March 12, 2019

The Update Desk: Aggressive Progressives

A week or so ago, I wrote a Knock Knock post about the aggressive progressives that are making a whole lot of noise in the House and Senate.

The post was about this wing of the Democratic Party suggesting that the only way their agenda will move forward in the Senate is if they retake the majority and then get rid of the filibuster, the tool that requires 60 votes for most legislation to pass.

Here's an excerpt the crux of the issue, we're told by Ezra Levin,  co-founder of the Indivisible Project.
In order to actually pass a big, bold pro-democracy package, or a big, bold climate package, or a health care package, we're going to need to be able to do that with 51 votes. 
 And here's my opinion on this whole mess:
And unless there's some miracle that ends up with a blue tsunami or a red tide in the Senate, we're going to continue to see a small majority for one party or the other -- and all voters deserve to get what they want, including the people in the minority.
The fact that the minority might continue to be blue, or will inevitably turn blue, is reason enough not to make this silly move...
The filibuster is just one issue; the Green New Deal, and calls for socialism (Democratic or otherwise), and the extreme language they use, are others that seem to be getting a lot of attention for the particular representatives, but the attention has not all been positive for them, or for the party as a whole.

Recently, I stumbled on a NY Times article from last month that helps illustrate how the aggressive progressives (let's call them the APs) are having an influence on the party as a whole that is also not necessarily positive.

The article introduces us to Rep. Ben McAdams, of Utah, Rep. Haley Stevens of Michigan, Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey, and Rep. David Ciicilline of Rhode Island.

Here's how it looks out there in more conservative districts, we're told:
...Representative Ben McAdams, a freshman, was grilled by constituents about the "socialism" and "anti-Semitism" that they saw coming out of the New Democratic House. 
"How long do you intend to ride that train with those people?" one Utahan asked. 
...Representative Haley Stevens was asked about her ability to counter what one voter deemed the bigotry of some of her freshman colleagues - a concern fueled partly by remarks from her counterpart in nearby Detroit, Rashida Tlaib - and "the negative attitude they bring to Democrats." woman stood up in a town hall to remind Representative Abigail Spanberger that while she was the first Democrat to hold that seat in nearly 50 years, the majority of the rural enclave had voted Republican.
"Since the Democrats are now the party of death and taxes," the woman said, as Democratic supporters scoffed and grumbled, "just how to you propose to effectively represent the taxpayers of Spotsylvania?" 
These three -- all moderates in conservative districts -- helped the Dems win the House; in fact, the article notes, roughly a third of the new Dems are from districts won by Donald Trump in 2016. They are in a tough spot when all anyone hears about are the aggressive progressives. And, the article notes,
That serves as another indication that Democrats will have to confront the intra-party tussle between liberals and moderates to decide what they stand for, whom they appeal to, and where their electoral future lies. 
According to the article, Rep. Andy Kim was asked to account for "the uptick of negative rhetoric" coming from the freshman class. His response?
My job is to focus on you. I don't know how other members of Congress are making their decisions about what to say, but I'll certainly stand up and disagree whenever there is something out there I disagree with.
Is it me, or is that really what we don't need Democrats doing, having to go on the record disagreeing with really a handful or maybe two of the APs who seem eager to take over the party, or at least to take over the agenda?

It's certainly making it easy for the Republicans to shift the discussion from policy to personality, and they're doing it very well, especially with the president, his staff and minions, and his Twitter followers on their side.

Just yesterday, for example, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked if the president really thinks that the Democratic party hates Jews, something he's said a couple of times. After repeatedly turning the question to what the Dems did not do, specifically not really addressing specific comments from specific people (APs all, by the way), her final answer is that the press should ask the Democrats that question. That kind of messaging, or anti-messaging, will be the norm for every Democrat as the year goes on and folks start working on their next election.

For her part, Spanberger said "it's a challenge" but it's also what she's supposed to be doing, noting that it's not all going to comfortable. She noted she has had conversations with colleagues, both about policy and "the tone of opposition" with colleagues, and that she's been telling folks she's "absolutely not a socialist." And, she noted,
When people say things in snarky ways or disrespectful ways or flippant ways, that creates an issue in districts like ours. It's real easy to be kind of snarky in the majority.
Back in Utah, McAdams has been asked about the Green New Deal, and socialism, but his constituents are concerned about how he's going to hold up against the APs, and whether they will "corrupt" him.
They won't. There have been some articles about this, a little bit of tension on the Democratic side: are we going to veer to the far left or are we going to stay in the center. I don't know where the Democratic Party will go, but I tell you what, I will stay in the center. People are going to have to take it or leave it.
And, he added,
If I'm solid and unequivocating that I'm going to vote for my district, nobody really puts much pressure on me. 
Cicilline, of Rhode Island, is chair of the Dem's communications arm, and acknowledged that "there is a tendency to take legislation or statements by one member and attribute it to the entire caucus," which is exactly what's happening and it's what the Dems need to figure out how to combat.

So what are the moderates to do? Rodell Mollineau, who used to work for Nevada's Harry Reid in the Senate, noted that the freshmen APs probably
aren't thinking that whatever they say might do harm to their class, and that's not going to change. 
The more progressive messaging is what sells right now. That's what everyone is talking about, so it will be harder for moderates to break through. But that's why it's important to repeat their view of the world to their constituents.  
Hopefully, they'll be able to do that without having to start every conversation by saying what they don't agree with, and what they aren't (socialists, extreme left-wingers, and corrupted by liberals), and instead have conversations about what they want to do to help the people in their district.

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