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The Democratic Center is Scared


After Tammy Duckworth’s bizarre shot at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez earlier this week, I realized that the mainstream Democratic Party is scared of her. They are scared of the grassroots taking over. They are scared of a left version of the Tea Party. They are scared of their now nearly two generations of received wisdom in the aftermath of McGovern’s loss (and then the disastrous campaigns of Mondale and Dukakis) being thrown out the window, long past their sell-by date. They are scared of bold policy proposals that challenge their carefully considered moderate stance that appeals to potential Wall Street donors. This explains people like Chait, who find themselves increasingly adrift in a leftist dominated party and thus speaking out against great ideas like the federal job guarantee, seemingly intentionally misunderstanding that even in an age of low unemployment, the reason for this is to give workers power over their lives and place pressure on private employers to compete the government. I felt the same reading this editorial by Obama’s Homeland Security secretary Jeh Charles Johnson against the Abolish ICE movement.

Johnson’s argument is fundamentally ridiculous. ICE is not necessary for federal law enforcement. It’s only been around for 15 years and it’s not as if we didn’t have a semi-militarized border before that. He says elections have consequences, but that’s precisely what the Abolish ICE movement is working for–getting politicians to say that we need to abolish the agency and make that policy a consequence of the 2020 elections and a rallying point in 2018. Johnson talks about how Abolish ICE is destroying the chance for bipartisan immigration reform. What planet is he on? How is that possibly going to happen? What is the constituency for that in the Republican Party? The prospects for a bipartisan immigration bill is not Democrats outraged that ICE is separating babies from their parents. It died many times before on the shoals of Republican racism an now that ethnic cleansing is the official policy of the administration and congressional Republicans, there is no room for compromise. The realization that compromise on this issue is dead is why Abolish ICE is a powerful movement. When you are facing fascists, there is no room for compromise. But for Johnson–and for so many Clinton and Obama-era officials–this is not something that computes. For them, compromising with reasonable Republicans and shunning the left is always the right answer.

These are people are now behind the times. There is no room for old-school centrist Democrats in setting the policy agenda anymore. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. That doesn’t mean a primary challenge to Tammy Duckworth is in order or anything–she did her centrist party mission by dismissing AOC but she’s been a perfectly fine vote so far. She will learn in the next 5 years. The only road ahead for the Democrats is as an anti-fascist party with a bold agenda that combines racial, economic, and gendered justice. For those who fret about that, understand that actual fascism is descending upon America, that the Supreme Court is in the first of a multi-year process that will likely repeal a century of progressive law, and that the future of democracy in this nation is in doubt. There is no room for mealy-mouthed DLC compromise any longer, if there ever really was. It makes about as much sense today as centrist politics did as the fascists took power in Europe.

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