Updated: The Giant Shock and What It Means Now and Later
There's a lot to learn and take away from the latest twist
|Jordan Zakarin||Dec 23, 2020||9|
Welcome to a Tuesday morning edition of Progressives Everywhere!
With the events of last night changing the political calculus of the stimulus, the Georgia elections, and so much of what we can expect over the next six months, I’m sending an updated look at what we discussed last night. I also have some brand new news stories beneath that, so you’ll want to read straight through to the end.
Merry Christmas Eve eve!
The Stimulus Mess and the Media’s Misrepresentation
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Donald Trump did the American people — and Democrats — a huge favor last night. In between his inexcusable pardoning of war criminals and continued assault of democracy, Trump called the pathetic $600 stimulus checks agreed to by Congress a “disgrace” and threatened to veto the big omnibus bill unless they raised them to $2000 a person.
This is huge for a few reasons. First and foremost, it could be a financial boon for over 100 million struggling Americans. Second, it offers Democrats a chance to put more pressure on Mitch McConnell (see below) and the GOP candidates in Georgia. And third, it’s a very important lesson — and public upbraiding — for Democratic leadership, which clearly gave in on the stimulus far too soon.
Democrats tend to reflexively blame McConnell for everything, but the truth is that this terrible stimulus was just as much the work of Democrats’ ultra-eagerness to compromise as it was a result of GOP greediness. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Joe Biden helped pave the way to the stimulus agreement earlier this month by approving the $900 billion topline number agreed to by a bipartisan band of centrist lawmakers. It undercut Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s demand for $2 trillion and pre-emptively caved to Mitch McConnell’s number.
Why Dems Must Learn From This — And What Still Scares Me
This has long been Biden’s approach to bipartisanship and government spending — he has been at the center of every significant entitlement cut over the last 40 years — and it does not portend well for how he’ll handle a historic recession when he takes office. After all, even before Trump came out with this bombshell, there were Republicans who wanted to go much bigger on stimulus, including Sen. Josh Hawley, who joined with Sen. Bernie Sanders to demand $1200 checks. Democrats had some GOP votes, an eager Trump (who had voiced a preference for bigger checks long ago), and the Georgia election to use as negotiating chips.
Instead, Purdue and Loeffler got to run ads touting their role in passing the puny stimulus and no one outside of DC was at all impressed with the deal. Democrats prematurely folded their cards, gave in to austerity in the name of moderation, and got killed for the end result. Trump, if inadvertently and perhaps at least in part out of spite for McConnell, is giving them a second chance. Lindsey Graham is already on board (with a bullet), which shows that Republicans will bend. Maybe they won’t for Biden in the same way, but they do respond to pressure when their own constituents are struggling and demanding help. Unlike early in the pandemic, when the HEROES Act was passed, they can’t label this a blue state bailout.
But the fact that Biden yesterday named DLC founder and austerity vampire Bruce Reed as his deputy chief of staff indicates that his move to halve the stimulus checks was more than a one-time fold in response to a bad read on politics. Bruce Reed’s involvement in the administration was vehemently opposed by progressives, who thought they’d dodged a bullet when Neera Tanden (who they also don’t love!) was named the head of the OMB.
Alas, now Reed will be whispering in Biden’s ear for the next few years, reinforcing his anti-spending instincts. That Biden also named Elizabeth Warren’s top aide, Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director for financial reform and consumer protection on the National Economic Council seems like a much sadder consolation prize than it did just yesterday.
Word also broke yesterday that Biden will not immediately roll back Trump’s racist and draconian immigration restrictions, despite promising up and down during the campaign that he’d do so on his first day in office.
There’s certainly outrage about (or maybe exhaustion over) all these things on the left, but at least on social media, it was eclipsed this afternoon by a remarkably stupid story over at Business Insider that truly encapsulates the way that the political media obscures actual issues and winds up covering for the most mediocre plutocrats.
The report suggested that Biden will be caught in a difficult position when he takes office because there will be pressure to fire Trump’s political appointees, but that doing so all at once “wouldn’t be a good look” for the new administration.
You can’t tell from the embedding, but this tweet got ratioed up the wazoo by people pointing out that Trump is a monster and of course Biden should have every right to fire his right-wing henchmen. It’s absolutely correct that Biden should do whatever he wants to Trump’s appointees, but that’s almost beside the point.
The political media is filled with people who fancy themselves political strategists and/or aspire to a cushy pundit slot on cable news. While there are obviously great reporters out there, many of whom I’m in awe, there are a whole lot of reporters who concern themselves with palace intrigue and a fundamentally warped understanding of American public opinion.
Absolutely nobody outside of DC will give a single crap about when Biden fires some of Trump’s leftover lawyers and administrators. Not even their families will care, because they’ll get to go cash in on K-Street or some Koch-funded think tank that finds creative new ways to legally launder money and whitewash concentration camps. Americans are dying in record numbers and starving through Christmas, not worrying about the bureaucratic HR process.
