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More About That 'Centrist' Democratic Counterattack

In all of these stories, someone is whispering into the writer's ear, and around those whispers an article is built.
More About That 'Centrist' Democratic Counterattack

A version of this piece first appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here. My Tiny newsletter here

Howie Klein and others covered this news from The Hill — "Centrist Dems ready strike against Warren wing" — for example, here. But in most cases the focus was on the "centrists" themselves. I'd like to focus on the article.

First though, read the headline from The Hill, then consider — this is very good news. The battle between real progressives and Big Money will be engaged, not shunted to the wings, and engaged on our ground, not theirs. Their prime argument? "Democrats will lose if they run progressive candidates. Only "centrists" can win." Our prime argument? "The party ran that experiment in 2014. The results shows the opposite — most of their 'centrists' lost."

Keep that in mind as you read through this.

The Article and Its Framing

Let's start where the article starts, by framing the news. From The Hill (my emphasis):

Centrist Dems ready strike against Warren wing

Centrist Democrats are gathering their forces to fight back against the “Elizabeth Warren wing” of their party, fearing a sharp turn to the left could prove disastrous in the 2016 elections.

For months, moderate Democrats have kept silent, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) barbed attacks against Wall Street, income inequality and the “rigged economy” thrilled the base and stirred desire for a more populist approach.

But with the race for the White House set to begin, centrists are moving to seize back the agenda.

The New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus of moderate Democrats in the House, plans to unveil an economic policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course.

"I have great respect for Sen. Warren — she's a tremendous leader,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the members working on the policy proposal. “My own preference is to create a message without bashing businesses or workers, [the latter of which] happens on the other side."

Peters said that, if Democrats are going to win back the House and Senate, "it's going to be through the work of the New Democrat Coalition."


↓ Story continues below ↓

"To the extent that Republicans beat up on workers and Democrats beat up on employers — I'm not sure that offers voters much of a vision," Peters said. ...

Read the rest of the article, since there's more of the same stuff in it. After you're done, let's deconstruct this a bit.

Now A Modest Translation

First, "centrist" is code for "corporate" without the negative-sounding name. "Moderate" is also code for "corporate." "Businesses" is code for "corporations" even though they'd like it to echo "small business" — like the mom-and-pop operations their campaign contributors work so hard to gobble and destroy (think of all the small cable companies like Storer that were eaten to become Comcast).

Now my translation of the same passage, with a few more interpolations added:

Corporate Dems ready strike against Warren wing

Corporate-controlled Democrats are gathering their forces [and corporate-sponsored funding] to fight back against the [anti-corporate] “Elizabeth Warren wing” of their party, fearing a sharp turn to the left [of the pro-corporate right] could prove disastrous [for corporate candidates] in the 2016 elections.

For months, corporate Democrats have kept silent, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) barbed attacks against Wall Street, income inequality and the “rigged economy” thrilled the [actual voters] and stirred desire for a more populist approach.

But with the race for the White House set to begin, corporatists are moving to seize back the agenda.

The New Democrat Coalition (NDC), a caucus of corporate-sponsored Democrats in the House, plans to unveil an economic policy platform as soon as this week in an attempt to chart a different course.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), one of the members working on the policy proposal, said, “My own preference is to create a message without bashing my corporate sponsors." ...

It's now a wholly different article, right? Yet a more accurate one, even with respect to its undeclared but obvious purpose — presenting the news.

Note that my translation is not snark, but literally true. The almost total extent to which New Democrats owe their funding and careers to "corporate service" is well documented. For example, here's Howie Klein writing about the above-named frontman for this policy group, Rep. Scott Peters:

Scott Peters is a very wealthy conservative Democrat who bought himself a San Diego congressional seat in 2012. In one of the closest races in the country, Peters beat incumbent Republican Brian Bilbray 124,746 [to] 122,086, after outspending him $4,352,737 to $2,772,270. ... Peters ran one of the most self-financed congressional campaigns in history, having spent $2,757,452 of his own money. Since getting elected, Peters amassed a very conservative voting record that finds him voting with the GOP on crucial issues as frequently as he votes with progressives. He's not popular with Democratic voters in his own district and it was no surprise when the GOP mounted a strong campaign against him last year. ...

