At the current stage of the presidential election process — before any votes have been cast in the primaries, but in modern America, campaigning never ends — the Democratic Party appears all too willing to repeat the errors of 2016.
First published in August 2019.
Joe Biden is maintaining a consistent lead, though some shifting may be happening, while Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren divide progressive energy, and the rest run for the vice presidential nomination or for future cabinet appointments.
Biden’s candidacy is pitched as a promise of Obama 2.0, which after years of Trump has a lot of nostalgic appeal, but given the number of Americans left behind by the Affordable Care Act, the growing income inequality between the working class and disappearing middle class and the wealthy, and the existential crisis of climate change, a centrist approach, one that I often refer to as a diet Republican platform, is a plan to tread water while the river heads toward the falls.
Biden’s plan on healthcare, for example, is a set of adjustments to Obamacare, including the public option that he, his boss, and the Democratic leadership in Congress should have fought for in 2009. This is essentially the Swiss model, which is the most expensive of the universal care systems in the rest of the developed world. In theory, with enough tweaks and mandates, we could cover everyone, but this would not achieve the other goal of Medicare for All, namely to produce a significant reduction in costs.
This gets at the overall problem not just with Biden, but with the part of the field that his political platform represents. Sanders is inspirational. Warren is the passionate nerd who works out the blueprints and logistics for castles in the air. Buttigieg is vague; Yang is wandering down the philosophy seminar approach of speculations that sound more like utopian novels than practical policy, and Williamson sounds like Deepak Chopra. But Biden and the other establishment candidates — Harris and Booker and O’Rourke, oh my, and all the rest — are running on the “We’re not Trump” slogan, which in practical terms means that were any of them to win, we would end up turning a failure of imagination into the minutiae of law.
What this country needs now is a progressive party, a party whose commitment is to the people, rather than only to those who are powerful. We on the left wing of the Democratic Party have been treated with indifference that bleeds over into contempt by the establishment, our votes being taken for granted as we are offered a succession of candidates, some of whom bring us candy and flowers to win us back, but in example after example, the nominated Democrat for the presidency and for many seats in the Senate and the House has continued the tradition of the Third Way that Bill Clinton burdened us with in the 90s. A few of these candidates won, but the party suffered heavy losses both on the national and state levels during Obama’s two terms, and Clinton’s loss in 2016 demonstrates the continuing weakness of the centrist approach.
Obama is a good example of what I am talking about here. He is a master of political rhetoric, and he brought in a lot of young voters, especially in 2008, but while he was a competent manager who steered us out of what could have been an economic depression, in so many cases, his inspiring speeches did not turn into progress. The establishment of the Democratic Party will insist here that Republican opposition is to blame, but I watched the preparation and vote for Obamacare, to take one of his mismatches between speeches and results, and wondered where the president was. Big talk will bring in supporters, but to keep them, we have to carry through on legislation that is just as large.
But third parties cannot win, or so we are told. The recent death of Ross Perot should remind us all that the potential is there. Perot dropped out of the race for a reason that sounded paranoid, then came back and won nineteen percent of the vote. He was leading in the polls for a while until his bizarre notions made people question his sanity. With our winner-take-all electoral system, a third party offering a mentally stable candidate only needs one third of the vote plus one to defeat the Democrat and the Republican, and a number of progressives today — Sanders and Warren come immediately to mind — have the name recognition to overcome that potential objection. And support for progressive policies is strong, suggesting a willingness to vote for candidates who will see these policies enacted.
We on the left have the tendency to get bogged down in the details, while people on the right focus on simple and clear messages. Life is complex, and it is easy for leftists to be smug about having the mental equipment to deal with that, but the reality is that people specialize in the subjects of their own careers. Most voters are not experts in the machinery of government. This requires leading on a set of shared values — fairness, cooperation, and opportunity — that we can back up with evidence when asked.
With that in mind, a progressive party would need to focus on healthcare, climate change, access to higher education, and worker rights. This would not force us to neglect protections of abortion and the ability of same-sex couples to rent apartments, nor would it mean that we have to throw out concepts of racial justice. It is meant as an acknowledgment of the specific problems across the entire country — and the world, with regard to global warming — problems whose solutions will benefit everyone.
I am told that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat, and as a result, he does not deserve to be the Democratic nominee. The party has the chance to be more like Bernie, and if the progressive platform is not adopted in 2020, we on the left have to stop tolerating being treated as the laborers who have to take orders from our betters. We have the opportunity right now to form a viable alternative to neo-liberalism and the right wing. Rather than giving away our support to the lesser of two evils, it is time for us to honor the value of our votes.🔷
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