Today Ruy Teixeira has a new post at his Substack arguing pretty convincingly that nearly all of the Democratic Party’s current problems are the result of a left-wing of the party that seems intent on living in a fantasy world instead of winning elections. None of the information he presents is new. Nevertheless it’s striking to see it assembled into a comprehensive list of seven distinct failures all of which could have been avoided. For instance:
1. Build Back Better. This was the vessel into which all the hopes and priorities of the Democratic Left were poured. And it has proved to be a catastrophic failure. While the Democratic Congress, on the Democratic Left’s insistence, wasted months in arcane negotiations about bill structure, what programs it would and would not cover and how many trillions of dollars it all would cost, ordinary voters were trying to cope with the Delta wave and the emergence of supply and inflation problems in the economy. As they became increasingly unhappy with the Biden administration and increasingly unsure just when things would finally get back to normal, the endless, confusing negotiations went on.
Connected to that failure was Teixeira’s point #2, the infrastructure bill. Here Democrats had an actual winner passed on bipartisan lines but rather than seize the credit the messaging for this win got subsumed into the ongoing argument about BBB which eventually went nowhere, making the success a footnote to the much larger failure instead of the other way around.
Point #3 involves the plan to deal with voting rights. Here again the perfect (according to progressives) became the enemy of the good. By pushing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, progressives ensured another high profile loss.
Point #4 involves new climate change funding which was technically part of BBB and thus touched on in point #1. Once again Teixeira faults progressives for having unrealistic goals. He notes that while progressives are demanding we keep fossil fuels in the ground and move immediately to renewables, most Americans support a more gradual transition.
In a recent Pew poll, by more than 2:1 (67 percent to 31 percent) the public endorsed “Use a mix of energy sources including oil, coal and natural gas along with renewable energy sources” over “Phase out the use of oil, coal and natural gas completely, relying instead on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power only”. And this is after years of unrelenting climate catastrophism from the Democratic Left that has basically said take drastic action or face the dire consequences. This approach has not worked and must be rated another failure by the Democratic Left.
Point #5 involves police reform and crime. Here again the far left pushed the party toward the fringe idea of defunding the police the moment it saw an opportunity to do so in 2020. At the same time the party is stuck defending the views of progressive DAs in major cities where violent crime and quality of life crimes have made even progressives miserable. Almost no one in these major cities still talks about defunding the police but they are still dealing with the consequences of it in terms of significantly reduced numbers of officers, many of whom have fled to friendlier suburban places to work. As Teixeira puts it, “crime has become a huge and debilitating issue for the Democratic party, leaving police reform as something of an afterthought.”
Point #6 is about immigration, another issue where the left encouraged the Biden administration to take actions that have backfired.
The Democratic Left applauded initial Biden administration efforts to make the US immigration system more welcoming. But this perceived liberalization of the border regime did indeed spur more migrants to try their luck at their border. An astonishing 1.7 million illegal crossings at the southern border were recorded in the 2021 fiscal year, the highest total since at least 1960, when the government first started keeping such records.
Point #7 is about abortion. You might think this is finally an issue where Democrats have some advantage but here again, Teixeira points out that the Schumer bill which failed to pass yesterday was another case of progressives demanding more than voters and their representatives wanted. Sen. Manchin was very explicit about this. He said he would consider a bill to codify Roe as it exists but what Democrats tried to pass instead was a vast expansion of the right to abortion which isn’t even arguably supported by anything like a majority of Americans. Even so, Democrats seem confident that voters will rush to their aid now that Roe is on the verge of being overturned. But what if that doesn’t happen? As Megan McArdle argued yesterday, what if the backlash never comes.
A draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe leaked last week, but a poll taken by CNN after the news broke showed the GOP running seven points ahead of Democrats on the generic ballot, which measures which party voters want to control Congress.
Perhaps voters simply aren’t paying attention, or haven’t had time to grapple with the implications? Well, perhaps — but what about Texas?
