The Democrats Are Moving Left. Will America Follow?

32 journalists, wonks, activists and politicians on the party’s dramatic turn — and what it means for 2020
(Roberto Parada for The Washington Post, based on photos of Sen. Bernie Sanders by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post and Sen. Elizabeth Warren by Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Perhaps the great unknown of 2020 is how the tenor of the Democratic nomination contest will affect the general election. The outcome of the primaries and caucuses, of course, is far from clear — the nominee may ultimately lean to the center or the left — but what is clear is that the party has shifted in fundamental ways since the last presidential election. You can see it in the policy positions being discussed and embraced by Democrats, many of which go well beyond the positions taken by previous Democratic presidents and nominees — from banning private insurance to free college to a wealth tax to the Green New Deal. You can see it in the left-populist worldviews and solid poll numbers of two of the three leading candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. And you can see it in the substantial popularity among the Democratic rank-and-file of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her allies in Congress. In this issue of the magazine, journalists, wonks, activists and politicians — from a variety of ideological perspectives — reflect on how all of this might play out in the months and years to come, and how Americans should feel about it. — Richard Just

It’s about time Democrats moved left

By Brittney Cooper

Since 2011, we have watched a spate of social movements — the Arab Spring, SlutWalk, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March and #MeToo — remind Americans of how essential protest is to shoring up the integrity of democratic politics. If you understand the history this way, Democrats have taken a decade to arrive at what has by all accounts been a pretty raucous party, what with flesh-baring feminists demanding sexual autonomy, young black folks fighting the power again, and radical white kids mad as hell about capitalism robbing them of their American Dreams. To the Democrats’ credit, they have made a fashionably late entrance, bringing the power of formal and established American politics to a table set by those who usually, to paraphrase Shirley Chisholm, have to bring their own chair.

When we ask the question of whether Americans will follow, it begets for me a different question: Which Americans do you mean? Young Americans of all races, and especially those of color, have been sounding the death knell of capitalist excess since they formed the first encampments in New York’s Zuccotti Park. When we see presidential candidates laying out policies and affirming their belief in reproductive justice, reparations and Medicare-for-all, this leftward shift is the direct result of the leadership of 21st-century rabble-rousers and dissenters. The question of whether Americans will follow really asks whether older generations, baby boomers in particular, will get on board with a vision that fundamentally challenges their belief in the myth of American meritocracy — that if you work hard, you can have everything you want. The country simply does not work that way for undocumented folks, for black folks, for the poor, or for trans people.

Do I believe Americans will follow? Americans like me — first-generation college kids, 40-year-old xennials squeezed by the care-taking of children and elders, and those mortified by the persistence of patriarchy, our brazen return to violent white nationalism and our swift if predictable descent into fascism — absolutely will. It’s the only way to a future in which we all get to live and thrive.

Brittney Cooper is an associate professor of women’s and gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University.

The left isn’t making it easy to vote Democratic

By Linda Chavez

For conservatives like me who are alarmed at President Trump’s unprecedented assaults on the Constitution, the unthinkable has become a near imperative. For the first time since 1968, when I voted for Vice President Hubert Humphrey, I may cast a vote for a Democrat for president. In the last election, I wrote in my own Republican preference — Marco Rubio — but this time, the stakes are simply too high to throw away my vote. The Democrats aren’t making my choice easier.

The Democratic Party’s lurch to the left will undermine what should be a chance to win against a deeply unpopular president. Trump has exploded the national debt and is running deficits unheard of outside major wars. But Democrats’ plans for trillions of dollars in spending on everything from climate change to free college to expanded Medicare-for-all with no way to pay for it is a turnoff for voters who wouldn’t think of buying a bigger house or a new car if they couldn’t afford it. Yet perhaps the biggest problem for Democrats is cultural: They are tone deaf when it comes to the values that matter to many religious and socially conservative voters, including significant numbers of Latinos and blacks.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s snarky reply at a recent debate about what she would tell a faith voter who believes marriage should be between one man and one woman was a case in point: “I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that. And I’m going to say, ‘Then just marry one woman,’ ’’ she said, capping off with, “assuming you can find one.” Beto O’Rourke upped the ante, saying his administration would take tax-exempt status away from churches and organizations that did not recognize same-sex marriage. On abortion, even Joe Biden, who previously opposed government funding of abortions, has changed his stance in the face of the Democratic Party’s uncompromising opposition to any restrictions on the procedure. These positions may be popular in Democratic primaries, but come November 2020, they could help ensure Donald Trump’s reelection.

