The Democratic Centrist-Progressive Alliance Hinges Upon Build Back Better


“At a certain point, we have to trust one another,” Representative Peter Welch (D-VT), said as he left a meeting of the Progressive Caucus meeting. Progressives had just acquiesced to President Joe Biden’s pleas that left-leaning House members sign off on the $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill they’d been holding up in order to pressure the chamber’s centrists to support their own $1.75 trillion package of social programs.

            The progressive bloc extracted a written promise from five key centrists to vote for the Build Back Better bill assuming that the Congressional Budget Office verifies the math behind the spending.

            The question grassroots progressives are asking themselves is: is trust wise? Will the corporatists deliver? Or are we just rubes who about to get rolled again?

The immediate electoral viability of the Democratic Party depends on the answer.

            Progressive voters and activists who form the ideological base of the party and provide most of its energy believe they have long been taken for granted by the Democrats’ dominant, minority, corporatist ruling elite. Their long-simmering resentments boiled into explosive rage after the insulting and, they believe, corrupt manner Bernie Sanders and his supporters were treated by the DNC and its blackout-enforcing media allies throughout his 2016 primary challenge to Hillary Clinton and during the Democratic National Convention.

Clinton’s campaign openly courted anti-Trump Republicans in the general election campaign, telling progressive Democrats she didn’t need them to win. Millions of them took her at her word, sitting on their hands on election day, handing the presidency to Donald Trump.

Then the defeated centrists had the nerve to blame progressives for not voting.

Incited by anti-Trump fever, left populists turned out for Joe Biden in 2020. But they did so reluctantly, doubly so after that year’s primary process featured yet another overt DNC operation to derail Sanders. The Vermont senator’s early primary surge crashed the night before Super Tuesday, when sleazy southern party boss James Clyburn orchestrated simultaneous endorsements of Biden by former rivals Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, an establishment favorite who entered late after being recruited by DNC insiders in order to stop Sanders.

Biden ran as the anti-Trump, nothing more. He didn’t campaign on—and therefore can’t claim a mandate for—ambitious infrastructure and social spending measures, which were only conceived after taking office in order to heal his rift with his party’s progressive wing. As anyone who has been near a news source over the last six months knows, the president has had a difficult time convincing right-leaning Democrats like Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to play ball. Separating the spending packages into the relatively easy-to-pass infrastructure and the challenging social program bills was an inelegant, consummately inside-the-Beltway solution that may be about to blow up in the Democrats’ faces.

Several things could go wrong for Democrats.

The White House promises that Build Back Better is 100% revenue-neutral and therefore won’t increase the deficit. The five moderate holdouts who signed the House letter say their support is contingent on the CBO confirming that claim. But the CBO already determined that the infrastructure bill by itself would increase the deficit by $256 billion. One of the more generous assessments of Build Back Better, by Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, found that it would add $100 billion to the Treasury. That still leaves an overall shortfall big enough for the five congresspersons to justify backing out.

Assuming it survives, Build Back Better goes to the Senate where the infamous parliamentarian will rule on what bits and pieces of legislation are permitted in the reconciliation process. Will progressives still be happy with what’s left? Will Manchin and Sinema drop their long-standing objections?

Then, assuming it gets through the Senate — which seems like a long shot at this point — changes have to be reconciled between the House and Senate versions.

Progressive voters aren’t going to be happy unless the lion’s share of what’s currently in Build Back Better gets signed into law by President Biden. If the results are significantly watered-down or, still worse, nonexistent, hell has no wrath to compare with the rage of progressives who have long had it with the Democratic Party.

Their sense of betrayal will be boundless. They will be furious at themselves for having been so gullible as to have trusted the perfidious centrists who repeatedly screwed them over. And enough of them will be anywhere but at the polls on election days 2022 and 2024 to make all the difference.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)




Democratic Moderates Aren’t the Answer to Right-Wing Republicanism. They’re the Cause.

            Another election, another shellacking. Democrats are returning to the political reality that predated the quantum singularity of Biden’s anti-Trump coalition: adrift, ideologically divided and, as always, arguing over whether to chase swing voters or work hard to energize their progressive left base.

            At the root of the Democrats’ problem is rightward drift. The 50-yard line of American politics has moved so far right that Richard Nixon would be considered a liberal Democrat today. How did we get here? In part it’s due to the moderates who control the party leadership—not just because they don’t fight for liberal values hard enough (though that’s true), but because of an intended consequence few people focus upon: their campaigning reinforces the right.

            Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle wrote an essay a few weeks ago that’s still rattling around in my brain. It’s about a topic that students of politics often wonder about: what’s the smartest way forward for Democrats?

            In general terms, McArdle takes up the mantle of the dominant moderates who argue that the party can’t push for progressive policies, or push for anything at all, unless it holds the reins of power. Win first, improve people’s lives later.

            It’s an old position. I’ve countered the wait-for-progress folks by pointing out that later rarely seems to come. When Democrats win, as Barack Obama did in 2009—he won the House and the Senate and even briefly achieved a filibuster-proof 60-vote supermajority—they choose not to go big or push hard for purported liberal goals like increasing the minimum wage, federally legalizing abortion or socializing healthcare. I agree with progressive strategist Anat Shenker-Osorio’s answer to the attentistes: “The job of a good message isn’t to say what’s popular but to make popular what needs to be said.”

In other words, use the bully pulpit. Lead.

Still, I’ve never read or heard the mainstream position articulated quite as clearly as McArdle does. She quotes self-described progressive election analyst David Shor. “To me, Shor’s vision — sort your ideas by popularity, then ‘Start at the top, and work your way down to find something that excites people’ — sounds less inspiring but more likely to help Democrats get and hold power,” McArdle summarizes. “It doesn’t require Democrats to persuade voters that, say, an Asian-American assistant professor has exactly the same interests as a rural, White call-center worker or a Hispanic plumber and that only a conspiracy of the very rich prevents them from realizing it. Democrats merely have to learn what voters already want.”

She attacks “the young idealists who staff campaigns and newsrooms” who “sustain a rarefied bubble where divisive slogans such as ‘defund the police’ can be questioned only with great delicacy, while significantly more popular propositions like ‘use the military to help police quell riots’ cannot be defended at all.” Pointing out that only a third of American voters have a bachelor’s degree, she concludes: “Democrats cannot afford to cater only to that hyper-educated class [of young, urban, educated idealists].”

            Leftists can easily agree that ignoring less-educated voters is a prescription for electoral defeat. More importantly, everyone deserves representation—for the Left, “everyone” especially includes the poor and working-class, who are less likely to be highly educated. But her assumption that (for lack of a better word) the underclasses are inherently reactionary, cannot be organized behind a slate of progressive policy goals, and that this state of affairs must be accepted is fundamentally flawed and ideologically self-sabotaging.

We think of pre-election campaigning, the election and post-election governing as discrete phases. Actually, they’re highly intertwined. For example, political campaigning is itself a self-reinforcing mechanism that affects not merely a race’s outcome but the ideological reality under which the winner must govern.

Democrats, McArdle says, must win first before they can improve things. But what’s the point of winning if you go to make things worse?

The above presents a classic example of single-mindedly seeking Pyrrhic victory at the polls. If Democrats abandon “defend the police” in favor of “use the military to help police quell riots” as per McArdle’s counsel, they might win more elections. But to what end? Victorious law-and-order Democrats will further militarize policing, increase shootings and beatings of civilians and hasten creeping authoritarianism. “Defund the police” is a tone-deaf slogan but the idea of shifting resources away from violence-based law enforcement into programs that reduce crime by strengthening communities is a good one. We need a better slogan, not armed goons on city streets.

Bill Clinton won twice but his signature legislation—welfare reform, NAFTA-GATT and the crime bill—were right-wing wish-list items that could have just as easily been signed into law by George W. Bush. With Democrats like that, who needs Republicans?

You can win with a political bait-and-switch. Joe Biden did. He ran as Not Trump, the ultimate centrist compromiser who bragged that he was friends with every Republican senator, even the racist ones. But you can’t govern after you pull one off. Biden’s attempt to pass infrastructure and social spending bills are being shredded by centrists who point out that he didn’t run on policies inspired by Bernie Sanders. I love those policies. But where’s the electoral mandate for these changes?

More subtly but I think more importantly, running right is a lose-lose proposition. If you win, you can’t pass the progressive agenda you claim to really want. If you lose, you’ve validated and endorsed hardline Republicans. Win or lose, polls should provide prompts for smarter messaging and framing, not selling out. A party that claims to represent the left has to run to the left.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Graying, Gen X and Generational Leapfrog


            Youth culture lives. But some women are aging against the machine.

            It means more than you think.

