In This Episode
Democrats are having a good month. The Inflation Reduction Act passed the Senate, Republicans are paying for the Dobbs decision, and the January 6th committee is reminding Americans that Trump and the GOP are a bunch of lying insurrections. And this recent sharp turn of events makes Democrats all the more hopeful that there won’t be a wipe out in November. But what is the lesson here? Is it that consensus-building is always the wisest course? Or that Democrats would be better off heightening the contrasts between them and Republicans more often? Faiz Shakir joins to talk about the party’s theory of politics, and how Democrats can be less imprisoned by polls and more responsive to the things the public cares about.
Brian Beutler: Hi and welcome to Positively Dreadful, with me, your host, Brian Beutler. Starting about a year ago, things started to go sideways for Democrats in the Biden era. And once it did, the onslaught of bad news never really let up. I think you can actually see the snowball start rolling in the very early days when President Biden and his majorities in Congress were doing a lot of stuff. His approval was steady for a while, but his disapproval started ticking up almost right away as Republicans launched a barrage of culture war attacks, and Democrats were loathe to answer them. Then there was the Afghanistan withdrawal, or, in my view, more accurately, the way the mainstream and right wing media teamed up to cover the Afghanistan withdrawal. Then Build Back Better went bust. Then inflation and gas prices started ticking up. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, which made prices rise further. The Omicron variant and sub variants kept the pandemic burning. Right wing judges foiled the administration’s plans on a variety of fronts. And then, of course, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But then, more recently, something kind of weird happened. Actually, I don’t think it’s weird, but the break with the prior trajectory was sharp and that is the Democrats have had a really great past month or so. Thanks, I think, to three equally important categories of action. One, they broke out of their legislative inertia to pass a bunch of bills, most notably the Inflation Reduction Act, which is really just build back better, reduced= to a few core elements. Two, they started making Republicans pay for the consequences of the Dobbs decision, culminating in a huge landslide victory for pro-choice Americans in Kansas. And three the House January six committee helped make Donald Trump and the GOP more synonymous with violent insurrection, crime, lying. And they promised there’s more to come in September. And you can see the consequences of all this piling up in the polls. Biden’s numbers are still kind of in the toilet, but Democrats are now favored to keep the Senate and they’ve overtaken Republicans in the generic ballot for control of the House. And I think it’s worth asking if the saga of the past 18 months should make Democrats and the liberal establishment generally rethink what it is that causes political fortunes to turn. Is it mostly an empirical and material dynamic that is like when real incomes go up, then the guys in charge win almost mechanically, but when real incomes go down, they lose. Is politics a science that can be mastered by asking people what matters most to them and then talking about the things they say matter most? Or is it more subjective and a more media driven experience of events? A sense that team one is on the march in some sense or the bad guys are winning, the bad guys are losing. The more confident players seem to be on a real tear. I’m being a little reductive here, but that’s the debate. And I think it’s fair to say that the Democratic Party leadership, by which I mean Biden, but also the long standing congressional leaders, their big diaspora of aides, advisors and strategists who run their offices, the party committees and campaigns, they overwhelmingly hew to the former theory of the case. At the same time, I think we can just use our senses and realize that politics isn’t really a solved game. Events are unpredictable, and in a two party system they’re also zero sum. So winning partizan fights is almost by definition good for your party. Even just this week, we saw something really extraordinary happen. The FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-aLago, donald Trump’s estate in south Florida, reportedly looking for codeword classified documents that Trump basically stole from the White House and has seemingly failed to return. Republicans, as they tend to do, responded in an unhinged fashion, ranging from promises to meddle in the many Trump criminal investigations, to threats to abolish the FBI and even to foment civil war. This is how they roll. But it’s based, I think, on their general inclination to maximize partisan attacks, create a sense of abhorrence around whatever they’re raging against. Reasoning that they can’t well acknowledge Trump is a horrible crook after genuflecting to him for six years. But Democrats handled the gift of a mature FBI investigation into their main political opponent, Donald Trump, the way they normally do. They went silent. And I don’t just mean they declined to comment on an ongoing investigation, but they declined even to vilify the Republicans who were threatening to sabotage DOJ in order to place Trump above the law. I’m frustrated and fascinated by the question of why. Why not go for the jugular? Why not vie for narrative control over the galvanizing issues of the day? So I wanted to talk to someone who seen the Democratic machine from the inside, knows how it works, but isn’t a lifer and has even run against them in recent years. And the name that came to mind was Faiz Shakir. Faiz knows the party leadership very well. He worked for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid at different points several years ago. But since then, he’s run campaigns for ACLU and Bernie Sanders and now runs More Perfect Union, which is a media outlet chronicling people driven fights against powerful corporate and political entities. And at bottom, I hope he can help me understand, a, why is the party the way it is? And B, what can we and others do to change it to better fit this twilight struggle we’re in for a freer, truer democracy so Faiz Shakir, welcome to positively dreadful.
Faiz Shakir: Thanks for having me, Brian.
Brian Beutler: So does the portrait I just painted in that long wind up just now. Does it resemble your experience working in the Democratic leadership in the last decade, this sort of sensibility that says you shouldn’t go for the jugular without conducting a focus group first?
Faiz Shakir: Right. And that you need policy competence. You need to execute practical, real world compromises that can get the requisite votes they need, and in doing so, require some degree of dissipation, of enthusiasm, I would say. Right. It requires dissipation of friction that we minimize friction, we show, we can compromise, and then we can get modest measures to improve incremental progress in America. And it is a valid theory of the case. Right. I happen to believe that the question you have to ask is just is it is it sufficient politically and policy wise to address the crises that we face? And I would say policy wise, the case is you could argue both we’re making progress that Democrats would they’d have to come back and say this was phase one. Here’s phase two. You don’t hear a lot of talk about that.
Brian Beutler: Right.
Faiz Shakir: And we should put a pin in it like, is there a phase two to this? And that’s that’s a critical question, because that’s what campaigns are—
Brian Beutler: Right.
Faiz Shakir: Which brings me to my second point, which is elections right. When you campaign in elections is a different world, that having a policy minded governance approach, you have to kind of own that when you’re engaged in elections and winning elections. You have to flip a switch and be in a different mindset.
Brian Beutler: All right. Yeah. Setting aside those questions about about what the long term trajectory for policy is and what you’re building towards. There’s a question of like, is it working? Like, is this theory of the case resulting in Democrats crushing it? [laugh] And I you know, I don’t think that they’re doing as bad as you could imagine. Right. Like they have won some elections, but about like half in the last decade. And, you know, that doesn’t scream to me that they’ve hit upon some unquestionably superior. Way of way of doing politics.
Faiz Shakir: Well, and it’s come to some degree at the expense or I guess the benefit of a realignment of voters. And so some of that realignment that you’re seeing is that suburban folks are often some. To some degree a little bit wealthier, are moving towards Democrats. You know, you take households, about 100,000 people with a college degree and people with a Ph.D.. In fact, if you look at polls and you’re looking at college education, especially advanced education, and you say Biden approval. It happens to be that that is the base that people who are most strongly supportive of Joe Biden. The question around the Democratic composition is, do we still have effective, persuasive arguments for people who are in the lower income thresholds, who are working class people, who might be the Starbucks and Amazon workers of the present and future? And I think to my mind, that is where the the the success politically of the democratic coalition hinges. But because the fear obviously is they move towards Republicans, they put people like DeSantis in the White House. They obviously, you know, engage in faux populism and take us down terrible policy paths. None of us want that. So I do think that that to my mind, it’s really that question that concerns me most and animates both the policy thinking and the political thinking that I am engaged in.
