That pressure has only increased after the constant barrage of condemnations and headlines.
Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker has told DemocratsShe plans to vote on the infrastructure bill Thursday and the Build Back Better Act Friday. This would de-couple it, an action progressives have fiercely opposed since the summer. Pelosi seems betting that Tuesday’s blame will cause the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is a group of progressives, to take up the white flag to join her in the sucking tides of milquetoast politics.
It would not surprise me in the least if Speaker Pelosi is secretly pleased with Tuesday’s election results. Since Manchin’s refusal to accept a hollowed-out bill, she has been looking for the right club to use against the Congressional Progressive Caucus. If you believe the newspaper reports, Virginia’s torrid reporting gives her that club. We will see how she swings it in the next 48 hours. One thing seems certain: Someone will be “reeling” before the deal goes down, if it goes down at all.