Media Activists Unite In Rage Against The Two People Temporarily Impeding The Democratic Party’s Agenda
Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are hardly politicians anyone should go out of their way to venerate; Sinema in particular (proudly bi, proudly a quirky dresser, maybe less-proudly a former Green Party anti-war campaigner) does seem like she was created in a lab to discredit a certain breed of Progressive™ activist who later becomes captured by bloodless careerism. Manchin’s political behavior, at least, is explicable: he’s the last gasp of a political prototype which has existed for many decades — the ancestral West Virginia “conservative” Democrat — but would have effectively gone extinct by now if not for the idiosyncratic endurance of Manchin himself. Sinema’s behavior, on the other hand, just comes across as purposefully chaotic and almost nihilistic, adhering to no recognizable prototype — and if it’s not purposeful, suggests no underlying attachment to coherent thought.
If coherent thoughts do underlie her posture vis-a-vis the tedious negotiations currently underway in DC over “infrastructure” spending, you wouldn’t know it, because she scrupulously avoids doing interviews where those thoughts could theoretically be articulated and then scrutinized. So it’s a fair surmise that she’d be unable to convincingly defend whatever position she’s staking out at the moment, which is to impede Democrats’ efforts to get their $3.5 Trillion spending bill passed. On the rare occasions when she does publicly talk, notably with deferential local TV hosts, what comes out is little more than a sequence of pre-packaged platitudes. Evidently Sinema is trying to emulate the “maverick” qualities of her Arizona forebear John McCain, but one thing John McCain was known for was talking endlessly to journalists. He even talked to me!
So yes, this Sinema character is clearly a hot mess, and I have no brief for either her or the yacht-boat dweller Manchin. In fact, the entire “infrastructure” legislative process is distinctly unappealing, given that it seems to be the product of centralized imposition from Congressional leadership rather than the result of any trackable open-source lawmaking. The whole thing looks almost designed to ensure that normal people have little idea of what actually is being done by their representatives, or why so-called “social infrastructure” is now necessarily being paired with traditional physical infrastructure, or why gigantic all-encompassing bills are now the standard mechanism for passing anything into law.
Whether you agreed or disagreed with him on any given issue — and I often disagreed with him on matters related to the Mueller investigation and impeachment — former Congressman Justin Amash nonetheless demonstrated a rare quality in national politics: the capacity for independent thought. He has occasionally advanced a theory that may help explain the rise of the thespian Congresswoman, which is that in the past decade, the two parties’ “leadership” apparatuses have consolidated power such that the legislative process is increasingly a contrived rule-by-decree, limiting the ability of individual Members to do much of any consequence.
And so you have the emergence of social media thespians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose main governance objective often seems to be acting like she’s the star of her own personal soap opera — by doing things such as crying on the floor of the House during a vote on US military funding to Israel, making sure she’s visible on-camera while the tears flow, and then releasing a statement where she admits to the weeping but tries to couple that with a larger point that makes absolutely no sense. AOC is inhibited from engaging in the kind of actual lawmaking that would’ve been accessible to her in past decades, so she instead transforms into a B-list actor on an emotional rollercoaster that everyone at home can eagerly follow along. Amash’s diagnosis is mainly about the House, but it has wider implications for much of the US government; hence the situation at present where the entire political system seems to hinge on the chaotic personal whims of incoherent Senate eccentrics like Sinema. Ralph Nader also has remarked on the “concentration of excessive power in the hands of the Speaker and Senate leader” as stymieing the kind of legislative procedure which could hypothetically engage the wider public.
Some initiatives contained in this behemoth multi-dimensional infrastructure package that Sinema and Manchin are currently impeding — like funding for universal Pre-K programs — seem like reasonable enough policy goals. But wouldn’t you think that the reasonability of universal Pre-K, or lack thereof, should be debated on the merits, rather than subsumed into a mammoth legislative package that hardly anyone (save for Savvy Insiders) has the wherewithal to understand? Hordes of Savvy Insider Journalists are currently running around DC reporting on the Congressional melodrama by invoking newly invented acronyms like “BIF” to refer to one component of the legislative package — a.k.a. the “Bipartisan Infrastructure” bill already passed by the Senate — as if anyone who’s not an incorrigible “wonk” is supposed to have the faintest clue what they’re even talking about, or grasp how the “BIF” is distinct from the $3.5 Trillion spending bill that many Democrats want passed in tandem. In that second $3.5 Trillion component, which is the one Sinema and Manchin are holding up, you might wonder why a provision allocating $85 million for “education and training programs for identifying and addressing health risks associated with climate change for pregnant, lactating, and postpartum individuals” is in the same bill as a provision establishing “lawful permanent residence for certain entrants,” i.e., a sweeping change in US immigration law. Keep wondering though, because sometimes these things just go deliberately unexplained.
