This column was originally posted as a web comment on March 1 to Ben Falcon’s column “The center can hold, only by living to fight another day” (published in print on 2/28). It has been updated for style and clarity.
Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
This article is the single coldest political take I have ever heard. Let’s take a deeper look:
The only “writing on the wall” that I can see is the resurgence of New Deal politics. Bernie and the progressive movement at large are the embodiment of FDR’s legacy of common sense social programs. Calling it a “siege” is victim-blaming to those that support progressive movements. The only “siege” that goes on far too often is the siege of money in politics that has overran the current democratic establishment and led to cycles upon cycles of failure on the side of “liberals.” Clinton and co. passed the crime bill, NAFTA and other pieces of incredibly unpopular policies with disastrous consequences. Obama was a great guy, but his drone policies, bailout of Wall Street, Trans-Pacific Partnership support and other policies lost the people’s trust as they saw more and more promised (closing Guantanamo Bay detention camp, etc) and less and less done.
Bernie’s showings in early states demonstrate just how silly the claim you’re making is. Bernie won massively amongst every minority group, whether it be age, gender, race or the like. He is a candidate representing those most disenfranchised by the system that moderate democrats take comfort in as they lean back into their armchair. Further, he won amongst those that identify as “moderate” or “conservative” in Nevada. Which candidate can bring together the party again? All centrists (especially Biden) rely heavily on old, white and typically wealthy voters because waiting for change to come under the guise of “pragmatism” isn’t an option for those that support Bernie.
Bernie is no George McGovern; he’s the second iteration of FDR. That is the reason winning the nomination would be so groundbreaking. Bernie is still a strong contender despite totally lopsided media coverage from CNN, ABC, MSNBC, and many other networks.
Also, fear-mongering by using the word “radical” as many times as you can is not persuasive. The Red Scare goes down in history as one of the silliest political witch hunts, and this tactic you use reeks of that era. And yes, you liberals did bring it upon yourselves by consistently playing up piecemeal change as a justification to forestall real solutions to people disenfranchised by, let’s say, the Prison Industrial Complex, incredible amounts of income inequality, offshoring and the like.
“Forgetting where you were” amongst those willing to fight for change should say much more about you than the democratic party. Ideas of Social Democracy are not radical. They’re globally normalized amongst developed countries and the United States is the exception to the rule. Further, I can guarantee you that Sema Hernandez was not warming up to authoritarian dictators. Progressives disapprove of unnecessary sanctions that, as is accepted in economics literature, don’t work and only hurt the people under the leadership of a state. They think (according to well-known fact) that Soleimani led the fight against ISIS and that it was wrong to assassinate him out of the blue while he was on a peace mission. They think that, although unjust in their government structure, Cuba deserves credit for improving education and health outcomes (and no, it’s not just us — Obama said it too).
And let’s talk about the “principles of democracy” and which wing puts them at stake. As far as I am aware, the ONLY candidate who supports a popular vote system for primaries is the progressive leader, Bernie Sanders. Every other candidate supports anti-democratic superdelegates that would explicitly overturn the will of the people (assuming Bernie wins the plurality of the vote). I for one think that centrists are the least willing to accept pure democracy because it is too prone to demanding change from their constituents and that the democratic establishment is better served using money and arbitrary rules to shift outcomes in favor of “no change.”
I stood by the Democratic party too. I still do, as being a Republican at this point is morally reprehensible. However, you objectively do not represent the will of working-class Americans of color writ large. You cuddle up to the status quo that leaves so many of us behind. You refuse to acknowledge the failures of “triangulation” and “reaching across the aisle” as they’ve become synonymous with bending a knee to the republicans time and time again. I truly hope the appetite for progressivism only continues to rise such that one day, democracy can be repaired.
Let me repeat a very important point: PROGRESSIVES ARE NOT RADICAL. This movement represents a coming to terms with the failures of the system as is and calls for real pragmatism that keeps pace with the changing world as we know it. You couldn’t have put it better, Ben: “Now is the time that we face facts.”
Liberalism is not the only ideological system that can provide “real” change, so stop acting like it. Liberalism is the only ideological system that is so obsessed with change at the “right pace” that it dilutes its own successes into oblivion (see the Affordable Care Act, military budget, Middle East interventions, border wall compromise and more). I think it is best that you self-reflect instead on the failures of the past three decades of liberalism and come to terms with an ideology that can deliver for its constituents.
The “modernized model of liberal centrism” that you call for is called Progressivism. Progressives in America represent the center amongst developing countries, as I recounted earlier. Deep thinkers and problem solvers did their research and found out that full-blown centrism is a failure.
Moderate-to-conservative Democrats don’t want your preaching; they want Bernie. He did win their support in Nevada! And, with a basic understanding of how coattails work, you won’t have to worry about centrists winning congressional seats in November. Progressives will win those primaries AND generals because their policies and ideas are growing more popular by the day. Only accepting progressives and coming to terms with the most popular policies can truly restore “unity” to the party. A party unified on bracketing out progressives is no unity at all. Unity between the establishment who wants the system as is and those that need it to change is not possible. What is required is unity amongst voters to fight for the ideas that represent their needs instead of falling victim to the guise of centrism.