Linda Chavez is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.

Rural Americans will welcome this shift

By Elizabeth Catte

On an electoral map, I live in Staunton, Va., a dot of blue in a sea of red — a small city surrounded by a large rural county that should be, according to conventional political wisdom, filled with the kind of unexciting, middle-of-the-road voters that Joe Biden dreams of and the centrist wing of the Democratic Party mythologizes. Our local Democratic candidates, hampered by gerrymandering, lose gracefully to their Republican rivals. Our assistance to the Democrats in state and national elections is reliable but delivered in modest numbers. We are the kind of people the party likes to seek donations from but never listen to. We are folks who know our place.

Except in 2019, our local Democrats decided to write their own platform, to step up and articulate a vision amid what to them felt like an absence of coherent principles and values from the national party. As working issues, their platform included the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, divestment from fossil fuels, universal health care, total student loan forgiveness and the repeal of right-to-work laws. Their collective direction on more than 60 issues covered by the new platform puts our local organization squarely to the left of both the state and national party, as well as many of the current primary candidates. It was adopted by a unanimous vote.

Nationally, with an eye toward 2020, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the best hope for the left on the narrow electoral terms through which they might succeed. They will face a dangerous terrain where voter apathy will collide with voter suppression and modern misinformation campaigns from the right. Godspeed to them both. But ordinary Americans, not elected representatives or political parties, are at the forefront of progressive politics in the United States. If the Democrats are moving left, it is because they are following, not leading.

Elizabeth Catte is a public historian and author of “What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia.”

In 2016, Sanders came closer than almost anyone had thought possible to upsetting Hillary Clinton in the Democratic nomination contest. In retrospect, it may have been an early indication that the party was about to move left. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press) (n/a)

The necessity and political savvy of the Green New Deal

By Bill McKibben

On climate change, the party is not moving left — it’s moving to where the populace is, especially those segments of it under the age of 40. The polling shows a spiking level of concern, which is about what one would expect in a nation ever more buffeted by the effects of rising temperatures. No one who watched a city literally called Paradise turn into hell last year has forgotten those images; the farmers who endured the wettest year in American history and couldn’t get tractors into the field know better than most how fast the world is changing.

And they all know how little the government has done to face this crisis. In fact, some surveys show that President Trump and the Republicans are more out of touch with popular sentiment on the environment than on anything else.

That’s why all the thinking that falls under the general rubric of the Green New Deal is so smart. It understands the climate crisis as a lens through which to view the world — a chance to address not only its rising temperature but the rising inequality that roils our politics. If your own life is insecure, it’s harder to imagine change of the kind we need to deal with this moment. Ideas like a federal job guarantee for anyone who wants to help with the renewables transition are important precisely because they give people a chance to get their feet on the ground.

It all comes with political danger, of course. If the history of the past 30 years teaches us anything, it’s that those in the fossil fuel industry will do all they can to defend their business model, and since they more or less own one of our political parties, expect endless diatribes about taking away your hamburgers. Up against the growing press of flood and fire, however, I think and hope they’ll fail.

Bill McKibben is an environmentalist and author of, most recently, “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?”

For the lockdown generation, it’s about lives — not left or right

By Emma González

Young Americans have plenty of reasons to be scared, anxious and mad as hell. Adults and elected officials have done basically nothing to address the gun violence in our country, and the problems we face are only getting worse. Our country’s addiction to guns has created a culture of violence that has taken the lives of far too many — nearly 40,000 in 2017, the most recent year for which complete data is available, and the highest annual total in 50 years. It has touched not only my community, but communities everywhere.

Many have called our generation the lockdown generation, but this problem has existed long before us. However, it is up to us to elect people who value life over politics. We aren’t looking for someone on the left or on the right; we are looking for someone who will help us move forward. Our generation has lost its childhood due to gun violence and injustice. We have grown up afraid to exist. Yet, in our fear and our anger, we find strength and the courage to fight. While our innocence has been lost to unspeakable violence and ever-deepening grief, we haven’t lost our ability to speak up and speak out.

Our power comes from knowing that our voices and our votes have shifted a narrative and a nation to bring needed change at local and national levels. In response to an epidemic of gun-related suicides and mass shootings, March for Our Lives wrote “The Peace Plan for a Safer America” — a comprehensive plan to cut gun violence deaths in half in 10 years. Twenty thousand lives could be saved annually.