Brian Beutler: So where do you think this theory of politics come from? Like, take me inside? To the extent that you can describe sort of how these conversations go, is is there a history that drives it? Or who would Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer point to as their gurus on approaching things this way?
Faiz Shakir: Well, I don’t know that there’s certainly individuals, obviously, in many ways that the Democratic establishment is is called an establishment because people generally [laugh] stick around and live in it for a long period of time and establish that for better or for worse, for long periods of time. So that thinking is kind of built on prior experiences and in some sense like a clearer straight line of, well, this is the way we’ve done things in the past and this is the way we’ll continue forever more to do things. And and I think that there’s there’s validity to that, right? When your establishment suggests that you’ve won some power and held some power as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer do, so that their argument around essentially an incremental, practical, policy minded approach that can deliver a kind of centrist or moderate member into the House or into the Senate is understandable. It has had some successes in the past. And the question you have to also reckon with, I think, is, are are things changing in a way of what the Democratic coalition in the future elections that are causing you in some ways to reevaluate that? And I think that that’s what, you know, for better or for worse, you know, like how Bernie Sanders, the progressive movement, have challenged the Democratic Party or especially over the past five, six years, is to think bolder and ambitious and different and politically. And we can get into how each of them are different. But I think that that has had a positive effect in my mind on the Democratic Party. I think if you look at the kind of scale of ambition of the Joe Biden presidency versus the Barack Obama presidency, you do see kind of more you know, you see focuses and kind of issues, health care, climate and taxes being three of them, that that scale of ambition is more because I think of a progressive movement that’s pushing for those desires. However, we’re always getting the kind of pull back into retrenchment. Can we go safe or can we go with less friction to go with less ambition? And that’s that tender balance in some sense. We’re trying to strike within the Democratic Party.
Brian Beutler: So I want to get to the to the progressive theory of the case in a minute, because I actually don’t think it’s too terribly different from the leadership theory of the case. But before we do, where do you fall on this question of why the pendulum has swung back towards Democrats over these past four or five or six weeks?
Faiz Shakir: Well, I think you have to sit and ask yourself, like, what are you measuring for and what are you kind of like if you’re measuring for policy outcomes? Brian I think you’re right. Right. Like, yes, there’s there’s undoubtedly bills being passed in Kansas, votes being registered on preserving abortion rights. Those are all good and positive things. The question, I think that often some of us are trying to measure is will this translate into electoral successes in 2022? And if you’re kind of starting from that question, I have reasons to worry. And the main reasons to worry are that we cannot simply campaign on, we did stuff, right that that’s a backwards looking approach. That is to say, we came, we saw, we conquered, and we’re done here. And elections are about choices you have to have a future forward choice. What is A versus B and what is the agenda that you would like to put out before me so that you would like to hold office? And so in that case, you are building on the credibility that, hey, we’ve done these things, and when I come to you and say we can do even more, you will believe me, because, look, we did these things in the past and that should be the case. But you don’t right now, at least as we passed the inflation so-called Inflation Reduction Act, we’re not, are we talking about what phase two will be open question are we are we saying like, here’s the next phase on prescription drug reduction and here’s the next phase I’m making the wealthy pay their fair share. Those things should still be on the table. We should be campaigning on pretty aggressively. And that is, I think, of the role of a progressive movement that’s trying to do that.
Brian Beutler: Right. And I do think that, you know, if if Democrats campaign message were we passed Inflation Reduction Act, it’s going to be good for your pocketbooks. If you’re a senior on Medicare, if you use the ACA to get your health insurance, it’s going to be good for the planet. It’s going to be good for your energy costs. It’s going to tax the rich. End of story. They’re going to say, okay, well, what are you going to do if you get reelected? And that’s a that’s a blank the Democrats need to fill in. And I think that they can fill it in with everything from codifying Roe to finishing what they weren’t able to get done because of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. And that’s a that’s a pretty clean pitch, but it’s still like just a pure policy pitch at a time when, you know, is the election really going to be about the policy status quo per se, or is it going to be about these sort of more abstract or more like tribal issues about like about, you know, where people are being pulled based on, you know, what information they’re they’re hearing from wherever they happen to get their their news.
Faiz Shakir: Well, what we’re talking about is the fact that the Democratic Party is a coalition. And you kind of have to have a lot of arguments to build that coalition. You have to have young people engaged. You have to have women. You have to have people of color engaged you have to have a lot of arguments. But from my mind, there’s also a large macro one that appeals to a lot of persuasive the people who are on the on the fence, essentially about Democrats either about turning out or which side they’re going to vote for. And to my mind, the number one topic with those people is the economy. And if you look at where Biden is in his, you know, standing of of his presidency, it tracks almost entirely what people’s feelings on the economy. And so now I think the real danger is that if you talk about what we passed all these things to help improve the economy, so-called Inflation Reduction Act, and all these other measures. And if you are doing fine, if you’re somebody who lives in the suburbs and your income is, you know, six figures plus and you’re doing okay, you’re going to have a tendency to say, my team, the Democrats, we did it. We did good things. We reduce prescription drug costs. But if you’re a person living on the edge and you actually really need that support of a prescription, your your life won’t be changing in terms of prescription drug costs any time in the near future. Some of the provisions that we talked about are going to, you know, in the Inflation Reduction Act that’s going to take place in four or five years from now.
Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.
Faiz Shakir: So I think what we’re what we’re what you got to keep in mind, at least, is that there’s still arguments to make. And we cannot talk to the working class people and we cannot talk in such a way that makes them feel more distant from us. We can’t tell them, hey, we did it for you, and that’s why we deserve office again when their lives materially may not have changed. So you have to think about what are the arguments that we’re going to go to those people in particular, people living on the edge, working class people that you validates, voting Democrat.
Brian Beutler: I guess what I what I mean is just in the most narrow sense where you imagine that fluctuations in polls are mostly driven by proximate events. Right. That you had 18ish months where or, you know, 14 months after the American Rescue Plan passed through this past several weeks or so where Democrats weren’t doing much legislating and they were falling back on the the fact that they have passed several bipartisan bills. They maintained they tried to maintain a relentless focus on these kitchen table issues and delivering singles and doubles for the American people. And what I’ve seen in the last four, five, six weeks is that Democrats went in a different direction, sort of by necessity, in passing the Inflation Reduction Act on a on a partisan basis in mounting these January 6th hearings, which were also, you know, Liz Cheney, notwithstanding a very partisan, you know, anti-Trump versus Trump affair. And they’ve tried to make. Republicans pay a price for the Dobbs decision with votes in Congress and messaging about how they’ll fix things if they’re if they’re given another lease on their majority. And to me, I mean, that’s like your perfect experiment right there that that the better politics are the ones where your on the march and you’re taking on your opponents and you’re beating them and not one where you’re sort of trying to to be the agents of consensus and then appealing to voters in this sort of bank shot sense where it’s like, well, how are you feeling about things were clearly like the more high road consensus oriented party. And, you know, I, I sympathize with the with the people in the party who want to try to do this all in a more empirical way and just say, look, like infrastructure polls really well. And we did infrastructure and we should just follow the polls where whereever they’ll lead us. When you don’t use data at all for like the you’re using much less reliable information to guide your decisions. But the things that Democrats have done in the last six weeks have worked seemingly in a way that the the stuff they were doing before didn’t. And I, I feel like the the people who who like the hive mind of the Democratic leadership has sort of turned their way of doing things into an ideology where when, where, you know, there’s a paradigm shift and politics looks different and Democrats do things in a more partisan way and it redounds to their benefit. They try to do this sort of curve fitting where they say, oh, maybe, you know, gas prices went down and that’s why everything turned around. And I just don’t think it’s credible. But I don’t totally understand why looking at how much better things feel just on a morale basis when you’re fighting and winning, why they’re just not willing to to run with that, if that makes sense.
