POLITICS IS A NEGOTIATION: DON’T ASK US TO VOTE IF WE DON’T HAVE A VOICE AT THE TABLE
Everybody knows that only a moderate can beat ThatGuy, and beating ThatGuy is the only thing that matters! So progressives are just going to have to take one for the team–um…again–and vote for the moderate because ThatGuy’s gotta go!
So after numerous “mistakes” in the Iowa iCaucus, all of which seemed to be to the detriment of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist still received the most votes and stands at a virtual tie in delegates with the creamy candidate from South Bend. So what was the big story? Pete Buttigieg wins in Iowa!
We know it’s true, because he said so.
Then Bernie wins in New Hampshire. Not a surprise, but still, what was the headline? Amy Klobuchar’s amazing third place finish!
Then Bernie wins big in Nevada. Progressives. Moderates. People of color. Women. In Nevada, they are overwhelmingly on team Bernie…
…and the mainstream media went batshit crazy. Most notably, Chris Mathews used the Nevada results to invoke the fall of France to the Nazi Blitz, because…well, you know, he seems to be really concerned that Bernie might have him executed in Central Park.
But fortunately, former Republican Michael Bloomberg, the architect of New York’s infamous Gestapo and Frisk policy, is here to save the day for moderates with his beaucoup hundreds of megillions of dollars…because, you know, moderates and their billions.
Such an over-the-top response is ridiculous. In the face of this absurdity, however, the BeatBernie contingent falls back on their pat and practiced retort. Look, you can cry all you want, but everyone knows that Bernie can’t beat ThatGuy and beating ThatGuy is the most important thing. So shut up!
These two premises are the standard fair in Democratic discourse. 1. Only a moderate can win, 2. Winning is the most important thing.
These two premises are false.
Premise number 1 is the easiest to counter.
The second premise, being a value judgement, is a bit more complicated to discredit.
Yes, it would be nice to have a president who was not a thin-skinned, orange narcissist whose delusions of grandeur are spoon fed by his mindless followers. Everyone with even the most marginally functional pre-frontal cortex understands that.
But there’s no reason why that has to be a so-called moderate. Especially when “moderation” means maintaining a thoroughly destabilizing status quo of deep inequality, economic alienation, corporate dominance and war. After all, it’s this status quo that brought us to our current plight.
The moderates are right. A Democrat cannot win if moderates refuse to vote for the more left-wing candidate. The flip side of that coin is also true. The latest research into the demographics of the Democratic Party indicates that a Democrat cannot win if the progressives stay home. Consequently, if progressive refusal to vote for the moderate candidate exemplifies political nihilism, this standard must also apply to moderates who do the same should a progressive get the nomination.
Party politics is by necessity coalitional. When one interest group has disproportionate power over another within a coalition, perhaps a claim could be made that the weaker take a back seat to the stronger. For years, that’s been the strategy of the “moderate” wing of the Democratic Party. When the New Deal coalition finally collapsed in the 1980’s and pro-corporate, Reagan Democrats became ascendant under the Democratic Leadership Council, progressives were pushed to the sidelines.
The Democratic Party, at that point, abandoned any pretext of advocating policies to improve the lives of working people. Instead, the DLC dedicated the party to a Republican Lite Agenda. The Democratic Party became just another neo-liberal party that was willing to defend Social Security, Medicare and Roe v. Wade. Bold initiatives for improving the lives of working people went the way of the dodo. Privatization and Market-Based solutions was the order of the day. Progressives were coerced into holding their noses and voting for the moderate because the alternative was always presented as much worse.
Consequently, the Democratic Party became irrelevant. It took the complete collapse of the conservative movement under George W. Bush to bring the Democratic Party back to life, but even that was only a temporary reprieve. The anemic, milquetoast politics of the moderate establishment is simply not enough to inspire popular grassroots energy from the electorate. If Democrats want to keep losing, they will continue to listen to the moderates.
The tide has turned. Progressives are ascendant in the party once again. Bernie’s 2016 run was the master class in how much political capital progressives have when they organize and vote their interests. Gone are the days when the Democratic establishment could take for granted the progressive vote without offering anything in return. If Democratic Moderates want progressive votes, they need to offer progressive incentives. If they do not, then they cannot blame progressives for withholding their vote.
And scaring us with the Boogieman de jur, Dole, W, Palin being one heart attack away from the Presidency, Romney’s “severe conservatism”, just doesn’t cut it. Yes, our current president is as bad as it gets, but if progressives wait until Republicans run a not-so-scary candidate before they can assert their interests we’ll never have a seat at the table. If moderates really do fear their Boogiemen, then they better be open negotiations with progressives.
That being said, if progressives want a seat at the table, they need to learn how to accept yes as an answer. Hillary Clinton was hardly a progressive candidate, but consequent to Bernie’s success, she was willing to tack left and include a lot of progressive elements to the Democratic Platform. That was a huge victory for the progressive movement, and progressives would have been much better off with a Clinton presidency. But enough progressives could not bring themselves to accept these concessions and fight for the rest. The perfect became the enemy of the good.
If moderates can’t win the progressive vote no matter what they do, there’s no reason for them to call progressives to the table. They might as well tack right and try to ply some conservative leaning independents to switch sides.
It’s a balancing act. That’s always the case with coalition politics. As it stands, to win the Presidency, Moderates and Progressives will have to find some common ground. Period. There’s no other way around it. That means accepting some level of compromise. Yes, that also means that each interest group in the coalition must try to position itself in the most advantageous way. That’s politics.
What will be the end result of this precarious balancing act? It’s too early to tell.
What is certain, however, is that progressive support for the moderate candidate is no longer the default option. The Democratic establishment can either accept this new reality, or watch their party continue to wither away under their negligent stewardship.