Somewhere, deep in the bowels of our nation's capital, today's Democratic Party establishment keeps close guard over a hulking, fearsome, and often temperamental machine. With hundreds of moving parts, it's surprising that the elaborate contraption has only one purpose: to take bold and popular policy proposals that could improve millions of lives, chew them up, and then spit out much feebler versions that don't materially threaten the status quo. Servicing this apparatus isn't cheap. But that's not a problem because so many corporate behemoths—Wall Street, Big Oil, health insurers, Big Pharma, defense contractors, and beyond—are more than happy to foot the bill. They're also very generous when it comes to tipping the machine's operators, which apparently is how the Win-Win Machine got its name.
"With hundreds of moving parts, it's surprising that the elaborate contraption has only one purpose: to take bold and popular policy proposals that could improve millions of lives, chew them up, and then spit out much feebler versions that don't materially threaten the status quo."
Given how well this arrangement works for its beneficiaries, the Democratic leadership understandably finds it unsettling whenever progressive candidates—having won office despite the considerable obstacles routinely erected by the Democratic National Committee and its offshoots—enter Congress but refuse to get their hands dirty by helping out with the Win-Win Machine. Indeed, worries about the machine's future—and the buckets of money it reliably brings—are undoubtedly part of the impetus behind a post-electionnarrative being promoted by establishment Democrats. They claim that support for "socialism" among progressive candidates—in the form of Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and other efforts to counter injustice and inequality—is the reason the party failed to expand its control of the House or win back the Senate.
But the evidence doesn't fit this self-serving account. Around the country, progressive candidates—and policies—flourished. Noteworthy winners in their races include Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, Ilhan Omar in Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts, Pramila Jayapal in Washington, Cori Bush in Missouri, Marie Newman in Illinois, Katie Porter and Ro Khanna in California, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, and Mondaire Jones in New York. As Bernie Sanders wrote a week after Election Day, "It turns out that supporting universal health care during a pandemic and enacting major investments in renewable energy as we face the existential threat to our planet from climate change is not just good public policy. It also is good politics."
Nevertheless, the seemingly coordinated blame-the-Left propaganda we're now hearing was entirely predictable—because it soothes the billionaire class. And for those politicians who prioritize comfort over consequence in their careers, that may be what matters most. So progressives are portrayed as misguided and misinformed, as out of touch with what Americans really want, and as proponents of dangerous reforms. In sharp contrast, so-called centrists are depicted as having been unjustly victimized and as blameless for the party's shortcomings. The don't-rock-the-boat Democrats who encourage this view have a clear goal: to demoralize, marginalize, ostracize, and intimidate those members who they fear will muck up the Win-Win Machine.
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Meanwhile, for the many millions of Americans who were unenthusiastic about Joe Biden's "nothing will fundamentally change" platform yet voted for him anyway because they understood the necessity of preventing another horrific four years of Donald Trump, this open hostility toward a progressive agenda undermines their interests, their values, and their aspirations. If Biden now selects only corporate-friendly, status-quo-defending advisors and Cabinet members, and if he touts watered-down bipartisan "solutions" as stunning successes, it will further cement the betrayal.
Of course, none of this suggests that Trump, Mitch McConnell, and other Republican Party leaders are any better. Indeed, they're much worse. Consistently ruthless and single-minded in pursuing a narrow and greed-driven agenda, they count on fearmongering, racist dog-whistling, and appeals to blind patriotism to attract the intolerant and the disillusioned. Even with Trump gone, there's little reason to expect that this GOP strategy will change.
"For the many millions of Americans who were unenthusiastic about Joe Biden's 'nothing will fundamentally change' platform yet voted for him anyway because they understood the necessity of preventing another horrific four years of Donald Trump, this open hostility toward a progressive agenda undermines their interests, their values, and their aspirations."
But this reality doesn't mean that we have to wholeheartedly embrace and defend Democratic politicians who condemn their progressive counterparts while jeopardizing the common good by deferring to the divergent preferences of their largest donors. Instead, let's insist that these Democrats begin the new era ahead by finding a more suitable home for their anti-democratic Win-Win Machine. Two options quickly come to mind: toss the entire contraption into the Potomac, or install it in the Smithsonian for public viewing—as a reminder of how a political party can lose its way by abandoning its core principles and its most vulnerable constituents.