"Progressives" show their muscle—it ain't pretty
The hot news from the CA Democratic Convention is that Dianne Feinstein did not get endorsed.
Many attribute this to disrespectful supporters of her competitor, State Senator and President pro-tem of the CA Senate, Kevin de Leon. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Last year at the full convention, leadership of the CA Democratic Party was hotly contested. One of the long time loyalists, Eric Bauman, was chosen in a fairly narrow victory over Kimberley Ellis who was a Clinton supporter in the election but shifted to become a Sanders group ally within the California party. The fight for the chair dragged on for weeks with Ellis challenging the credentials of every single person voting, accusing the vote of being rigged, and demanding several recounts over various issues.
This was just the start of a division that may destroy progressive politics in the most progressive state for decades. There is no focus among the progressives on standing up to the extremist federal administration or the GOP congressional members abetting it. California is home to Devin Nunes, whose demographics make him vulnerable to a Democratic challenger, and to Kevin McCarthy, majority leader who probably isn’t but whose work on behalf of stalling the Mueller investigation and promoting the worst of the GOP polices needs to be called out strongly.
The nominating process at the Democratic Convention was not even about Dianne Feinstein as it turns out. It was about the faux progressive block flexing its muscle not to nominate anyone but to block everyone. Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a champion of civil rights, was not nominated nor was his challenger, Dave Jones. No contestant for governor got nominated. Even de Leon wasn’t nominated.
The reason was the Bernie bloc of delegates had enough power to prevent the majority votes needed, so no Democrat got the nomination. The self-styled progressives served one function – they’re spoilers. Nothing more, and nothing less.
The anger against party loyalists comes from the idiocy around the current bill on single payer. California passed single payer several times starting in 2003. Its author, Sen. Sheila Kuehl, was arguably the smartest and most careful of legislators and crafted a bill that was coherent and detailed. Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it time and again, but we had little difficulty passing it until the Affordable Care Act passed. Then, under new authorship, it needed to be reworked to take account of the federal change, and it lost momentum.
It also lost steam because the California Nurses Association, later Bernie Sanders’ biggest supporter, demanded we, the long-time advocates, change course and take it to the ballot. Well, that failed dismally – no single payer supporting organizations wanted to put up the money for a ballot fight – and the bill received too little focus and passed into oblivion. There is a much longer backstory about other supporters whose craven behavior helped lose precious votes, but the key issue is the intervention by CNA to change focus – unsuccessfully.
Come 2017 it was pretty clear that ACA was under dire threat, and single payer seemed a very good option to try again. Little did supporters know, CNA chose not to modify the Kuehl bill but start from scratch, and what got written was pretty much a sketchy framework, not a substantive piece of legislation.
Here’s where you separate the adults from the kids: legislation cannot be ambiguous, it cannot be “worked out later”. Legislation creates laws that bind each of us in some way if we are impacted by it – and all people in California would be. Get it wrong or leave it vague, and massive harm can and surely will occur. One doesn’t leave the details to others ever – you cannot control who will provide those. The authors and sponsors need to be specific on every issue, especially on what it would cost, how it would be paid for, who would really get coverage and how providers would be paid. The new single payer bill was not any of that.
It got a ‘courtesy vote’ from the Senate to keep it moving. It got stopped in the Assembly by the Speaker, Anthony Rendon, who did not kill it but opened it up as a two year bill so it could be amended. That was a gift to the authors and to the sponsors. Here was a chance to amend the bill, make it strong, do the hard, detailed work of specifying costs and coverage that was missing.
And you’d think Rendon had offered to sacrifice babies in the town square from the screeching that ensued. CNA accused him of every sin in the progressive playbook. Supporters of single payer who were never consulted on this were horrified – we all saw this as a great opportunity. CNA insisted it was sabotage of single payer.
I was one of those supporters who was furious at the bad work done in the bill, and at the betrayal of our advocacy by politicizing it. I had an email back and forth with one of the CNA leaders, and wonder of wonders – he admitted to me in writing that their fury was that by keeping the bill alive with no votes from the Assembly, CNA could not primary those voting no.
That was it. The vote of which they were deprived had nothing to do with health care and everything to do with building a “progressive” vote base.
The fact that a “NO” vote in the Assembly would mean a vote against an incompetently written bill and not against the single payer principle was blown off. CNA intended to cast all opposition as a sell out to corporate America, to insurance companies and Pharma, and to pound the drum on how they had been betrayed.
The reality is that they betrayed us, people who worked single payer for years. Unions, various non-profits, and long-time supporters of single payer were used badly by this craven partisan move in which we were not given any voice. And that tactic, this focus, on getting power for a group of self-styled progressive leaders who are actually legislatively indifferent or ignorant people, is all that matters. This now is a mirror of what the “Freedom Caucus” has done in the GOP. They have nothing to offer, everything to destroy.
It is not essential to have power before becoming legislatively competent. In fact, it’s the other way around. If you have nothing to show about how you will achieve your goals, there’s no reason for voters to trust you. When power overshadows policy, democracy itself is at risk, and achieving justice in the issues confronting us becomes a pipe dream.
California Dems may survive this obstructionist tactic, but they may not. What is pretty clear is that progressive positions themselves are in danger of being abandoned if voters become utterly disgusted by the incompetence of the screeching minority purveying them. The Progressive Caucus may turn out to be the worst enemy of progressive values through incompetence they’ve already shown. Time will tell, but we are not off to a good start.
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