Faiz Shakir: I mean, I think they are trying to build a culture, a feel of winning. Right. You see that pretty aggressively now. Everyone saying, hey, we’ve done some really positive, great things. And I think among traditional Democrats, it should translate into stronger, hopefully support of that of the party that, you know, a lot of the issues that you’re talking to, salience of January 6th, the salience of an abortion rights fight and salience of, you know, a competent, competent governance that that can do things for people. Those are going to turn out, I think, the core Biden voters and that’s a good thing and you know stick with the status quo. But what I’m suggesting, Brian, is it isn’t sufficient. And as you think about some of the coalition that Biden Democrats won with in 2020, it’s going to be a lot of young people. It’s going to be people who are independents, people who are working class people who have moved away from Trump. I think that to my mind, there’s a question of enthusiasm of people, but the question of enthusiasm, are you excited? And what we saw in the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia undoubtedly was the case that the Republican side was just much more enthusiastic. And even since then, right now that the base of the Republican Party is very enthusiastic to beat up on Joe Biden and take him down.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Faiz Shakir: And I think like the arguments of competence and the arguments of January six that a lot of them appeal to core Democrats. I’m asking for also to find ways to appeal beyond core Democrats to think about really the macro issue room. And have you and I went into any room in any state in this country, and it was a random selection of people. The number one topic on the mind would be economy and what are you doing about it? What’s the situation on inflation? So you can hope and believe that if gas prices go down a little bit, inflation goes down a little bit, you know that that’s going to be helpful to the cause. But what it’s still not doing politically is giving a narrative to people about why did this happen to you? What did we do to address it and what should you why should you put us back into office to do something to fix it? And I’m like, this is the issue in the room. And we talk about a lot of the other ones that will have core appeal to Democratic voters. And that’s good. But this major one, I would argue to you Brian on inflation and slash the economy. I if I had to ask you, Brian, what’s the Democratic argument on why inflation happened and what they’re going to do about it in the next four years? What would you say?
Brian Beutler: Putin’s price hike. [laugh] I follow this stuff really closely though.
Faiz Shakir: Well, but you would say that that’s why you would say gas prices went up that way. So if you went to the grocery store and you were dealing with higher meat prices or whatever and like everything cost a little bit more things feel broken. You mean, is it Putin, right? It’s not just Putin.
Brian Beutler: So. I mean, once upon a time, I’m lucky that I’ve never experienced real economic precariousness where like, if I didn’t get a paycheck, I was going to be homeless or whatever. You know, I, I might not have been able to make my rent in D.C. when I first moved here as a 22 year old. But if I had failed in the early stages of my career, I still had parents at home and they wouldn’t have let me starve. Right. But so I remember being price sensitive because I was on my own trying to not fail. And I remember the prices of things going up. And what? I thought to do was when something that I wanted to eat got more expensive as I would buy something cheaper like pork instead of chicken or whatever. The next question. Okay. Who’s to blame for the prices going up? Is it the president? I mean, that’s to me like a highly mediated question. And so obviously, Democrats should have a, you know, some explanation for why it’s not just simply their fault, because Republicans are going to say it’s Biden’s fault.
Faiz Shakir: But this is a point, I hate to get weedy about this—
Brian Beutler: Sure.
Faiz Shakir: —but this is a really important question, because now we have to get into what what do some people who are on the fence think about the Democrats and the economy, stewardship of the economy. And this is the concern is that we did progressive economics for the first six months of this presidency.
Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.
Faiz Shakir: We put the stimulus out. Child tax credit, unemployment, extension of unemployment. Remember all this? And the argument from others is going to be that progressive economic period is what caused inflation, i.e. government helping working people is what caused inflation. And if you’re the administration, you Democrats in general, you have to at some level defend what you did and why it worked and then what happened as a result of it. And I at least, let me fill out the thread for folks. What happened is obviously I looked at Brian Beutler. I say you have little more cash in your pocket. And I’m a large corporate CEO and I say, hey, the prices of everything is going up because I have incredible control over this market. I’m going to keep wages down and I’m going to charge more for this document to show record profits. I’m going to put more stock buybacks, buybacks and dividends out there. And no one can stop. No one’s going to do anything about it. And then the question goes back to stewardship of the economy. What you what do you Democrats have to say about an environment in which, you know, corporate greed is occurring, corporate power is amassing, they are stopping workers, they are stifling wages. They are keeping more for themselves. They’ve done that during the pandemic. Is there an argument? Is there a plan? Is there something that you want to do in the next 2 to 4 years to address that issue? I agree with you. But I’m not going to blame Democrats for the wheat price going up. What they have historically look to Democrats to do is to be a bulwark against corporate power. That’s FDR and the lineage of Democrats since. And I think that that that, to my mind, especially on the economic question, is the one that is kind of missing.
Brian Beutler: Let me concede a couple of things. One, I think that it would be better for Democrats to or, you know, it’s good when they do sort of point the finger at corporations when inflation is high, like whatever economists say about the merits of the argument, that’s smart. I think it’s also smart for them to talk about overseeing the presiding over the fastest economic recovery in history, record low unemployment, wages up, all those things matter. More broadly I think that just being good stewards of the economy, being competent at governing are important, just sort of as table stakes insofar as right like like if you if you preside over a catastrophe, an economic collapse or Hurricane Katrina or the Iraq war or the global financial crisis, you’re, you’re going to fail, right? You can’t amass a record of failure and then hope that nobody notices. Because if the failure is severe enough, people will, no matter how good your propaganda is. What I don’t necessarily think is true is that if you walk into any room in the country, yes, people will say, like the issue that matters to me the most is the economy. But I mean, when they go home, what are they doing? Are they like sitting at the kitchen table, like poring over their bills, or do they go on to Facebook and like look at, you know, memes about, you know, critical race theory or whatever else, and, like, get really angry about it and then and then make voting decisions on the basis not just of their material concerns, but but about, you know, whatever. They are passionate about or or whatever, like hook somebody has found into their lizard brain to make them mad or make them fearful like these these sort of potent emotions that aren’t. Really. Addressable with a policy response.
Faiz Shakir: But that’s what we’re arguing about. Politics, right? Policy. You got to govern the economy. You got to do the things that you can do and pass bills that you can accomplish, but then get into the politics mode. You have to identify friction and fights and you have to identify who are your foils. And you should really it’s fine to make people mad for your cause. And what the things that I was just saying around inflation is that you should be mad at corporations, you should be upset, and you should have an agenda and a plan, at least for the campaign to say we’re going to take these bastards on. But for you, for your on your behalf and—
Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.
