A coalition between the left and the center, like the one that defeated Trump in 2020, is the only way to stop minority rule by Trumpists going forward.
There is also a moral basis for mutual respect and cooperation between left and center. Progressive change invariably begins with activists who are disrespected by mainstream politicians and their allies in the media. On the other hand, few activists understand the pressures that politicians have to deal with on a daily basis. The passage of the Civil Rights bill required Martin Luther King and LBJ.
Admittedly there are still some nihilistic lefties who seem to have a hard time remembering how much worse Trump’s administration was than Biden’s. Some of them are friends of mine. But Congressional progressive leaders such as Bernie Sanders, AOC and Barbara Lee have been able to convey their disagreement with some mainstream Democrats (such as those who recently voted for a $768 billion budget for the Pentagon) without being disagreeable.
The same cannot be said for the drumbeat by corporate Dems and their enablers in the academic and media worlds that Democrats are down in the polls because they have gone “too far to the left.” That trope is the very opposite of pragmatic despite the time-worn gimmick of cloaking conservative views with strategic electoral “insights.”
For one thing, as Jamelle Bouie wrote in the New York Times, "Progressives are not actually in the driver’s seat of the Democratic Party... When faced with defeats-- as they were, last month, when Terry McAuliffe fell to Glenn Youngkin in the race to succeed Ralph Northam as governor of Virginia-- they blame the left. It’s the same song, each time. If progressives would just stop alienating the public, then they could make gains and put power back in Democratic hands. Somehow, the people in the passenger’s seat of the Democratic Party are always and forever responsible for the driver’s failure to reach their shared destination.”
Bouie was responding to a previous front page opinion piece in The Times by Thomas Edsall that approvingly quoted former Bill Clinton advisor William Galston’s advice to Democrats in the upcoming mid-terms. “They cannot [stop Trumpism]...with a program that drives away independents, moderates and suburban voters whose support made Biden’s victory possible... [the party’s] principal weakness lies in the realm of culture, which is why race, crime and schools have emerged as such damaging flash points.”
Galston evokes two of the most intellectually dishonest arguments of self-styled “centrists”... the composition of the coalition that resulted in Biden’s 2020 victory and the actual substance of the debate between “left” and “center” in Congress and elsewhere.
Edsall summarized the results of focus groups conducted by the firm ALG whose participants were Virginia voters who had voted for Biden in 2020 but Youngkin in 2021. “None of these Biden voters associated our party with helping working people, the middle class, or people like them. They thought we were more focused on breaking down social barriers facing marginalized groups. They were all for helping marginalized groups, but the fact that they couldn’t point to anything we are doing to help them was deeply concerning.”
But where are the focus groups consisting of young people who voted for Biden in 2020 and who sat out the 2021 election altogether? My guess is that their vacillation was not between Democrats and Republicans but between Democrats and not voting at all or voting for a candidate of a third party. Biden did not defeat Trump solely (or even primarily) because he was sufficiently non-threatening to some suburban moderates. There were millions of young advocates of the kinds of policies that Bernie Sanders champions. Biden got 62% support in 2020 from voters under thirty and turn-out among that demographic was the highest it’s ever been.
One of the reasons for his success was that Biden reached out to Sanders voters in 2020 in a way that Hillary Clinton declined to do in 2016. (For example, check out Biden’s YouTube conversation with ardent Bernie supporter Cardi B. whose massive social following is in the tens of millions, shortly after Sanders dropped out of the 2020 race).
In 2016, disaffected Sanders supporters were a major portion of the 5.7% who voted for the Green Party and Libertarian candidates. In 2020 that percentage was down to 1.7%. It’s not a stretch to suggest that most of that four point differential redounded to Biden’s benefit. If so, those voters provided his margin of victory in the swing states.
The second fallacy advanced by many corporate Democratic enablers lies in their straw-man description of “the left,” that echoes right wing talking points, but which has little or nothing to do the forces that animates the left leaning portion of the modern Democratic party.
Edsall also quoted Harvard professor Jennifer S, Hochschild’s retro opinion that “the Democratic Party over the past few decades has gotten into the position of appearing to oppose and scorn widely cherished institutions-- conventional nuclear family, religion, patriotism, capitalism, wealth, norms of masculinity and femininity.”
A lot of this sounds like the kind of cartoon that the likes of Ted Cruz would paint of Democrats and is simply not accurate. Biden is a practicing Catholic and demonstrably engaged with his family. It is not clear what Hochschild means by “patriotism” but no Trumps every served in the military (as Beau Biden did) and no Democrat ever supported the violent over-turning of an election. As for the “norms” of masculinity and femininity, if this is a veiled criticism of the gay rights movement, the professor is in a time warp. A large majority of voters have supported gay marriage for more than a decade.
The tell are those words “capitalism and wealth,” which is often at the real heart of corporate democratic critiques of the so-called “left.” But the proposals that Biden and Bernie Sanders support and which “centrists” like Joe Manchin oppose, for a higher minimum wage, lower prescription drug prices, paid family leave and fair taxation on billionaires and corporations all of which are routinely poll more than 60% support among all voters. Where is the data that suggests that opposing such popular programs would get Democratic candidates more votes?
Many of the “experts” quoted in anti-left journalism derive their reputation from working with Clinton in the nineties and seem to think that the Democratic playbook from 1992 is the way to go in 2022. I voted for Clinton in 1992 and I am very glad he was elected and re-elected. I wish he had listened more the economic ideas of Robert Reich and less to Robert Rubin, but Clinton was much more progressive than George H.W. Bush was, or Bob Dole would have been.
But Clinton’s last run for office was more than a quarter of a century ago and he was the guy who loved that Fleetwood Mac song with the lyrics “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”
As Ron Brownstein wrote recently in The Atlantic "Since the mid-’90s, white Americans without a college degree-- the principal audience for the centrist critics-- have fallen from about three-fifths of all voters to about two-fifths... Over that same period, voters of color have nearly doubled, to about 30 percent of the total vote.”
Fascism remains a serious threat in America and the only way to defeat it is to grow the fragile coalition that succeeded in defeating Trump in 2020. Falsely equating Republicans and Democrats or parroting right wing talking points about “the left,” leaves a road to power for the bad guys. The left and center need to remind ourselves of another lyric from the seventies, this one from Bob Dylan: “If you don’t under-estimate me, I won’t under-estimate you.”