The Two-Party Maneuever

The Romans’ advice was characteristically succinct: “divide et impera” (divide and rule)

This Sermon was inspired by some news site that I glanced at, which described Nancy Pelosi as a “progressive.” That has been stuck sideways somewhere in me, like a toothpick in your throat, and I’ve been trying to cough it out. That people are simply crowning politicians as “progressive” because they oppose Trump is a real sign of how low our politics have sunk. Bernie is a compromise candidate; he’s less progressive than Alexandria Occasio-Cortez and it makes me wince whenever I hear Bernie held up as though he was going to charge into the situation like some kind of Super Lefty Guy and completely upend the country and its existing policies. That is a ridiculous idea, considering that Sanders worked within the frame of the system his entire career, generally playing along within the two party system – a bomb-throwing radical, he is not.

Then, there was the surprise many of us felt when Nancy Pelosi announced, after the “blue wave” swept her back into power in the house, that she was interested in “bipartisanship” rather than impeaching Trump. I had been giving her the benefit of a doubt up until that moment; it was shock and awe – surely she could not have missed the expressed will of the electorate? I’ve always been suspicious of politicians, but Pelosi seemed to be much more worried about consolidating her grip on the house rather than even making a grand gesture by attacking Trump. Sure, it wouldn’t work, but they could do some damage, right?

Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson’s podcast Citations Needed is a good, though depressing, listen for people who are concerned with the things that are happening, today. I was listening to one of the latest episode [cn] and they did a really great job of describing what’s been bothering me about Nancy Pelosi:

Nima: The New York Times actually had a somewhat critical piece; the editorial board published something on March 14th that was critical of the pending bill – the paid sick leave bill – and what it said was this:

“The house’s failure to require universal paid sick leave is an embarrassment that endangers the health of workers, consumers, and the broader American public.”

And they talk about how the paid sick leave bill that has been proposed was because of – what else, Adam? – compromise. Compromise with the Mitch McConnell republican party that just waters down anything that would possibly actually help the most people possible. That because of this, bill does not cover as many people as it should. But there is something critically missing even from The Times’ own critique of this.

Adam: Right, so this is a nesting doll, for a Venn Diagram. I’m going to use an even hackier metaphor: this is like Pelosi’s plan is a – because it only covers 20% of those covered by sick leave – is a closet inside of a room, and that room is the formal economy – the wage economy The New York Times is talking about – and they are both missing the huge mansion around them, which is that there are people who are not qualified for sick leave. So why the fuck are we talking about a sick leave? Why did we have, in the three most important days of this crisis, the entire conversation on the liberal left coalesce around fucking sick leave?

And the reason that was is because Pelosi does what she always does. Pelosi is the single most dangerous person in this country for poor people. She is a systemic, consistent, decades-long threat to the well-being of the poor and the destitute in this country – and has total contempt for them in a way that harms people. So, she does this thing that she always does, where she comes up with the most conservative plan possible, and says “oh we had to do this because the republicans wouldn’t take anything bigger.” Right? And this is kind of an unfalsifiable claim – you can’t really prove of disprove this. I have no way of knowing, I wasn’t behind closed doors…

Nima: Because we never see the original “good plan!” There is no sense that she came in with any kind of populist, maximalist message. It’s very frustrating for me and I’m really angered by this because people keep falling for it. They say “oh that’s the best she can get.” Even Bernie Sanders said “I think Pelosi worked in good faith” which is bullshit – of course she didn’t. It’s bullshit and it’s important that we say it’s bullshit because the reason she focused on paid sick leave and not direct cash payments to workers is because she’s a deficit hawk. Because she’s a Peterson ideological zealot, which we talked about in Episode 104. [104] And what did we say at the beginning of the fucken episode? We said that Pete Peterson, other than maybe the Koch Brothers, has more dead bodies on his hands – and here we have someone like Nancy Pelosi, again, who eulogized Pete Peterson on the floor of the house, called him a national hero, scolded an NYU student for [loses train of thought] goes from seminar to seminar talking about the “value of deficits.” So of course she’s not going to lead this conversation – again, when the economy is in freefall – the economy tanked on monday the second biggest of all time, bigger than both days of Black Friday in the great depression of 1929, by percentage – you have this huge, urgent moral moment and the most powerful democrat in the country doesn’t come out and talk about a massive multi-trillion dollar bailout of the poor and the worker, she talked about fucking paid sick leave because she wants to offset the cost of helping to corporations.

Now, should corporations pay their part? Yes. But they should pay it in taxes, and if they’re not going to pay their part, the idea that we should go to massive deficit spending is going to get people killed. If you think this is bad – and this is the kicker – all this is a light appetizer for the major course that is climate change. And, when climate change hits us and god forbid Nancy Pelosi or one of her acolytes is in this position of power… Then look at the democratic front runner Joe Biden – what did he say about medicare for all? “Can’t afford it; how are you going to pay for it?” These deficit scolds are going to get us all fucking killed.

This is an example where you had an opportunity to do a bold gesture to bail out workers, and what did we get? We get more fucking weak sauce about how we can’t afford it because we can’t touch the deficit – because the first thing Pelosi would say, and I guarantee it – if any journalists went up to Pelosi and said, “Congresswoman Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi, would you support a cash bailout for workers?” what is the first thing she would say?

