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Build Back Better Is Shelved, DOD Budget Is Rubber Stamped, Pelosi Defends Congress Trading Stock, and Our Media Asks: Why Are Voters Cynical?
If Democratic leadership doesn’t seem to care, why should we?
There is little centrist media commentators love to do more than lament over the rise of cynicism among voters and a loss in faith in institutions. “Polarization,” “extremism,” and “tribalism” are all worrisome social contagions over the past five years in urgent need of addressing. Solutions include banning or more heavily curating social media, promoting civil virtue in schools, more cultural production about the value of “liberal democracy.” What’s to blame? Facebook, Russian media, with some head nod towards elite failures like the 2008 recession or the Iraq War thrown in for good measure. But mostly, it’s sinister forces from overseas and Mark Zuckerberg. And to some extent this is true: Facebook almost certainly does promote cynicism since this posture clearly traffics well––this is, no doubt, a significant factor.. And while Russian media absolutely does try to sow nihilism, it’s surely much less of a factor. The 2016 troll farms barely made a dent in traffic, and the average RT show is watched by less than 30,000 people.
There is, however, a massive, largely unmentioned culprit: the leadership of the Democratic Party. Or, more precisely, the fact that the Democratic Party leadership doesn’t seem to ever get mad at anything. They seem mostly indifferent to the needs of the average working person.
Let’s take this remark today from Nancy Pelosi when she was asked about members of Congress trading stock, something progressive democrats—and savvy Republicans looking for an effective populist gotcha against Democrats in 2022—are increasingly discussing banning.
There is no more obviously glaring “fuck you” to the poor than this exchange. Pelosi’s personal net worth since she entered Congress has increased 100 million dollars, largely off trading stock. It’s a widespread, clearly corrupt practice that has garnered bipartisan hate for obvious reasons. This fact, and her response today, adds extra context to her defensive, smug answer to a question in 2017 about the appeal of socialism on younger voters.
“We are capitalist, fuck you for asking. People (I) should be able to make as much money as possible. And within that narrow framework, if we can throw the poor some wins here and there, then maybe we’ll do it. But nothing fundamental can or should change.”
In his substack today, Eoin Higgins documented the path of the jaded progressive, why they grow cynical, how the blasé attitude of Democratic Party leaders feeds this cycle, and how familiar it is to so many. It’s worth reading.
One thing you’ll never hear me say is that “the two parties are the same.” This isn’t really true. On foreign policy it mostly is, but there are meaningful differences domestically. A Democratic president is objectively better for labor, for routine environmental enforcement, for abortion rights, climate, and a host of modest—but nontrivial—differences. What matters is not if they’re exactly the same, but if they broadly feel the same on major issues to voters. And, on substance, in many key ways they are, at least when it comes to how political policies impact people’s lives.
And even when they do something significant that improves poor people’s lives, Democratic leaders don’t take any credit for it. Take, for example, the greatest transfer of wealth to the poor and working class in 60 years: Enhanced Unemployment Insurance. Democrats largely supported extending it, and they did as a matter of votes. This was a major win for struggling workers—it kept people alive, paid rent and bought groceries and gave people what they almost never have: breathing room.
But as a matter of messaging, it was nowhere to be found. President Biden didn’t mention it once in any of the 2020 presidential debates. He rarely mentioned it in any speeches. Neither did Nancy Pelosi. They acted embarrassed by it, then quickly killed it in September. They didn’t fight for it, because—as Pelosi made refreshingly clear—they are capitalists and their fellow capitalist at the Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups made it apparent that if they wanted any of their support in 2022 they’d have to end the program. This was clear as early as April 2020. So Democratic leaders snuffed it out and never talked about it and now, never bring it up at all.
I don’t have the resources or time to measure this exactly, but I’d wager if one added up the total amount of minutes Democratic-aligned media and high-profile Democratic politicians talked about Enhanced UI—the thing that actually materially improved people’s lives—versus how much they talked about Jan 6, the ratio would probably be 1,000 to 1. This isn’t to say Jan 6 isn’t important, or that there shouldn’t be investigations. Obviously, fascist mobs attacking the capitol is very serious, and sets a dangerous precedent. And measures to prevent this from happening again—or worse yet, scaling to all 50 states in the future—are important (though there is a conversation to be had about avoiding “solutions” that reinforce the carceral system). But so too are millions of people being kept out of—and eventually thrown back into—poverty. Both are important, but one is overwhelmingly centered and dramatized and given congressional hearings and non-stop handicapping on MSNBC, while the other was barely mentioned at all. What Meadows texted to whom, and what Vidman and Bleeeber emailed to so and so, like Russiagate, will largely get lost in the tit for tat media fog. None of this will have much to do with whether people can afford food or how good their schools are or whether or not they’ll lose their jobs. `
The While House sleepwalked through the progressive reconciliation bill, something that would have actually helped millions living in poverty or on the edge of poverty. The zombie bill was carried along for months by congressional progressives, all while it decayed further with each new “round of negotiations.” Pelosi preemptively punched left, blamed Republicans, and refused to give any indication as to what specifically they were fighting for. No media spectacles, hardly any press conferences. Biden seemed half interested the entire time, also preemptively leading with what would eventually be cut. It just never seemed like they really cared. No hardball, no media events, a couple town halls and that was it. Yes the media was partially to blame, as I’ve documented several times, but Democratic Leadership was a basically a no show.
Today the Build Back Better bill was shelved, and may very well be dead. The Pentagon’s obscene $770 billion passed the Senate 89-10 without any meaningful public debate at all. The most highly visible face of the Democratic Party for 15 years insisted that, as millions of Americans struggle to meet their basic needs, foregoing Christmas presents for baby formula and diapers, members of Congress should be able to trade stock with insider information. For those researchers building surveys and models and struggling to figure out why voters are cynical, look no further than Dec. 15, 2021. It’s not the only reason, but it’s the least discussed, and the one we have the power to do the most about.