There is a long list of pervasive problems in the political press, and we’ll go into different facets in future posts, but two false stereotypes related to centrists and pragmatists in the Democratic Party have gotten to the point where they’ve become a problem in need of a fact check and thorough debunking.
Some in the media have been spreading the blatantly false narrative that, in the Democratic tent, you’re either a progressive, or an establishment centrist. The problem with this is that the proverbial map doesn’t match the territory – the reality being that the Democratic Party leadership struggle is between liberals and progressives, with the shrinking minority of moderates left in the party not having nearly enough votes to have any chance of leading the party.
Dem Power Struggle Not Centrists vs Progressives
This misconception is bizarre, as centrist observers and activists – many of us being ex-Democrats because of things like this – know that that battle was lost years ago. Centrists and moderates are a small minority among elected members of high office in Washington now, and have effectively no power in the Democratic Party leadership (even less in the Republican leadership).
The battle for control of the Democratic Party is between liberals and progressives – not centrists.
Centrists form the smallest faction in the Democratic Party tent now, and it’s been that way for years. As the party has progressively (pun intended) moved left over the last several election cycles, moderates have lost seats, while liberals have continued to keep the most power within the party. As moderates have left, or been pushed out, progressives have grown to being the second largest faction – to the point now where they might be able to become the dominant faction in the party within a few election cycles, and already have a good deal of sway in the party.
Centrists have nowhere near the amount of clout as progressives in the Democratic tent now, and liberals – corrupt liberals in particular – control essentially all of the party ‘machinery’ (the DNC, for example). A great illustration of what I’m talking about here comes from Democratic party strategist Ed Kilgore, in a recent column at New York Magazine:
“There’s no question that the story of the Democratic party right now is about the ascending left. There’s a bumper crop of self-consciously progressive candidates running for office this year, while many relatively nonideological “Establishment Democrats” are embracing policy positions and political messages long associated with party insurgents.
But with the 2020 presidential election cycle soon to begin (the first candidate debates will probably be held about this time next year), it’s looking like progressives may have many more viable options for champions to send up against Donald Trump than do the centrists. That’s news in part because centrists have arguably controlled the presidential wing of the party since George McGovern’s nomination in 1972.”
For one, there really isn’t such thing as a ‘nonideological establishment Democrat’ in Washington. That’s just plain not a thing that actually exists in Washington.
Secondly, it’s just plain false to say that centrists have controlled the “presidential wing of the party”. Beyond the fact that that isn’t really a thing to begin with, the reality is that the only center-left presidential candidates the Democrats have fielded over the last few generations have been John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.
Let’s look at their last two presidential candidates.
Hillary Clinton’s voting record is squarely in the middle of the Democratic tent, and aligns with the liberal majority of her party, as you can see from the GovTrack chart (on the right – who ), and where she lands at the chart from OnTheIssues.org (on the left – who plot politicians based on public stances):
Barack Obama’s voting record in Congress was that of a progressive Democrat (see chart on the right, below), and his public stances (chart on the left) also place him comfortably to the left – perhaps most accurately labeled as a liberal with strong progressive streak. Not remotely a centrist.
President Obama’s time in the White House showed someone who wanted positions similar to that, and voted for them every chance he got, but he compromised when he didn’t think he could get more, and wasn’t a flaming zealot. This which just makes him reasonable in that respect – not centrist:
Every indication points to progressives having a shot at becoming the dominant faction in the Democratic tent within several election cycles, unless there is a schism in the party that results in the Sanders/Warren wing cutting ties, and the Democrats going back to the big tent party it once was, pretended to be between 2006 and 2009, and could be again.
The latter is a nice fairy tale – similar to the fairy tale that left wing elements have been pushing that claims that the Democratic party is currently a centrist party, (which isn’t surprising given that most have no clue what centrist means), but with so few moderate Democrats left, and the momentum headed the opposite direction.
