In a shocking turnabout that has the Internet and most of progressive America shaking its head, creasing its brow, and other stock expressions of surprise and disgust, Massachusetts Senator and left-hope Elizabeth Warren voted to confirm Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson yesterday. Along with Sherrod Brown’s vote for the pyramid-praising neurosurgeon, this marks a near total-collapse of the “Resistance” leadership to the oncoming Orange Storm.
Warren voted for Carson. That sentence still has the power to shock. She voted for Carson when she didn’t have to, when her vote wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Knowing that, she still voted yes. Even the Daily Kos felt the heat, with a headline reading: ”The Resistance” crumbles: Warren Approves Carson.”
Warren made headlines because she was supposed to be the conscience of the party. There was enough shame to go around, however. Fourteen Senate Democrats voted for the torture-defending Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick for CIA director.
Alex Emmons, writing for The Intercept:
Pompeo is a far-right Kansas Republican who has in the past defended CIA officials who engaged in torture, calling them “patriots.” Last week, he left the door open to torture by acknowledging in his written responses to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he would be open to altering a 2015 law prohibiting the government from using techniques not listed in the Army Field Manual. ... While Pompeo’s confirmation was opposed by Human Rights Watch, it netted votes from a variety of Senate Democrats, including the caucus’ leader: Chuck Schumer of New York.
Tim Kaine voted for him. Dianne Feinstein voted for him. The full list does not make for inspiring reading.
On January 21st, Warren said on her personal Twitter account:
Happy to march with 125k+ women (& friends of women) in Boston. We can whimper, we can whine, or we can fight back. #WomensMarch
Apparently, the last option was distasteful for her. On the 25th, she wrote:
Dr. Carson’s answers weren’t perfect. But at his hearing, he committed to track and report on conflicts of interest at the agency. In his written responses to me, he made good, detailed promises, on everything from protecting anti-homelessness programs to enforcing fair housing laws. Promises that – if they’re honored – would help a lot of working families.
Fighting back means something different for Senator Warren, it seems—much as helping American families meant something different for New Jersey’s Senator Booker, when he voted against the Sanders-Klobuchar budget resolution amendment. The resolution would have lowered prescription drug costs by letting American pharmacies and sellers import cheaper Canadian medicine. As Raw Story put it, in shock, “Even Ted Cruz voted to import cheaper drugs from Canada.”
Shortly after news of the Booker vote broke, the public was reminded that Big Pharma had purchased a large interest in the Senator from New Jersey several years ago. Booker, Walker, and Brown’s strange pirouettes indicate a larger problem in the party, one that bedevils the movement’s progressive wing. When three new hopes sink in the first week of a reactionary Presidency, it hints that there’s fundamental problem with the machinery of opposition. Jake Novak, writing for CNBC, notes:
So let’s also look at the names of some of the 13 Democrats who opposed Sanders’ plan, because those names are also very telling. Democrats like Corey Booker and Bob Menendez, both from Big Pharma’s major U.S. headquarters state of New Jersey, voted “nay.” The drug industry’s major presence in states like Delaware and Pennsylvania also seems to have played a role in getting the two Democratic Senators from Delaware and the one Democrat from Pennsylvania to vote no as well. And so did Democrat Patty Murray from Washington, who is one of the biggest recipients of pharma company donations with almost $300,000 for her re-election campaign last year alone.
Whatever the quantity and quality of hot takes, no matter how you spin it, the fact remains: Warren, Brown, and the Washington Democrats are living in a reality distant from ours. For some reason—call it class, call it delusion about bipartisanship, call it a strange yearning for cordiality, call it cluelessness—they have decided not to obstruct. They have the power, and are not using it. Lame excuses abound: defenders of Warren and Brown suggested they were “picking their battles.” But to Vichy yourself to the Donald is to yield in the biggest fight of all—whether or not President Trump will be normalized in the coming weeks, months, and years.
Obstruction worked for the Republicans under Obama. There are other liberal Senators who voted against Trump’s nominees. With the exception of Nikki Haley, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has voted against every one of the Orangeman’s appointments. Why couldn’t Warren?
