Burst the progressive bubble | The hill
For Virginia Democrats like me, the odd-numbered election earlier this month was like a gruesome Halloween coda. Republicans took over the top three national offices, took over the House of Representatives, and returned the Old Dominion to swing state status.
Painful as they were, the Democrats’ losses in Virginia and the close shave in New Jersey had a beneficial effect: they seem to have burst the progressive bubble – the claims of the activist left, gullibly accepted by many media commentators, are authentic voice and future of the Democratic Party.
The post-election analysis revealed the pitfalls for Democrats in paying attention to just that vote. The protracted struggle in Washington over the progressives’ high demands for social spending has cast doubt on the public President BidenJoe BidenFlorida Republicans Vote for Limiting Vaccination Mandates Bill to Honor 13 Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan Goes to Biden’s Desk Overnight Defense & National Security – Presented by Boeing – Pentagon Promises More Transparency in Air Strikes MORE. Republicans also made remarkable gains among parents, angry at school closings, falling standards, and academic “anti-racism” theories spread by progressive fighters for social justice.
Now media powers, which previously welcomed the inevitable progressive rise, are warning Democrats to embark on a more moderate course to defeat the defectors of independents, moderates and working-class voters of Biden’s 2020 victorious coalition.
Driven above all by millennial activists and boomer elites, the proportion of the left in national politics has increased since the financial crisis of 2008, which gave capitalism a black eye. After the anarchic Occupy movement failed, many activists became captivated by it Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden, Top Officials Spread Out To Promote Infrastructure Package Virginia Elections Show Biden Needs A Bidenal Approach To Iran Biden Can’t Let Trump’s DOJ Legacy Choke Reform MOREhistoric presidential victory.
But Obama, more analytical than utopian and hindered by Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer, McConnell Discuss Debt Ceiling On The Money – Biden Announces Oil Industry Trump puts McConnell an offensive ultimatum on Biden’s agenda MORE‘s (R-Ky.) nihilistic attitude of maximal obstruction did not bring about the “transformative change” that the young left dreams of. Her disillusionment, also fueled by the rise of tea party populism on the right, drove her in a more radical direction.
In 2016 they put their hopes in Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Defense & National Security – Presented by Boeing – Pentagon Promises More Transparency in Air Strikes Despite Democrats’ pledges, an expanded IRS will harass the middle class Sanders vows to defy Defense Act: “We need to get our priorities right” MORE‘s (I-Vt.) relapse socialism. The radical “authenticity” of the irascible independents stood in welcome contrast to the cautious incrementalism of the “establishment” favorites in their eyes Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump endorses Peter Meijer’s main challenger in Michigan Ben Affleck, Tracee Ellis Ross participates in a fundraiser against Gerrymandering with Clinton, Holder Trump Organization closes 5 million deal to sell rights to DC Hotel: MORE. Misinterpretation of their subsequent accidental loss Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOn The Money – Biden introduces the oil industry As an inevitable consequence of the tepid centrism, activist groups confidently claimed that only with an uncompromising left-wing champion could Democrats mobilize the “progressive base” and win elections.
A legend was born among Twitter addicts, political journalists with strong herd instinct and the deeply submerged elites of the Democracy Alliance: the activist left instilled youthful energy and idealism into a tired Democratic Party and led it away from “neoliberalism” towards a brave new world of democratic socialism.
The energy and idealism were real enough, but some spoilsport – namely the US voters – disagreed on the direction. In 2018, the Democrats won the House of Representatives by putting forward pragmatic candidates with crossover appeal in swing districts; Progressives fared poorly outside of the deep blue cities. The pattern was repeated in 2020. While Sanders and a crush of rivals vied for the most “progressive” coat, Biden, the party’s old warhorse, won the nomination by bringing together the true base of the Democrats: working-class blacks and Hispanics, Suburbs Moderates, Party Regulars, and Blue Collar Whites.
No one doubts that progressives, mostly white, urban and highly educated, are a major force in the party. But they are not the dominant force, and their hypocrisy and political pretension repel other Democrats, particularly black and working-class Hispanics. Because of this, Biden and his party should look to a more pragmatic government agenda for the next year – one that can unite rather than divide their diverse coalition and give them a fighting chance to avoid a medium-term blowout.
What would that mean in practice? First of all, the infrastructure bill that has just been passed is far more popular than the nebulous social spending bill that is still under discussion. Democrats should work tirelessly to tie voters between this huge economic investment and their hopes for better jobs, sustainable recovery, and a competitive win against China.
As they struggle to finalize the Reconciliation Act, Democrats should also pay more attention to voters’ growing fear of rising prices and debt. The final bill should be paid in a simpler, more targeted and credible way so that it does not fuel inflation.
The White House also needs a new approach to immigration reform. The growing number of migrants crowding our southern border creates a double sense of failure – both the policy and its implementation by the government. Democrats need to get tougher on enforcing immigration laws (both at work and at the border) while expanding portals for willing workers to legally enter the country.
And the Democrats should de-escalate America’s cultural wars by avoiding leftist enthusiasm like defusing the police, teaching racial theories in schools, decriminalizing illegal immigration, and politicizing gender.
Above all, the party needs to pay more attention to pragmatic democratic leaders who know how to compete and win. They do the difficult job of expanding the party’s appeal both demographically and geographically. As Jacobin, a socialist magazine, admits, “the progressives have not yet delivered on a central promise of their campaigns: to change and enlarge the electorate themselves.”
As the White House and Democrats in Virginia learned the hard way this month, the Democrats ignore moderates, pragmatic liberals, and independents at their own risk. Fortunately, they have a year to correct this mistake and get back on the road to success.
Will Marshall is President and Founder of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).