Each day is a march. Each day is our chance to be heard and to stand for our rights. We deserve to live free of fear. We deserve to live free of gun violence.

Emma González is a co-founder of March for Our Lives.

The far left is too pessimistic about the American Dream

By Avik Roy

If you spend a lot of time watching cable news, it’s easy to conclude that Americans are hopelessly divided about what our country stands for. But we’re actually deeply united on a fundamental American principle: the principle of equal opportunity for all. Bill Clinton used to say, “If you work hard and play by the rules, you should be given a chance to go as far as your God-given ability will take you.” Ronald Reagan said, “The American dream [is] that wealth is denied to no one, that each individual has the right to fly as high as his strength and ability will take him.” It’s no accident that both Clinton and Reagan were popular two-term presidents.

One of the major differences between the far left and the rest of the country is that the far left is deeply pessimistic about the state of equal opportunity. A survey by a group called More in Common found that 54 percent of Americans agreed that “people who work hard can find success no matter what situation they were born into.” By contrast, just 5 percent of “Progressive Activists” — the poll’s most left-leaning respondents — agreed with this statement.

It’s not surprising that some Democratic presidential contestants reflect this pessimism. There remain inequalities of opportunity, such as the persistence of poverty among African Americans, and the decreasing affordability of health care, housing and college.

But hard work still succeeds in America. There are 1.4 million more job openings in America than there are unemployed people. American entrepreneurs have given us access to previously unimaginable goods and services, and our political leaders can open up more areas for innovation.

Voters have always rewarded politicians of both parties who have faith in the American Dream. This was true in 1980, it was true in 2008, and it will be true in 2020.

Avik Roy is president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, an Austin-based think tank.

Only progressive economics can stop future Trumps

By Dani Rodrik

Somewhat less than a third of likely voters say they will support President Trump in the 2020 election regardless of the Democratic Party nominee, according to the annual American Values Survey, conducted in recent months by the Public Religion Research Institute. This leaves more than two-thirds of the electorate up for grabs.

Whether progressive candidates on the left — Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — can claim a large enough share of these potential swing voters will depend less on inherent ideological predispositions than on the framing of the policy issues. True, the term “socialism” evokes mostly negative connotations among Republican-leaning voters. At the same time, according to the PRRI survey, nearly half (47 percent) of Republicans think “progressive” describes them somewhat or very well. And health care and jobs are two of the top three critical issues for uncommitted Americans. (The other is terrorism.)

Academic studies show that the disappearance of good jobs and attendant economic anxieties are key drivers behind the rejection of centrist politicians at the polls in both the United States and Europe. The areas of the country that went for Trump in 2016 after having voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 lagged significantly behind the rest of the country in expanding employment and economic opportunity. Their relative position has continued to deteriorate in the first two years of Trump’s administration.

Trump won in those “flipped counties” by wrapping a nativist narrative around their residents’ discontent. A progressive Democratic candidate would instead offer remedies that directly treat the causes — by redressing fundamental power imbalances in the economy and through public investment in education, social programs, infrastructure and job creation financed by more-progressive taxation.

The choice that the Democratic Party faces is this: It can treat Donald Trump as an aberration and prop up an economic regime that reproduces the status quo ante with cosmetic fixes. Or it can treat Trump as a symptom of an unsustainably unjust economic system that needs to be reformed at its core. Only the latter path will prevent the emergence of future Trumps.

Dani Rodrik is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and co-director of Economics for Inclusive Prosperity.

Americans want a break from chaos — but also something more

By Marcia Davis

As a journalist, I’m not in the prediction business. It’s too early to say what will happen in the Democratic nomination contest. Yet here is what I do know: American voters want more.

Even those folks who are supporters of President Trump want more, whether they know it or not. And I’m not talking about those folks who would like black and brown people, and others of color, to float away. I’m talking about the salvageable people. And there are more than a few, including those folks who voted for Trump on the down low.

The president’s chaotic leadership style is exhausting. In some ways, this impeachment business is representative of that fatigue. We see the U.S. House of Representatives is gearing up to send articles of impeachment to the Senate, but I’m not anticipating a vote for his removal.

People who will be voting Democratic — including some independents, some “Never-Trumpers” and dyed-in-the-wool Dems — will be voting for a breather, a chance for calm. They want a break from all the chaos.

But many Democratic voters want more. They’re looking for real help on health-care costs. Opportunity and job training. Immigration reform. Some help on education. And women’s equality. (It’s time, too, for a female president.) More effort on criminal justice. Real work on climate change. And they’d like some restoration of the country’s international reputation.

