If Franklin Delano Roosevelt were alive and running for President, the people who currently pose as leaders of the Democratic Party would pull out all the stops to see that he never got the nomination. He’d stand a good chance of winning, anyway.
In my opinion, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is a particularly tepid group of political cowards, they run things as though they still controlled the country’s politics. They talk of change but fear it deeply; they believe the party’s safest course is the moderate one. Neither the recent electoral record nor America’s building demographic shift suggests this is true.
That the 6th of November was, on balance, a great day for Democrats is not in dispute. Taking the House of Representatives with a swing of, at this writing, nearly 40 seats does constitute a wave election, especially in the face of widespread gerrymandering and voter suppression. Some would argue that the Senate was another story, but both the 2020 map and general political trends bode reasonably well for Democrats. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, of course, and much will depend on the economy, questions of war and peace, and, most importantly, candidate recruitment.
Indeed, if you’re a possible Democratic candidate looking for a winning formula in 2020, there’s not just one. There are several, and the one you choose should depend not on what issue positions you think you need, but on who and what you truly are. It would help to truly be something, to believe in something sincerely. What Republicans are is not in question: they are the party of Trump. Simply not being Republican will go a long way in our next general election but, by itself, it will remain insufficient to constitute a formula for victory.
That said, there are moderate Democrats and progressive Democrats. With few exceptions, both are in lockstep on all but economic issues. Moderate and progressive Democrats all support choice, affirmative action and gun control. They oppose border walls, tax cuts for the wealthy and almost everything Donald Trump stands for. Moderates will try to support poor people a bit, but won’t do anything to materially affect the fact of their poverty. Nor will they move to reinstate Glass-Steagall, or to repeal the Clinton-era destruction of welfare.
Progressives, meanwhile, mislead when they call themselves Democratic Socialists; few of them actually belong to the organization bearing that name. Longtime real socialists have no use for them, moreover, considering them mere liberals — the most detested species among traditional leftists. For progressives — the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren wing of the party — don’t want to do away with capitalist institutions. They want to control them. They want to install more socialist-ic institutions alongside them, including single-payer healthcare. Moderate Democrats want to improve Obamacare; progressive Democrats want to replace it with a European- or Canadian-style system that promises to lower costs while improving outcomes. Progressive Democrats increasingly favor either a guaranteed job or a guaranteed annual income. Moderate Democrats do not.
So now let’s look at which kinds of Democrats won, or outperformed expectations, and where they won, and what, if anything, all of it means. On the Senate side, to put it mildly, there’s not much of a pattern. Joe Manchin, who votes often with Republicans, comfortably retained his seat in solid-red West Virginia. This will encourage those who say that Democratic candidates need to “fit the district” or the state — shorthand for saying that, in more conservative areas, Democrats need to be more conservative. What, then, of Beto O’Rourke, who came within a whisker of beating odious Ted Cruz in Texas? That race will encourage those who say that Democrats don’t need to fit traditional constituencies but, rather, to fit the changing times.
Yet Claire McCaskill (who called progressives “crazy Democrats”) lost decisively in Missouri; and Joe Donnelly, a conservative Democrat, lost convincingly in Indiana. Both appear to have made the mistake of thinking they could win over some Trump voters by moving to the center, as though there were one. In Arizona — the cradle of modern conservatism — meanwhile, Kyrsten Sinema — homeless as a child, openly bisexual and an unapologetic progressive — beat a John McCain-style Republican, Martha McSally, for a Senate seat.
But for voter suppression instituted and enforced mostly by her opponent, a Black female progressive, Stacey Abrams, would have become governor of Georgia. Georgia. Meanwhile, in Florida, Rick Scott slithered into a Senate seat over Bill Nelson, who has the charisma of a brick, while the ideologically chameleonic Andrew Gillum lost narrowly to Trumpista Ron DeSantis.
So whether you’re a moderate Democrat or a progressive Democrat, what does one make of such a mixed bag of results as this? Here are a few logical conclusions:
- The Nov. 6 results were indisputably a major victory for Democrats. The blue wave happened. The Democrats won the House.
- The leadership of the Democratic Party has gone as far as it can with moderates and centrists. Some moderates can win in some places, but if these are the only people that Democrats can run for office, the center will keep moving to the right, as it has done for more than 40 years, which means that central issues of economic inequality and politics dominated by wealth will continue to worsen, obscuring everything else. Disadvantaged groups will feel more pinch, and, as the traditional majority feels it, they will turn more viciously on each other.
- Progressive activists, fired up by the first signs of growth in their movement in decades, should press their advantage: the future is theirs if they don’t blow it. They also need to accept the presence of moderates and conservatives in their own party and work with them to the fullest extent that their conscience permits. And let Republicans continue to cannibalize their own.
- The elections of 2020 and 2022 look more important than ever because they offer the first chances for structural economic change in the lifetimes of more than half of the eligible voters. The alternative? Lurching farther to the right — a descent into genuine fascism.
These conclusions are why, in my view, the moment for progressive change is right now. It need not be, nor will it be, quite so abrupt as Sanders, for example, would hope for. At the same time, it is threatened by its most urgent advocates, who won’t tolerate people not toeing their line on every issue, and by gradualists who won’t touch America’s central problem: economic class separation. America’s central problem must be the top concern of all Democrats, no matter which wing of the party they belong to.