Adam: “I don’t know how we can afford that.”

Nima: And that’s going to get us fucking killed. Their $1.5 trillion insta-loan for the bond market, for the stock market, which they say we’re getting paid back (but not really) that we mysteriously came up with in 5 minutes but, again, all we get is this completely weak sauce, totally inadequate, closet within the room of the house of what really needs to get done and it’s infuriating and it’s going to literally kill people.

By Jove, Nima and Adam’re right! The current ‘solution’ is extending sick leave and unemployment benefits to those that have them, which is a small part of the real economy and a small part of the suddenly unemployed labor force. Corporations have been bending over backwards for a decade+ to arrange it so their workers are not full-time and are not granted full-time benefits like sick leave, or unemployment – Pelosi and her cronies just added insult to injury by sending all of those people a great big “let them eat cake.” Naturally the republicans went along with it, because that’s a completely republican sort of thing to do: fuck the poor, ha ha ha, let them eat cake and then take away the breadcrumbs.

Since the 2008 depression, most of the job growth that we saw was in the “shit jobs sector” – part time jobs with no paid leave, no unemployment, no medical insurance. The boomers clung desperately to the few good jobs with benefits and left the gig economy for the younger generation, the less upwardly mobile (e.g: minorities) and immigrants. Those people are going to stand by and starve while the democrats and the republicans throw scraps to the shredded remains of the white middle class so they can possibly survive until their next fleecing. Pelosi wouldn’t have been able to get the republicans on board with any kind of worker bailout unless it handed the poor and minorities a hard fucking in the process.

Step back from the whole train-wreck and take off your rose-colored glasses and what this bail-out is, is trickle down economics. Juice the economy for the middle managers and small time executives and expect that the waiters, field workers, Uber drivers and yard workers that they used to hire are going to get some of that money. They obviously are not, because they were just thrown away like yesterday’s garbage.

The republicans and the democrats are the same party: the part of oligarchy, hatred for the poor, and crony capitalism. The republicans just show their hatred a bit more openly and add overt racism to the mix. The democrats are sneaky; they’ll tell you they’re helping you but really they just shoved you down a flight of stairs and they took away your medical insurance while you’re halfway down (and blamed it on the republicans).

The “Green New Deal” was ‘too expensive’ and there was no money for it, either. But there was tons of money to re-float Wall St (so much for a free market, eh?) and bomb the shit out of Yemen. As I have said many times before: you can wipe your ass with deficit hawks as long as they are not talking about chopping the DoD budget dramatically. Because if there’s anything we can’t afford it’s 13 nuclear aircraft carriers and a fleet of new nuclear first-strike weapons. Not a peep out of Biden or Pelosi about that… What a surprise.


  1. John Morales says

    The republicans and the democrats are the same party: the part of oligarchy, hatred for the poor, and crony capitalism.

    What a silly claim.

    But fine: Everyone is the same person; the person of eating and pissing and shitting.

  2. aquietvoice says

    There’s a set of ideas slowly coming into my mind that I can’t really articulate yet, but it’s going to end up something like this: it’s become incredibly common to avoid having well thought out and well-stated convictions by talking about Someone Else – what they believe, what they will do, how they interpret media that ‘we smart people’ see through, that kind of utter bullshit.

    “The republicans will only accept this much, did I forget to mention what I really wanted? Well, just assume I started with something you agree with.”
    “I mean, I would vote for Bernie – snicker – but you know Someone Else will be taken in by false messaging about him, so I can’t support him. But I’m definitely progressive, I’ll just never mention what I believe ever and you’ll have to assume”

    It’s about the advocacy. I know what the likes of Bernie and AOC believe because they say so and advocate for their positions. I believe that this advocacy is a basic part of the responsibility of any politician.

    I believe that commentary was about the democratic ‘leadership’ and powerbrokers serving the wealthy rather than the general community, not them being the same people as the republicans.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    I had been giving her the benefit of a doubt up until that moment…

    You softy sentimentalist, you.

    I’ve emoted about how the Democrats prove they have no respect for the Constitution since February of ’07, when they *all* rolled over and played dead after Pelosi singlehandedly aborted the House Judiciary Committee’s plan to impeach a certain blatant war criminal.

  4. jonmoles says

    It’s not possible to be cynical about our political system; no matter how bad you think you it is, it’s worse. Make no mistake, the system isn’t broken, it’s working exactly as designed. Jello Biafra has been clear that America is a one-party state masquerading as a two-party state, I don’t know how a thinking person can conclude otherwise.

  5. says

    John Morales@#1:
    What a silly claim.

    What a silly, substanceless, comment. I’m surprised the spam filter missed it.

    But fine: Everyone is the same person; the person of eating and pissing and shitting.


    My claim is defensible. One can view the two parties as parts of a single cooperating system in which they have a tacit agreement to restrict their argument to a certain domain, in which some topics are focused upon and others are never brought up. In that sense, they have gerrymandered the entire electoral system in order to lock out any options except themselves; they even use the same methods and are so embedded into the political system that most people think the two party system is part of it. “Two party system” is the name of a single system.