Faiz Shakir: —those headlines and memes [laugh] that you’re talking about. Right. Those translate into the facts that get you excited, motivated. But what you’ve seen, or at least in the two years of the theory of governance, is to dissipate some cash, to dissipate the friction and cut some deals in which, you know, there will be some corporate benefit to semi semiconductor chips companies. There will be some benefit to this solar wind companies and health care companies receive subsidies, etc.. But sometimes it’s a striking a compromise dissipation of the of a friction.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Faiz Shakir: And I do think, as you think about it from politically, you have to have a friction. And yes, it’s the Republicans and the Republican agenda, but that isn’t going to be sufficient enough if you’re the ones holding power. Right. And in some sense of your holding power, you can’t just say, okay, well, the Republicans have terrible ideas. Yes, of course they do. But also, here’s what we want to do to keep and maintain power and the agenda that we want to perform for the next [?].
Brian Beutler: You’ve seen that old Onion cartoon, it sort of asks which message will resonate better and it pits Jimmy Carter saying, let’s talk better mileage against Ronald Reagan, saying, kill the bastards. [laugh]
Faiz Shakir: Right.
Brian Beutler: I mean, like I we don’t have to belabor what the point of the cartoon is like. It’s obvious.
Faiz Shakir: Right.
Brian Beutler: Obviously, improving fuel economy saves people money, but there’s no poll that you can conduct that will tell you one way or another whether that’s a better thing for candidates to dwell on than we’ll save you from evil forces in the world, or the haters and the losers, the people who are who are, you know, keeping you down, the man. And that’s a message that works in an economic context. But I think it works in just about every context if you’re willing to use it, right, like in culture war context, just as much as in policy ones. Right. So Nancy Pelosi recently said the following. She said, our country is at risk, our democracy is at risk. But what we are campaigning on are the kitchen table issues that affect America’s working families. And I think what I’m trying to understand is how talking about household budgets in any economic environment is more galvanizing or potent than appealing to people’s sense of patriotism and self-preservation. Like why would Nancy Pelosi not say something more like our country’s at risk, our democracy is at risk, and and we are not going to let them fall you like we will obviously always have your economic interests at heart, but we have to win this fight too.
Faiz Shakir: But to her credit. I work for her, so I will defend this part of her. Is that she’s doing it through action. Right. And the action that she’s doing is leading a January 6th commission that is showing to the world some degree of what the democracy risk is. And I think what she understands that I agree with is that at some level, the people who know that democracy is at risk have already got perspective. And and they and they are going to take a stance based on what they know and understand about Trump and the Republican Party. But for people who for whom the kind of democracy is at risk, argument is not the most salient or they have kind of like not registered. This is the biggest thing. I don’t think just banging on the drum of saying it is going to do it for you. You got to find some arguments that appeal to them in a different way. And I think it is right to say this and that’s why I am saying it is, the economy has to have a core part of that. I think there’s a lot of people just made judgments. If you’re the right on the right wing side for this, a number of times, you might have Brian, oh the [?] at risk, everybody wants to just fight to maintain power. [laughter] In their minds its like the Democrats write rules and voting rights to preserve power for themselves. We fight and preserve power. All we learned from Donald Trump is that he just wants to. You know, he knew that Brian would tank this economy and he wanted to make sure that he was saving America. Right? That would be the mythology you’d have to believe. If you felt like the economy and the country are just on the wrong track, we just need to just rescue this away. So I will justify the claims around democracy in order to fix this other major thing that I’m very worried about, which is the economy. So I think you got to have both in some sense, but I don’t think that the democracy thing is gonna get you.
Brian Beutler: I don’t know that I agree with this because Donald Trump has spent the last, you know, since he lost the election talking about how it was stolen from him and remaking the entire Republican Party around revenge and justice for the greatest crime of the century or whatever. You know, really visceral, obviously completely false, dangerous rhetoric without any apparent economic policy agenda except to just like point at gas prices or whatever and say, ha, ha, Joe Biden did this.
Faiz Shakir: But that’s the [?] right we did that in the [?] when George W Bush was president. You essentially do the same thing. You say, listen, this guy is tanking this thing and let’s go in the opposite direction here.
Brian Beutler: It’s easier in the opposition and like, obviously, we’ll see how it works out when when the election comes around. But he has managed to give put Republicans into pole position on the question of which party is better on democracy. And it’s not because they have the truth on their side or a winning argument on the side. They just got basically the entire Republican Party to buy into this lie and then prioritize it as an important issue to them. Whereas the I think the anti insurrection supermajority of the country is a little bit lost about the significance of what happened on January six. Because the, you know, the way the incoming Democratic majority dealt with it was a little bit seesawing between, okay, like, well, we’ll do some January 6th accountability thing, but then we’ll do some infrastructure stuff and then we’ll seven months later impanel this committee. But it’ll work in the dark for six months and then we’ll flop around trying to pass a bill back. [laugh]
Faiz Shakir: But let’s get concrete about it Brian. so in my mind when you say democracy, you’re saying, which of you candidates believes that the election was stolen? And and believes that there were, you know, Donald Trump should have rightly won this election or [?]. Right. Like what? What did Biden legitimately win in that question? I, I think it will be a major one, particularly in the Trump endorsed elections in which there’s a general election candidate that he picked, essentially. And I have a little doubt that those issues are going to come up and that their candidates are going to be asked about them in the present, because Trump obviously isn’t on the ballot, but his his endorsed candidates will be. What is your concern that that question won’t be asked about— [both speaking]
Brian Beutler: No, I think well, I mean, I think many of many of them will just not debate. And so the opportunity to to expose them. It just doesn’t exist. Like they might get pressed on it—
Faiz Shakir: —they might not debate, but are you also worried that people that there won’t be discourse around their position on the big lie?
Brian Beutler: You know, I think it really sort of it gets to the question of what an election is about. Right. Every cycle, the parties sort of do this battle for control over what the people who like media gatekeepers essentially cover as important. And so in 2016, even though it was in some sense a referendum on Obama’s two terms and, you know, Donald Trump being this apparent out of nowhere celebrity nominee for the Republican Party, it became about emails and that was a media failure. But Republicans fed that I mean, it was one of the least substantive themes of any election that I can think of. But if you go back to the election before that, you know, Democrats did the normal thing like talking about the health care bill that was going to make preexisting conditions something that you can’t be discriminated against for. And then Republicans were like Muslims coming across the border with Ebola in the last three weeks of the of the campaign and the generic ballot just completely bifurcated. And they and they won in a landslide. So I think it’s incumbent upon the people contesting these elections to inject themes that grab voters in the gut as much as in the pocketbook. And, you know, if Democrats don’t actually want to talk about the fact that Republicans supported the ransacking of the Capitol, the killing of cops in order to steal an election, and now they’re asking to be put back in power again. And they want to talk instead about the Inflation Reduction Act and the you know, their appeal to voters is going to be about the economy, which maybe the people will be happy with or maybe they won’t. And the Republicans are going to be like. Let’s hang the establishment of the regime, which is what they’re calling it now. Let’s kick them all out. Let’s get revenge for the crime of the century. And, you know, that’s going to fire up the angry right wing half of the country. And the majority is going to deal with what you were talking about, the sort of dissipation of enthusiasm, because they aren’t being reached in the sort of most galvanizing parts of their consciousness.
