unfolding drama over a legislative battle within the Democratic Party
to pass a massive bill encompassing desperately needed social
services has revealed the power of narrative in our political
landscape. It is not enough to put forward policy proposals that help
people, paid for by those who can afford to pay (the wealthiest), and
then try to pass those proposals into law. Relentless propaganda from
conservative think tanks and their partner media outlets against the
idea of government funding people's needs has been so successful
that it requires equally powerful counter narratives by progressives.
several progressive lawmakers are working on such counter narratives.
Senator Bernie Sanders’ office recently released a statement
pointing out that many Americans know about the cost of the Build
Back Better bill—an omnibus piece of legislation that embodies
much of President Joe Biden's agenda—but know little about what
the bill includes and how it would benefit a majority of Americans.
was likely referring to an October 10 CBS
revealing that nearly 60 percent of those polled knew that bill was
priced at $3.5 trillion but only a paltry 10 percent knew the
contents of the bill in great detail. The poll also revealed that
those who knew the bill’s contents were more likely to support
it, and found strong majority support for specific aspects of the
specifically called out journalists, saying that a top reason for the
prevailing ignorance of the bill's contents is that "the
mainstream media has done an exceptionally poor job in covering what
is in the legislation." He said he hoped that "mainstream
media will fulfill their responsibilities."
media pundits continued to make Sanders’ point by doubling down
on the costs of the Build Back Better bill. Los Angeles Times
responded to Sanders' statement by resorting to a familiar trope with
an op-ed whose headline said that "no one really wants to pay
for it." Goldberg wrote, "Americans, in general, don't want
to pay much of anything for the stuff progressives constantly say
America is demanding."
columnist in the Hill,
Alfredo Ortiz, made a similar claim, going as far as saying, “the
more that Americans learn about this historic tax and spending plan,
the more they seem to oppose it.” Ortiz is the president and
CEO of the Job Creators Network, a conservative pro-business advocacy
when asked, Americans know exactly who they would like to see paying
for the bill—the rich. A Vox
and Data for Progress
poll concluded that 71 percent of those polled want to raise taxes on
the nation's richest 2 percent to pay for the bill—an
inconvenient fact for the bill's naysayers.
columnist in a mainstream corporate outlet did respond responsibly to
Sanders’ demand for better media coverage. Helaine Olen of the
Washington Post wrote
that “We (the public, journalists and some lawmakers) have
focused more on the cost of the package than its contents—even
though our society is all but starved of supports that other
first-world nations take for granted.”
went on to detail how the bill makes permanent the expanded child tax
credit that Democrats pushed through earlier this year. She explained
in layperson terms how child care assistance would help families and
how the government could negotiate down drug prices and fund home
health care for the nation's elderly if the bill were to pass.
Olen admits that the criticism Sanders leveled at the mainstream
media is, “certainly valid on its face.” Although she and
others were covering the Build Back Better bill on a daily basis,
Americans turning on their television news would “probably hear
the horse-race debate” of intra party battles among Democrats,
and “very rarely will you hang around to hear what’s
actually in the bill.”
too maintains that "what's in the bill is quite popular, and a
lot of people would like it quite a bit."
Sanders in the Senate, House Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal
(D-WA) and her colleagues Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Katie
Porter (D-CA) have also been engaged in narrative work, publishing an
explaining why they're going to bat over the bill and laying out
elements of the bill.
in particular, has been whipping up support for the bill, arguably
working harder than President Biden himself to promote and enact his
Biden, rather than using his presidential bully pulpit to whip his
colleagues into line (as Republican leaders like Mitch
so effectively showed is possible), has already started
on the popular bill. He has begun shopping around a much-diminished
version of the bill, now priced at a mere $2 trillion, acting as more
of a mediator than a leader.
this is a similar amount by which the nation’s
richest billionaires have seen their wealth increase
during the COVID-19 pandemic.
explains that "for the past several decades, we've been used to
this conversation where progressives are considered to be out in the
wilderness and people are appealing to some mythical centrist
voters." In trying to get opposing sides of his party members to
meet in the middle on the Build Back Better bill, Biden is buying
into this myth.
says, “We’ve always had this dynamic where it seems that
the progressives need to give and the centrists are ‘the
reasonable people.’” But, she adds, this is a myth. In
reality, “the centrist voter would really like to see
pharmaceutical price negotiations and child care support.”
lawmakers, “the progressives are the reasonable group, and it’s
the centrists that are out of touch with the mainstream of the
Democratic Party,” says Olen. She sees so-called centrists like
Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) as, “out
of touch with a huge chunk of the American public, and [they] are the
ones really saying, ‘my way or the highway.’”
is a point that Sanders made in calling out Manchin by name in a
in saying that the West Virginian was among those senators who
“remain in opposition” to the Build Back Better bill.
Manchin shot back on Twitter
denouncing Sanders as, “a self-declared independent socialist.”
almost every claim that conservatives like Manchin—and he
really ought to be called a conservative, not a centrist—make,
there is a strong counterpoint that can and should be raised in
defense of government spending on ordinary Americans. For example,
while Manchin cited rising inflation as a reason against government
spending, think tanks like the Roosevelt
and numerous Nobel
say that the Build Back Better bill would ease inflation.
seeking to squeeze Americans while boosting corporate profits and the
wealth of the richest few have for years poured resources into
shaping a false narrative that people don’t want tax revenues
to be used to pay for things that people need. It’s time to
expose and upend such a regressive theory.
was produced by Economy
project of the Independent Media Institute.