Randy Bryce had a good week. Then the backlash began. Both are analogous to the broader potential and pitfalls of the 2017 Democratic Party.
Bryce, who calls himself “Iron Stache” on Twitter, came to national attention with a slickly produced video spot on June 18. The ad promoted better health care as a generational issue, drawing a distinction between Bryce and his potential opponent Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House and the architect of the massively unpopular American Health Care Act (AHCA).
Ryan has bragged about his desire for destroying the social safety net since his time at college “keggers.” It’s likely due to how utterly loathsome the Speaker is that Bryce’s bursting onto the political scene received so much enthusiasm. The Wisconsin ironworker was an instant sensation, netting interviews with The New Republic, NPR, and MSNBC show The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.
Yet some of the content from Bryce’s performance in those interviews—combined with a perusal of his social media account—has peeled back the layers of Bryce’s views and politics. Unfortunately, it appears that the blue collar ironworker from the Rust Belt is just another Democrat. That’s resulted in an almost instantaneous backlash towards the Democrat from the left, especially given Iron Stache’s endorsements earlier this year of bigoted conspiracist Louise Mensch’s xenophobic babbling.
Not only does Bryce have a documented social media history of appreciating Mensch, he also used his appearance on The Last Word—his biggest platform to date—to call Trump a “Russian spy.”
That’s not unique to Bryce, nor is it an implication specifically of his candidacy. He is, after all, a Democrat. But the obsession with rehashed Cold War talking points is an issue that continues to rear its head and suck up oxygen in the political sphere even as real issues like health care are ignored.
Let’s be clear here. There’s still been no proof offered of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government (there’s been no independently verifiable proof offered of Russian interference in the 2016 election in fact). But more importantly, the issues that Bryce appears ready to run on—like a higher minimum wage and single payer health care—are at risk of being obfuscated by the candidate’s adherence to the most outlandish of Democratic talking points.
To be fair, Bryce is aggressively running on a universal health care platform. His ad is heavy on the cost and consequence of the GOP health care legislation currently making its way through the Senate. Bryce signaled his support for a single payer system in his interview with The New Republic’s Sarah Jones
“Do you support single-payer health care?” asked Jones.
“I do,” Bryce replied. “I am convinced we need to move towards single-payer.”
So, sure. That’s a good thing. There’s no better way for the Democratic Party to at least move slightly toward the left than to call for universal health care.
Yet that’s not stopping them from making the same terrible decisions they’re becoming well known for—quite the opposite. According to Vox reporter Jeff Stein, Senate Democrats traded the ability to institute more sanctions on Russia for their noninterference in the AHCA’s advancement through the chamber. Now that the bill is here, the pressure is on Senate Democrats to stop it.
Results have been mixed throughout the party. On the one hand, the party is using the health care bill to gin up their base, raise funds, and—perhaps most importantly—shut down any substantive criticism of the Democratic leadership on the grounds that critiques will destroy its ability to stop the GOP health care bill. This is the bill, remember, that they have chosen not to stop so they can get more sanctions placed on Russia.
On the other hand, a bill in the California State House that would have given the state a single payer system was shelved by that body’s Speaker, Anthony Rendon. Rendon claims the bill wasn’t ready, but that excuse isn’t getting a lot of traction with an already incensed base.
In this political environment, Bryce’s open campaigning on a single payer platform has provided a breath of fresh air. But that shouldn’t excuse his Russophobia. The problems with that rhetoric are far deeper and more insidious than one candidate’s interviews and tweets.
Letting Bryce skate by on the virtue of his mustache and opponent is not the behavior of a movement that can win. We can accept that we might not get everything we want but, without demanding it, we run the risk of gaining nothing. Demanding more is essential in electoral politics. Things are changing rapidly across the country. We’ll see what happens. But one thing’s clear: we need to get off our asses and push for a vision of the future that has a future. That means pushing for a politics that isn’t just “good enough.”
Update: Bryce appears to have disavowed Mensch, at least to some extent, on Friday.