Friday, January 08, 2021


One could argue that the liberal rejection of $2,000 checks was rooted in an instinctive distrust of any idea associated with a Democratic left that these thinkers consider unserious, or in the fact that they automatically suspect anything Trump supports, or in their neoliberal aversion to the prospect of Americans getting used to universal benefits (despite the fact, often papered over by these critics, that the checks are very much means-tested), but I think a lot of the criticism of the proposal can be traced to many years spent observing and participating in a purely resentment-based politics. In this vision of governance, every proposal is analyzed not in terms of how many people it can help, but in terms of how mad others would be to see those people helped.

That calculus helps explain a number of infuriating Democratic tendencies. It accounts for their cringing reluctance to support popular ideas, like student debt relief, for fear of future Fox News segments about suddenly debt-free Art Majors having more disposable income for avocado toast. And when popular ideas do make their way into the mainstream, it’s why these Democrats feel around for some argument, however specious, that might torpedo the proposed plan, like saying that if we made public college free for everyone, Jared Kushner would simply attend Fresno State without paying his fair share.

Given the pervasiveness of these moderate tendencies, it has been somewhat interesting to see soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer take up both the $2,000 checks and a fairly expansive student debt relief proposal. This is a man whose entire political philosophy revolves around imagining what an imaginary well-off suburban white Boomer couple might think. And he seems to have decided that the Baileys won’t blow their lids at seeing too many “undeserving” middle class Americans getting a little relief from Uncle Sam. (In the coming months, we will see how serious he is about both ideas.)