Faiz Shakir: Listen, I know that we’ll see how this all plays out over the next two months. I live with less fear that Democrats like Mandela Barnes, John Fetterman, at least at the Senate level, and House candidates all over this country are going to take advantage of saying that I am dealing with Republicans who can’t even acknowledge basic truths and facts about our democracy. I believe they will say those and they will each campaign in interesting and different ways around that issue. I don’t live with fear that they aren’t going to mention those things. Knock on wood. We’ll see. Right.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Faiz Shakir: You may be making a point that I’m like, hey, woah. Like, I can’t believe that so-and-so is running against a Trump elect, a Trump appointed Republican. It didn’t mention the big lie. I don’t know that I fear that as much. I don’t know that even fear that abortion rights will be neglected. But I think a lot of Democrats understand the stakes of this. They see it in Kansas State. They know they’re going to talk about this. What I fear, Brian, is that the issues that you’ve just raised, oh, democracy and abortion rights and fighting for and making sure we understand the January 6th comission are all ways to neglect the issues that are actually the things that are are dragging Democrats down, say, hey, instead of talking about this thing, that is the number one issue that all the polls tell us everyone’s talking about. Let’s not in fact, let’s drive everyone towards talking about the democracy. Right. But we can do both and we have to do both. And if you take the current trajectory of things, I think we’re more likely to be just be talking [laugh] about democracy and neglecting if you think about the government.
Brian Beutler: So I, I actually think things look sunnier now. I mean, not just because it feels good to watch the party be more confrontational and rack up wins. But it’s just in the polls, they’re doing better. And hopefully that persists. And, you know, I, I think it’s important for them to to discredit the opposition, which is really what I mean when I say the democracy stuff is just like remind people that these are criminals and other people who are trying to help criminals cover up their crimes, tried to steal an election. That’s about why Republicans shouldn’t win. And then separately, Democrats should win A because we delivered the stuff in the Inflation Reduction Act and the lowest unemployment in history. And when we get to more senators, if we have the House will do we’ll codify Roe and we’ll you know, we’ll be able to build on our our successes in the way we weren’t when we only had 50 votes. I think that that combined message is good, and it’s the one that the party is faced with— [both speaking]
Faiz Shakir: I would think that is largely happening and will continue to happen for the next three months.
Brian Beutler: I agree that we’re converging on a place that’s good for for the moment. You know, we’re also watching this sort of extraordinary thing that I mentioned in the wind up about Donald Trump getting raided, you know, Mar-a-Lago getting raided. And the immediate Republican response was to just go, you know, go on the offensive. Like this is a Democratic plot. They’ve they’ve politicized the FBI. The FBI is out for revenge against Trump. We’re going to defund the FBI. We’re going to we’re going to nullify the FBI and not let them operate in our state. Right. This is war. Okay. Democrats initial inclination and I think this is defensible, is to say we don’t know what this investigation is about because it’s a it’s a secret matter. So we we don’t we can’t comment on the substance of the search warrant or what they were after. But if if Republicans think that they’re going to put Trump above the law by defunding the FBI, then we’re going to have a vote on that and not just on defunding the FBI, but then a separate vote on making sure that these investigations have the resources they need to succeed and to and to protect them from political interference from the right, whether Republicans win or not. And instead, what they’ve done is said like nothing. And so the airwaves and the headlines are just filled with Republicans rally to Trump. Joe Biden says he wasn’t informed about the raid like they’ve inverted it and turned it almost into a problem for Democrats that Trump is this criminal because they don’t want to say, yeah, Trump’s a crook. I’m not surprised. He, like the FBI, had to raid his house. We’ll see what the investigation uncovers. But but what the Republicans are talking about doing is corrupt and thuggish. And we’re not going to stand for it. Like, that’s a I think that that’s like a low cost thing. That that. Democrats could have said, and it would be nice to not have to worry when something like this happens that the leadership is going to wait three or four days to see how the polls shake out before they take what seems like an obvious moral and politically wise stance that is is undermines Republicans as they’re attempting to cause harm. And it makes the story something that people realize that like the Republicans are on the wrong side of.
Faiz Shakir: If I were sitting with Pelosi or Harry Reid or Schumer, and the reason you don’t weigh in is because immediately it feels like this is done as a partisan witch hunt against Donald Trump affirms an argument that this wasn’t done for any valid, substantive reasons of any documents or anything. This was just done as a political attack on them. And so you’re trying to measure that up to try to give the serious considerations of like, hey, if we really kind of defend and believe that this was done on the merits, you know, if you have political leaders like the president jumping in and saying, hey, this is absolutely right, this guy’s a crook, we’re going after him in every which way it is going to make it. It kind of polarized one in which you’re right that we our base will probably be more fired anytime Trump’s in the news in my view is good for Democrats because nothing fires up Democrats more than Donald Trump. Im thinking in general, if Donald Trump is in the news because he’s getting raided by the FBI or whatever, he might be setting up this stump or whatever crazy thing he might be doing next is lunacy. It is generally just a benefit. So my biggest fear of the 2022 was that he would evaporate into the background and not be around and his Twitter presence isn’t failed to heard But in fact, I think he’s going to make himself heard. And I’m like great. That’s good for business. Good. Go ahead. Because, you know, Democrats will get fired up about it. And I think Republicans actually there is some degree of, you know, frustration in their ranks that the president would be just like for a president would you just shut up sometimes or not be in the news and you can feel that on the right. So I’m like, I think that generally that’s okay. I’m not as concerned again about as you are about like where’s the fire, the brimstone at Donald Trump. I don’t fear that like our side is lacking for it, even at the senior ranks. I think that what I’m hearing [laugh] is like we’ve got to have arguments beyond the core fire and brimstone for each of these bases that are persuading and moving people to vote with us. And if you the more you’re retrenching back into the things that are 2020 ish or like in the rearview mirror, a reaffirmation of the character qualities of Donald Trump and those kinds of arguments. I don’t think you’re doing your job of persuading people about your time in office, what you did, why you did it, and why you want to hold it, and what you want to accomplish in the next 2 to 4 years. That’s fundamentally what an election’s about.
Brian Beutler: Let’s talk about the big vision stuff, because, I mean, I do want to say that I agree it would be stupid of Pelosi and Schumer, at least questionable for them to say, you know, I hope they get the bastard right after he gets his after Mar-a-Lago gets raided. Because then, yeah—
Faiz Shakir: You suggest that the FBI did the right thing because you’re suggesting you might. Oh, did you know that? What do you know that I don’t know? And now you’re like, I don’t know. [laughter] They don’t know as much as you and I know right now.
Brian Beutler: So, yes, you say that about the investigation, but then Republicans say we’re going to we’re going to nuke the FBI because they had the temerity to execute a search warrant that a judge signed off on— [both speaking]
Faiz Shakir: Dig your hole. Go for it Mr. like like defend the blue all the time great is that [laughter] the party of the defend the blue? Now like, hey, the police officers go like [laughter] that, go for it. Make your whatever arguments you want. [laughter]
Brian Beutler: It would be great if Democrats were like saying that. But they’re not they’re just like not saying anything. And it’s it’s this instinct. It’s the same instinct.
Faiz Shakir: Right? There’s a reason you give a little bit of time so it doesn’t become hyper-politicized immediately in the partisan right. But I do think the arguments that you and I are talking about will, I think come to the surface.