            Girls can go gray as young as age 13. Teens who go prematurely silver are abandoning what would have been the standard shame-based response of the past, racing to buy hair dye. Now gray-haired teens and twentysomethings are joining their black- and red-haired, blonde and brunette brethren—and what would have prompted stares a decade ago suddenly seems normal.

Letting natural silver and gray grow out predated the pandemic by several years, but what Glamour calls “the gray-hair revolution” exploded during the 2020 lockdown. “I do remember just feeling like that was a silly thing to be concerned about right now,” a 39-year-old Texas woman who’d previously dyed her mane every three weeks told The Washington Post. Countless women dye so often that they can’t imagine what natural would look like. “The curiosity took over. I think one of the things that has surprised me is that I actually like it.”

            Inspired by the decade-long trend, Millennial women in their 20s and 30s who haven’t yet gone naturally gray have also adopted the “granny gray” look. In Manhattan, where I live, gray-haired young women are so commonplace that no one gives them a second glance. Ironically, these hairstyle Benjamin Buttons are using toxic chemicals to achieve a natural look.

            Now the “grannycore” dress is all the rage. (Synonyms include grandma chic and an offense to the English language, grandmillennial.)

            Anti-style has become high style. Young urban professionals are paying top dollar for long shapeless floral print dresses with prints reminiscent of a 1930s feed bag. Dorothea Lange meets Saks.

            You don’t need a doctorate in cultural psychology to suss out the nostalgic impulse here. COVID-19 prompted numerous people to rethink their priorities, to opt out of the rat race. Millions are dropping out of the workforce; a job fair held at the Denver airport that expected 5,000 applicants only got 100. Millions more have moved from big cities to the countryside and there’s no sign they’re ever going back. College applications are way down, a trend driven by young men who fear graduating with a massive burden of student loan debt. Craving simplicity and comfort while saying goodbye to an increasingly cruel world, Americans want to get back to basics.

            Old feels basic.

            Of course, fashion is window dressing. Sure, you want to look like grandma. But would you hire her?

Silicon Valley, its major employers disproportionately populated by young CEOs, continues to maintain ageism as one of its core religious values. Discrimination against workers over age 35 is so rampant that an ad expressing a different sentiment made national news. “Unlike Silicon Valley, we do not discriminate based on age,” read an August listing for a senior software developer by a Chicago-based startup. “Experience matters. We hire old people. (And young people, too.)”

On the other hand, you might date grandma. 90% of men say they’d date someone ten years older or more.

            Whether we’re paranoid or clearly recognizing objective truth, those of us in that Gen X never-sweet-at-any-age demographic spot suspect that Millennials aren’t merely ignoring us—we’re used to that—but are actively plotting our demise. If you’re over 40 these days, mass media doesn’t bother to cover the book you wrote, the band you sing for or the stuff you like to buy. This desire to look old, really old, significantly older than me at 58, serves as a can’t-look-away reminder that generational politics isn’t just personal, it’s familial.

Millennials are mimicking granny fashions. Who are grannies now? Not Gen Xers 15 or 20 years older than them. Today’s grannies are Baby Boomers—Millennials’ parents. It’s another example of “generational leapfrog,” the cultural phenomenon of memory-holing a generation by making whatever is cool, desirable, profitable, etc. the provenance of those who are younger and older—just not you.

Gen Xers have been generationally leapfrogged throughout their lives. They’ve never had and never will have a president of their own. They’ve never been the right age to appeal to employers who were always looking for older folks to be bosses and younger ones for entry-level positions. Their cultural icons are routinely snubbed and marginalized by cultural gatekeepers.

Now that Xers are middle-age, it’s cool to be old or to look old. Take this to the bank: once Gen X enters the real over-65 gray zone, calls to eliminate/privatize Social Security will return and mocking the elderly will again become de rigueur. No one will want to look, much less be, old.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)



DMZ America Podcast #19: Colin Powell DOA, Buttigieg MIA, China the new USSR, Taliban vs. ISIS-K and More

Conservative cartoonist Scott Stantis and progressive cartoonist Ted Rall go even longer this time! Sparks fly over whether Colin Powell was a hero or a zero, Ted offers a primer on the internal politics of Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, Scott calls for a new Cold War against China while Ted deplores the old one against the Soviet Union, and Ted and Scott trade ideological places on whether transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg ought to take two months off from work six months into his new job. Plus more!


Colin Powell, Moral Weakling

Irrefutable' Iraq evidence - Baltimore Sun

            If Colin Powell’s life has meaning, it is as a cautionary tale about the perils of going along to get along.