Peters eked out reelection 98,332 (51.6%) [to] 92,408 (48.4%). Peters spent $4,504,003 to DeMaio's $3,349,677. This time, though, Peters "only" spent $476,659 of his own money on the race. ... His ProgressivePunch 2015-16 crucial vote score is an abysmal 46.15, the worst of any California Democrat.

People who vote with Republicans vote with Big Money, and a guy who can spend over $3 million on his own election is Big Money (mostly; in terms of wealth, he looks up at the soles of David Koch's shoes, but most of us still look up at his). The choice of Peters to represent the Big Money pushback on the "Warren Wing" — the anti–Big Money wing — of the Democratic party is inspired. And Peters is clearly eager to be as service.

If my translation is accurate, then the writer's framing is misleading — because he disappears the corporate "thank you for your service" aspect of the New Democratic operation, and substitutes their "we just disagree" cover story as if it were factual. That framing is the opposite of factual, a counter-factual cover story in so many respects.

Note too the contradiction in just the passage above, which may have flown right past the writer. From the original:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) barbed attacks against Wall Street, income inequality and the “rigged economy” thrilled the base and stirred desire for a more populist approach.

But:

Peters said that, if Democrats are going to win back the House and Senate, "it's going to be through the work of the New Democrat Coalition."

Translation: Warren's attacks are popular with voters, but Peters wants to win them back with yet more pro-corporate positions. Why the apparent contradiction? Because each "wing" of the Democratic party has a different notion of their "base." The New Dem base is corporate CEOs and their lobbyists. The Warren Wing base is voters. Actual voters. Has the writer noticed that you can't win back voters with more of the same? I can't answer that question, unfortunately.

A Modest Interpretation

Which leads to the second layer of deconstruction. In all of these stories, someone is whispering into the writer's ear, and around those whispers an article is built that contains (1) as much of the whisperer's framing as the writer can in conscience include — this is the pass-through part — and (2) enough of the writer's own material so that the piece doesn't read like a cred-killing press release. (Trust me; in the non-political world, I've worked both sides of that press release–becomes–news article cycle. It's a very common practice. In the slimier corners of that world, it's even worse — it's "press release–becomes–news article–becomes–here's your thank you, sir.")

So, who whispered into this writer's ear? It has to be a New Dem staffer, right? Or perhaps even Scott Peters himself. Whoever is the source, the project-authorized whisperer, the part I quoted above is her voice, saying "Here's our news and here's how we're framing it." Immediately below the part I quoted above is the writer's own addition:

Warren’s rapid ascent has highlighted growing tensions in the Democratic Party about its identity in the post-Obama era.

Caught in the crossfire is the party’s likely nominee in 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose husband took the party in a decisively centrist [ahem: "pro-corporate"] direction during his eight years in office.

The first sentence quoted above and the first half of the second are entirely true. After that, the writer slips back into New Dem framing.

I'll let you complete this interesting article. There's much to wonder at. For example, look for the brief section that ends with a congressperson saying, "I don't need an angry phone call from Bill Clinton." The writer is accurate about the tensions. Just wrong about how to think about them, based on the facts themselves.

Your Takeaway

There are two takeaways. First, be very clear. As I noted at the start, the Big Money wing of the Democratic party ran its preferred candidates in almost every 2014 race — Alison Lundergan Grimes for example, among a great many others — and got stomped. If anyone is losing seats for the party, it's them. If they wanted to win seats for the party, they'd run Warren Wing progressives. Which tells you their real goal — once again, we can only conclude that corporate Democrats would rather lose to corporate Republicans than to progressive Democrats who can win. Once again, progressives are being Tea Partied by their "friends" on the same side of the aisle.

The second takeaway relates to articles like this. Shame on the writer for not spotting the contradiction between a group that says they want to win Democratic votes but offers known losing candidates and policies. That's a story, but because the writer ignores the obvious, you have to work to find it.

Which means, you have a task. Every time you read a piece like this, ask yourself — who's whispering in this writer's ear? Whose message is she passing along? Then reread the article in "translation" to learn what it says.

GP

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