The Lesson from Georgia? Democrats Need to Forget the Bosses and Deliver for Working People. – The surprise success of Warnock and Ossoff shows the path to victory lies in providing direct material benefits to the working class.

The near-term prospects for pro­gres­sive change in the Unit­ed States just got a hell of a lot rosier with the vic­to­ries of Democ­rats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Tuesday’s Geor­gia runoff elec­tions against Repub­li­can incum­bent Sens. David Per­due and Kel­ly Loef­fler, who had been large­ly favored to win. 

Giv­en Vice Pres­i­dent-elect Kamala Harris’s tiebreak­er vote, the wins in Geor­gia will give Democ­rats a slim major­i­ty in both cham­bers of Con­gress — and the pow­er to enact key parts of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty agen­da, should they choose to use it. Exact­ly how they do so will have sig­nif­i­cant bear­ing not only on Amer­i­cans’ abil­i­ty to weath­er the dual health and eco­nom­ic crises, but on the future elec­toral prospects of a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty no longer able to blame the GOP for inac­tion in Washington. 

Since 2015, Mitch McConnell has served as Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader, con­sol­i­dat­ing the Right’s pow­er by mak­ing exten­sive use of norm-break­ing pro­ce­dur­al tac­tics such as fil­i­bus­ter­ing to require high­er majori­ties to pass leg­is­la­tion, refus­ing to bring bills passed by the House up for a vote, and block­ing con­fir­ma­tion of Oba­ma-nom­i­nat­ed fed­er­al appoint­ments and judges at all lev­els of the judi­cial sys­tem — leav­ing a glut that allowed Pres­i­dent Trump to fill some 25% of all seats on fed­er­al benches. 

McConnell’s gam­bits illus­trat­ed that our polit­i­cal sys­tem has no func­tion­al insti­tu­tion­al safe­guard against an ide­o­log­i­cal­ly uni­fied Repub­li­can Par­ty spik­ing lofty ideas about democ­ra­cy in favor of raw mate­r­i­al pow­er. In his exer­cise of that pow­er, McConnell has been ruth­less­ly effec­tive at serv­ing the arch­con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­can donor class, which has received hand­some tax cuts, a hob­bled reg­u­la­to­ry appa­ra­tus, and intense ger­ry­man­der­ing and vot­er sup­pres­sion to secure future GOP victories. 

With the two vic­to­ries in Geor­gia, McConnell will no longer be in the driver’s seat, as Democ­rats will hold a major­i­ty in Con­gress, albeit a frag­ile one. That means the pow­er dynam­ics have changed. In the imme­di­ate term, this could mean a more favor­able stim­u­lus bill after Pres­i­dent-elect Biden is inau­gu­rat­ed: Ossoff and Warnock both ran heav­i­ly on $2,000 stim­u­lus checks after the recent $900 bil­lion relief pack­age includ­ed direct assis­tance of just $600. (On Wednes­day, incom­ing Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer (D‑NY) indi­cat­ed that the $2,000 pay­ments would be at the top of Democ­rats’ agenda.) 

A Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty could also mean more state and local pan­dem­ic aid, which was axed at the 11th hour from the pre­vi­ous bill despite major bud­get short­falls in munic­i­pal­i­ties across the coun­try. With the fil­i­buster already nuked for fed­er­al appoint­ments, it also means Pres­i­dent Biden will be able to staff fed­er­al agen­cies and con­firm judges, and that peo­ple cur­rent­ly hold­ing such posi­tions can retire or die with­out their seats being held open. While McConnell will almost cer­tain­ly still use the fil­i­buster to obstruct leg­is­la­tion passed along par­ty lines, the process of bud­get rec­on­cil­i­a­tion does offer Democ­rats a once-a-year workaround requir­ing a sim­ple major­i­ty vote — a broad­ly inter­pret­ed option Repub­li­cans have used to pass things like mas­sive tax cuts for the wealthy in 2017.

That’s where the polit­i­cal out­look gets murki­er. The GOP is basi­cal­ly uni­fied as a wish-ful­fill­ment vehi­cle for cap­i­tal — the fruits of a right-wing polit­i­cal project decades in the mak­ing. The Democ­rats, in con­trast, serve an assem­bly of diver­gent bases, which includes a sig­nif­i­cant pro-busi­ness over­lap with Repub­li­cans. On the oth­er side stands a more pro­gres­sive flank, embod­ied by fig­ures like Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, whose vision has been a realign­ment of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty along oppo­site ide­o­log­i­cal lines from the GOP, to advance the inter­ests of work­ing peo­ple over bosses. 

While some progress has been made in that direc­tion since 2016, mod­er­ate Democ­rats still hold over­whelm­ing sway in Con­gress. Antic­i­pat­ing this real­i­ty, news of Warnock and Ossoff’s vic­to­ries led to Joe Manchin’s name trend­ing on Twit­ter — a ref­er­ence to the lever­age that will be held by the cen­trist Sen­a­tor from West Vir­ginia who recent­ly empha­sized his refusal to scrap the filibuster. 

But that should­n’t be a license for timid­i­ty. As Ossoff and Warnock’s win­ning cam­paigns which called for high­er stim­u­lus pay­ments show, cen­ter­ing direct mate­r­i­al ben­e­fits to con­stituents can pay elec­toral div­i­dends. Whether it’s a $15 min­i­mum wage, green jobs pro­gram or expand­ed health­care, Democ­rats should now seize the oppor­tu­ni­ty and push for bold pro­gres­sive poli­cies (and their con­stituents should pres­sure them to do so how­ev­er they can), just as the New Deal helped for­ti­fy Demo­c­ra­t­ic loy­al­ty for a generation. 

Whether they’ll do so remains to be seen. It’s not just mod­er­ates like Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sine­ma who stand to ham­per pro­gres­sive dreams. Much of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus is still behold­en to monied inter­ests that are inher­ent­ly threat­ened by trans­for­ma­tive pub­lic pro­grams like Medicare for All or the Green New Deal. Near­ly all Democ­rats still take cam­paign dona­tions from bil­lion­aires and cor­po­ra­tions, a real­i­ty that has sparked back­lash in recent years in the form of an upsurge in small dona­tions to insur­gent cam­paigns — a mod­el that Sanders’ mega-fundrais­ing hauls proved could work. 

This is a promis­ing shift, but the oft-derid­ed prob­lem of ​mon­ey in pol­i­tics” runs far deep­er than taint­ed cam­paign dona­tions, and gets at the heart of why the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has been such an inef­fec­tive vehi­cle for trans­for­ma­tive left­ward gains. Democ­rats cur­rent­ly claim to be a par­ty for Sil­i­con Val­ley entre­pre­neurs and gig work­ers, hos­pi­tal exec­u­tives and unin­sured patients, real estate tycoons and ten­ants, all at the same time. Chang­ing that dynam­ic requires build­ing pow­er from the bot­tom-up out­side of elec­toral politics. 

The suc­cess of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock make the path for­ward slight­ly less daunt­ing, but it’s still full of prob­lems the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty itself won’t fix. 

This post was originally published on Radio Free.