Sen. Elizabeth Warren made fighting corruption her top priority during the 2020 Democratic primary. It may not have appeared that way in the press, which portrayed the senior senator from Massachusetts as a female Sen. Bernie Sanders. The majority of the coverage centered on her audacious economic ideas, such as a wealth tax. When asked what her main political focus was, Warren never hesitated to say that fighting corruption should come first — owing to her commitment to enacting progressive economic policies.
Warren’s point of view is, sadly and perhaps unexpectedly, unpopular. Republicans clearly do not consider corruption to be a bad thing these days, which is yet another reason why they support Donald Trump. Even on the left, where everyone says they’re against corruption and where voters, in particular, always agree that ending corruption is a good idea, there’s a gap between saying you’re against it and actually working to eradicate it.
When it comes down to it, not enough people are willing to put in the time and effort required to make fighting corruption a priority. Activists are more likely to devote their efforts to causes such as health care and climate change. When Democrats gain power, they are drawn to policy battles that offer tangible rewards, such as increased social spending, rather than the more abstract and far-flung discourse about lobbyists and corruption.
But, as the current saga on Capitol Hill demonstrates, Warren was correct all along. Democrats and their supporters may wish to pass progressive legislation addressing wealth inequality, climate change, and a lack of health care. However, corrupt business interests continue to obstruct them. It’s like trying to make a dress when your sewing machine keeps getting stolen.
Biden and Sanders are learning the hard way as their joint vision for the Build Back Better plan — a comprehensive set of bills aimed at addressing climate change, reducing poverty, ensuring child care, expanding health care, and strengthening American infrastructure, among other things — teeters on the brink of failure. After months of carefully crafting a two-track plan in which moderate Democrats would support the progressive agenda in exchange for progressives supporting the moderate agenda, a handful of centrist Democrats in the House and Senate are about to blow it all up by breaking their end of the bargain.
The Senate Betrayal Caucus’ two most prominent members are, of course, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Both are throwing their weight around, clearly attempting to derail Biden’s agenda while claiming not to. Instead, they offer an endless stream of incoherent, even nonsensical, explanations for why they can’t just suck it up and vote for the two-bill track agreed upon by the Democratic caucus.
Everyone has a favorite reason, but the most likely is the most boring: They’re being dishonest because they don’t want to be honest about their true motivations. Looking at their track records, it’s difficult not to notice that both enjoy being wined and dined by some of Capitol Hill’s sleaziest lobbyists and fundraisers.
The pharmaceutical price control policy is one of the most popular items on Biden’s agenda, at least among voters. However, a small group of Democrats in the House removed that provision from the bill, and they’re barely pretending it’s for any reason other than to appease pharmaceutical lobbyists.
Lobbyists have Sinema’s ear, but neither her party nor her constituents do. The Democratic Party of Arizona is threatening her with a vote of no confidence, and her response was somewhere between a shrug and a finger. Activists are raising funds to support a primary challenger to her. She may be such an egomaniac that she believes she will have a great re-election after teeing off her own voters, of course.
Corruption isn’t a glamorous topic, but focusing on it can pay huge dividends when it comes to furthering progressive causes. Take, for example, gun control. Decades of rational argumentation and emotional appeals had little effect on policy. Even in the face of children being murdered in schools repeatedly, Republican politicians have successfully blocked all bills, and Democrats didn’t even bother making it a priority when they got power.