The Democratic Schism: A Tactical Ploy?

It seems that all we hear about these days in both Democrat and Republican circles is the colossal rift unfolding in plain view between the radical socialists and moderate Democrats in Nancy Pelosi's House and party.  The concern among Democrats and wishful thinking among Republicans is that this will divide the Democrats, making a Trump victory in 2020 a certainty.

National Review's Jay Cost agrees about the divide and maintains in his "Radicalism Is on the Rise among Democrats" that Democrats were able to achieve considerable political success in the post–world war years into the 21st century, by keeping "radical [socialist] forces at bay" and putting in place more palatable policies that allowed them to "share the bounty of capitalism in a more egalitarian manner."  Using the example of choosing Cold War hawk and interventionist Harry Truman over Henry Wallace as Roosevelt's V.P. in 1944, Cost suggests that even a Democrat like Obama really wasn't the radical we thought he was, but is more in the tradition of moderates before him — like Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton.  According to Cost, these moderates split the ideological baby by reaping the benefits of capitalism and then redistributing those benefits through socialist tax and economic policies.  In short, they had a balanced mix of foreign and domestic policies that kept radicals (like Bernie Sanders) on the fringe and out of everyday politics. 

I'm not going to dispute Cost's analysis of American political history, but this notion that liberals like Sandy O and Bernie are somehow more extreme than Pelosi and Obama, or past progressive players like Wilson and Roosevelt, is simply wishful thinking on the part of two groups of people.  One group is made up of NeverTrumps and liberals, who want conservative voters to believe that the DNC is splitting to the point of self-destruction, in the hopes that they will get cocky about Trump's re-election chances, driving down their participation in the 2020 campaign and turnout on Election Day.  This is a kind of perverse way of suppressing the pro-Trump conservative vote in 2020.  The second group comprises conservative pundits and pols who really hope to see the same kind of establishment-radical schism in the DNC and Pelosi's Congress that the Republicans had, have, and just can't seem to shake in their own party.  Such a split would fracture the left-wing vote and could lead to a resounding Trump victory and second term.  The problem is that this assumes that the right side of the equation can unite and coalesce around Trump, and there is no rational reason to expect this to happen short of a miracle.  At the very least, the thinking is that if the DNC is as divided as the GOP, neither party will have a distinct advantage over the other, and the election will be determined by the far left, far right, independents, and undecideds, and that puts it in anyone's camp — giving Trump a better chance than they believe he would otherwise have.

But the fact is, there really isn't a GOP-like schism in the DNC, and Nancy Pelosi has not lost control of the House.  There are no differences among last century's progressives; so-called moderate Democrats like Kennedy and Clinton; '60s pinko-hippies like Sanders and Warren; limousine liberals like Obama, Pelosi, and Schumer; and today's latte liberals like Ocasio-Cortez.  They all share the same ideology and goals.  They glorify progressive policies based on socialist and Marxist ideals and openly seek to change America from a free market to a government-controlled economy.  They seek to strip capitalism down to its barest bone, redistribute wealth and income, impose ever higher taxes.  They will rename and reprogram welfare into universal basic income and Medicaid, Medicare, SCHIP, and Obamacare into universal health care.  They encroach on people's choices, education, families, speech, religion, and commerce with increased government controls.  They seek open borders to continue whittling away at the culture and economy, rendering white supremacist-nationalist-colonialist-imperialists irrelevant, giving the land back to indigenous groups to make up for past ills, reparations for descendants of slavery...and on and on.  How easily we forget that Obama's "fundamental transformation" of the U.S. was 100% in line with progressives before him like Wilson and Roosevelt.  Pelosi, Schumer, and Reid implemented liberal policies to further his agenda.  At all points along Obama's arc of history, the justice he sought was economic justice (taking from the 1% and giving to the 99%) and social justice.

The only difference among the Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez/Sanders Democrats is one of tactics.  In order to achieve their socialist objectives, the Pelosians do things incrementally, often behind the scenes, and talk like moderates while implementing radical legislation.  The Ocasio-Cortez/Sandersans lay it all on the line, hide nothing, and say exactly what they intend to do.  But the goals are the same, the ideology identical.  Even the path to reach their goals is the same.  They just differ slightly on approach — do we tell them we're screwing them or make it all look nicely packaged...and screw 'em?

Cost says the liberal explanation of what they've been doing goes something like this: "if you're not doing too well, we will help you; if you're doing really, really well, we're going to ask you to pitch in a little more; if you're doing all right, we'll leave you alone." 

Not quite.  It's more like this: if you tell us you are not doing well, we will provide for you as needed, without asking any questions.  If you're doing really, really well, we are going to forcibly confiscate your income, wealth, and property and give it to others we deem more worthy.  If you're doing all right, we'll leave you alone until we need more from you to help those in the first category who can no longer be helped by those who were formerly in the second category."  I don't think there are too many Democrats out there — past or present — who would find anything wrong with this characterization.  If you are a free-market, freedom-loving constitutionalist, you'll find that radical.

Cost makes the same mistake we hear on the news every night, distinguishing between old school Democrats and radicals like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, who, he says, "seem intent on disrupting life for every American, in fundamental ways" — as if the "moderates" have a different agenda!  But the truth is, the Democrats are united on disrupting life for every American, in fundamental ways, and thus are all radicals.  It's just that some of them wear the smiley face better than the others.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

It seems that all we hear about these days in both Democrat and Republican circles is the colossal rift unfolding in plain view between the radical socialists and moderate Democrats in Nancy Pelosi's House and party.  The concern among Democrats and wishful thinking among Republicans is that this will divide the Democrats, making a Trump victory in 2020 a certainty.