Rarely has history offered such a stark example of a human being offered a clear existential choice between right and wrong. Hardly ever has so much hung in the balance for humanity and for an individual’s soul, as when then-secretary of state Colin Powell spoke to the United Nations to make the case for war.

It would be impossible to overstate the import of Powell’s February 2003 speech, in which he claimed that the United States had amassed a stockpile of evidence that proved that Iraq had retained chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction in violation of its commitments under the 1991 Gulf War ceasefire. Iraq’s government, Powell argued forcefully, presented such a clear and present danger to its neighbors that the international community—led by the U.S.—had a right, even a duty, to remove it with an invasion. President George W. Bush and his co-conspirators had spent the better part of the previous year working to convince Americans to support a second war against Iraq over WMDs. Polls showed that voters remained unconvinced.

Possibly in preparation for a 2004 White House run—hard to imagine in these polarized times, but the ex-general had long been considered a top presidential prospect by both major political parties—the even-tempered Powell had previously distanced himself from his fellow cabinet members, dominated as they were by neoconservative hotheads, throughout the first two years of his term. Powell’s credibility towered over everyone else in American politics to an extent rarely seen before and certainly never since.

When you join a gang, you’re required to prove your loyalty. “You’ve got high poll ratings,” Vice President Dick Cheney told Powell as he ordered him to support the push for war. “You can afford to lose a few points.”

Which is why Bush and Cheney sent him to the U.N. They knew that Powell alone could close the deal with a public made recalcitrant by historical precedent: the U.S. had never before launched a full-out war without a pretext that made some sort of sense. And Where the president had failed the prestigious Powell succeeded brilliantly, with the American public as well as with key allies like Great Britain and Australia. Seconds after he stopped talking, TV talking heads told us what we already knew: the fate of a million Iraqis was sealed. We were going to war. 

There is an alternative universe in which Powell takes to the podium and tells the truth: there was no credible evidence that Iraq still had WMDs. I have often imagined the stressed-out secretary of state, music swelling Hollywood-style, beginning to read the litany of lies about anthrax, chemical decontamination trucks, falsified Iraqi death certificates and cooperation between Saddam and Al Qaeda—an alliance that not only was not true but could not have been true—before tearing up his prepared remarks. The statesman stares into the camera and speaks the words that would have saved a million lives, assured his place in history as a Profile in Courage™ and gotten him elected president by a landslide: “They told me to come out and lie to you. I will not. I swore to protect the Constitution of the United States, not the President of the United States, so help me God, and there is no evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.”

Powell’s defenders blame Bush. They say Powell was lied to, conned.

Powell fed the rube narrative in his 2012 memoir. “I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me,” he wrote, referring to the intelligence report he used for his U.N. speech that contained false evidence of supposed Iraqi WMDs. Powell never apologized.

Actually, Powell’s instincts were on point. His conscience went missing.

He knew it was all a lie.

At the time.

The weekend before his speech, Powell exploded in frustration as he read the manufactured intel reports he had been given by the Bushies. “I’m not reading this. This is bullshit!” he shouted, throwing the cherry-picked documents in the air. Then he picked himself up, took a deep breath and went out and lied the world into a war that would forever soil America’s reputation.

Weakness was baked into Powell’s personality early on. As a young officer serving in Vietnam Powell played a minor but telling role in covering up a soldier’s report about war crimes and other atrocities committed by U.S. troops during the same period as the My Lai massacre. Rather than investigate the allegations, which were accurate, Powell smeared the whistleblower as a coward. The whistleblower’s career faltered as Powell’s soared.

Powell’s memoir made clear that he understood the gravity of his shilling for the Iraq War. “It was by no means my first, but it was one of my most momentous failures, the one with the widest-ranging impact,” he wrote. “The event will earn a prominent paragraph in my obituary.”

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

DMZ America Podcast #18: The Great Resignation, Katie and Ruth, Alden Capital, Social Media, Whitman’s Militant Moderates

Political cartoonists Ted Rall and Scott Stantis go long this time. Millions of Americans are quitting their jobs because they hate them. But why now? Katie Couric admits that she ran interference for Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the Colin Kaepernick story. What does it mean, who will remember? Alden Capital, notorious for destroying newspapers, has come for the Chicago Tribune chain and it’s the end of the end for American journalism. You already knew that social media was terrible; here’s why it’s just as bad as cigarettes. Finally, Christine Todd Whitman becomes the latest centrist Republican to waste her time and ours trying to turn the GOP into a bunch of nice moderates.