Brian Beutler: Okay, so I’ve framed this conversation mostly as a tic of Democratic leaders and and centrists and frontline members in the party. And obviously, I think stress testing, their theory of politics is important because they sort of run the show. But I also think a similar sensibility is prominent on the left, just with sort of different ideas about how policy shapes political coalitions, shapes outcomes, etc.. Right. I think on the one hand, you have neolib shills and they contend that competent management along with popular well polling, but incremental new reforms are how you capture the political center. And if you capture the political center, Republicans can’t win. That’s that’s their theory. On the other hand, you have Bernie bros and they imagine transformational redistributive policies will generate working class solidarity and through that, an unbeatable rainbow coalition. And these are obviously different hypotheses. And that’s why the last two election cycles have pitted Bernie against an establishment candidate. But I think they stem fundamentally from the same idea. Which is that policy is the main driver of political outcomes. And I’m curious whether you believe that.
Faiz Shakir: Yeah, I don’t. I don’t. For election outcomes. Policy is not necessarily determinative, especially in governance. How you did, how you performed. You’ve got to animate for people. What is a fight? What is a friction? What are the change? What are the differences in values? And so I would argue that Bernie is a very values driven candidate. Yes, we talk about the Medicare for All platform, but really it’s a vision of a society.
Brian Beutler: Right.
Faiz Shakir: In which, you know, take care. That’s that’s the most animating thing in which, you know, billionaires are really the foils, like here’s people who are we have it all. And I think that to some degree was the compelling part of, you know, expanding out the Democratic coalition with other people who weren’t already in. It is to say, here’s a vision of where we’re trying to go, what we’re trying to fight for that often isn’t seen in the establishment narrative. It’s like, what is the value? Besides competent governance getting the thing done that is that has 50 plus votes? Is there like a is are you pointing me towards like a kind of a society that you’d like to see? And I do think that it happens to be the progressive movement rightly, like it’s pushing this Democratic Party and say, no, we have to have some kind of values-oriented society that makes it clear, at least paints a picture for people of the kind of we want. I think this is sometimes where we get into conflicts. And even a progressive side about is that painting of the picture on economic conditions or is it even broader? And it now includes like police questions and immigration questions that sometimes aren’t as politically popular.
Brian Beutler: Right. I mean, I’ve I’ve really always thought that Sanders’ appeal. Like the reason why he he did surprisingly well in 2016 was less about any specific aspect of his platform than about his sort of fearless advocacy for those ideas. Right. Like if if in 2020, he had said, you know what, Medicare for all, it’s a great idea, but let’s not be unrealistic and we’ll do a public option and call it a day and live to fight another day after that. I think it would have been ruinous to his campaign. But I, I think then you have to ask the question, why? Right. Is it because his supporters are dogmatically committed to Medicare for All, or would it be because it would have undermined his whole brand? Right. That that he fights for what he believes in, even when it’s politically tricky to advocate for major changes that that make people fearful about what will replace what they have.
Faiz Shakir: But also, you know, the progressive and I say this with all respect to the coalition built is it’s a movement. When you talk about a movement, a policy oriented movement, it is it is, by its definition, trying to change the Overton Window in the realm of what policymaking is possible. So sometimes what the what people and movement will get frustrated about is that the leaders of them essentially pre-compromised before we even started to engage in legislating and you’re walking back from—
Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.
Faiz Shakir: —the thing you were trying to fight for, no your job is to plant the kind of flag boldly in the sand. Then if to the extent we’re constrained by that, it is because Joe Manchin or somebody else came along and said, You can’t do it. Make them have to own their stance and vote on the thing that we believe on rather than just before we even get to the table. Before you even talk, I’m moving off of this because I think it’s politically impractical, right. That that, I think, is what a movement will get frustrated about, because the movement is built around a vision of a society and a value that you’re fighting for and that that that’s why that policy stance matters.
Brian Beutler: Yeah, I see progressives assuming we are in a sort of post Bernie for president era I see them warming to politicians like J.B. Pritzker and John Fetterman. And I honestly am not certain what either of those men would like to enact on health care, for instance, if they were ever to become president. But I think that people watch them address what’s happening in the world on a sort of moment by moment basis, and they’re drawn to them like Bernie, because they seem to have a fight in them. Yes. And and that’s, the sort of visceral core of it, much more than the question of like, what does your whitepaper say and is it true Medicare for All?
Faiz Shakir: I agree. I mean, even in the Biden era, what do you make of the Democratic coalition? I do think that becomes one of the divides. It’s a healthy divide that, you know, Biden’s basic argument is that we’re going to reduce the temperature, turn everything down, return to normal, know, be kind of a more genteel peacemaker by his nature. These are all good things about our president, but it also means that he doesn’t really like to revel [laugh] in friction. And I think we do find that in those moments that for particularly for political causes, it’s important to have a friction because the friction helps animate for people what you fighting for, what you’re fighting against. It tells you that you care about something. Right now, I really care and it pisses me off or like I really want to do this. It shows the emotion of the battle more that the cerebral kind of ability to govern. And I think that that element of friction and fight and foils has been lost a bit. And you’re right to say that it is often progressives being the ones to kind of put it back and make sure that we haven’t lost that there is there is a fight going on here.
Brian Beutler: We’re reaching a synthesis because I think. Whether it’s policy or whether it’s Trump accountability, it’s really hard to select for Democrats who are politically cautious, but will also be fearless accountability fighters or fearless democracy reform fighters. Right. They’re going to be cautious across the whole spectrum of issues. So, yes, maybe it’s a political risk to nominate people who support Medicare for All or whatever. But that that candidate, and if they get elected, that officeholder is going to be a better tribune across the board for the the Democrat’s economic agenda, for holding Republicans accountable for for retrofitting the democracy. And I think Biden believes his in the importance of toning down the temperature. And I think he maybe really thought that he could accomplish it just by kind of being a quiet figure. I think—
Faiz Shakir: To some degree he has, to his credit, right? Like, I mean, he got some bipartisan bills done that most people would have assumed you know is not really going to happen. But I do think that like that that there is a cost to reducing that temperature, there’s a reason, I think that Trump builds a base and animates it around friction all the time. But we can’t you know, if you’re building a one that kind of connects viscerally to building a movement that connects viscerally people, you’ve got to give them a sense of what a fight is about. And I think that, like, you know, I sense that there’s this is a major divide and continue to be continue to be a divided Democratic brand. You’ve used this word a number of times, I think has to be about this word accountability.
Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.
Faiz Shakir: It matters so much that when the wealthy rip off the economy, when they do screw us on baby formula, when they like you know have opioid crisis rampage our nation, we, the Democratic Party actually believe in accountability and there’s got to be some repercussions. But what some I think some people, particularly those we lose from our coalition, feel like, oh, you believe in it, you say you believe in accountability, but when we put you into office, it feels like you’re just striking compromises with all these people you’re trying to, like, make them feel good. And I think for the people who are trying to win back people, I’m talking about people who’ve left right people who are kind of on the edge. I’m not sure about the Democratic Party. Oh I’m not sure I have to vote. To me, that that’s one of the areas that is most persuasive to come back to them and say this Democratic Party is muscular and it will hold people to account. And if we can convince them around the credibility of that, I do think we would get some something cooking.
