Progressives’ Bitter Pill
Liberals Don’t Need a Tea Party
By Jacob Hopkins
Elizabeth Warren will never be President of the United States of America. A Medicare-for-all health care reform bill was, and still is, politically unfeasible. A Democratic majority in Congress will never be as liberal as many progressives want it to be. Sometimes, Blue Dog Democrats are the only Democrats that can win. If Bernie Sanders runs as an independent in 2016, he will be responsible for Republicans taking back the White House. And the sooner progressives accept all this, the better off they will be.
In the past few months, there has been a growing desire to find some kind of liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton. Progressives, uncomfortable with her more centrist form of governance, have created a movement with the intent of dragging Elizabeth Warren into the primaries. Some are even trying to make former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley into a progressive alternative to Clinton, even though most of his fundraising has come from more centrist organizations, and statistical analysis of his public statements shows that his rhetoric is more conservative than hers. However, most continue to ignore this, searching for anyone but Clinton to be the Democratic nominee for President.
Looking to the Republicans and their Tea Party movement, which is responsible for lurching the party far to the right, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party feels as if it missed an opportunity to bring American politics to the left. However, the Tea Party has done more than simply move the Republicans to the right. It has ignited a full on civil war in the Republican ranks, and cost the Republican party winnable elections in everywhere from Delaware to Missouri. As Republicans struggle to gain control of their right flank, Democrats have benefitted.
In this critical time when demographic changes are finally giving Democrats the chance to build a lasting governing coalition, appearing extremist threatens to scare away many of the moderate white voters progressives need to win elections, even with higher levels of minorities voting. To truly bring American politics to left, Democrats need not focus on running away from the center, but instead bringing the political center itself to the left.
For example, during the 2012 Senate election in Missouri, the Republican Party nominated now-infamous Congressman Todd Aiken. In the start of the campaign season, most political analysts considered incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill to be the most endangered incumbent in all of America. However, after Aiken’s comments about rape, in addition to other extremist rhetoric, McCaskill won her election by more than 15 points.
Although Aiken is certainly a special case because of the moral abomination of his rape comments, he clearly demonstrates that appearing to be an extremist is never a good electoral strategy within a democracy. In this critical time when demographic changes are finally giving Democrats the chance to build a lasting governing coalition, appearing extremist threatens to scare away many of the moderate white voters progressives need to win elections, even with higher levels of minorities voting. To truly bring American politics to left, Democrats need not focus on running away from the center, but instead bringing the political center itself to the left.
The best way to achieve this goal is to hold onto a rhetoric of moderation in the face of Republicans’ civil war. While radical Republicans such as Ted Cruz vie for the Republican nomination and the Tea Party forces even the most moderate Republican candidates to run to the right, Clinton, a moderate liberal, will appear to be a kind of centrist saint. If she were to be forced into a primary that moved her rhetoric to the left, it would appear to the electorate that they were being forced to choose between two extremist parties, even though most political polarization in the past decade has been asymmetric, with the Republicans moving further to the right than Democrats have moved to the left.
Those progressives that are still skeptical of the strategy of forgoing a Democratic civil war need only look at the last time that the Democratic Party was viewed as liberal extremists. During the 1984 election, right after the Reagan revolution, Democrats nominated Walter Mondale for President. He ran a campaign that progressives from anytime would be proud of. He staunchly advocated for the ERA, nominated liberal Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro for Vice-President, and harshly criticized Reagan’s privatization agenda. Perhaps the only thing that would have made progressives more proud would have been watching him carry more than his home state of Minnesota.
Democrats need not forget that it was President Bill Clinton, who was perceived as a moderate in the 1992 elections, that ended the Party’s twelve year exile from the White House. His election did not only help the Democratic Party to become viable once more, but it also stopped the rightward drift of the American political center that the Reagan Revolution had begun. This is arguably the most important legacy of the Clinton presidency, because what positions the American people consider to be centrist effects legislation almost as much as which party is in power.
While it is incredibly frustrating to know that political change takes time and will not come as fast as progressives, myself included, would like, playing the long term political game is the only way to ensure that real headway is made in the coming years. Holding back and showing restraint might not have the sexiness factor of challenging Blue Dog Democrats and moderates in primary elections, but it will be the most effective strategy going forward. By understanding the Right’s failures, Democrats can not only avoid their mistakes, but can also learn how to properly capitalize on their infighting.