In any event, this is the sum total of Democrats’ legislating thus far under Biden, and so they desperately need to “get something done” even with the barest majorities in both chambers. It’s interesting to observe the wrath that has consequently been rained down on Manchin and Sinema from a media establishment furious that these two Senators are temporarily hampering the Democratic Party’s policy agenda. They have been unfunnily mocked on Saturday Night Live and hit with a flurry of denunciatory columns in the NYT, WaPo, and elsewhere. They’re being “called out” incessantly on mainstream TV shows like The View that pre-Trump would not have been widely associated with aggressively partisan political advocacy. Seth Meyers is devoting entire (unfunny) late-nite segments to how horrible they supposedly are, for God’s sake. CNN primetime airs bitter soliloquies denouncing the two non-compliant Senators for betraying their fellow Democrats. Twitter is constantly aflutter with rage against them. The frenzy culminated this past weekend with Sinema being followed into a bathroom and filmed against her will while exiting a toilet stall, an activist tactic which might have elicited some marginal critiques for having “gone too far.” But those critiques tend to come mainly from the standpoint of, “yikes, this might actually be counterproductive to getting the bill passed” — the ultimate goal that all non-right-wing sectors of the media appear to uniformly agree on.
Aggressive Progressive online commentators have noted with slight bemusement that corporate media outfits are suddenly taking the same scornful attitude toward Sinema and Manchin as they do. Which is a dynamic worth pausing to contemplate, as it gives some insight into why 2021 is much different than 2009, the last time Democrats were desperately scrambling to get the “year one” agenda of a newly elected president passed.
Although there was some media “pushback” during that time against holdout Democratic Senators like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson who wanted to water down Obamacare, in the intervening years the sentiments of Democratic Party activists have almost wholly merged with that of the rest of the media, at least in broad strokes. To the point that there’s very little distinction between pro-spending bill activists and pro-spending bill journalists. Are the questions that would be put to Sinema by some millennial-dominated media outlet (if they were to somehow get ahold of her) really much different from what a Democratic activist formation would ask her? If you were a “progressive” malcontent in 2009, you were lucky if your blog item occasionally got picked up by some media gatekeeper; in 2021, the gates have been blown open and the progressive malcontents’ sensibility has fused seamlessly with the rest of the political and cultural status quo. The experience of Trump was an accelerating agent in this regard — having solidified the media class attachment to the Democratic Party not just because they agreed with the Party’s policy priorities, although they largely did, but because the Democratic Party was portrayed as the only thing standing between civilization and Trump-led existential catastrophe.
Sometimes this mentality racks up unexpected casualties. Annie Linskey, a fairly standard Washington Post reporter, made the grievous error of tweeting an unremarkable quip about Democrats’ legislative struggles, posting a photo of Joe Biden in a Wilmington, DE cemetery and likening that to the bills supposedly dying in Washington. (They’re not really dying, something will probably end up getting passed.) Sure, it’s not the most sophisticated or incisive political metaphor anybody’s ever come up with, but the wrath rained down upon Linskey with such bizarrely disproportionate intensity that she (of course) was immediately bludgeoned into deleting the tweet and apologizing. Making sure the Democrats get their bills through is no laughing matter!
It’s interesting because this dynamic shows that Trump-era trends have persisted, even with Trump mostly absent as the day-to-day accelerating agent. If the Democrats don’t succeed in enacting their spending priorities, the Party could lose political strength, and that’s seen as totally intolerable. Not just because people in the media want new social welfare programs enacted, but because Democrats’ failure could result in the re-empowerment of a Republican Party which they view as a frightfully dangerous vessel for Trump-like fascism. So the existential threat of Trump or vaguely Trump-reminiscent Republicans always lurks as a specter, ginning up passions even in relation to something as routine and un-salacious as negotiations over a spending bill. Because if the spending bill doesn’t become law, perhaps that could give fodder to the insurrectionists, or whatever.
In the 2020 election, it was demanded that all non-Fascists suck it up and vote for Joe Biden to prevent the country from collapsing into overnight tyranny. Now in Fall 2021 that same blackmail tactic continues, albeit in less dramatic form — everyone must suck it up and confront Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, because if the Democrats don’t get their $3.5 Trillion bill passed, it could eventually result in the re-emergence of fascist tyranny. Note that the ever-presence of this alleged threat works to the eternal advantage of Democrats: it conveniently serves as justification for anything they want to do, and as justification for why most of the media act as their loyal activist appendage.