Will Americans follow the Democratic Party’s shift to the left? Yes. The question is just how much of a shift we are talking about. Either American voters will sink into an abyss of a downward spiral, or they will climb upward. Democratic voters aren’t ready to storm the barricades, but they are ready to take the stairs, at least two at a time, to meaningful social change.

Americans want normalcy. But they also want progress.

Marcia Davis is a writer in Washington and a former articles editor and writer at the Post Magazine.

The shift to the left will work — if everyone can vote

By Rebecca Solnit

I’d invert this question to say: America is far to the left of its political representation, and if we’re lucky the Democrats will catch up with us. That is, the Americans who are eligible to vote believe far more sincerely in the importance of climate action, human rights and equality, social services, gun control and economic justice than the Americans who actually do vote. That’s often cast as “why didn’t those young/brown/black/poor people vote” by people uninterested in the answer. We know the answer.

Decades ago, Republicans faced a choice: They could adapt to an increasingly nonwhite America and try to win votes from people of color, or they could do their damnedest to prevent those people from voting. As we all know, they chose the second option. Former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach’s Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program was a cynical means to remove legitimate voters from the rolls, as are some red states’ new tactic of striking from the rolls anyone who didn’t vote in a recent election. Voter identification laws disproportionately affected poor, nonwhite people. In many places, polls were closed, forcing voters to travel great distances; poorer places often had shoddy equipment; college students and people in poor precincts sometimes had to wait in line for hours — if they could afford to miss class or work or have someone watch the kids while they did so. As of 2016, 6 million citizens with felony convictions had their right to vote taken away — in Florida that meant 1 in 5 black voters before the laws were changed in 2018.

The country we live in has been shaped by the choices made by a disproportionately older, whiter, wealthier electorate — which is to say, more conservative. If this were a country where registering to vote and voting were protected as they should be, the voice of the voters would be heard. And that voice, or rather those voices, would choose to respond meaningfully to climate change, protect the most vulnerable and defend human rights. So the first job of a progressive agenda for 2020 is to protect the right to vote.

San Francisco writer, historian and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than 20 books about geography, community, art, politics, hope and feminism. Her recent works include “Whose Story Is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters” and a forthcoming memoir, “Recollections of My Nonexistence.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who endorsed Sanders for president — has been among the prominent voices making the case for democratic socialism in America. (Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg)

The case for cultural moderation

By Jonathan Rauch

I’ll take the liberty of rephrasing the question two ways. First: “Democratic primary voters are moving left. Will the general electorate follow?” In 2020, the answer is: very possibly, even probably. But not because the general electorate is on board with the Sanders-Warren-AOC worldview; rather, it’s because the voters get only two choices, and the alternative is Donald Trump. His “Make America Great Again” base, though intense, is too small to carry him to a second term. He needs a contingent of pragmatic-minded voters, and he may be alienating them to the point where they will take a chance on a normally-too-far-left Democrat.

Which begs a second version of the question: “Democrats are moving left on economic and cultural issues. Will the country follow?” There, the likeliest answers are: definitely yes and probably no. In 2020, no one with a shot at winning (sorry, Bill Weld) is campaigning on a free-market, small-government agenda, because there’s no demand for one. Trump’s own economic agenda — big spending, big deficits, trade protectionism, interventionist subsidies — confirms the bipartisan collapse of Reagan-Thatcherism (except on tax cuts). On cultural issues, however, the country is not swinging left but bifurcating. Big coastal cities and college-educated voters are going one way; rural and heartland places and working-class voters are going the other. Younger voters are more culturally left-leaning, but a lot of minority voters are culturally conservative, so demographic change won’t settle this argument anytime soon. And in the short run, Democrats need some of those rural and heartland working-class votes.

The takeaway from both answers? A smart formula for Democrats would be to lean left on economics but toward the center on culture. A good place to start might be by pushing back against politically correct thought-policing online and on campus. For, say, Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg, a “Sister Souljah” moment or two could go a long way.

Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

On foreign policy, left and right are scrambled

By Anne-Marie Slaughter

Democrats are actually moving both left and right on foreign policy. Democratic presidential candidates largely tilt left on both climate change and pulling back from foreign wars and global leadership (with the exception of Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg). On the other hand, they are almost all China hawks and mostly protectionist, at least relative to both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. That is ground that President Trump has staked out and held, so it’s hard to describe it purely as “left.”

