Why Moving Past Mueller Could Prove to be a Boon for Progressives

Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Photo by Michael Reynolds.  Photo reprinted in Vanity Fair (April 4 2019)

I wanted to write a few quick words on the fallout from the yet-to-be-released Mueller Report.  U.S Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the report, indicating the 2016 Trump campaign had not “conspired or coordinated” with the Russian government, delighted Republicans and disappointed Democrats in equal measure. For many on the right, such as The Washington TimesWesley Pruden, it was another disaster for the Democratic Party, as well as the Democrat-sympathetic media networks getting it wrong, being led by their own pathological hatred for this administration at the sacrifice of cautious, evidence-based reporting.  For Ben Shapiro, he argued that the mainstream media’s defeat over the Trump / Russian collusion story was an inevitable failure of treating the story as reality: “Facts would eventually arrive to fill in the gaps in the narrative.”  For many on the left, there has been a reasonable restraint on making too much out of Barr’s own summary of the Mueller Report; some commentators such as Vox’s Jen Kirby and The New York Times advised it would be best to wait for the full document to be released in order to fully gauge to what extent Barr was sugar-coating the report in his summary.  However, the disappointment over the report was a blow for many on the left, with many news leaders being called to account, as The New York Times covered.  This was compounded by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi arguing that the media’s handling of the story for the last two years dwarfed the press’ disastrous handling of the WMD coverage that preceded the Iraq War.  As he argues, “WMD damaged our reputation. If we don’t turn things around, this story will destroy it.”

For the right, it was another dangerous moment of erosion in their trust of the media, and for the left, it was the robbing of a potentially major electoral vehicle for 2020.  However, from the fallout of Barr’s summary, I feel that the real victors could very well be the more progressive segments of the Democratic Party.  While many on the left are disappointed with the summary of Mueller’s report, I fail to feel sorry for the league of establishment Democrats who were really hoping that his findings would pull something extraordinary out of the bag.  Certainly I think there is nothing the DNC would have loved more than to have their 2020 presidential campaign focus on Trump as a presidential personality and questions of Russian collusion.  While a Mueller-focused campaign would have riled up certain parts of the voting public, it would have sacrificed needed discussions over meaningful policy, but the last thing establishment, centrist Democrats want to discuss is policy.  It would have proved a veritable carnival for a mainstream media, but the dividends of this kind of campaign for everyone else are marginal at best, especially the American working and middle classes. 

I very rarely agree with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, but I couldn’t help feel that her pre-Mueller comments arguing that the party should move past questions of impeachment reflected a pretty pragmatic take on the party mood.  Certainly the congressional arithmetic needed to impeach a sitting president is difficult enough, but if it was ever to happen, it would require the kind of engine that many were praying the Mueller Report would deliver.  Pelosi’s remarks don’t mean she is going to be any more willing to help push the party to the left, but she clearly recognises both the congressional and electoral deficits involved in pushing impeachment.  Now in the face of Mueller taking a major chunk out of the party’s potential campaign focus for 2020, any move in this direction looks even dimmer. 

The battle between Democrats campaigning on personality / identity politics, substantive policy measurements, or very likely a mixture of both, is an ongoing, fractious debate that I feel will step up a gear with ex-Veep Joe Biden’s expected announcement this month to run for president.  However, I hope that now that the party is forced to move past Mueller, there will be a focused emphasis on policy matters rather than candidate personalities or the awkward, unorthodox behaviour of President Trump.  Mueller’s findings are far from any major defeat for the Democratic Party, just for the increasingly marginalised, “moderate” voices within the party who would rather have led the 2020 campaign like some kind of good vs. evil, electoral gunsling against Trump, adorned with vapid Buzzfeed-styled campaign slogans.  Their loss in this moment could very likely be progressive Democrats’ gain.  For a party that is finding its established ideological positions being moved to the left by the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, the Mueller Report was their candle that has been abruptly put out.  For those among us who want a larger focus on substantive issues, we shouldn’t mourn its passing.


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