National Review's Jay Cost agrees about the divide and maintains in his "Radicalism Is on the Rise among Democrats" that Democrats were able to achieve considerable political success in the post–world war years into the 21st century, by keeping "radical [socialist] forces at bay" and putting in place more palatable policies that allowed them to "share the bounty of capitalism in a more egalitarian manner."  Using the example of choosing Cold War hawk and interventionist Harry Truman over Henry Wallace as Roosevelt's V.P. in 1944, Cost suggests that even a Democrat like Obama really wasn't the radical we thought he was, but is more in the tradition of moderates before him — like Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton.  According to Cost, these moderates split the ideological baby by reaping the benefits of capitalism and then redistributing those benefits through socialist tax and economic policies.  In short, they had a balanced mix of foreign and domestic policies that kept radicals (like Bernie Sanders) on the fringe and out of everyday politics. 

I'm not going to dispute Cost's analysis of American political history, but this notion that liberals like Sandy O and Bernie are somehow more extreme than Pelosi and Obama, or past progressive players like Wilson and Roosevelt, is simply wishful thinking on the part of two groups of people.  One group is made up of NeverTrumps and liberals, who want conservative voters to believe that the DNC is splitting to the point of self-destruction, in the hopes that they will get cocky about Trump's re-election chances, driving down their participation in the 2020 campaign and turnout on Election Day.  This is a kind of perverse way of suppressing the pro-Trump conservative vote in 2020.  The second group comprises conservative pundits and pols who really hope to see the same kind of establishment-radical schism in the DNC and Pelosi's Congress that the Republicans had, have, and just can't seem to shake in their own party.  Such a split would fracture the left-wing vote and could lead to a resounding Trump victory and second term.  The problem is that this assumes that the right side of the equation can unite and coalesce around Trump, and there is no rational reason to expect this to happen short of a miracle.  At the very least, the thinking is that if the DNC is as divided as the GOP, neither party will have a distinct advantage over the other, and the election will be determined by the far left, far right, independents, and undecideds, and that puts it in anyone's camp — giving Trump a better chance than they believe he would otherwise have.

But the fact is, there really isn't a GOP-like schism in the DNC, and Nancy Pelosi has not lost control of the House.  There are no differences among last century's progressives; so-called moderate Democrats like Kennedy and Clinton; '60s pinko-hippies like Sanders and Warren; limousine liberals like Obama, Pelosi, and Schumer; and today's latte liberals like Ocasio-Cortez.  They all share the same ideology and goals.  They glorify progressive policies based on socialist and Marxist ideals and openly seek to change America from a free market to a government-controlled economy.  They seek to strip capitalism down to its barest bone, redistribute wealth and income, impose ever higher taxes.  They will rename and reprogram welfare into universal basic income and Medicaid, Medicare, SCHIP, and Obamacare into universal health care.  They encroach on people's choices, education, families, speech, religion, and commerce with increased government controls.  They seek open borders to continue whittling away at the culture and economy, rendering white supremacist-nationalist-colonialist-imperialists irrelevant, giving the land back to indigenous groups to make up for past ills, reparations for descendants of slavery...and on and on.  How easily we forget that Obama's "fundamental transformation" of the U.S. was 100% in line with progressives before him like Wilson and Roosevelt.  Pelosi, Schumer, and Reid implemented liberal policies to further his agenda.  At all points along Obama's arc of history, the justice he sought was economic justice (taking from the 1% and giving to the 99%) and social justice.

The only difference among the Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez/Sanders Democrats is one of tactics.  In order to achieve their socialist objectives, the Pelosians do things incrementally, often behind the scenes, and talk like moderates while implementing radical legislation.  The Ocasio-Cortez/Sandersans lay it all on the line, hide nothing, and say exactly what they intend to do.  But the goals are the same, the ideology identical.  Even the path to reach their goals is the same.  They just differ slightly on approach — do we tell them we're screwing them or make it all look nicely packaged...and screw 'em?

Cost says the liberal explanation of what they've been doing goes something like this: "if you're not doing too well, we will help you; if you're doing really, really well, we're going to ask you to pitch in a little more; if you're doing all right, we'll leave you alone." 

Not quite.  It's more like this: if you tell us you are not doing well, we will provide for you as needed, without asking any questions.  If you're doing really, really well, we are going to forcibly confiscate your income, wealth, and property and give it to others we deem more worthy.  If you're doing all right, we'll leave you alone until we need more from you to help those in the first category who can no longer be helped by those who were formerly in the second category."  I don't think there are too many Democrats out there — past or present — who would find anything wrong with this characterization.  If you are a free-market, freedom-loving constitutionalist, you'll find that radical.

Cost makes the same mistake we hear on the news every night, distinguishing between old school Democrats and radicals like Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, who, he says, "seem intent on disrupting life for every American, in fundamental ways" — as if the "moderates" have a different agenda!  But the truth is, the Democrats are united on disrupting life for every American, in fundamental ways, and thus are all radicals.  It's just that some of them wear the smiley face better than the others.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.