After the dramatic defeats of the Reagan Revolution, centrist triangulation reigned supreme in the Democratic Party, but, in recent years, the left wing has seen a renaissance in the United States.
Even with the election of Barack Obama, the “Hope and Change” candidate, it was only months before he moved to the center, perhaps having always been a centrist. Obama shelved his army of progressive grassroots activists after they were essential in his historic victory. Mainstream political discourse moving left just didn’t seem possible.
And then Donald Trump came along and turned the whole system on its head. Trump’s election and accompanying elevation of the far-right both caused a reaction from the left and the emergence of a new idea of what was possible in politics.
Suddenly, in the 2018 midterms, a few centrist stalwarts began to fall to left firebrands. Senior Democrats Joe Crowley and John Conyers were primaried and replaced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib. Even moderate Republican Mimi Walters was defeated by corporate critic Katie Porter.
This fledgling left came out swinging with bold proposals like a minimum wage hike, single-payer universal healthcare, voting reforms and a Green New Deal. These ideas’ last hope in becoming the official agenda of the Democratic Party died with Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has said that even if a single-payer Medicare for All bill were to pass through Congress, he would veto it. Biden, an ally of segregationists and pioneer of mass incarceration, has at best been seen as a return to the status quo and at worst, a regressive and conservative step. Biden told a room of wealthy donors that, “nothing would fundamentally change” if he were to be elected — something he said while Trump was President, mind you.
And so it’s time to talk about the Democratic Party. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said it best when she described the party as a “center-conservative party.” While branding itself as the party of “resistance,” congressional Democrats gave President Trump everything he wanted on his military budget. This begs the question: if Trump is as dangerous as the Democrats contend, and they are his resistors, why do they enable him?
As AOC said, the Democratic Party is not a left party but a party with left members. If the left still wants to shift the Democratic Party and use it as an engine to accomplish progressive goals, right now is do or die. The Democratic Party will never move left if all its left wing does is play nice.
The Democratic Party establishment will not, in a moment of benevolence, decide to grant the left their proposals out of the goodness of their hearts. This is why the left must be willing to withhold votes, to play hardball. Change will not come any other way. If the Democratic Party thinks it can rely on docile left voters no matter what, then they have no incentive to bend to their agenda.
Recently, in a New York Times article, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez spoke on how, “In a recent phone interview, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez made clear that she intended to support the Democratic nominee, but said his current overtures to progressives must go further.” In the same sentence where she pledges her unconditional support says the establishment must move left. Why would they do that when they already have the left’s support? They have nothing to gain and already have what they want.
The left needs not just its elected officials but its voters as well to be willing to withhold their votes from Democratic politicians who do not meet their standards.
This strategy has had success in the past. The Tea Party Movement in 2010 and its subsequent Freedom Caucus threatened to withhold votes and, at times, went into public conflict with party leadership in order to shift the party to their agenda.
The logic is simple. If the left wants to be treated like a constituency, a group of voters who are courted with policy and actions, then they have to act like it. The left needs to show that their votes are not automatic because the Democrats are just not as bad as the Republicans. They need to make the Democrats earn their votes.
And if the Democrats refuse and continue to be the party of Joe Biden then we must take our business elsewhere. Whether it’s the Green Party, Democratic Socialists of America or a new party altogether.
The left can build a new party and offer the real change that the “nothing will fundamentally change” Democrats will not, and hopefully convince the growing left to consolidate behind this party. The Democratic Party can go the way of the UK’s Liberal Democrats: a once great party of wishy-washy centrists with no real sway. While they fall into obscurity, the left can stand for something and earn the votes of a growing constituency.
Philip is a sophomore studying Journalism and Strategic Communication. Do you believe the Democratic party is splitting at the seams? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.