Brian Beutler: You know, if you look at it, look at Biden’s record and the bipartisan bills he’s signed, you can make a case that he got the temperature down in Washington enough to pass some legislation, more bipartisan legislation probably than Obama passed. But I don’t I don’t really remember. It was a weird time back then. The other question, though, is like, is there more social strife in this country now than there was before he took office? I’d say yes. And it’s not I don’t think it’s his fault.
Faiz Shakir: Right. [laugh]
Brian Beutler: But I think it’s like unanswered [both speaking] incitement from from Donald Trump and and and the far right. And I think that, you know, in on the Hill, Democratic leaders are that they think the Biden appeal on toning down the temperature is good because it’s it’s consistent with their own politics. And I think they also think that it’s the best way to help their front line members who are going to be trying to win reelection in districts and states that Donald Trump still has a lot of supporters in. I think that there’s another theory of the case, which is that if you if if instead of being obsessed with turning the temperature down, you’re obsessed with accountability and and sort of branding or tattooing bad actors like Trump with their sins, with their crimes. You drag his popularity down one, two, three, four percent, and suddenly these races are just more winnable because the leader of the Republican Party is polling a little bit worse. Like if Trump had had been 1% less popular in November 2020 or 2% less popular in November 2020, Biden wins in a landslide. And maybe there’s no insurrection. Maybe Republicans kick Trump to the wilderness. And it’s that that I feel like no amount of evidence seems to be capable of making Democrats embrace or at least experiment with a more aggressive ethic. And so, I guess as a closing thought, what, if anything, do you think might make the party establishment? Just give it a shot. Just try that way of doing things instead of the way they normally do things.
Faiz Shakir: And just so I understand, you’re saying raise the temperature on Donald Trump and make sure that he that we’re dragging his negatives higher? Is that is that what you’re saying?
Brian Beutler: I mean, that’s my theory of why doing that is not just the right thing to do morally. And just as part of your oath of office, you’re sort of obligation as an office holder. But, yes, like politically, I think that a politicians who are beset by scandal lose popularity and have a harder time winning elections. And if they lead the party like if is George W. Bush mired in scandal, then, you know, the his party suffers a wipeout in in the midterm or the next election.
Faiz Shakir: Yeah, but, you know, in this question, I do think that grappling with building populism of the left is important as building populism of the right. What, populism has become a bad word because Trump is essentially, you know, co-opted it. And many right wing people all over the world have co-opted it to mean that, like building around some crazy ideology of anger and vitriol. I think that the way to think about doing is do populism for the good. And and what if I were to urge democratic parties, like connect with people on the ground to feel what is visceral and emotional for them and gets them out of their seats? And I don’t know. Donald Trump to some degree is a brand that people have attached themselves to, you know, and feel emotional resonance with. If I asked if I wanted to any room in the country and I said, you know, what do you think of the Democratic brand? What is it that most excites you about it? I don’t know what I’d get. I mean, what would you get? I think that that to me is the question to hone in on what what Democrat Republicans are writing and saying, okay, well, there’s a lot of emotional resonance around this guy as soon as he starts to like really tank, I think some of the people are just going to continue to throw him overboard. Say, Ron DeSantis, whatever. That’s probably the path for us in the future. But as long as he shows emotional resonance and has like, you know, some crazy faction continue to be around him, that his power is maintained at least within that party. To my mind, where’s our counter? Where’s our building of like populist populism, healthy populism of the left that is emotionally resonant around positive ideals. And I think that’s where I that’s where I want to focus on. That’s where I want to build that, rather than trying to just continually think about how you chip away at him, which is fine. But you’re not doing the work of building your own.
Brian Beutler: Well, right. I mean, I think that the two things go hand in hand, right? Like give me five minutes to interview somebody who resembles the median voter. And I imagine you get some assessment of the parties where, like Donald Trump is has his flaws, but he is always fighting.
Faiz Shakir: Right.
Brian Beutler: And Democrats are—
Faiz Shakir: There’s a perception of a quote “strong leader” around Donald Trump.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. [both speaking] Democrats have weak Democrats on the other hand, weak leaders. They’re sort of sort of like you got a tail wagging the dog situation where they’re in in in hock to these progressive woke whatever you want to call it, you know. And, you know, even though they’re they seem less crazy and mean overall, you know, I don’t I don’t see where I fit into their future or the future that they envision. Okay. So if the Democrats spent less time talking about things that never reach that guy because they’re so boring, like the Chips Act, right. And they’re talking about how Donald Trump appointed the right wing justices, stole one or two of the seats. They overturn Roe v. Wade. And now ten year olds are being forced to give birth. There’s no exceptions for rape or incest. That’s that’s his fault. And we’re going to fix it. I mean, there you have like a positive, substantive vision and a like this guy is actually bad news—
Faiz Shakir: I think you’re right. I mean, but what you’re saying is you’re connecting pretty deeply with regular people in their live conditions and trying to address them and talk about them in ways that resonate. I think you’re absolutely right. Those those things like talk about Texas and what’s going on in Texas with actual when an abortion ban goes into effect and what they what impact it has on real lives what impact it has on family, what impact it has on a community. Now, as a Democratic Party, you’re getting closer and closer to, I think, you know, a healthy populace. You are more [?] you’re not trying to just pull in and figure out what language and words might work on TV, and you’re figuring out what is emotionally resonant around your values.
Brian Beutler: So, okay, what would you know, whether you’re a listener or somebody who works close to politics and thus has some access to these leaders, what what do you what pressure do they need to feel? And how can it be brought to bear to make the leaders. More like what you just said. [laugh]
Faiz Shakir: Well, I mean, with the some sense, like, I think if we had a healthy populism that was built, being built at the ground, that not leaders would follow. I mean, we have that kind of a, you know, a movement, a Democratic Party. A lot of things are decided from the top down because we have that kind of architecture where we’re like a top down type of party. Decisions are made in the closed rooms and this is the compromise. And here we go. Here’s the vote and everyone feel good about it. What I’m suggesting is that the kind of enthusiasm and the resonance, whether it’s a labor movement around Starbucks or Amazon, whether it’s women coming together or people coming together around abortion bans. You know, you can think about all kinds of measures at the local level that are fighting for voting rights or all manner of fighting corporate greed and that the local community fighting like pollution or whatever that to my mind, coming together and animating and fighting and finding local community leaders who want to take those up, that it has to become political in some sense.
Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.
Faiz Shakir: That those are those fights become political because then that’s how that’s how the Democratic Party starts to move, and charge and learn basically that, oh—
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Faiz Shakir: —you got it deeply connected to regular people’s work conditions. And resonate emotionally resonates with them. Because otherwise, I think we’re trapped in the kind of politics that suggests that just do what is safe and not too emotionally fraught.
Brian Beutler: Here’s how here’s how to distill my fear, because it just occurred to me, [laugh] I agree with you that like if that the sort of triumvirate of issues that have helped Democrats swing a bit, you know, that they’ll keep clinging to those things. And the election will probably not go as badly as we were worried it would go three or four or five months ago. Maybe they’ll even hold on to the House and Senate. That would be great. What I fear about what happens after is, is here’s a microcosm of it. The Democratic leadership really wanted Conor Lamb to be the Senate nominee in Pennsylvania. And they think, Conor Lamb, is what they’ve thought since he won back in 2017 or 2018, his first special election, that this guy who never, never talks about Trump, only talks about health care is like the the the secret the like the magic formula for beating Republicans and then runs in a primary against John Fetterman who they did not want to be the nominee. And Fetterman crushes him. And now Fetterman is crushing Dr. Oz, which is not that hard of a task. But he’s doing it and he’s doing it joyfully and like with with flair and people just like Fetterman, because he’s a he’s, you know, like a he seems real in some sense, not because necessarily his website has these policies listed on it. Okay, so he wins and it’s a cause for celebration across the Democratic Party. But the party, [laugh] their lesson that they take from it isn’t we were wrong to want somebody like Conor Lamb. It’s we need to find somebody who’s like Conor Lamb except six foot five inches tall and 280 pounds. And that’s the magic formula. Do you know what I mean? Like, that’s how the brain works.