Last year, Texas effectively outlawed abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Now, Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who signed the restrictive bill into law, is running well ahead of Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. It’s hard to argue that Texas voters are unaware; the law has been hotly debated and has seriously impacted abortion access. But so far, it just doesn’t seem to be moving many votes.
Looking over all of this, Teixeira concludes.
The thread that runs through all these failures is the Democratic Left’s adamant refusal to base its political approach on the actually-existing opinions and values of actually-existing American voters. Instead they entertain fantasies about kindling a prairie fire of progressive turnout with their approach, despite falling short again and again in the real world. It hasn’t worked and it won’t work.
As bad as all of this is, Teixeira hasn’t included what is arguably the most politically serious problem Democrats face: Inflation. This is another case where the left got what they wanted and now the whole party is dealing with the hangover. Democrats passed the American Rescue Plan in March 2021 on what was basically a party line vote. Now it’s widely acknowledged that bill contributed to inflation. This is from Vox.
The massive spending law, which included $1,400 checks for each person in a family, generous expansions to unemployment insurance and child tax credit benefits, and hundreds of billions in aid to state and local governments, was intended to help people in need and stimulate economic demand, and it did…
Countries around the world are struggling with inflation due to pandemic disruptions, but the Biden stimulus made the US’s inflation problem more severe, to at least some extent. “I think we can say with certainty that we would have less inflation and fewer problems that we need to solve right now if the American Rescue Plan had been optimally sized,” said Wendy Edelberg, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution…
From 2021 onward, what’s known as “core inflation” has been significantly higher in the US than in other wealthy countries. (Core inflation is a common metric that excludes food and energy prices, which tend to be volatile, to try to get a better sense of general price levels and inflation in an economy.)
A recent article published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco makes this point. The authors — Òscar Jordà, Celeste Liu, Fernanda Nechio, and Fabián Rivera-Reyes — compare core inflation in the US to the average of eight wealthy countries (the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Finland). Before 2021, these and the US had similar inflation levels. Then the US’s shot up.
Here’s the chart from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. As you can see, US inflation really takes off after Biden takes office.
The Vox piece concludes with a section subtitled “Good intentions don’t always make good policies.”
In retrospect, it seems that Democrats simply didn’t take this seriously enough back in early 2021. They wrongly concluded that a stimulus far in excess of what models said was necessary was the less risky option. They thought they were still in the “money printer go brrr” era, where there was less pressure to be judicious about where that money was going — so instead of targeting help to those who needed it, they sent hundreds of billions of dollars to well-off Americans and states doing just fine, for political reasons.
Nearly all Democrats were on board with this plan but there’s no doubt that the progressive caucus championed it and likely ensured the party was less cautious about excessive spending than it should have been.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) released the following statement on the Senate passage of the American Rescue Plan:
“The American Rescue Plan is a truly progressive and bold package that delivers on its promise to put money directly in people’s pockets and decisively crush the coronavirus’s spread, which is responsible for our economic crisis. Compared to the response to the Great Recession, this package meets the scale of this unprecedented crisis, delivering the equivalent of seven percent of GDP for the coming year – exactly what economists say is needed to jumpstart our economy and the labor market. This is a crucial down payment on the $3 to $4.5 trillion in total stimulus funding needed to fully recover from this crisis.
“The Congressional Progressive Caucus worked very hard to ensure that the package that the House passed was as bold as it needed to be, keeping the thresholds for survival checks the same, including essential funding for housing, utilities, and a child tax credit that will cut poverty in half, among other provisions. The CPC also ensured inclusion of the $15 minimum wage in the House plan to continue our pressure on the Senate to pass $15. We are proud of our efforts and know that had we not passed such a bold package in the House, the resulting bill would have been far worse.”
It may not be as clear to the average American that inflation is another problem for which progressives deserves a big share of responsibility but it’s true nonetheless.
Summing all of this up, if it seems Democrats have nothing but bad news to run on this year there’s a reason for that. The left has pushed them into one bad decision after another and now they’re stuck waiting on the “prairie fire of progressive turnout” that never comes. If there is a red wave crashing through Washington this fall it will largely be thanks to the progressive left, collectively the best friend the GOP could ever hope for.