Why Is Stalking Legal?

           Activists harass White House officials and senators as they eat dinner at restaurants. Another senator was recently stalked into the ladies’ room, where her pursuers shouted derision at her stall. Many other politicians have suffered protest demonstrations at their homes.

Now that they’re beleaguered, this may be the perfect time to convince lawmakers to act to protect Americans’ most personal information: their home address and phone number.

            Type your name into a search engine. Odds are, a few of the results will include private companies that reveal your home address or part thereof, your phone number or part thereof, employment and education history, along with information about “known associates” like your friends and family members. For a fee, these personal search services offer to fill in the gaps with data culled from public records such as those of the Department of Motor Vehicles, marriage records, voter registration rolls and consumer credit reports.

            Easy access to mountains of personal data is such a gold mine for identity thieves, stalkers and other predators that women’s shelters spend much of their time helping their clients to navigate convoluted state-run programs which allow victims of abuse to replace their home addresses with P.O. boxes in public databases like those run by the DMV. Trying to disappear from the Internet is an uphill battle. Millions of Americans report having been stalked.

It’s a murder pandemic: 54% of female homicide victims were killed by former romantic partners who stalked them first, many by using public-records searches.

            You can ask each of these companies to opt out by deleting their listings for you. But the processes are cumbersome and make you reveal more information, like your current phone number, that could increase your exposure. It’s like Whack-a-Mole; every time you get one taken offline, another pops up. And there are lot: 121 companies registered to comply with a 2019 Vermont law set up to monitor the data brokerage business. Preventing predatory purveyors of personal information from selling your safety shouldn’t be a full-time job.

            Nor should you have to install a VPN or script-blocker or, as privacy experts advise, avoid posting anything on the Web.

            Pre-Internet, you controlled access to your contact information. If you didn’t want strangers to know your digits, you could request that the phone company keep you unlisted from 411 information and the white pages. One too many late-night raids by students wielding toilet paper convinced my mother, a high school teacher, to avail herself of that service. It worked.

            The system wasn’t perfect. A determined stalker could follow you home. Announcements of home purchases, including the name of the buyer, were listed in local newspapers. But dead-tree publications weren’t keyword-searchable from anywhere on the planet. It took considerable effort to track a person to their residence.

Privacy was central to American culture. A high-profile, high-risk celebrity, the Soviet dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn relied on an unlisted number and the respectful attitude of his neighbors in a small town in Vermont to keep KGB assassins and the innocuously curious at bay. “No Restrooms, No Bare Feet, No Directions to the Solzhenitsyn Home,” read a sign at the local general store. Nowadays they’d track him all the way to the gulag.

Edward Snowden’s revelations that the NSA intercepts our phone calls, emails, texts and spies on us through the cameras on our computers erased Americans’ expectations of privacy from their government. Yet many people aren’t scared of the feds, figuring that they have nothing to fear since they’re not doing anything illegal.

But that doesn’t mean we want everyone to have access to our personal records. At least nine out of ten people tell pollsters that they want control over their information and that it’s important to them.

            Information brokerage is a $200 billion a year industry, one that offers obvious benefits to marketers and entrepreneurs researching the viability of a start-up. They wield influence in Washington, where they dropped at least $29 million in lobbying campaigns in 2020, as much as Facebook and Google combined. And for the most part, data brokers follow the law.

            That’s the problem.

            Information brokerage is basically unregulated. Attempts to require opt-outs, require transparency in calculations of consumer creditworthiness and ban the collection of data under false pretenses have repeatedly died on Capitol Hill. We need legislation that protects vulnerable people, like women and men whose lives are ruined and sometimes ended because their addresses are made freely available online. But privacy shouldn’t just be for victims. Everyone deserves the right to eat dinner and go to the bathroom in peace, or relax at the end of the day without having to deal with a mob of angry demonstrators outside their house.

            Even a senator.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

DMZ America Podcast #17: Dumb Dems—Can They Save Themselves? Also, will we go to war over Taiwan?

Leftie cartoonist Ted bungles the opening but circles back after rightie cartoonist Scott gives advice to a Democratic Party facing major electoral challenges. Then it’s off to the Taiwan crisis and what you need to know: A little history lesson on how did we get here? How can there be two Chinas? Will mainland China go to war? Will we? And a look at how we’d look at Taiwan if we were Chinese.