Faiz Shakir: Yeah, I don’t. I have a different description of Conor Lamb. It’s that somebody who kind of, like, is safe with wealthy and powerful people like that. That’s that’s the difference between if you brought Conor Lamb into a room and John Fetterman into a room and you had high dollar donors, you had powerful corporate elites, which one of them would be, well, better received? [laugh] Conor Lamb would be better recieved because he’s not going to invite a friction or fight and he’s going to find a way to peacemaker with you guys and Fetterman is going to have like serious disagreement and people know that about him and he’s going to say those things. And so I think that to my mind, that’s what like Henry Cuellar in South Texas, why do you want to crush Jessica Cisneros? Be like way more enthusiast build more enthusiasm be more aligned with your values. Why do you feel like you had to go in that direction? Because Henry Cuellar is gonna be better fundraisers is going to be better with, you know, getting money for the party. I think that’s what we’re trying to challenge is that in some sense the inverse of what I was talking about, when you’re built from people in your kind of deep grassroots organizing, real emotional resonance of lived experiences of people, the inverse of that as well. It is a room of like 50 people who have wealth, wealth, and they’re trying to decide who the candidates are. They’re putting their fingers on the scale. You saw this play in Missouri, right? Here’s a wealthy Valentine who’s going to be our candidate in Missouri, a Democrat is almost certainly going to lose. And and and we had the populist, Lucas Kunce, a marine, you know, somebody who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, wanted to be a populist crusader against corporations. Let’s stomp on. All right? Like, just stomp on em. And you’re like, those are the things that I’m like, man, what a frustration. Why not just let there’s just a preference, a built in preference for those with inherent kind of wealth, power massing of like comfort in that scale to just to win and that’s that’s what we’re trying to change is like okay just don’t put your fingers on the scales. Don’t let wealth govern that judgement. Don’t let the super PAC come in and really inordinately influence one side over the other. If you just let this generally organically play out, it will be healthy for the party. But what you see actually is a really aggressive effort to say, no, the money is coming down on one side here, guys, and that we’re just stopping you guys you progressive [?].
Brian Beutler: Yeah. Yeah. I think when Fetterman wins it’s you know, knock on wood [knock sound]
Faiz Shakir: And Mandela hopefully, yes. [laugh]
Brian Beutler: There should be there should be a like a, echo chamber effect, of saying he won because he’s a cool guy. And so the party should endeavor to nominate cool dudes, cool dudettes. For every race that they can. People who are, like, at home in their states and comfortable in their own skin and true to to true to a sense of themselves have a real core and not we need to put Conor Lamb in a hoodie and give him some tattoos, you know. [laugh]
Faiz Shakir: But if you’re if you’re of muddied interest, though, that’s what you’re going to suggest. You’re like, okay, well, how do we learn from this to get our people elected?
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Faiz Shakir: And you just have to own that. That is, that is going to be an ever present fight, Brian. Like that’s just going to exist the people while while in power are just going to try to evolve the tactics to say, well, put our finger on the scale and make sure that like our person does better next time around. But you know, I think as a Democrat Party, all of us come together and say, hey, let’s get this stuff out. Let’s just have—
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Faiz Shakir: —actual people sign. And I say, honestly, just like if it falls in a certain way, that’s fine. But let the democracy of it all play out such that, you know, millions of dollars of TV ads or whatever are not the thing that kind of tilt the scales and fight for one candidate over another or get preference, even candidate selection, which is another problem of, can we allow people to run who won’t feel like they already got the deck stacked against them because another candidate is self-funded, wealthy all that.
Brian Beutler: Eventually the Democrats will have new leaders from a new generation. Maybe, hopefully even they will be of a different caste mind than the people who have run the party for the last couple of decades. And then maybe we—
Faiz Shakir: It’s kind of coming. Right, it’s kind of coming. You can see that. I mean, in some sense, like in this next Congress, they’ll be some new progressives in there which will be great, like people like Summer Lee from Pittsburgh and Greg Casar in Texas, Delia Ramirez, Jonathan Jackson in Illinois. You know, you’re going to have people who are interesting and different and have, you know, different backgrounds, which is great. I think that’s healthy. That’s healthy for the Democratic Party, we need more people like that who just didn’t come in because so and so appointed, so and so or like [laugh] had a lot of wealth, or there was a high name ID because they came from such and such family. You’re right right, there’s always a place for that in politics. But like we’re at a place where we kind of need to get more innovation—.
Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.
Faiz Shakir: —around the kind of types of candidates are the the appeals that they have, the backgrounds that they have, because otherwise the coalition gets stayed right, it starts to retrench. And you don’t want that to happen.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. The next generation leadership. The question what I mean is. The Democrats of 2025 say yes, could be led by Pramila Jayapal and Brian Schatz or by Hakeem Jeffries and Mark Warner. And that’s it’s a question of change versus continuity. And I think ultimately the question of do you take the right lesson from the Fetterman story? Or the wrong lesson is a question of who’s in charge. And we may we may have to wait until there’s some turnover before the party just in general recognizes talent, and cottons to, it rather than trying to, you know, create a robot of the proper talking points. [laughter]
Faiz Shakir: Well, I’m with you on having a stronger and more powerful Democratic Party, so let’s hope we get there.
Brian Beutler: All right, Faiz Shakir, thank you so much for joining us.
Faiz Shakir: Thank you, Brian. Good conversation. [music break]
Brian Beutler: All right. I feel like I should acknowledge something now that we’ve reached the end. This show is supposed to be about finding the positive in the dreadful. And this week, we kind of inverted the formula. So let me just say, I feel much, much better about where things stand for Democrats in the country today than I did say in the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs ruling or after Joe Manchin killed the Build Back Better Act. What I want to surface here is the recurring dread that the old guard that runs the Democratic Party just doesn’t know how to engage in the trench warfare politics the Republicans have foisted upon all of us. And so when the going gets tough again in the future, as it definitely will, Democrats will keep reaching for that policy lever, yank harder and harder on it in the hope that voters will reward them in bank shop fashion for, quote “delivering” and they’ll sidestep the ethical and cultural vulnerabilities that should make Republicans just easier to beat head to head. The light at the end of this pod, is that A what we’re witnessing in this hopefully enduring Democratic bounce back proves that the party can be bullied into waging a real fight. It just requires people on the outside to make a huge stink about it and B the Democrats that currently rule the roost are on their way out. And a new generation of leadership can perhaps be pressured into rewiring the party to fight in the world as it is. [music break] Positively dreadful is a Crooked Media production. Our executive producer is Michael Martinez and our associate producer is Olivia Martinez. Veronica Simonetti mixes and edits the show each week. Our theme music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.