Democratic Tent Has Even Fewer Pragmatists Left
The second misconception is that the fight for power in the Democratic Party is between pragmatists and progressives. The reality is that pragmatism is an exceedingly rare – and more so every year – commodity among those in Washington. It is even more rare among the leadership of either major party, given how many corrupt politicians you need to get the support of, and special interests one needs to sell out to, to ascend into major party leadership today.
The reality is that the aforementioned corrupt liberals that largely control the Democratic Party are far from pragmatists – even farther than they are from being centrists.
If either major party was controlled by pragmatic leaders, we wouldn’t have seen the electoral pendulum swings of the last couple decades. The Democratic Party knew that they were doing things that the American people would punish them for at the ballot box in 2010, most notably the individual mandate, and – the polar opposite of pragmatically – chose to do them anyway.
Instead of strengthening their electoral gains by continuing the ’50 State Strategy’ of focusing on recruiting candidates that were better electoral fits for their districts or states – the overarching strategy that won them such large electoral gains in 2006 and 2008, they did the opposite. They squandered those majorities and zeroed in on a legislative agenda that included an array of bad ideas that many in their base liked, but the American people at large – and swing voters in particular – had strong disagreements with.
Instead of pragmatically learning from those mistakes, and starting to actually listen to more of the American people, the Democratic party has doubled down on them and gone even farther away from center, while also doubling down on corruption and nepotistic changes to party rules. This was, and continues to be, neither pragmatic, nor centrist.
The party continues to move farther left today, pushing an agenda that drifts closer to the Sanders/Warren wing of the party every year, and now those who are openly hostile to centrists and moderates in their party are much more numerous than moderates, while the aforementioned corrupt liberal faction mostly just sits back and watches it happen, and hopes they can co-opt enough votes from the progressive left and moderate center-left to gain a congressional majority for a few years (before they squander it and cause another 2010-esque wave election).
Including more centrist ideas, that conflict with progressive priorities, in the party agenda is a non-starter as well. The party base isn’t interested in pragmatically building a governing coalition with millions of independent swing voters and voters on the sidelines because they can’t find anyone on the ballot remotely deserving of their votes.
Just like in 2009 and 2010, the party would rather push divisive positions like abolishing ICE, and forcing single-payer healthcare on the country – without even pretending that they’re going to pay for it, and even stooping to attacking those who call for them to share how they’re going to do it without stealing even more from future generations than we already are. They’d rather ram through what they can, and lose a wave election after that, knowing that the Republicans will assuredly hand them the majority back a few years later.
Rinse, repeat – each time causing more and more harm to the long term stability and strength of our country.
False Binaries, and Media Blindness to Centrist & Pragmatic Thinking
The problem here is that so many in the media have adopted this wildly false narrative – similar to the false narrative that the American political spectrum is a binary between red and blue, that there is a binary in the Democratic tent, where anyone more than a few inches to the right of Elizabeth Warren is a centrist. In both the American political spectrum at large, and inside the Democratic tent, reality is far more complex.
In some cases, this seems to partially stem from the problem of so many completely ignoring the huge number of people that stand in the widening chasm between the two major parties. This creates a bizarro, obviously false map where non-left wing liberals are called the same label as non-right wing conservatives like Marco Rubio, even though they’re light years apart ideologically, and their stances are far closer to their more extreme party bases than they are to the center of the political spectrum.
How to solve this is relatively straightforward, though obviously not easy. The fourth estate should educate itself in the full spectrum of the American populace, and stop pushing narratives laden with false, black and white thinking. Even breaking it down to just progressive, liberal and centrist/moderate factions isn’t very accurate, as there are a number of groups within those three, as well as groups that don’t fit into any of them.
Unfortunately, more and more in the media seem more interested in co-opting the language of those selling agendas, rather than representing reality – in search of more clicks, retweets and likes that you get when you preach to the echo chamber choirs those talking points speak to.
Those in the media that push these narratives, that paint a picture where tens of millions of people don’t even exist, not only do centrists, moderates and other people whose views don’t fit in red or blue cookie cutters a disservice, but they’re in no way part of the fourth estate our country so desperately needs right now. They need a reality check, and we need them to start representing that reality, instead of the hyper-partisan fairy tales they’re helping sell.