  6. says

    Trump, like a stopped calendar, actually had this one right.

    Just send everyone a check. But nooo, the legislature couldn’t do that. Still, it’s not as trickle-down as it could be, there’s a surprising amount of money splashing around for people quite near the bottom of the food chain. But, yeah, in absolute terms most of the money will simply be pocketed by the wealthy after a light laundering.

    In a way, I’m not sure it matters. The government prints a piece of scrip, writes “100 millyun bucks” on it, and the 0.01%er pockets that and feels good about himself because a number in a computer went up by some. So what?

  7. says

    Andrew Molitor@#6:
    In a way, I’m not sure it matters. The government prints a piece of scrip, writes “100 millyun bucks” on it, and the 0.01%er pockets that and feels good about himself because a number in a computer went up by some. So what?

    It doesn’t really matter, as you say, until they use that scrip to buy some congresspeople and tell them to pass laws against or in favor of whatever bug is up their nose. If lawmakers were immune to the siren call of those numbers in computers, it probably wouldn’t matter so much, but policy is being shaped by those guys and they do not have the public interest at heart.

  8. says

    Allow me to, um, clarify my remark! Possibly inside my own brain as well as for the reading public.

    I am not convinced that there is great *additional* harm in issuing these fellows a number and permission to add it to another number. Anyone benefiting greatly from this bailout thing is, I suspect, fully bought-up on senators who, as we know, as surprisingly inexpensive. That these guys are insanely harmful we agree on.

  9. says

    Andrew Molitor@#8:
    I am not convinced that there is great *additional* harm in issuing these fellows a number and permission to add it to another number.

    There are economists who talk about “modern money supply theory” who seem to agree with you; they treat money as something that government creates and destroys. Think about it this way: when they pay Lockheed Martin $150 million for an F-35, the $150 million doesn’t come from anywhere it’s created out of the government’s money creating power. When the government collects $1 from in taxes, that $1 vanishes into the government’s money destroying power. It’s not as if handed over actual money to anyone; it just vanished from the money supply that had, and vanishes into the government. It’s not as if the government goes to pay for the F-35 and scrounges up’s $1 and adds $149.999999 million more to it. Money is sort of like a quantum electron – it appears when and where it’s needed, and disappears when nobody’s looking at it, anymore.

    Deficit spending, in that view, becomes a stretching of the money-field and it doesn’t mean anything unless and until the money-field rips and all the bits fall on the floor, as happened in 2008.

    PS – I think I get 2 blogger points for using ‘quantum’ inappropriately in a comment!

  10. says

    Andrew Molitor:
    fully bought-up on senators who, as we know, as surprisingly inexpensive

    The interesting thing about ABSCAM is that it teaches us not that congresspeople are corrupt, but that you and I can afford one.

    – Robert T Morris, Sr. (NSA Chief Scientist)

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    Marcus Ranum @ # 5: One can view the two parties as parts of a single cooperating system in which they have a tacit agreement to restrict their argument to a certain domain…

    By which logic the Washington R*dsk*ns and Atlanta Br*v*s are the same team (also supporting the metametasystem of white supremacy), and all the golfers in the Masters Tournament are the same player, all Formula One racers are the same driver, etc.

    Our political parties all do participate in the same metasystem, and have ever since the Constitution was enacted (with the possible exception of the anomalies of 1861-1865, but even then the divergent faction duplicated the original in all but minor details). Arguably, the numerous cheaters still worked within the metasystem, attempting to or actually claiming the same prizes and positions as their rivals.

    That metasystem has been and can be revised, both by formal law/amendment and cultural shift (e.g., which topics are openly discussed or taboo). We can, at least in theory, implement the various now-necessary changes (ranked-choice ballots, finance restrictions, anti-gerrymandering programs, [more-]honest counting, etc) without the probably-counterproductive chaos of a revolutionary interregnum, but we do need some sort of metasystem to avoid a Hobbesian chaos.

    And in every metasystem, the claim that the competing components are “the same” will apply with the same validity – and the same invalidity.

  12. says

    Oh dear god.

    Look, you can back off to a sufficient distance, take a sufficiently abstract view, and claim that Hitler and Ghandi were pretty much the same. Couple of national-leader biped motherfuckers, pretty much the same. You can zoom in and take in sufficient details, and remark that Hilary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren are politically an enormous distance apart.

    The point isn’t that these things are inherently “the same” or “different” the point is that there is a reasonable, useful, position to take in which they appear to be pretty much the same, or pretty much radically different. On the one hand, Bernie is wildly different from Warren. On the other hand, they’re pretty much the same. Both viewpoints are perfectly reasonable, depending on where you stand, and there are perfectly reasonable places to stand that produce either viewpoint.

    Now, to be completely fair to John, it is certainly true that “both parties are basically the same” sometimes just means “I’m a woke prog-left idiot without a thought in my head” but I am willing to stipulate that’s *probably* not the meaning Marcus intended, and also not meaning that is reasonably inferred regardless of his intent. But I take John’s point.

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