The argument goes like this: “Medicare for all” and similar policies might be popular among the millennial hipsters living in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district, but they are widely distrusted by everyone from Plains-dwelling farmers to upscale suburbanites.
Polling repeatedly shows that Americans believe health care is the major issue facing the United States, with a majority saying they support “Medicare for all” or a significant expansion of the program. While fiscal hawks such as Third Way harp on Social Security’s supposedly out-of-control finances, Americans say they support eliminating the payroll tax cap to shore up the program’s finances and up the amount the program pays retirees. Majorities in both parties back making public colleges tuition-free and say they would like to see increased financial regulation, both of the behavior that led to the mortgage crisis and 2008 crash, as well as rules to protect individual consumers.
At the same time, the Trump tax cuts, which showered the wealthy with permanent giveaways while giving most of us small-time cuts that currently sunset in 2025, remain resoundingly unpopular. And you know what enjoys popular support? Making the rich pay more of their fair share.
Here is where you begin to get what’s really going on here. Groups such as the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way have long argued that a majority of Americans oppose “big government.” The organization pushes cutting back spending on Social Security and Medicare, and is opposed to the economically progressive agenda that’s gaining increasing strength in the Democratic Party. This pablum is largely funded by corporate money and wealthy donors, the organizations and people who would likely see their tax bill increase to pay for a broadly popular upgrading of the social safety net. Hence the pushback. None of this is to say it’s an evil plot. Most of us are utter champs at convincing ourselves that what we believe is in our own personal best interests is in everyone’s best interests.
So let me issue a friendly reminder: There is essentially zero evidence to show that positioning the Democratic Party as centrist either makes it easier for the party to triumph at the ballot box or work with the Republican Party. Hillary Clinton, who needed to be pushed into a robust support of Social Security by Sanders, devoted no small amount of her campaign to wooing moderate suburbanites in places such as Arizona who were thought to be abandoning Trump and the Republicans en masse. We all know how well that turned out. Barack Obama spent a good chunk of his presidency attempting to reach out to the center of the aisle – only to be shoved back by Republicans time and time again, with little to show for it at the polls. The Affordable Care Act, a version of which was initially pioneered then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, has been subject to a nonstop barrage of GOP hate and sabotage. In fact, the corporate, Republican-lite agenda is so unpopular that Trump campaigned, in part, against it: While the vast majority of his GOP rivals proclaimed their desire to cut Social Security and Medicare, Trump stood out for his vehemence in saying the opposite.
True, it’s hard not to feel a little bad for the now-homeless Never Trumpers. Many expected that if they simply tolerated the dark side of their own party, their vision would triumph. This turned out to be a bad bet. But that doesn’t mean the Democratic Party should shift right to accommodate them. As the Democratic establishment — not to mention the rest of us — learned the hard way, political parties prosper by addressing the concerns of their core supporters, not by taking them for granted. As the old saying goes, dance with the one that brought you.