Like Frasier stuck in another awkward mix-em-up, it’s time for us to ask, “What is the meaning of this?”
There is a very odd divide within the anti-Trump forces.
On one hand, there are huge throngs of people who marched last week in opposition to the government. Their dedication to the cause of reform is not in question. Breanne Butler, who helped organize the Washington March, told Bustle that
“I think that there’s been a lot of walls built up in terms of political activism.” She continues “Even myself, I felt like I had no business getting involved in politics. I’m a chef. I’m from Detroit, Michigan. I’ve never done anything political in my life. But it’s the need to instead of just being depressed and not doing anything and just watching things in a downward spiral, actually stepping up and getting involved. “It’s that first step and if we can be there to support people along the way and give them the confidence that they need, we’re going to shed that stigma [on political activism],” she adds.
Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs, an immigrant from Trinidad and the March’s Youth Initiative Coordinator, told the magazine that “I believe that when you love something, you don’t sit by and watch it self-destruct … My son is an American and I want to show him that actionable activism can make change and the responsibility for that is on each individual.”
Kristen Bellstrom of Fortune asked various protestors why they participated. Not the organizers, just ordinary people. Here are a few of their responses:
“I just really want to feel respected and safe. I don’t want to grow up in a world where I’m not respected for my gender or race or sexual identity.” —15-year-old Emma Rice of Richmond, Va.
“I’m here to remind people that we are watching and we are going to hold (President Trump) responsible.” —Sarah White, Dallas, Penn.
“I’m here today to support women, and especially to stop violence against women. It should be the president’s job to be an example of uplifting women—other men will follow his example.” —Queen Dioni, Silver Spring, Md. and originally from Cameroon.
On the other hand, we have a timid set of leaders who—even when they are as intelligent as Obama and Warren—are unable to fix the system. This is not surprising; even with the departure of the former President, the Dems remain a party in Barack Obama’s image: speeches, and not action. Words, and not votes. Tastes great, but less filling.
Indeed, the Democrats are inevitably wrong about how they fight and when they fight. The usual arrangement is for every one piece of conservative horror they catch, three go by unopposed. When they do make a stab at fighting, it’s done in a clumsy way. Their recent proposal to fix gun violence is a perfect example. Their best solution to a real problem was a technocratic fix that partook of an unfair system—a no-fly list. Even their noblest efforts are drunken stumbles gone deluxe.
If you believe in a world where the elite are more enlightened and forward-thinking than the public, this absence of Warren and Brown on the front line of resistance seem very contradictory and strange. But if you believe, as I do, that the public are always ahead of their rulers, then this makes perfect sense.
Brown and Warren are not ready to battle Trump in the way the public is. Yet we cannot blame them alone. For if this was the matter of one person, or two people, then this would not be a problem. Movements and parties have survived the oddities and mistakes of prominent persons before. What is it about the Democratic leadership that makes them so prone to dropping the ball?
To prove my point, I decided to study random members of the party. Maybe my perspective was biased, and I was just focusing on elected officials who disappointed me. I needed a representative sample. So I asked my coworker Garrett to name a state, any state.
He said “Georgia.” I went to the Democratic Party’s page and picked the name of a Representative, Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. I’ve never heard of him before.
Bishop is a conservative Democrat. He supported Rep. Istook’s (R-OK) amendment to display religious imagery on public ground. There were four members in the thirty-six-member Congressional Black Caucus who voted for the Iraq War, and he was one of them. Bishop nayed the ACA because it contained pro-choice legislation he disapproved of. He voted against the estate tax. His personal site describes his politics as
God, country, work, family, and guns. He has co-sponsored amendments to the U.S. Constitution protecting the U.S. flag against acts of desecration, preserving the institution of marriage, ensuring a balanced federal budget, and allowing voluntary, non-denominational prayer in schools and other public places. He also supports the Second Amendment, receiving the grade of “A+” from the National Rifle Association.
I asked another coworker at Paste, Alex, for the name of another state. He said “Tennessee.” I scrolled down a list and picked Jim Cooper. I don’t know him from Adam; never heard of him before two minutes ago. Cooper serves as the rep for Tennessee’s District 5, won reelection last year. Endorsed Hillary for President. Fiscal conservative. Supported Obamacare. In 1990, Cooper was one of three House Democrats who voted against the Americans with Disabilities act and is a staunch supporter of the NRA.
