The pundits and analysts come forth on TV, in print, on the internet: Will there be a “blue wave” in November, or will the Democrats blow it?
If there were a poll of pundits, it would show a vast majority believe the best way forward is “middle muddled moderation”. The goal, according to them, is to move the “purple people”. The politically androgynous folks in red districts who have a bluish side. Trump voters who might be disillusioned or disgusted enough to switch. They warn that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are radical! Too radical! “They’ll scare the purples back to red”, they say. Suburban ladies that the Dems are counting on to vote against the p***y-grabber will panic, stay home, just making sure the leaves are raked from their autumn lawns.
This sounds like Hillary redux.
It’s a triple-loser.
It fails to recognise that things had gone wrong before Trump and aside from Trump. If you’re not looking at the real problems, you can’t get to real solutions. Instead, you take polls, come up with an assortment of issues, have the pros write slogans for them, and the candidates go out and sound like focus group phonies. Which they will be.
When Bill Clinton ran for president, the Republicans seemed unbeatable. Ronald Reagan’s legacy was beloved. As the pro-business party in favour of low taxes and smaller government, donors loved them. They had a financial edge that looked to be permanent.
Bill “triangulated”. As governor of Arkansas, he executed a few people to show he was tough on crime. He went big for welfare reform. He promised to make government smaller. He was incredibly successful, both in reality and in popularity. Moreover, he found lots of money. Hollywood, hi-tech, and even portions of Wall Street, didn’t like Republican social conservatism. They were more than willing to give money to a candidate who was socially liberal, yet friendly to their financial interests.
That became the mould for Democrats.
Democrats calculated, voters, polls numbers, and money. But they stopped thinking. They’ve had no new ideas or grand ambitions since Lyndon Johnson.
Even Obamacare was developed at a right-wing think-tank and first road tested by a Republican governor, Mitt Romney. The social issues, gay marriage, gay rights extended to the entire LGBT community, legal weed, Me Too, Black Lives Matter, bubbled up from activists. The party was a follower, not a leader.
Selecting and electing a black man as president was astounding. It couldn’t have happened in any other white-majority country. However, his actual policies descended from Bill Clinton, bending to the right, and were passed on to Hillary, turning even further.
Bill Clinton should be counted a very successful president in almost every way. But two years after he was elected, Democrats lost control of the House for the first time in 40 years. They also lost the Senate. His Vice President, Al Gore, who ran as a somewhat more conservative triangulator, but without a sex scandal, lost to George W Bush.
Republicans, meanwhile, had invested heavily in ideology and messaging. They had think-tanks, talk radio, and their own cable news network. They were ruthless to their own, purging those who weren’t true believers. Every cycle, they became more ideological and moved further right.
The Democrats no longer had an ideology. They continued to triangulate. They gave up territory step by step. With each compromise, the Republicans just went further to the right – at least on economic issues. The “centre” doesn’t have its own location. As they moved right, they pulled it along. Today, Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon would be condemned by their own party as members of the dangerously radical Left, alongside Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
It should be blindingly obvious and irrefutable, as well. There is no compromise with Republicans. Obama didn’t know it, but as he was being inaugurated, their leadership got together and determined to oppose anything he offered. They were committed to his failure, even if it hurt the country. His healthcare plan was a Republican plan and he offered compromise after compromise to get even one vote out of them. It never came.
Just as with Clinton, Obama lost the House after two years, with the largest swing since 1948. Republicans also got 29 of the 50 governorships, and picked up 675 state legislator’s seats.
When Bernie Sanders was running in the primaries against Hillary Clinton, his positions were radical. But now, Medicare for all, free higher education, a $15 minimum wage are common parlance. “Socialism” has become an acceptable word. Among the things Democrats should have learned from Republicans is that ideas get legitimised by simple repetition. Even bad ideas that have failed in reality. Even ideas based on lies. But these happen to be good ideas. Democrats should stick by them adamantly.
When you see or hear someone warning the Democrats that they’ll shoot themselves in the foot if they’re too radical, look at who they are.
Doug Schoen was the pollster on Clinton’s presidential race. Now he’s a commentator on Fox. Schoen hated Obama and the ACA, but he still likes Hillary.
Joe Cunningham says the American people “want moderating voices in government”. The same American people who elected Donald Trump, the members of the Freedom Caucus, and the lock-step, hard-right Republicans in the Senate? Cunningham is an editor for RedState.com, and thinks that Obama “invited backlash” by “pushing the country as far left as he did”, though he didn’t actually “embrace socialism”.
Geoffrey Kabaservice says “the Resistance” is forcing the Dems “away from long held norms of bipartisan give-and-take”. Where has he been since 2009? It’s the “long gone” norms of give-and-take. Geoff is a Republican “in the moderate mainstream of my party”. Where? one asks. In exile, off the coast of Labrador?
Investor’s Daily has a headline, “It’s Official: Democrats Are The Extremists Today“.
The National Review shrieks, “The Democratic party is moving left with breathtaking velocity. Not only is it far to the left of Bill Clinton, it’s well to the left of even Barack Obama.” In terms of policy, Obama was about as radical as George H W Bush, and more conservative than Eisenhower or Nixon.
The fear, the hysteria, is that the Democrats might actually come to stand for things. Then fight for them. Even – horrors! – fight as hard as Republicans!
Some of the fear of “radicalism,” comes from within the Democratic Party. Their establishment, like all establishments, wants to keep doing it the way they were doing it. They want candidates who sound “mainstream” enough to appeal to stray Republican voters, who raise money and don’t insult or frighten money. But those are the attitudes that opened the door to Trump, lost the House, the Senate, and a host of state governments.
It’s time to bet on the radicalism. Though most of what radicals are asking for is normal in most Western European countries. It may seem a greater risk in the short term, but in the long term, it’s the far better choice. It’s not just about getting elected. It’s what you do when you get there.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.