The War on the Progressive Wing of the Democratic Party

The War on the Progressive Wing of the Democratic Party

The War on the Progressive Wing of the Democratic Party

Corporate interests are coming for the millions of progressive voters who joined with the center left to elect Joe Biden and a Democratic Congress.


My friends, war has been openly declared on the growing progressive wing of the Democratic Party—on the millions who rallied to the agenda of economic and social equality that Bernie Sanders and progressive candidates across the country are advancing.

As reported, a corporatist coup within the Democrat Party, which started during the 2021 special elections, has been launched by a wide array of allied groups including cryptospeculators, the oil industry, pharmaceuticals, finance, and even Republicans.

Make no mistake, the goal of the war is to make elected progressives extinct and to extinguish the agenda of higher wages, affordable health care, criminal justice reform, addressing climate change, and putting more economic and political power in the hands of everyday people of all races.

Tragically, this assault by the corporatists appears to be aided by organs of our own Party. In the open seat in Oregon’s Fifth Congressional district, cryptospeculator Sam Bankman-Fried put some $10 million on the table to propel an unknown adherent of his cultish Effective Altruism movement against three women of color. A week later, House Majority PAC, the official House Democratic Caucus super PAC, put in $1 million to back him as well. (Prompting sharp criticism from Senator Jeff Merkely and national Latino leaders.) Coincidence or quid pro quo? Nancy Pelosi can’t coordinate with this super PAC behind the scenes, but she can make public statements about their conduct. Something tells me they would listen.

And at a time when the right to an abortion is about to be eviscerated by the Supreme Court, House Democratic leaders are frantically fundraising, arguing that they will protect reproductive rights. Simultaneously, they are rushing to defend anti-choice, corporate-friendly Representative Henry Cuellar against progressive Jessica Cisneros.

The White House political shop (which is now not-so-jokingly called the Committee for Assisted Democratic Suicide in some circles) has not only botched the politics around Biden’s legislative agenda but is now taking a sledgehammer to Biden’s electoral coalition. This year, they’ve had the president make endorsements in just two House primaries. The first was for Representative Kurt Schrader. Schrader not only worked to gut Biden’s Build, Back, Better bill, but also voted against the initial House version of the Covid relief bill. (Not to mention that his reelection is opposed by local Democratic organizations that represent 90 percent of the Democratic voters in the district.)

The other was in Ohio 11 for Shontel Brown, who is one of a handful of House members who publicly oppose Biden’s efforts to reinstate the Iran nuclear deal, the signature foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration that was shredded by Trump. Rewarding your enemies and attacking your friends is never a good political strategy. It leaves you very alone in the world.

So the battle lines have been drawn. Big Money corporate interests, with the aid of the House Democratic leadership and corporatist elements in the White House, are coming for the millions of progressive and economically populist voters who joined with center-left corporatists to elect Joe Biden and a Democratic Congress.

Progressives can’t control what the corporate Democrats do, but we can control what we do. The question is: Will progressive leaders be political Zelenskys or political Quislings at this moment? Will they have the courage to stand up and call out the corporatist reaction in the Democratic Party that is trying to stop the political progress that has been made since 2015? Will they call out the blatant purchasing of congressional seats and name the names of those responsible?

Some have in public or behind the scenes, but most have not. Bernie Sanders was the only person to raise money for Nina Turner’s campaign and only he and Representative Ocasio-Cortez even endorsed her. The Congressional Progressive Caucus actually endorsed the candidate opposing Turner, though she is a leading progressive champion. Senator Elizabeth Warren is supporting other progressive candidates like Nidia Allam, Summer Lee, and Jessica Cisneros, as are Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and a few others.

But this ad hoc support of progressive candidates without a more robust coordinated counterstrike against this well-funded corporatist backlash in our own party will lead to defeats as progressives confront untold millions in spending. The resulting disgust and demoralization of progressive Democrats will be felt up and down the ballot and across the ideological spectrum of the party in November and in 2024.

At this moment, party leaders need to feel the pressure in the halls of power, as well as on the campaign trail. It’s time for the Congressional Progressive Caucus and others to stop playing footsie with corporatists while candidates who represent the aspirations of millions are being politically carpet bombed. If the corporatists and their elected collaborators will not stand down, it’s time to start considering all the options in this cycle and the next. If not, we may well enter another 50-year period in the wilderness of Democratic triangulation politics. As we saw during the Clinton administration, this means attacks on working families, on people of color and the LGBT community.

For rank-and-file progressive Democrats and Democratic-aligned independents, this is also a call to action. Progressive candidates need your time and your treasure. Marching without more will not impact electeds like Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema or the agenda in Washington. The reason these oligarchs are trying to anti-democratically buy congressional seats is they understand we are winning at the ballot box when the contests are even vaguely fair. That’s not to say we have always won or that even that we are destined to win. But victory is attainable. You don’t spend millions to defeat Nina Turner in Ohio 11 (a D+58 seat) if you are not afraid that her call for economic and social justice is a danger to your privileged position.

Whether there continues to be the momentum to push us over the top over the next decade is up to us. Even more than robbing working people of congressional representation, these Big Money interests are trying to change the game by robbing millions of the hope that things can be better. Every time a voter drops out of the electoral process or decides that corporate liberalism is all that is achievable the corporatists get one step closer to the defeat of a freer, fairer, more just America. Despair is their ally. Defiance is ours.

Editor’s Note: This article initially claimed that Rep. Kurt Schraeder voted against the American Rescue Plan. In fact, he voted against the initial version and voted for the Senate-passed version.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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