Yesterday, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman joined the chorus of voices urging the Left to try to bring Trump voters into the Democratic fold.
Friedman identifies four main areas which he claims as “vital” for Democrats to connect with:
- The Muslim world’s “problem with pluralism”
- “Growing the economic pie” (which, at least according to Friedman’s column, seems to mean resolving our “trade problem” with China and somehow generating more “blue collar jobs”)
- Addressing runaway “political correctness”
Missing from this list is an agenda for genuine progressive reforms of the economy.
Freidman’s prescription makes a number of troubling assumptions. Perhaps the most consequential is that Democrats should amplify their attempts to court conservative and centrist voters.
Ideology aside, driving the Democrats to the right is a strategic error. About 55.7% of the voting-age population cast a ballot in 2016, a number far lower than turnout levels typical in other developed countries.
While a number of factors (such as Republican efforts of voter suppression) contribute to the United States’ embarrassingly-low voter turnouts, presumably the lack of enthusiasm is due at least in part to voters feeling indifferent to the products each party has been selling.
Suggesting that Democrats must attempt to “recapture” the center in order to win ignores the millions of Americans who stay home on Election Day.
The future of the Democratic Party lies not in appealing to “moderates,” but to energizing a new bloc of voters who feel abandoned and ignored by both parties.
Since the rise of the “New Democrats” in the late 1980s, the Democratic Party has moved swiftly toward embracing a politics that embraces the mega-wealthy while ignoring nearly everyone else. While this approach arguably brought Bill Clinton to the White House in 1992, it also heralded a gradual process in which the Democratic Party walked away from progressive policies in an (eventually vain) effort to cling to power.
Instead of rebooting the failing strategy of “capturing the center” (which, in reality, largely means kowtowing to the interests of Big Business and the super-rich), the Democratic Party should strongly and unapologetically advocate for policies that will benefit the majority of Americans.
This will undoubtedly take some effort, but the soil shows promising signs of fertility.
Thirty-five percent of Americans, for example, have a positive view of socialism. This may not seem impressive, until you consider that the term has been a dirty word in politics for decades and that no major contemporary American politician ever made a case for socialism until 2016.
That politician—Bernie Sanders—is the most popular politician in the country, with a 60% favorable rating.
Sixty percent of Americans also say that the government is responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans.
Furthermore, with a majority of millennial Americans now disapproving of capitalism (at least of the extremely imbalanced variety in the United States), support for genuinely progressive economic policies only seems destined to grow.
So why exactly should Democrats shift toward the center? (A center which, by the way, seems to be shifting farther and farther to the right.)
Capturing the center is, for Democrats, a fool’s errand. Certainly, Democrats might manage to peel away some “moderates,” but at the cost of further alienating millions of Americans who feel disenfranchised by our political system and potentially encouraging progressive Democrats to sit out Election Day.
And, in all likelihood, many moderates will be persuaded by a liberal political platform that genuinely fights for everyday Americans.
Not to mention that Republicans are likely to rely on their strategy of calling almost anything proposed by a Democrat “socialist,” so why not lean a bit into that label?
Running away from progressive policies (in particular regarding economic issues) is a losing strategy, not to mention an approach that continues the erosion of faith in the American political system.
Liberal Americans have been told for far too long that their preferred agenda loses elections. But skewing to the center has not only helped to create a vastly unequal economy, but also has also led to crushing electoral defeat.
If Democrats want to win again, they should reject the worn scare tactics urging movement toward the right.
The future of the party is not in the center; it’s to the left.
You can follow Canton on Twitter at @CantonWiner.