Editor’s note: Back in January I promised a multi-part series of posts based on a book I started on the Indivisible movement that, simply put, just wasn’t coming together as I would have liked. So I decided to serialize that beginning of a book draft – with a little more editing as I see fit – and add more writing to make this into a multi-part series of posts.
This is the second part, which will talk about the two primary leaders of Indivisible, the husband-and-wife team of Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg. To pick this series up from the beginning, go here.
It’s not just any out-of-town wedding that makes the New York Times, but among families of a certain social class and structure nuptials become part of all the news that’s fit to print regardless of their location. That station in life was where Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg fit in, thus their March 28, 2015 wedding was a short feature in the following day’s Gray Lady. As described at the time:
Greenberg works in Washington for Humanity United, a philanthropic foundation dedicated to peace and freedom. She manages grants and projects to combat human trafficking and slavery. She graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and received a master’s degree in law and diplomacy from Tufts.
Her father is the acting assistant secretary at the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, for which the bride’s mother, now retired, was a lawyer.
Mr. Levin, 29, is an associate director in Washington, specializing in the advocacy and research of tax and asset-building policies, for the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a nonprofit organization that fights poverty. He also graduated from Carleton College and received a master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton.“Friends, First And Always”, New York Times, March 29, 2015.
Perhaps the only thing unusual about the event was the fact Levin was a Washington outsider by upbringing, as his parents were residents of Austin, Texas. Regardless, the wedding united two prototypical Beltway progressives and insiders in matrimony, and their future seemed bright in 2015: a Quinnipiac Poll earlier that month had Hillary Clinton with a vast lead for the Democratic nomination and, more importantly, an edge over leading GOP contenders former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. While it was a precarious 3-point edge over Jeb, Clinton led Walker by 9 points and all other prospective Republicans by 5 points or more.
Even as the Greenberg-Levin ceremony became a pleasant memory later that fall, there was still a feeling that the same formula which worked for the Left in 2008 and 2012 in electing and re-electing Barack Obama would be more than enough to defeat a Republican candidate who had either alienated enough of the moderate electorate to already be a loser (GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, who had announced his bid a few months earlier in June) or the rest of the field that would invariably place themselves at a disadvantage by not calling out the subtly-biased political commentary of a reporting establishment that would be in the Democratic nominee’s corner. And while the Democrats in Washington were still laboring under a TEA Party Republican-controlled Congress, there seemed to be a confidence among the Beltway insiders that, if he were able to remain the frontrunner through the nominating process, Donald Trump’s abrasive personality and tendency to spout off on Twitter could drag the GOP ticket down enough to perhaps allow Democrats to regain control of Congress after two to six years in the minority wilderness for the Senate and House, respectively.
On the Democrat side, since Vice-President Joe Biden eventually begged off the race because of the untimely illness and death of his son Beau from a brain tumor, the “next-in-line” mantle fell squarely on the 2008 runner-up Hillary Clinton. Hillary, who eight years earlier ran against eventual nominee Barack Obama as more or less of a continuation of her husband’s triangulated policies – which worked best when enacted hand-in-hand with a Republican-controlled Congress – was now the 2016 version who believed she was entitled to the opportunity to be the first woman to be president. In her quest to win a primary campaign where its skids were already being greased for her through the Democrats’ superdelegate process, Hillary had already “evolved” leftward on some issues, such as immigration, and was being pushed even farther that way by the skunk at the coronation garden party named Bernie Sanders. Yet behind the scenes as the 2016 campaign evolved and the Clinton election looked more and more likely, progressive groups of every stripe began plotting how they could get Hillary to enact their dreamed-about policies given the reputation and expectation (cemented by her husband) that she would govern as a new type of centrist Democrat.
For politicos like Levin and Greenberg, another four or more years of Democratic dominance would perhaps enable the couple to move up the food chain into quasi-government positions with more power and prestige, while a victory by Jeb! or some other establishment Republican not named Donald Trump would just place the lovebirds in a four- or eight-year holding pattern. Of course, we all know who beat the odds and defied the so-called experts.
Just as it did for millions of others in the progressive ranks, the ascent of Donald Trump to become our 45th President threw the couple for a loop. But instead of flailing around or complaining just as soon as it was apparent that Trump would prevail, Levin and Greenberg established a goal: disrupt the new administration by any means possible. It began with the Indivisible Guide, which melted its distribution channels upon its release, and turned into a full-fledged group just weeks later.
Yet while Levin and Greenberg got the credit for Indivisible’s birthing process, they were just the public face of a cadre of “about 30 staffers from Congress and non-profit groups” who participated in shaping the initial Indivisible Guide. Since its origin, though, the couple’s stewardship has evolved the group from a small protest to a left-wing juggernaut, and in doing so has provided Indivisible with something the TEA Party really never had: clearly identifiable leaders.
