I argue often with liberals, progressives and varieties of lefty about the Democratic Party’s future. The occasions for the arguments are usually my insistence that party leaders dedicate some time to courting the votes of the white working class. This arouses frequently a predictable response, something to the effect of: If the Democratic Party again panders to bigots, I want nothing to do with it.
My retort is usually something like this: If you think the Democrats are pure of heart, I have a bridge to sell you. President Donald Trump is, as I take delight in repeating as often as I can, a lying, thieving, philandering sadist, and the Democrats do come off as saints by comparison. But let’s not fool ourselves. The people arguing with me about what to do with the white working class are the same people who’d argue, rightly, that soft racism and casual sexism are everywhere, even among the ranks of the Democratic Party.
They are right, and it’s this subliminal bigotry that’s keeping us from seeing what’s happening. Fact is, the Democrats are doing remarkably well, all things considered. They are united. They have blocked Trump where they can. They exploited and exposed his weakness and the disarray of the Republicans to extract major concessions.
But we can’t see this because we are not giving credit to the one person doing the most, and we are not giving her credit, because she’s a woman. That’s what I mean when I say subliminal bigotry is preventing us from seeing. That’s what I mean when I say the Democratic Party is not pure of heart. Our sin is finding us out.
Of course, I’m talking about Nancy Pelosi. The party she is leading is not in power but not in tatters either. It is in fact flexing muscle. Not only that, the House Minority Leader is providing a narrative for moving ahead and retaking the House. We should all focus on what’s working, and not on past grievances no matter how painful.
Last week, social media was abuzz over Barack Obama’s getting a fat check for giving a speech. The news ignited again the divide in the party between the voices of “economic populism” and “identity politics.” That’s a false binary that I and colleagues here at the Washington Monthly have pooh-poohed more than we care to, but let’s set that aside. Suffice it so say, Elizabeth Warren weighed in. So did Bernie Sanders. The overarching question was: How can the Democrats face the challenges of the Donald Trump era when they can’t agree on why they lost 2016 and where they are going?
While all this was going on, Nancy Pelosi, a petite woman from California who favors simple, but elegant clothes and matching strings of pearls, commented on the president’s first 100 days: “Tomorrow marks the one hundredth day of the Trump administration. One hundred days of broken promises to working people. One hundred days of handouts to the richest people in our country.”
Then on Sunday came news of a $1.1 trillion budget agreement to keep the government running through September. I’ll get to the details in a minute, but this is the takeaway: It’s hard to imagine a weaker president than one who signs a spending bill in which he got nothing he asked for. Not. One. Thing. It’s hard to imagine a weaker president than one who signs a bill for which his own party barely put up a fight. Trump have achieved bipartisan lameness.
Here are the details:
Trump wanted funds for a wall. This bill says no. Trump said he has the authority to build one without Congress. This new bill says no. Trump wanted to defund sanctuary cities. This bill says no. He wanted a “deportation force.” This bill says no. He wanted savage cuts to the EPA. He got 1 percent. He wanted savage cuts to domestic spending. This bill increases spending. He wanted $30 billion more for defense. This bill gives him less than half that.
And on and on.
And Trump is going to sign it.
Pelosi is right. Trump has betrayed the working class. He has enriched the already enrich, and will enrich them more. If his party succeeds today in passing a bill in the House that repeals and replaces Obamacare, Trump will have given greater credence to her claim:
Trump is a broken promise.
This is the argument. The one that is working now. The one that will work in the 2018 and beyond. This is where the rank-and-file’s focus must be. But we have not seen it clearly, and the reason for that is Pelosi is a woman. Even though she’s the most effective member of the Resistance, people still tell me the Democrats are not fighting enough, are too centrist, and ready to cave. Let’s open our eyes.
The Democratic Party bears its share of sin.
The sooner we unload that burden, the sooner we can win.