My friends had given me Southern states; perhaps I wasn’t getting a true picture of the Democratic Party. I asked Google to give me a random number; I got “7” back. The seventh piece to join the Union was Maryland. I almancked up the elected Dems from the Old Line State, and found Senator Chris Van Hollen, whose name I had heard, but knew less about. He’s the son of an Ambassador and an Intelligence Chief. When he was in the legislature in Maryland, he passed laws for trigger locks, increased healthcare and education, blocked oil drilling in the Chesapeake, taxed tobacco.
Later, in Washington, he worked to combat predatory student lending practices; he fought job outsourcing, and tried to end the Lebanon War. Van Hollen got a one hundred percent rating for the Citizens for Tax Justice, which supports higher taxes on the wealthy; he fought for the estate tax, backed the ACA, fought for paid sick leave, equal wages for women, a financial transactions tax, and minimum wage increases. The major blot on his record is an openness to restructure Social Security, which is troubling, but otherwise the Senator is remarkable.
But that’s just the issue: within the system, this is about as progressive and reformist as you can be. Van Hollen represents all the system’s problems, too. The Senator is an establishment darling, who beat an even more progressive challenger, Donna Edwards, for his seat. In a 2015 piece in the Times, Robert Draper described the contest:
A pugnacious former community organizer, Edwards is a four-term African-American congresswoman from Prince George’s County, one of the most affluent majority-black counties in the United States. But she wasn’t the favorite of establishment Democrats. For them, the obvious choice to replace Mikulski was the seven-term congressman Chris Van Hollen, who is considered a progressive like Edwards, but has a reputation for coolheaded practicality and for working well with Republicans. Of the bills sponsored by Van Hollen in the previous session of Congress, 37 percent included at least one Republican co-sponsor.
I bring up Bishop, Cooper, and Van Hollen not to bury them, nor to praise them. They are three ordinary Democrats, chosen at random. This is a decent snapshot of what the Party is. Consider that these gentlemen, and the Democratic Party, are the tools progressives must use to oppose Trump. One is a progressive from a wealthy district, one is Republican in all but name, and one is a deficit hawk. No wonder the Democrats are caving in the Senate hearings. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, they are an echo, not a choice.
What is going on? Matt Taibbi once appeared on Bill Moyers’ show back in 2009, during the passage of Obamacare. Moyers noted that the American public supported the Medicare buy-in by thirty points, and yet it went down “like a lead balloon.” “Explain this to the visitor from Mars,” he asked. Taibbi responded:
And I think, you know, a lot of what the Democrats are doing, they don’t make sense if you look at it from an objective point of view, but if you look at it as a business strategy—if you look at the Democratic Party as a business, and their job is basically to raise campaign funds and to stay in power, what they do makes a lot of sense. They have a consistent strategy which involves negotiating a fine line between sentiment on the left and the interests of the industries that they’re out there to protect. And they’ve always, kind of, taken that fork in the road and gone right down the middle of the line. And they’re doing that with this health care bill and that’s—it’s consistent.
Let’s presume that Taibbi is right. If this is actually the case, then the answer is simple. We have to hold the Dems to account. If we don’t, this keeps happening.
Do I think Senator Warren, who I once championed as a great hope, is a terrible person? No. I think she is, unfortunately, both a member and a symptom of a party that does not know itself or the country it represents. Warren and Brown and the rest of the crew in Congress think that it’s unobjectionable to vote Dr. Carson in. This suggests they are either unaware or indifferent to the mood of their supporters, and the values of the American people.
Right now, the GOP is having a pow-wow in Philly. There are tremendous and yuge crowds of protesters opposing Trump in the City of Brotherly Love. The hashtag #ResistanceInPhilly is trending. “Alternative facts” is the buzzword of the day, but we must be aware that there are alternate realities: the one on Capitol Hill, and the one on the streets, where most people live. How real the world here! How distant the one in Washington! Connecting the two will be the project of the next four years.