How much difference is there between “leftist” Dems and the “establishment”?

James Hohmann of the Washington Post argues that the defeat of Nina Turner in that Ohio congressional race shows that Joe Biden “doesn’t need to keep caving to the left.” Hohmann assumes that when Biden adopts leftist positions he’s caving, rather than doing what he wants.

I questioned that assumption in my report on the Ohio race. I wondered how much difference really exists between the Democratic left and the Democratic establishment.

The two factions don’t like each other much. That’s clear. But the dispute seems to be more about style, personality, and power than about substance.

In the Ohio race, Turner offended the establishment by, among other things, once saying that voting for Biden was like eating sh*t. In addition, a rapper at one of her rallies said that Jim Clyburn’s decision to back Biden in the 2020 primaries was “stupid.”

Clyburn took offense and became involved in the effort to defeat Turner. But if the rapper hadn’t made his remark, Clyburn, by his own admission, would have stayed out of the race — content to see Turner elected, as seemed likely until after he and others intervened.

Turner and her opponent took different public positions on Israel. Turner blasted the Jewish state. The winner said Israel has a right to defend itself (mighty big of her).

Was that an attempt to win Jewish votes and secure Jewish money? I don’t know.

I do question whether the Democratic establishment — Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, etc. — is truly on Israel’s side, but that’s a matter for another day.

For now, let’s focus on bread and butter issues as to which the left and the establishment might be said to disagree. We might try to quantify these alleged differences by looking at the infrastructure/reconciliation debate.

Bernie Sanders and his crew reportedly want something like a $6 trillion reconciliation package (on top of the $1 trillion bipartisan deal). The establishment apparently favors a more modest Christmas — somewhere around $4 trillion.

Both figures are astronomical, but a $2 trillion difference is not trivial.

It’s not clear, though, that this difference reflects an ideological gap. The establishment reconciliation package may simply be a function of its sense of what can get 50 votes. In other words, it may only be Joe Manchin’s resistance (and perhaps that of a few others) that’s keeping the price tag significantly below $6 trillion.

Joe Manchin is not part of the Democratic establishment. He’s what passes for a maverick these days. Left to their own devices Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden might well be presenting a reconciliation package with Bernie Sanders’ price tag.

We need to keep in mind that the current Democratic establishment is Barack Obama’s creation. Anyone to the right of Obama — Manchin for example — is outside of the establishment.

Obama believed in implementing the left’s full agenda but doing so incrementally. He understood that America wasn’t ready for a wholesale push to the left in 2009, and that going for broke would create a serious risk of losing power.

More than a decade later, the Obama Democrats believe they can push considerably harder than before, but they still aren’t prepared to push quite as hard as the far left wants. In my view, the substantive differences that divide the two factions stem primarily from this tactical disagreement, rather than a meaningful ideological gap.

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