I started last week being ticked off at Bill Maher for his suggestion that members of the Democratic Party’s base are too obsessed with so-called “identity politics.” As part of his tirade, Maher mentioned Democrats lamenting perceived racism in sports–something that was remarkably tone-deaf in light of, well, racism in sports. Something tells me Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles isn’t as inclined as Maher to dismiss the issue.
When Maher is wrong, he’s very wrong. However, when he’s right, he’s very right, as he demonstrated Friday night in his pushback against those who labeled Hillary Clinton “too corporatist,” “too establishment” and “not progressive enough”:
As Maher suggests, “learning the difference between an imperfect friend and a deadly enemy” is a skill that must be developed between now and 2020, because it is quite possible that the winner of the 2020 Democratic primary will not be someone who is considered an undisputed progressive. (One potential candidate is already getting heat for supposedly not being progressive enough.) If someone who is perceived to fall short of the progressive ideal secures the 2020 Democratic nomination, will that candidate also receive the same scorn Hillary Clinton received in some progressive circles last year?
Not every Democratic presidential contender can be Bernie Sanders. (Let’s set aside the obvious “Bernie isn’t a Democrat!” stuff.) The Democratic field will once again be filled with folks who haven’t always scored 100 percent on the progressive aptitude test, folks who had to respond to regional interests for years, folks who won’t be the second coming of FDR. However, as Maher noted, even though Clinton wasn’t a perfect progressive, she would have responded to progressive concerns–and Donald Trump has demonstrated the critical importance of having a President who responds to progressive concerns, as opposed to scorning them.
Speaking of scorn, it’s rather unfortunate to witness Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) being attacked for allegedly betraying progressives:
Democrats are — slowly but surely — engaging in the sort of infighting that usually happens right after losing a presidential election. That reckoning was delayed because President Trump’s stunning victory last November created a fierce energy among Democrats to fight the new administration at every turn, forging a common bond from the party’s coastal liberals to its Midwestern moderates.
That early anti-Trump unity, however, papered over deep divisions about what went wrong during the campaign and what the party should do ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
That’s all changing now.
A perfect example came last week when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in an interview with The Washington Post, dismissed complaints from abortion rights activists who do not want party resources to help any antiabortion Democrat.
“This is the Democratic Party, this is not a rubber stamp party. This is a party of great diversity,” Pelosi told the Post Tuesday, noting that many Catholic family members who she grew up with in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood remain opposed to abortion. “You think I’m kicking them out of the Democratic Party?”
Within hours, Pelosi’s comments sparked a fury.
Some praised Pelosi’s candor, recognizing that the the Affordable Care Act and other key items of the Obama administration would not have passed in 2009 and 2010 without the support of antiabortion House Democrats.
“Straight forward and sensible,” David Axelrod, the former top strategist to Barack Obama, tweeted.
Others lashed out at Pelosi.
“Encouraging and supporting anti-choice candidates leads to bad policy outcomes that violate women’s rights and endanger our economic security,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told The Washington Post.
“We are dismayed by Minority Leader Pelosi’s out-of-touch and self-serving statements that throw women and their right to make their own moral decisions under the bus,” Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said in a statement.
While I do not gainsay the larger concerns of Hogue and O’Brien, especially with Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, Pelosi’s remarks cannot be rationally read as dismissing the importance of reproductive rights. As Axelrod suggests, Pelosi can do math, and she understands that every anti-reproductive-rights Democratic voter who feels scorned by the party’s leadership is a future Republican voter. That’s not being out of touch. That’s trying to keep the GOP out of power.
The whole “This-Democrat-isn’t-progressive-enough!” angle does not necessarily have an irrational basis: it wasn’t that long ago when then-Senator Joe Lieberman was routinely betraying progressive principles. However, just because some Democrat falls short of the progressive standard set by Sanders doesn’t mean that Democrat is the second coming of Lieberman. Flawed Democrats are not the enemy of progressives. Nancy Pelosi is not the enemy of progressives. Donald Trump is the enemy of progressives–and instead of getting into squabbles over who is or who is not the most progressive Democrat, progressives should take Sinead O’Connor’s famous advice: Fight the real enemy.