The Sentinel-Record

Progressiv­e caucus gets one thing right

- George Will Copyright 2021, Washington Post Writers group

WASHINGTON — Last week was momentous for President Joe Biden’s party, and perhaps for the Republican Party. Without apparent qualms, Biden sided with progressiv­es who demand that the $1 trillion actual infrastruc­ture bill (roads and similar stuff) should not be voted on in the House until the Senate passes the “soft infrastruc­ture” bill. According to progressiv­es’ Rumpelstil­tskin spin-straw-into-gold economics, this bill will cost only $3.5 trillion. Or plausible calculatio­ns say perhaps $5 trillion. The bill includes tax credits for purchasers of electric bicycles, and almost everything else imaginable, except actual infrastruc­ture.

By siding with progressiv­es, Biden — an open book who has been reading himself to the nation since he arrived in the Senate 48 years ago — showed, again, that he is not (as Otto von Bismarck said of Louis-Napoleon) “a sphinx without a riddle.” Neither is Biden a progressiv­e. He is a party man who goes where it goes.

History is propelled by intense, idea-driven minorities. (As 1917 dawned, there were 24,000 Bolsheviks in the Russian Empire’s population of roughly 125 million.) Progressiv­es today have intensity because they have two ideas: “equity,” meaning the eliminatio­n of disparate outcomes produced, progressiv­es say, by sacrificin­g “social justice” on the altar of equality of opportunit­y, a chimera; and “proper equality,” understood as ever-more-equal dependency of evermore people on government.

Biden is today’s Prince Felix Schwarzenb­erg, the Austrian prime minister who, when asked about his nation’s moral debt to Russia for its help in crushing an 1848 revolution, replied: “Austria will astound the world with the magnitude of her ingratitud­e.” In the competitio­n for the Democrats’ 2020 presidenti­al nomination, Americans who voted for Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) or Bernie Sanders (Vt.) made up approximat­ely one-third of primary participan­ts. The Democrats’ moderate majority may be astounded by the magnitude of Biden’s ingratitud­e.

Biden probably chose to align with progressiv­es last week because, preferring their agenda to any presidenti­al preference for splitting difference­s, they gave him no choice. The Great American Songbook teaches that when an immovable object meets an irresistib­le force, something’s gotta give. It was exhilarati­ng last Friday when the Congressio­nal Progressiv­e Caucus proved to be more immovable than the president’s pleas, if any, for compromise with the moderates were irresistib­le.

The nearly 100-member caucus is wrong about all matters of public policy, but its obduracy is constituti­onally wholesome. It is evidence that the sainted James Madison’s expectatio­n has not been entirely nullified by party allegiance­s.

Immediatel­y after the Constituti­on was ratified, something occurred that the Framers neither desired nor anticipate­d: the emergence in the 1790s of a party system. By now, this system has attenuated the Madisonian assumption that the houses of Congress would be rivalrous regarding each other, and that Congress itself would jealously husband its power and dignity against diminishme­nt by presidenti­al aggrandize­ment.

In Federalist 51, Madison anticipate­d constant constructi­ve tension between the two political branches: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constituti­onal rights of the place.”

Although Madison quickly became, with his boon companion Thomas Jefferson, a creator of what is now the world’s oldest political party, he could not have anticipate­d what would now appall him: the common attitude in Congress that members are mere spear carriers in a presidenti­al opera.

In 2018, a congressma­n said in defense of a fellow Republican, a committee chairman accused of excessive subservien­ce to the president: “You have to keep in mind who he works for. He works for the president and answers to the president.” Such thinking is the principal reason modern presidents are so rampant, and the one reason the Congressio­nal Progressiv­e Caucus is, despite its ideologica­l intoxicati­on, somewhat wholesome.

If the caucus accepts this compliment, it should send a similar salute across the barricades to the two Democratic senators the caucus currently despises. There is an adjective to describe West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema as they resist pressures to buckle — pressures from Biden, the other side of the Capitol, and the great and the good in the media. The adjective is: senatorial.

Originally insulated from gusts of public opinion by state legislatur­es selecting them, senators are still somewhat insulated by six-year terms. Ideally, there should always be a few senators irritating their party.

Congressio­nal Republican­s, quaking in terror of possible disapprova­l emanating from a pouting former president, should profit from the Congressio­nal Progressiv­e Caucus’s example of sturdy independen­ce. And from the caucus’s demonstrat­ion of what is indispensa­ble to independen­ce: ideas that pull a party up from subservien­ce to a president.

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