And yet, because there’s such a foolish obsession with optics, and every single minor news story has to be publicly debated now, attention was pulled away from the infinitely more important matter of the Transylvanian who just got a significant role in the White House. It’s a safe bet that the Biden administration will not have a single scandal as significant as what the Trump administration produced on any given day, but that doesn’t news coverage won’t suggest otherwise.
The media can only operate in max-volume screams; no one pays attention otherwise. (I know this from experience!) Every Biden gaffe will become a minor scandal, every bad-faith criticism from the right a major news cycle — just look at what happened with that dumb column about Dr. Jill Biden’s thesis and title. And as a result, Democrats of all stripes are forced into defending the party’s leadership, or at least hold off from criticizing them until it feels safe to do so again.
It gets harder and harder to have an honest and critical conversation about the very real flaws that we need to overcome when everyone’s circling the wagons and the news media ignores the actual problems.
This isn’t to say that internet chatter is the be-all, end-all, but the number of well-meaning, poorly informed #bluenomatterwho Twitter denizens who shout down all criticism of the party is dispiriting. This year especially, the narrative and conversation lived online, with hardly any Democratic candidates doing any in-person field work once COVID struck. If we can’t find the room and opportunity to criticize Democrats, we’ll wind up with rank-and-file party supporters blaming Mitch McConnell (an undoubtedly very bad person!) for every bad policy that Democrats pursue and every premature surrender they offer.
Democrats have a rare opportunity for a do-over here. The pressure is on Georgia’s Republicans to back $2000 checks and Mitch McConnell to acquiesce. It’s clear that the GOP can be pressured in times of crisis. It’s something that we all need to remember. Austerity can’t be a Democratic choice.
Important News You Need to Know
OK friends, we’re going to go notebook-style on this one like real Beltway pros.
Speaking of Georgia, we’re seeing something of a redux of the general election campaign, with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock running hard on healthcare and the Republicans decidedly… not. Instead, they’re going racist, as expected.
Also: Early voting numbers look promising. And once again, if Democrats win, it will be in large part thanks to Black people:
A Democratic State Senator in Oklahoma introduced a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.50 an hour from the current federal floor of $7.25. Right now, 29 states and Washington DC have minimum wages higher than that sad federal rate, which hasn’t moved in over a decade. Will an increase pass in Oklahoma? Probably not! But it’s good to put a stake in the ground and make that a firmly Democratic issue.
Just like Sen. Ron Johnson, a number of state lawmakers in Wisconsin are on the Trump dead-end express. Two of them just sued to have the state’s election results overturned (though presumably, they don’t think their own victories were in any way shady).
Legalized recreational cannabis looks to have a solid shot of passing in New Mexico now that voters booted out the killjoy conservative Democrats who had been the biggest obstacle.
Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama have been given a go-ahead by the NLRB to hold a union election. If they win, they’ll be the first unionized Amazon workers in the US — in countries like Germany, most of them are unionized. These workers are very, very brave.
Speaking of, here’s a look at how Amazon snuffs out potential competitors in the cradle and continues to bolster its monopoly. I’m very excited to see all the attention being paid to monopolies of late, especially because it’s bipartisan.
Having worked in digital media for a dozen years, I’ve seen up close and suffered from the way Facebook and Google dominate ad sales and web traffic, and while I don’t sell things on the internet (other than content), I’m sure we’d all be better off with a strong ecosystem of thriving small to medium-sized businesses online.
I’ll absolutely admit to using Amazon to buy things sometimes, especially during the pandemic, when I’ve been largely marooned in my Manhattan neighborhood. It would be great to have better options!
New York has one of the most antiquated and sloppy voting infrastructures in the country (I think they’re still counting votes upstate) but yesterday it took a big leap into the present when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed automatic voter registration into law.
Speaking of automatic voter registration and modernizing elections, yesterday Gov. Gavin Newsom named California Secretary of State Alex Padilla as Kamala Harris’s replacement in the US Senate. Padilla has won praise for his successful efforts to expand voter registration and turnout in the state.
Progressives would have loved to see Reps. Karen Bass or Barbara Lee get the seat, and should Dianne Feinstein step down at any point, there will be a whole lot of pressure on Newsom to nominate one of them despite his more centrist leanings.
In more dubious California exports, Uber and Lyft, fresh off spending $205 million to trick voters into passing Prop 22 and condemning gig workers to serfdom, are already making moves to bring the law to other states. A judge in New York recently ruled that gig workers are employees, and the state doesn’t have ballot initiatives, but it does have a fair number of lawmakers who can be bought.
Medicaid enrollment has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic and recession nightmare double dip.
This is old but made me laugh because I love Ken Loach and spent the better part of a decade involved with superhero movies in some way or another:
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