Editorial: Face reality and pass what can be passed, Democrats

By The Editorial Board

That canny Cajun James Carville had this to say in Vox in April: “The Democratic Party can’t be more liberal than Sen. Joe Manchin. That’s the fact. We don’t have the votes.”

And you know what? That’s still the fact.

It’s still true, however hard the Democratic left tries to demonize the West Virginia senator as an iconoclastic fool or a sycophantic toady to the interests of big business.

What Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did or didn’t say about Manchin as she swirled around in her “tax the rich” couture at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art gala really doesn’t matter; what matters is that Manchin was duly elected by the good people of West Virginia to serve their interests as he sees fit. And he gives every indication of doing precisely that.

The Democratic strategist’s incontrovertible truth is tough medicine for the party’s aggressive progressive wing, a group of idealistic social engineers who are not content with the possibility of a big win for their party by passing a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that most reasonable people can agree the country needs as part of its COVID-19 recovery, even if the cost makes us gulp. Instead, this activist group wants to tie that bill to a separate, colossal $3.5 trillion bill that includes all manner of social programs paid for by a major tax increase.

Manchin, of course, has a fellow moderate holdout in Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Over the weekend, all kinds of crude attempts were made to attack Sinema and paint her as a certified eccentric, if not someone who has entirely taken leave of her senses. With many of her left-wing opponents forgetting any and all obligation to avoid sexist stereotyping, we read of her eccentric wardrobe, her love of furs and stiletto heels and the seemingly limitless nature of her maverick personal ambition.

On Sunday, protesters even confronted her in a bathroom at Arizona State University, where she occasionally teaches. They demanded that she support the agenda of the party’s left wing.

In a bathroom. Not so classy.

Reportedly, Sinema remained silent throughout the encounter. It is unlikely that any of this will change her mind. Nor should it. She is entitled to her view. She answers to her own conscience and to the people responsible for her election.

The hubristic left of the party feels the wind of power at its back and yet also fears its changing direction. They worry that Republicans may make midterm gains that will torpedo their current plans. Thus they want to pass their agenda now, while they can. They also are compelled by a variety of socialist ideas and hope to legislate in sweeping fashion for the history books, as did Franklin D. Roosevelt, say, or Lyndon B. Johnson.

But Roosevelt enjoyed a Democratic supermajority built on his own coattails, never mind two electoral victories with 57% and then 60% of the vote. Johnson, who won 61% of the vote, enjoyed a similar buffer. Both presidents had an irrefutable claim on a mandate.

By contrast, President Joe Biden won by a total of less than 45,000 votes when you figure in the machinations of the Electoral College and note the vote counts in the states — Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin — that put him over the top.

Despite all the failings of Donald Trump, the kind of inept, narcissistic, scorched-earth opponent who should have been toast, Democrats did not enjoy a sweeping rise to power in the last election. In fact, they barely squeaked by in the Senate, winning only because Georgia election rules mandated a runoff. They were not expected to gain both of those seats after the first go-round, and they probably only did so because the spurned Trump started to enact his signature mischief, casting evidence-free doubt on electoral fairness and basically telling his people to stay home rather than enable a corrupt system.

That made it possible for the unlikely win. But even then, the Democrats could only manage to gain power in the Senate based on the tie-breaking vote of the vice president.

In the minds of some on the anti-liberal left, the enacted voter preference for a roughly evenly divided government is a failing on the part of the voters. They’ve decried it as a consequence of racism, no matter that many voters of color beg to differ with at least some of the far-left agenda. These extremists see the ideological diversity of this nation not as a chance to bring America together, but as foolishness that must be overcome.

We disagree. The results of the last election show a preference for adult ideas, incremental change, a disavowal of ideological extremism on both sides and, especially as the country recovers from COVID-19, a preference for helpful, practical legislation passed with an eye on the cost.

The infrastructure bill, which enjoys wide support, mostly passes that test. It should not be held hostage to a broader agenda, and Biden is wrong to acquiesce to that demand.

No doubt compromises will ensue and we’ll stipulate that not everything in that second bill represents an absurd idea. But America can’t afford that cost and the tax burden is rising to egregious levels for many Americans, once you add everything up at federal, state and local levels.

There is no appetite for a socialist America with the state running a big percentage of the economy and big earners getting to keep little of the fruits of their labors, and thus laboring proportionately less.

If there was, the results of the last election would have been different and Democrats would not have chosen a candidate who at least positioned himself as a centrist and a moderate, even if some of those closest to him at the White House seem not always to remember their history.

America may need to send another memo.

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