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The Helpless Democrat

The Democrats are a capable group with resources most common people don’t have. They are in possession of power; they just use it to appease moderates.

By Frances Coppin-Thom

The grassroots #Fightfor15 has been going on for over 8 years now, with its aim being to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour—and in February 2021, there was a historic opportunity to make that goal a reality. However, after a ruling by the senate parliamentarian, that opportunity was stomped out by Vice President Harris, who went along with the non-binding advisement despite advocating for a minimum wage increase herself in a 2016 tweet.

In a country where approximately 34 million people are currently living in poverty, many of us were left scratching our heads at this decision. Political pundits handwaved Harris’ inaction as “strategic.” Indeed, whenever democratic officials fail to pull out all the stops to get good things to the people, their defenders usually insist there’s some master plan going on behind the scenes and that progressives just need to be patient. We are told that “now isn’t a good time” or that the Democrats’ hands are tied. Some even go as far as to portray the Democrats in the House and Senate as “victims” of republican clownery and obstruction. 

The loudest of these defenses can be boiled down to, “moderate Democrats will vote no, so there isn’t any point in fighting.” Ignoring the point that there is always a reason to fight when the wellbeing of the least of us is on the line, this sentiment reveals something deeply troubling about our Democratic Party: that when one or two moderates say “no,” the rest of the group will sacrifice the poor and working class to give those senators what they want.

In the case of increasing the minimum wage, despite Democrats having majority control of the senate it is now Senators Manchin and Sinema who are opposing the will of the rest of the party. Democrats are allegedly helpless to do anything but go along with what they want. 

This sentiment is pure fiction. Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema are not giant walls of oppression with unlimited power. They are not Godzilla or Kong, respectively. They are two elected officials who can and should be challenged relentlessly by their peers in the senate.

Similarly, the rest of the body aren’t helpless townsfolk looking on in terror as the aforementioned individuals wreak havoc. Democratic senators are some of the highest paid civil servants in a country that was built on and is maintained by violence and white supremacy. They are a group of upper middle class Americans whose only job is to use every tool at their disposal to fight for the people who elected them. That includes negotiation, organizing, public shaming, loudly rejecting the will of the centrists among them, etc. Anything less is unacceptable.

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The Democrats are a capable group with resources most common people don’t have. They are in possession of power; they just use it to appease moderates. And we’re seeing this in real-time: In February, White House spokesperson Mike Gwin said “President Biden has been consistent in private and in public about his commitment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.”  In March, a mere couple of weeks later President Biden nominated Gayle Manchin, Joe Manchin’s wife, to be the co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. This nomination has gone unchallenged by Democrats in the Senate as well as by the media—searching “Gayle Manchin” on Twitter and Google yields no sort of major opposition.

This is not an accident or a harmless fumble on Uncle Joe’s part. President Biden is deliberately rewarding Manchin’s lack of concern for the millions of American surviving poverty. And yet there are some that still think Biden is powerless to influence the sitting senators in the Democratic Party.

This pretend helplessness has had far too many people fooled for far too long. It pops up in other areas, too—we see congresswoman AOC and the rest of “the squad” use Twitter to clap back at Republicans, but never the same smoke for those in their own party committed to upholding a conservative agenda.

Trump accomplished so many of the awful things he did by putting pressure on his party to support his every whim. Are we supposed to believe that Joe Biden is unable to apply that same pressure to the moderate Democrats who obstruct progress without consequence? Myself and millions of others are calling bullshit. It’s not that President Biden can’t: it’s that he won’t. 

It is no longer satisfactory for Democrats to sit on their hands and let senators like Manchin and Sinema run the show, then reward them for it. They need to boss up and harness the power of “no” themselves. We are demanding opposition to the opposition. We are demanding our Senators get out of their seats and get the obstructionists in line, or else they won’t get our support.

We are in 2021. It is long past time for Democrats and their supporters to stop pretending that they don’t have the power to push progressive policies forward. They do. To insist otherwise is naivety at best and propaganda at worst. At this point, infantilizing Democrats means complicity in their grift.

Frances Coppin-Thom is a youth leader and writer from the bronx. you can find her on twitter @fgarlands 🤙🏽✨

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