Some things in life are inevitable, it seems. When the sun rises, it does so in the east. When it rains, things get wet. When you drop your smartphone, it lands in such a way as to crack the screen with an audible tink.
When progressive ideas are cogently aired before millions of viewers, the “centrist” establishment and their “moderate” mainstream media allies will rally furiously to try and convince everyone how terrifying those ideas are. Inevitable.
The run of days since the first twin-bill Democratic debate has been a study in public political pushback. Certainly, both the first and second nights were deliberately chaotic affairs salted liberally (pardon the pun) with unrefined gobbledygook from moderator Chuck Todd. That being said, the policy initiatives were clearly outlined despite the format. Many of those policy initiatives were dramatically progressive and are, according to a variety of polls, deeply popular with a majority of voters.
A hell of a lot of people tuned in, especially to the Thursday night debate which featured several frontrunners, including Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. According to Nielsen, some 18.1 million viewers tuned in to watch Harris snap Biden over her knee on the second night, making it the most-watched Democratic primary debate in history.
For the establishment press, which flees progressive ideas the way vampires flee garlic, this simply will not do. Like swallows returning to Capistrano, they swooped in after the debate and started pooping all over the roof. This led to the publication of some hilariously fraught news stories and editorials in the bigger papers, none more so than The New York Times, with The Washington Post riding sidecar on this road to progressive perdition.
“With moderate Democrats repeatedly drowned out or on the defensive in the debates,” wrote the Times in its opening “Fear the Libs!” salvo, “the sprint to the left has deeply unnerved establishment Democrats, who have largely picked the party nominees in recent decades.” Can’t have the establishment stripped of its power to pick sure-fire winners like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, now can we?
“Democratic candidates veer left,” intoned a Post headline the next day, “leaving behind successful midterm strategy.” Got that, everyone? Rather than take an effective strategy and expand on it, these candidates should be standing pat, which is another way of saying they need to be more conservative. The article itself featured a “cheering” Trump after the debates, because his opinion clearly matters most.
Speaking of opinion, no establishment pushback would be complete without a paean to vanilla from the Smart People on the editorial pages.
“Statecraft is soul craft,” writes the eternally incorrect Times columnist David Brooks. “Through the policies they choose, governments can encourage their citizens to become one sort of person or another. Progressives want to create a government caste that is powerful and a population that is safe but dependent. Moderates, by contrast, are trying to create a citizenry that possesses the vigorous virtues — daring, empowered, always learning, always brave.”
There is so much wrong in that paragraph — even without the spectacular blither about “soul craft” — I’d need an abacus to count the ways. Suffice it to say, it is difficult in the extreme to be vigorous, daring, empowered, learning and/or brave when you are crushed under a mountain of medical or school debt, if you make less money and are harassed at work because you are a woman, if the cops hunt you because of the color of your skin, or if your future was plundered by the wars Brooks vocally supported. You can have all the good “moderate” stuff if you’re a rich, white man, however. If that is the case, Mr. Brooks is your guy.
Still not convinced that progressive policy ideas will rain destruction and sorrow down upon you and all you hold dear? Well, conservative Times columnist Bret Stephens is here to shoot the gap for you with an article titled, “A Wretched Start for Democrats,” in which he laments the existence of Spanish, among many other apparently bad things.
“They speak Spanish,” growls Stephens. “We don’t. They are not U.S. citizens or legal residents. We are. They broke the rules to get into this country. We didn’t. They pay few or no taxes. We already pay most of those taxes. They willingly got themselves into debt. We’re asked to write it off. They don’t pay the premiums for private health insurance. We’re supposed to give up ours in exchange for some V.A.-type nightmare. They didn’t start enterprises that create employment and drive innovation. We’re expected to join the candidates in demonizing the job-creators, breaking up their businesses and taxing them to the hilt.”
Somewhere in upstate New York, there is a hay field stripped bare for the construction of all the straw men Stephens deployed in that paragraph. It should require only two of the most meager, underachieving brain cells in your possession to surmise who he means when he speaks of “we.” The racism and classism on display here is so vast and unrestrained, it should come with a warning label, which, of course, it never does.
“Stephens, of all people, has the predictable gall to say that everyone ELSE is the reason Trump is gonna win in 2020,” writes Drew Magary for Deadspin on this execrable Times column. “It couldn’t possibly be because supposed guardians of democracy have foolishly offered STEPHENS asylum, helping disseminate his garbage into the mainstream and to act as sentry for the entrenched powers that be, and then paying him handsomely for the privilege.”
That is about the size of it, for all of it.
If a full-court press against progressive policy isn’t sufficient to drive the hippie hordes into submission, the Times is more than happy to indulge in some sneaky misogyny under the ever-effective banner of “They Say.”
“In polling, interviews and focus groups, a portion of the party’s voters suggest they’re eager to see a woman on the ticket,” wrote the Times on Wednesday, “but fear that putting her in the top slot could cost them the White House — again. The question comes up frequently in early primary states, including at events organized for female voters. Much of the concern centers not on what Democratic voters themselves say they want but a prediction of what they believe others will support.”
Here we see an example of the classic “Yeahbut” pivot, fueled by the “fear” of what “others” may think about a woman holding the highest elected office in the land. Of course, women candidates face a unique challenge in a nation built on patriarchy and misogyny. To deny this is to deny reality.
Hillary Clinton was dogged by the “Women can’t win” trope all throughout her 2008 and 2016 campaigns, and while her own shortcomings — combined with a burn-it-down electoral mood that saw half the country stay home in November — played a large role in her defeat, the power of that trope became a self-fulfilling prophesy which echoes to this day. Despite this, Clinton still won the popular vote by a sizeable margin.
Here’s the thing, though: Now ain’t then. In 2008, it seemed absurd to believe the country would elect a Black man who, politically speaking, came down with the last drop of rain. Yet the country did so, twice, and that was 11 years ago. To say this is still the same country as it was then, after all that has happened — including the long nightmare of Donald Trump — is also to deny reality.
Articles like this are appearing for two reasons: Frontrunners Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris won that first debate. The two are very different politically, with Warren’s record and list of progressive policy ideas far outstripping those of Harris. Yet as women, their strength so far on the campaign trail strikes at the heart of establishment control, and so “women can’t win” is erected as a firewall against their potential success.
It’s all too clear that the first Democratic debate, for all its myriad flaws, has fired a charge of red-hot fear peppers up the tailpipe of the establishment. These types of articles are rolled out every election season — if you’ve read one, you’ve pretty much read them all — but it feels different this time.
Thanks in part to the grotesque performance of the sitting Republican president, whose worst offense against the establishment has been to brazenly give away the game, progressive candidates and their ideas have a historic opportunity to seize control of the narrative in this country. As that narrative has traditionally run through establishment gatekeeper stalwarts like the Times and the Post, they are going to have their timid, hidebound, protect-the-rich-boy’s-club say.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men may not be able to save this particular Humpty, either. The ocean is coming, everyone knows it now including the deniers, and the problems facing this society have become too glaring to paper over with old ideas and discredited notions. Moreover, the Times, the Post and their establishment peers are not the only media game in town. Nowadays, that fact is truer than ever.
Progressives have the best arguments this cycle, and thanks to the rampant malfeasance of Trump and the Republicans, the country is listening. If it’s not already too late, it’s definitely right on time.