The roots of Democratic disarray

Didn’t Biden campaign on a pledge — reflecting popular opinion — to make the government an ally of the poor and middle class, and pay for it with higher taxes on the affluent?

The answer is a rousing: “it depends.” When the argument moves from the general to the specific, cracks in the Democratic base open. Democrats representing some of the “bluest” states want their affluent constituencies to be able to deduct their local and state taxes; for progressives elsewhere, that sounds like comforting the comfortable. Democrats from more purple districts argue that the more expansive parts of the budget bill are too much for their constituents to swallow. Progressives argue that with Democratic majorities in jeopardy next year, this is the one chance they have to put ambitious social legislation into law; centrists say the more ambitious proposals are what puts the majority in even further jeopardy. The one clear element about these fractious battles is that the paper-thin majorities in the House and Senate do not give Democrats anything remotely like the power they had in the days of the New Deal and Great Society (not to mention significant Republican support in those eras). The attempt to analogize to those days of social legislation amounts to historical illiteracy.

This is manifestly not an argument for abandoning ambitious goals. It suggests, by contrast, a last-ditch attempt to pass that infrastructure bill and a budget bill that reflects both a significant effort to make life less unfair and an honest embrace of what the politics of the moment will accept.