Put Progressives in Charge of the Democratic Party

Hear me out.

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking to attendees at a rally for Bernie Sanders in Council Bluffs, Iowa. November 8, 2020. (photo: Matt Johnson)

The liberal progressive wing of the Democratic Party has been waiting in the wings long enough.

At this moment, the progressive movement has the transformational ideas, the enthusiasm, the grass-roots support, the digital campaign savvy, the cohesiveness of values, and the momentum to do much more than just wrest the White House away from Donald Trump.

Moderate Democrats do not.

Liberal progressives, together with the full cooperation of the Democratic Party, could easily oust Trump. They could also advance the kind of progressive liberal agenda that could radically alter people’s lives for the better.

The campaign of Joe Biden on the other hand, ever limping along, continues to be unimpressive; when it’s not outright embarrassing. It is also so far behind the digital campaign of Donald Trump, a cadre of tech billionaires in Silicon Valley are even now stepping in to help Biden close the gap.

In the next six months, these well-meaning progressives in tech will try to compete with the digital campaign mastery, data capturing technology, and online platform that has taken the Trump campaign four years to build from the ground up.

Yet as ineffectual as the Biden campaign has proved itself time and again, the Democratic Party is still strangely reluctant to admit party progressives to the winner’s circle, many of whom performed far better than Biden on the campaign trail.

Moderate Democrats and party progressives can only agree on one thing; Trump has to go. After that, opinions on how to proceed differ.

It is obvious that leaders in the Democratic Party understand the power of progressive ideals, and the groundswell of enthusiasm for progressive candidates.

Why else would they have Joe Biden- who has voted for and spearheaded some of the crime bills that have resulted in mass incarceration and increased violence against African-American communities- attempt to do an about-face and embrace progressive positions he spent decades disavowing?

History is Repeating

They overestimated Hillary Clinton; they put too much stock in polls that over-sampled Democrats and under-sampled Republicans; they missed the appeal of someone perceived as a reformer and a political outsider like Bernie Sanders; and they supported Donald Trump in the Republican primary contest.

The DNC thought Trump would be easier to beat.

That misjudgment alone might have cost Democrats the Oval Office in 2016. And that alone should be reason enough for Democratic Party leadership to consider broadening their ranks to include party progressives in 2020.

Progressives would have never helped a divisive candidate like Trump get airtime on a platform like CNN.

Instead, the DNC is again overestimating their safe, legacy, establishment candidate; they are again putting too much stock in flawed polls that still favor Democrats; they are still ignoring the mass-appeal of a reform candidate like Sen. Bernie Sanders.

True, the DNC isn’t now supporting Donald Trump in the Republican primary contest. But, then again, Trump doesn’t need their support to win the Republican primary anymore.

In 2016, he did.

Democratic Party leadership shouldn’t be spooked by accusations of socialism and communism from the right, either; Bernie Sanders is a candidate with widespread appeal. He, and the progressives who supported him in the primary like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar, are more than capable of explaining the benefits of progressive policies to a newly receptive public.

No liberal progressive worth their salt has delusions that the entire leftist agenda will pass unopposed in our current Democracy. The mere existence of liberal wish-list items like federally funded political campaigns doesn’t preclude the possibility that many issues on the liberal agenda- criminal justice reform and universal health care being two that spring to mind in light of the George Floyd murder and the Covid-19 outbreak- are ripe for real legislative progress.

Beyond ripe.

That freshman Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is butting heads with leadership Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should come as no surprise.

Pelosi is a masterful legislator and a crack coalition-builder. Her stock and trade has been the kind of diplomatic, incremental progress that steps on as few toes as possible. While this strategy has been effective over the long-term as progressives have gradually moved the Overton Window on several social issues, it has left much to be desired.

This week has been a stark reminder that for far too many in America, progressive changes in criminal justice and health care will already have come too late.

Party leaders should let progressives take the lead for a change. The challenges we are facing demand progressives push harder for legislative initiatives that are long overdue.

Luckily, the Democratic Party has a number of candidates who fit this bill.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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