OpinionThe center can hold, only by living to fight another day

In a previous column, I said, “The last thing we should do is stop being the Democratic party and become Bernie’s Democratic Socialist party.” I believe my warning may have come too late.
Ben FalconFebruary 27, 202011593 min
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Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

While I may require the assistance of glasses, I can clearly see the writing on the wall — the Democratic party appears to be on the losing side of a decade-long siege by its hard left. The entryist tactics employed by democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders have proven successful thus far in the presidential primary process with not one, not two but three strong consecutive showings in Iowa, New Hampshire and now Nevada. Unfortunately, he is now most certainly our frontrunner and is set, I think, to take the mantle of leadership over the party going forward.

His victory, if successful, will be groundbreaking and likely indicative of a major shift in orientation for the Democratic party. For this will be the first time in which the party’s leftist wing will assume total control since our party’s embarrassing loss in 1972 with George McGovern. This may come as a surprise to many of you, but I actually think now might be the perfect time for the “Bernie-wing” to assume the leadership so that we can all be reminded of what nominating radicals get us. In many ways, we liberals have brought this upon ourselves.

This past weekend I attended a Senate candidates’ forum for the Democratic nomination at the University of North Texas. There it all became too real for me. With each answer put forth by the candidates and the subsequent reactions from the audience, mostly composed of UNT students, I increasingly forgot where I was. I quite genuinely could not recognize my own party and found the forum to be indiscernible with a Green party candidates’ forum. What most did it in for me was the thunderous applause that their foreign policy statements received. Sema Hernandez, a socialist Senate Democratic candidate, in particular, alarmed me with her apologist praises for authoritarian regimes in states like Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran. It seems as though the principles of democracy itself are now up for debate with these kinds of voices at the helm.

What became most clear for me then and there was that the future of this party, our generation, is proving to be far more radical than I ever realized. However, I persist to have faith in our institutions and with this party that my family, like so many other working-class Americans of color, have stood by for over a century. I believe we will survive this unfortunate turn to the hard-left because the current appetite among politicians and voters for radical ideas, such as it is, will not last.

As the long-time dominant faction of the Democratic party, we liberals have become a complacent elite beholden to unchallenged ideas conceived in the 1990s. Because of the past success that we have squandered, we have failed to foster a new vision for the future. I contest that the time has come for us to stop fighting for a bygone era and envision a new way forward. I have risen up time and time again to the defense of centrist politics and liberalism, but now is the time that we face facts. We no longer have the momentum and must evolve to a changing world or risk exclusion from it.

Today, the Democratic party’s political barometer may point to the hard-left, but it will not do so forever. In a decade or two, time will tell if that will still be true. The party’s near future does appear to reside with democratic socialism, but I believe with time and innovation liberalism can return to the forefront as a reinvigorated movement ready to spearhead a return to real solutions and real achievements for real people. Provided that we do the introspective self-reflection necessary to do so.

We used to be globally recognized as a movement with fresh ideas offering people new opportunities, but today we have become little more than a reactionary movement of “no.” Voters want desperately to vote for something, not against something. Liberalism, as it exists in both parties, needs to go back to being a movement driven by deep thinkers and problem solvers. We must come up with new solutions and a plan for achieving the power needed to make them possible. Therefore, a modernized model of liberal centrism is in order — one that can only be fostered from the back-benches of opposition.

My proposition to my fellow moderate-to-conservative Democrats unhappy with a potential Sanders candidacy is simple. Let the hard-left have this one and instead focus our efforts on protecting our majority in the House of Representatives and flipping the Senate. A message of unity for our party must be our priority if we are to defeat the radical right in November.

Ben Falcon

One comment

  • Nate Glancy

    March 1, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    This article is the single coldest take I have ever heard with respect to politics. 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 writ 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, TPP support, and other policies lost the people’s trust as they saw more and more promised (closing GITMO, 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. Despite the totally lopsided media coverage against Bernie from CNN, ABC, MSNBC, and more, he is winning by large margins.

    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 wreaks 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 universally 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 ACA, 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.

    Reply

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