In These Times - August 22, 2019

"An increasingly far-right GOP has ruthlessly obstructed Democrats while dangling cooperation to lure them rightward. The outcome has been a disaster for progressives. The parties have cooperated to water down or kill left-leaning measures and advance a right-wing agenda, from shredding the New Deal to ramping up deportation, turning the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama into graveyards of progressive policies. Democrats increasingly understand that, if they want to generate consensus, they’ll have to do it some other way than meeting a right-moving GOP in the “middle.”

The Democratic presidential campaign playbook has, for decades, included grand promises to reach out to the GOP to solve the nation’s ills.

In 2020, some candidates are throwing that playbook out the window.

“If the Republicans are going to try to block us on key pieces that we’re trying to move forward, then you better believe we gotta keep all the options on the table,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said, referring to the possibility of eliminating the filibuster. In a speech to the 2019 California Democratic Convention, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pledged “no middle ground” on issues dear to progressives. Even centrist Michael Bennet, at the June Democratic debate, acknowledged that working with Republicans would be impossible in 2021: “Gridlock will not magically disappear.”

Four progressive lawmakers elected in 2018—Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—model what a rebellious Democratic approach can look like. The “squad,” as they’re known, has proposed far-reaching measures like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal while combating right-wing attacks and calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. While mainstream Democrats still pledge to build bridges, this new generation is more likely to occupy them.

It’s a remarkable turnaround. If worship of the U.S. Constitution is an American civic religion, with the Founders as prophets and Capitol Hill as a place of worship, then bipartisanship is its holy sacrament.

This uncompromising approach from young progressive legislators and presidential candidates like Warren and Sanders is also an implicit rebuke of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is campaigning on the promise of an outstretched, bipartisan hand.

For Biden and his generation of Democratic lawmakers, bipartisanship has long been hailed as a worthy end in its own right, no matter the result. He has pledged that a new day will dawn once Trump is removed from the White House. “This nation cannot function without generating consensus,” Biden said in May. “You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”

But as moderator Chuck Todd told Biden at the first Democratic debate, “It does sound as if you haven’t seen what’s been happening in the United States Senate over the last 12 years.” ...
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