No Country for Purity Ponies
I have many problems with the civil war Justice Democrats are waging against the Democratic Party.
1. Results. I called this out even before the 2018 primaries (see my Tactical Voter’s Guide post series), and the hard data in the election results has confirmed my suspicions about them. Wikipedia: “In the 2018 elections, 26 of the 79 candidates endorsed by Justice Democrats won their respective primary elections. Seven of these candidates won in the general election. Districts won ranged from D+13 to D+34 on the Cook PVI, indicative of a majority Democratic voting population. No swing districts were won.” Losing 74% of the races in an election where Democrats won 54% of the seats means that Justice Democrats interference has cost Democratic Party approximately 7 seats in 2018.
2. Motives. The atrocious performance of Justice Democrats’ candidates in 2018 raises the same question I am asking myself about Bernie: why would they do that? Pelosi can’t be the only person in the entire House who knows how to count votes: I predicted the same outcome after only a couple months of research done in my spare time as a complete amateur. And even after the election, instead of showing any signs of remorse, they are acting as if this was exactly the outcome they were going for: shifting seats already held by Democrats to the left with no regard for how many seats that gives to Republicans. Wikipedia offers a fitting definition for this kind of behaviour: “parasitism is a relationship between species, where one organism, the parasite, lives on or in another organism, the host, causing it some harm, and is adapted structurally to this way of life.”
3. Manipulative rhetorics. The Justice Democrats criticism of Pelosi hinges on double standards, impossible standards, and victim blaming.
3a. Double standards. They’ve been relentlessly and viciosly attacking Pelosi since before she was voted in as the Speaker: not just criticizing her decisions, questioning her integrity (declaring her a sell-out to corporate donors) and moral character (claiming that she doesn’t care about immigrant children and other victims of the Trump regime). And yet, every time she tries to defend her decisions by pointing at weaknesses in the position of their alumni, they tone police her (which is another manipulative technique: claiming offense with someone’s tone to avoid facing validity of their arguments).
3b. Impossible standards and victim blaming. Pelosi is not a queen nor a dictator, it is not her job to tell other Democrats how to vote, they are there to represent their constituents, not party leadership. Expecting her to pass an impeachment vote when less than 10% of the House Representatives see enough support for impeachment from their constituents to publicly declare for it is an impossible standard. Blaming her for the failure of the American people to recognize the danger of the Trump presidency and the failure of the press and the political advocacy groups (including Justice Democrats) to inform them is victim blaming. Particularly ridiculous when coming from someone who has done as much as Justice Democrats to redirect public outrage from Trump’s authoritarianism and Russia’s election interference and Republican corruption towards Democratic Party.
4. Strategy. Even if I could believe that removing Trump from power before the next election were a real priority for Justice Democrats and not just a convenient excuse to attack Pelosi (I explained above how neither their motives nor their rhetorics support that assumption), they offer zero strategy on how to achieve that and what to do next, unless you count “impeach the mofo, and keep impeaching” as strategy. Believing that impeachment hearings would somehow persuade overwhelming majority of Americans to tell their Senators to indict Trump is magical thinking. Roughly 35-40% of Americans are in the Trump cult and will support him no matter what, and the way Senate over-represents low population states favors this minority in a way that makes the two thirds supermajority required for indictment impossible. And that’s just Trump, impeaching and indicting Pence would be even harder, and harder yet if you want to indict both of them at the same time to prevent Pence from pardoning Trump and appointing Stephen Miller as VP.
5. Priorities. If telling Democrats in the House how to vote is not Pelosi’s job, then what is? First of all, it is to make sure that the people of the United States of America are willing and able to vote for Democrats. Enacting her own policy agenda, no matter how progressive, has to take a backseat to that. Using her position as Speaker to force her own agenda against wishes of the public would be an abuse of power, and would cause a massive backlash against her and the entire party. Sometimes, the calculated risk of enacting something people need over something they want pays off, as it did in the case of ACA, which in 2010 made Democrats lose the House but by 2018 became appreciated and supported by more than 60% of Americans. In 2020, this is not the kind of risk we all can afford, and Pelosi is right to focus on things that will make people want to vote for Democrats (by piling hundreds of massively popular bills on McConnell’s desk) and able to vote at all (by making HR1, the very first resolution of this Congress, about protecting the election system from all kinds of abuse).
Which brings me back to the question of results. Pelosi's results in 2018 speak for themselves, and she is right to point out that Justice Democrats do not deserve any credit for it. Everything they did has only jeopardized the win that Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic Party worked hard to achieve. The outcome of Pelosi's strategy for 2020 remains to be seen, and it is ok to call out the risks she is taking. Is Trump really going to be a liability for GOP in 2020? Could holding back on impeachment cost Democrats more progressive votes than jumping the gun on impeachment would cost in moderate votes? Maybe, but using that possibility as an excuse for attacks that only make it more probable is the kind of self-defeating self-fulfilling prophecy that makes me question which side Justice Democrats are on.
I promised to burn some bridges over this, and I will. I didn’t want to write this. All of the above is so obvious that I already have regrets about the time I had to spend spelling it out. What I want even less is having to argue any more about it. If you want to offer criticism of Pelosi or other Democrats, be very careful, specific, and constructive, the way a real ally would. Using dismissive generalizations and attacks on character (e.g. “Pelosi isn’t doing her job”, “centrist Democrats are beholden to corporate donors”, “she doesn’t care about children in cages and climate change”) will get you summarily blocked.