In that respect Indivisible was quite unlike the TEA Party, where two major national groups (Tea Party Express and Tea Party Patriots) traded on the TEA Party name and local groups splintered in a number of different directions: many fiercely guarded their independence while others morphed into subsets of already-existing organizations such as Americans for Prosperity or the Campaign for Liberty. Add in various state and national TEA Party umbrella groups with overlapping but different agendas and it was clear not all of them were pulling in the same direction. But that was the beauty of a grassroots group.
On the other hand, while there are local Indivisible chapters who may deal with local issues as a sideline, their job 1 is to encourage resistance to Donald Trump and his Congressional allies while promoting a far left wing agenda chock full of socialized medicine, unfettered immigration, steeply progressive taxation, promotion of gender-bending policy, and overall government control.
One aside that I was contemplating for inclusion within the book: from time to time on Facebook I have commented on what I call the “traveling roadshow:” a group of maybe 20 to 30 malcontents and cranks who make it their life’s work to troll the social media of Congressman Andy Harris – who used to be my Congressman before I moved to Delaware – and show up at one of his regular town hall meetings around the sprawling district that spans nearly half the length of the state of Maryland thanks to Democrat gerrymandering. If I wanted to be a Facebook stalker, I imagine that I would find most of these fine folks are members of some Indivisible group within the district or pretty close by: according to their group roster Maryland is home to 56 member or partner organizations.
Over on this side of the Transpeninsular Line here in Delaware I counted 16 Indivisible and affiliated groups; most of those are in New Castle County, which is the Wilmington area. Since all three of the federal representatives from Delaware are Democrats, the job of Indivisibles (at least on social media) seems to be that of an amen chorus, with the sidebar of dismissing any conservative who speaks up as a Putin-paid troll. Since my representatives don’t seem to have the mostly rural western part of Sussex County on their GPS I haven’t yet been to a townhall-style meeting to see them in action to know how our version of Indivisible receives them. (It’s telling, though, that Senator Chris Coons – most famous for having Christine O’Donnell lose to him – has a primary opponent taking him on from his left, which is already pretty far over.)
Returning to point: another key and important distinction between Indivisible and your average TEA Party is in the backgrounds of its leaders. Just take the few dozen initial leaders of the TEA Party and you’ll find only a handful with any sort of government experience – while they often were local political organizers, they did so from outside the system. Conversely, Levin and Greenberg, as the Times profile shows, made their living in the belly of the Beltway beast. As Congressional staffers for Democrats, they were often on the receiving end of TEA Party anger so they had a pretty good idea how the other side lived. Whether it was perceived to be revenge or whether they admired the success of the tactics, even before the Trump administration began Greenberg and Levin were plotting out strategy to thwart the GOP’s best-laid plans of building a border wall with Mexico, securing a significant tax cut, and repealing the atrocity of Obamacare. Hence, the Indivisible Guide.
And you have to admit, looking back at these events from our hindsight of three-plus years later, that Indivisible’s method of defense was very successful. While the border wall is slowly being erected, Americans (with the exception of many well-to-do folks living in Democrat strongholds) received their tax cut, and Obamacare is being deconstructed piece by piece, one can just imagine how much more could have been accomplished if not for the misguided resistance and constant investigation by the not-so-loyal opposition. Every bit of success Donald Trump has had was either through his own initiative or took so much political capital that it cost the GOP its federal trifecta – they lost the House in 2018 and, had the Senate not been so heavily stacked against the Democrats, who had to defend the majority of their seats (26 of 35 seats up in 2018 were held by Democrats or Democrat-leaning independents) they may have taken the Senate as well.
(Just as a means of comparison, the 2010 TEA Party wave was bigger in terms of net gain of seats by the GOP, but the Senate landscape was considerably different: they needed to add ten seats to gain a majority in an election cycle where the seats being contested were almost evenly split. Had a situation analogous to 2018, with Democrats defending a vast majority of seats, been present in 2010, the GOP may have pulled off the coup of winning both houses of Congress; conversely, in a landscape where seats up for election were about evenly split on a partisan basis as it was in 2010 the Democrats may well have prevailed in taking the Senate back in 2018.)
Leah Goldberg and Ezra Levin look the part of a personable young couple; one who you probably would love to have move in next door. Personally I hope they get all they want out of life, with the one exception of stopping what little progress we are making on rightsizing the federal government. There’s no denying that they have played the political game in a masterful way, and it indeed proves a point that motivated people can make a difference, even if it’s not the change you want to see.
But there is a legitimate question one must ask about just how organic this call for change was. Granted, there were nearly 3 million more votes for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump, but – based on overall voter registration and turnout – the true winner was “none of the above.” So was it really a groundswell of support for continuing the Obama agenda or did Indivisible get a little push along the way?
I have quite a bit of research to do for what will be the third part, so I’m thinking it will take me until the latter part of March or early April to finish. There I look at how Indivisible got so wealthy so fast and how its priorities on that front have changed over time.