Jamelle Bouie says House moderates are the Democratic party's real problem, but his readers aren't buying it

Jamelle Bouie says House moderates are the Democratic party's real problem, but his readers aren't buying it
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

You’ve probably heard the saying that journalism is the first rough draft of history. Some opinion writers seem to take that as license to rewrite history. Case in point, Jamelle Bouie’s latest piece for the NY Times is another attempt to blame the Democratic party’s problems on “milquetoast” moderates and to excuse progressives who in Bouie’s view have done nothing wrong. Here’s Bouie’s take on recent history:


The plan was simple. Democrats would work on two bills — an infrastructure package and a social policy package — that they would pass together

Both bills were moving through Congress until the point when, during the summer, several members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus threatened to derail the social policy package unless the House took an immediate vote on the infrastructure bill, which had been negotiated and passed by Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

Bouie points to this letter to Nancy Pelosi by nine moderate Democrats calling for a House vote on the infrastructure bill. And he says this split resulted in further decline for President Biden and a loss for Terry McAuliffe in Virginia.

…they weakened Democrats across the board, as candidates struggled to overcome a sense of failure that had settled over the party. Terry McAuliffe, the moderate former governor of Virginia, couldn’t clear that hurdle.

It’s true that McAuliffe couldn’t clear the hurdle but it’s not a given that failure to pass these two bills was the reason. Education was one of the big issues in Virginia and McAuliffe didn’t help himself with a comment about parents not having a role in what schools teach. More significantly, McAuliffe’s entire game plan for the election seemed to be blame Trump which didn’t go over well, likely because Trump wasn’t on the ballot. And finally, there was burgeoning crime and inflation which understandably had people worried we were headed in a bad direction. In other words, it wasn’t just a “sense of failure” that dragged McAuliffe down, it was actual failure by the candidate as well as larger forces that went beyond the passage of some bills.


In any case, the counterfactual Bouie is suggesting here doesn’t make much sense. Imagine that those nine moderate Dems had never sent a letter to Pelosi in August. Would both bills have passed before the Virginia election in early November? I don’t see how.

Sens. Manchin and Sinema were never on board with the $6 trillion Build Back Better bill that Bernie Sanders wanted. Negotiations over BBB was always going to drag out as moderates and progressives in the Senate fought over a price tag. The idea that this all would have passed if not for House moderates getting in the way overlooks the fact that it was Senate moderates who were ultimately in the way. Insisting on treating the bills as a package was more likely to result in neither bill being passed. But Bouie is off to the races.

Now, having immobilized the president’s agenda and plunged their party into disarray, those same Democrats are casting around for someone to blame. Not surprisingly, they’ve settled on their progressive colleagues…

Groups aligned with moderate and conservative Democrats, like the centrist advocacy organization Third Way, insist that “Squad politics” are the central problem for the Democratic Party.

Does he really think the party is in disarray because BBB wasn’t passed? Aren’t there other major problems that would remain even if it had passed? And the warnings about the potential for a red wave election are not just coming from the moderate group Third Way. Last month, NBC News reported Democrats appeared to be headed for a “shellacking.” Would everyone agree the nation was on the right track if BBB had passed? That seems a bit optimistic. As for what is hurting Democrats with voters, the DCCC’s own internal polling found that “Squad politics” were a big part of the current problem.


Democrats’ own research shows that some battleground voters think the party is “preachy,” “judgmental” and “focused on culture wars,” according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

And the party’s House campaign arm had a stark warning for Democrats: Unless they more forcefully confront the GOP’s “alarmingly potent” culture war attacks, from critical race theory to defunding the police, they risk losing significant ground to Republicans in the midterms.

Here’s more on the DCCC polling:

In swing districts, 64% of voters agreed with the statement that “Democrats in Congress support defunding the police and taking more cops off of the street.” The internal poll found that 80% of self-defined swing voters in competitive districts agreed with the same statement.

I understand the President Biden does not support defunding the police. And I understand that a majority of moderate House Democrats don’t support it. At this point, there are probably very few elected Democrats who would admit to supporting it. So if you want to say that the results of this poll are unfair and the respondents are misguided, go for it.

But the fact remains that “defund the police” is a real thing which arose from BLM and other far-left activists in 2020 and was briefly embraced by democratic governors, mayors and city councils. And it is not popular. Rightly or wrongly, “Squad politics” are an anchor around Democrats’ necks. And the moderates who are upset about this are not blaming progressives out of mere convenience, they are blaming the left because they correctly surmise that these fringe ideas have damaged the party’s brand at a time when their control of the House and Senate is already razor thin.


Anyway, it’s refreshing to see that it’s not just me who isn’t buying Bouie’s take. Most of the top responses to his piece (based on upvoting from other readers) are sharp criticism. Here’s the top response:

Biden ran as a moderate who could work across the aisle.

The infrastructure bill was a model of that kind of legislation–not just important but bipartisan.

The social policy bill not only had no Republican backers. It also contained things like legalization for 11 million people here illegally.

Moderate senators like Manchin elected in red states who supported it could well lose re-election, which would cost Democrats the Senate.

Americans looked at rising crime, massive crossings at the border, “mostly peaceful protests” with arson and looting, etc and asked where the moderate Democrats were.

It’s not the moderates who have left us in dissarray.

And comment #2:

The progressive wing of the Democratic Party never had a mandate to pass their social welfare plan. Bernie Sanders was not elected president. The government was already overly generous in providing families with checks which has clearly exacerbated the worst inflation we have seen if forty years. It is time to cut back entitlement spending and ask people to take responsibility for their family planning decisions.

Another reader states the obvious:

Not a very helpful analysis. It further divides the Democratic Party. There is no question that slogans like “defund police” have a very negative effect on the American people.


A reader from New Haven (again this was upvoted more than 150 times):

Thank goodness for November. I am a “democrat” and will be voting republican as will about 30-40 % of “democrats” I know.

A reader from Bethany Beach, DE points to some things his piece overlooked about McAuliffe’s loss:

This argument is the best exhibition of selective memory ever. McAuliffe lost because he said parents should not be involved in their children’s education, showing himself (like all other Democrats) to be in Randi Weingarten’s pocket. Parents want their kids in school – the learning loss the teacher’s unions caused is overwhelming.

I hope Bouie is reading these:

They are not “milquetoast ” politics, they are actually balanced and centrist and you don’t like them because they don’t reflect the extremist views of the far left fringe who have taken over much of the Democratic Party.

I have mostly voted for Democrats for almost 40 years since I was 18 but am doubting how much longer this will continue because the party no longer reflects most of my views.

Ultra-liberal, far left voters don’t decide elections, middle of the road, moderates in swing states and affluent suburbs like my family do. Until Democrats can moderate their impulses to create ever larger programs to tax and spend, they will experience losses like those recently in VA and which are also expected in the mid-terms. I will never vote for Trump but I plan to sit out the next election and not vote for Democrats because the country is on the wrong track.


I could keep going but I’ll stop there. The insistence that progressives are being unfairly blamed by milquetoast moderates could not be farther from reality. The fact that progressives still don’t get this 9 months before the next election is very good news if you’re a Republican.

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