The Progressive Dilemma
By Phillip | 3/31/20
The progressive left has to do some real soul searching after Bernie Sanders’ crushing loss to the establishment candidate. After Nevada, it looked like Bernie had created a multi-racial, working class coalition: he won whites, latinos, all voters under 65, and did well among all Democratic ideologies.
However, after the Nevada caucus, Bernie did not attempt to unite the party. He gave speeches and tweeted attacks against the Democratic establishment and gave a now infamous 60 minutes interview praising the literacy programs of Fidel Castro. Although Obama said the same thing, Democrats were afraid that Bernie Sanders’ policies will be compared to failed socialist regimes. This is considered his main weak point and his stubborn refusal to avoid this topic frightened many establishment voters and angered many Floridians. The Democratic establishment, learning from Republican’s failure to stop Donald Trump from becoming the nominee, united behind Joe Biden after he won big in South Carolina. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar dropped out of the race and endorsed Joe, which led to big wins on Super Tuesday and massive momentum going into the rest of the primary.
Granted, Bernie has achieved great success in bringing the party left over the past few years and decades. Over this presidential primary, wealth taxes, climate change, student-loan debt, and Medicare for All have been brought to the forefront by Bernie and Warren. Over the past decades, the Democratic party has become more progressive on health care as a government obligation (by 12 points), improving living standards of black people (by 23 points), and increasing immigration (by 25 points). Perhaps this was the ideal scenario for progressives: Bernie entices an establishment candidate to swing further to the left than any other presidential candidate ever, and then we defeat the incumbent with our “electable” candidate.
What hasn’t happened yet is an actual wave of progressive representation. In 2018 and 2020, moderate voters swept female Democrats into the house and Joe Biden into the presidential election. Liberals like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren have a new strategy that isn’t “revolution” against the establishment. They have toned down their combative rhetoric and taken less combative stances (Ocasio-Cortez has abandoned the attempt to create a corporate-free caucus and publicly feud with Nancy Pelosi). Instead of fighting a losing battle against the entrenched, powerful, and mostly good Democratic establishment, they will instead join it.
There are problems with the establishment: its leaders are too old and white, its strategy hasn’t been working. However, Bernie has witnessed first hand what happens when you publicly promise to tear down the establishment. They have the power to stop you. The simple fact is that Bernie’s deeply loyal coalition was ideal for a six way primary, but in a two way race, 30% suddenly seems quite unimpressive especially if you could have consolidated a coalition after being up. The issue is that liberal and very liberal voters only make up 47% of the Democratic electorate. Until this number grows, Warren and Ocasio-Cortez will push policies that are extremely popular and progressive (marijuana, wealth tax), while outwardly pushing the boundaries of the debate as Bernie has.
I hope that Joe Biden wins. However, if he doesn’t there will be a huge outpouring of angst by the progressive wing of the party at Joe Biden’s coronation by the establishment. I hope it will trigger young people to vote at incredible rates. If Joe Biden loses, there might be a Bernie Sanders revolution. Until then progressive politics will be simply that: progressive.