NANCY PELOSI: No matter how reprehensible one considers Bill Clinton’s actions to have been in the Monica Lewinsky case, they dwarf (what an understatement!) in comparison to the actions of Donald Trump. The Republicans impeached Clinton and then moved to remove him from office. Hasn’t Pelosi heard of tit for tat?
Similarly, Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of the Senate, has stated that if a Supreme Court vacancy occurs in 2020, the Republicans would fill it – the exact opposite of what the party did in 2016 with the argument that regardless of who President Obama chooses to fill the Court’s vacancy, let voters decided at the polls, thus leaving the Court with only 8 justices and without the possibility of breaking a tie. Why didn’t the Democrats mobilize the public against such an outrageous maneuver? And with such double standards, why don’t they call McConnell out for what he is: a hypocrite.
Why is the “consensus” mantra for Democratic centrists from Obama to Joe Biden always the same even though it proves to be so disastrous? The answer is simple. What the Democratic Party leadership most fears is that a heated issue and an emotional response would invigorate and activate the Democratic Party base and create a groundswell which would move the center stage of U.S. politics to the left. That would happen if impeachment procedures against Trump were initiated in the House. And that’s what would have happened had the recently elected President Obama in 2009 accused Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and company of crimes against humanity for the torture that they permitted, if not ordered, in the case of black site prisons throughout the world. Similarly, after the Democrats came back in 2006 and public opinion turned against Bush’s war in Iraq, Nancy Pelosi, then recently elected Speaker of the House, ruled out impeachment procedures against the President.
In considering Pelosi’s position on impeachment one has to imagine what people looking back on the Trump administration ten or more years from now will think. They will ask was there no moral outrage in the U.S. in response to what Trump has done and said? Why wasn’t there a complete repudiation of Trump and everything he stands for from U.S. citizens and the U.S. establishment?
What are the Democratic centrists afraid of? They foresee a scenario in which a mobilized public would give rise to a left-wing pole within or outside of the party. Moving the Democratic Party to the left would dry up funding from powerful economic groups amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. And eventually it would pull the rug out from under the centrists. Another possible scenario is that the rift within the Democratic Party would reach the breaking point, giving rise to a third party on the left which would draw voters not from the Republicans but from the Democrats. The Democratic Party has more to lose from such a scenario than the Republicans.
All this is not idle speculation. Pelosi’s decision to oppose impeachment proceedings has a definite explanation and it has to do with the fear of the rise of a leftist pole, be it within the Democratic Party or from without (most likely the latter). Pelosi didn’t get to where she is without being shrewd and calculating. And the fact is that these scenarios are far from being long-term future possibilities. The rise of Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) represents a major threat to the Democratic Party centrists. Regardless of the ideological mindset of U.S. voters, the issues that the Sanders-AOC bloc raises have for a long time represented their beliefs and aspirations. And there is every indication that the end-result of the rise of Sanders and AOC will be the emergence of a new left party which would put an end to the U.S.’s two-party system. The fact that Bernie Sanders won Democratic Party primaries in 2016 in states where independents can vote in primaries is telling. AOC, for her part, lacks influence in the leadership of the Democratic Party, but she speaks to the aspirations of ordinary U.S. voters both in and out of the party. To sum up, the issue playing out within the Democratic Party regarding Trump’s impeachment has far-reaching implications, which Nancy Pelosi is fully aware of.
Steve Ellner is an Associate Editor of Latin American Perspectives. His latest book is Latin America’s Pink Tide: Breakthroughs and Shortcomings soon to be released by Rowman & Littlefield.