The Myth of the Moderate Democrats | Opinion

The back-and-forth over the so-called infrastructure bill working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives is helping perpetuate a myth that is distorting the people's perception of where we as a country are. That perception is that there is, somehow, within the House and Senate and sprinkled throughout the Biden administration, a substantial cadre of moderate Democrats who are doing all they can to block a leftward lurch toward big-government socialism pushed by one wing of the party.

It makes for nice reading and it's an easy story to write. Unfortunately, it's inaccurate. As far as national politics is concerned, the Democratic Party has been running the moderates out for years. As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pointed out in a recent policy document that's making the rounds, virtually every Democrat in the U.S. House and Senate voted for the budget outline produced by Senator Bernie Sanders—a self-identified socialist.

The Sanders document, which includes $3.5 trillion in new and higher spending, $3 trillion in new and higher taxes, and a host of radical regulatory proposals intended to roll back 40 years of deregulatory reform that started with Ronald Reagan, is a left-winger's pipe dream. The only objections to it Democrats have had—Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema excepted—have centered on the cost, not on what the proposed legislation would do.

The division among Democrats is real, but it's not based on ideology. All but one Democrat recently voted for a bill that would eliminate state restrictions on late-term abortions and codify the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. Democrats are united on policy but opposed (or at least some of them are) to doing things that will cost them their seats the next time they run.

It's not principle that's keeping the Democrats apart—it's politics. Why were Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer insisting on Republican votes to pass an increase in the debt ceiling? Because some members of their party who are up for re-election in 2022 need to be able to vote "no" on that issue—and they can only do that if a few GOP lawmakers can be persuaded to vote "yes."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to a
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to a reporter outside of the U.S. Capitol on September 28, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The "moderate" myth is useful for those Democrats who want to go home and pretend they fought against the largest expansion of government since LBJ gave us the Great Society. They'll promise their voters they'll continue to fight for pro-business policies and might even again earn the endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But it will all be a fallacy. The Democratic Party has been taken over by people who take their cues from the British Labour Party circa 1960—not the free-enterprise entrepreneurs who built this great nation.

The polling, the Gingrich document said, "is clear and devastating" for those who think the federal government needs to be bigger and do more. "Americans in general favor Free Market Capitalism over Big Government Socialism by a huge margin (59 percent to 16 percent)," Gingrich wrote while, among so-called independent or "swing" voters, the advantage for those who oppose the Sanders/Biden agenda grows to 82 percent to 18 percent.

The infrastructure bill was held up because too many Democrats refused to risk their seats by voting for it. It's not a "moderate" piece of legislation even if it was written with Republican support. It includes such intrusive measures as the establishment of a pilot program that is supposed to come up with the best way to tax cars and trucks by the number of miles driven.

The reconciliation package? Even worse.

As Gingrich and others have observed, the Democrats in Congress were all-in at the beginning when it counted—when the process of getting these bills through began. The framework for each mostly survives, whether or not any given bill emerges from the legislative process intact. What cannot be accomplished in a day will be pushed by Democrats for weeks, months and years. President Joe Biden has said he has it in mind to correct 40 years of policy mistakes that, in his view, hobbled this formerly great nation. Biden's objective: Roll back the Reaganite revolution that brought America back from the brink. What a foolish objective—and certainly not a moderate one.

Newsweek contributing editor Peter Roff has written extensively about politics and the American experience for U.S. News and World Report, United Press International and other publications. He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PeterRoff.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.