The country is likely to follow. The majority of Americans agree that climate change is increasingly an existential threat, one that we are experiencing already. Fighting climate change is a domestic as well as global subject, but measures like a carbon tax with dividends returned to the public, which is attracting support on the right and the left, would require global agreement to avoid countries profiting from tax differentials.

The question of America’s role in the world is framed as “should America be the global policeman” by people who would say no and as “should America continue to aspire to global leadership” by people who would say yes. Democrats have been questioning the value of leading through use of force and the deployment of troops since 2008, when the fault line of support for or opposition to the Iraq War helped Obama become the nominee over Hillary Clinton. Even more important, the post-World War II vision of activist American leadership designed to rally our allies to help cool down hot spots and fight tyrants around the world is fading with the baby boomers who embraced it — on the right and the left.

Americans who think that our troops are overdeployed and our dollars are underappreciated abroad will be content with a foreign policy that seeks to lead more by the “power of our example” than the “example of our power,” to borrow a line used by Democrats over the years. The majority will want to shore up our alliances and strengthen our diplomatic clout, but when it becomes apparent just how much that clout depends on the credible use of force, they are likely to balk. And for this Democrat, at least, some of the money we spend on making that threat credible is better spent on education, equity and energy — of the renewable kind.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is CEO of New America.

Yes to moving left. No to ideological bubbles.

By Joshua DuBois

Democrats are right to find the injustices that remain in our country and work to root them out. If that focus is described as a “move to the left,” then that move is a good and moral thing. More than 100 Americans die every day because of gun violence. Our climate is changing, and marginalized communities are threatened most by that change. Families are working well over 40 hours per week and still struggling to make ends meet. Individuals still face discrimination because of the color of their skin, whom they love or simply who they are. A country where we face fewer of these problems with each passing day is a country where I want to live.

However, we have to be careful to pipeline those priorities from people in communities themselves. This does not mean that we should slow the march toward progress. I believe strongly in what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct action movement that was ‘well timed.’ ” But leaders in our party, and influential voices in the broader progressive movement, must constantly assess not just the demands we are making but the source material for those demands. Are we rooting our causes in communities, or amplifying an existing echo chamber? Are we camouflaging self- or organizational interest as community interest?

The only way to check those motivations is to spend disproportionate time listening and learning stories from communities affected the most. Those stories — and the solutions that arise from them — are often more nuanced, careful, hopeful and ultimately righteous than the simple, uncompromising messages we tend to share in our own circles, online and offline.

Joshua DuBois was a White House adviser to President Barack Obama on faith, race and community partnerships. He now leads a consulting and marketing research firm and provides political commentary on CNN.

(Roberto Parada for The Washington Post)

General-election voters will not be pleased

By Lanhee J. Chen

Americans won’t follow the Democrats to the left because the policy solutions that come with that move are ultimately unappealing. While the proposals being touted by leading progressive Democrats may sound good at first, further analysis almost always exposes their flaws.

A prime example of this is the way in which Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have been widely criticized — by Democrats and Republicans alike — for the Medicare-for-all plans that they support. The plans will displace current private insurance arrangements for hundreds of millions of Americans and are so expensive that neither Sanders nor Warren can honestly explain how they’ll be paid for. Quite simply, Americans aren’t ready to follow Democrats to the left if it means wrecking the health-care system we have now.

And there are other policy examples, too. Take Democrats’ movement toward decriminalizing border crossings and their criticism of physical barriers at America’s southern border. Or their support of wealth taxes that have rarely worked in any other country where they’ve been tried and often lead not to more tax revenue but more tax evasion. Or progressives’ advocacy for policies to fight climate change that could raise the price of energy for many households, cost up to tens of trillions of dollars, and result in dramatic changes to the ways we live and work.

While these policies are appealing to the progressive Democrats who will largely populate the primaries and caucuses, they will be a challenge for Democrats once a broader electorate examines them more closely. It’s hard to imagine that Americans will follow Democrats to the left if it means supporting the far-left ideas we’ve heard espoused by many presidential candidates this year. That’s why we can expect the Democratic nominee for president — whoever she or he is — to pivot to a more palatable middle ground once the general-election campaign begins in earnest.

Lanhee J. Chen is the David and Diane Steffy Fellow in American Public Policy Studies at the Hoover Institution and director of domestic policy studies in the public policy program at Stanford University.

Latinx voters are leading the shift to the left

By Natalia Salgado

For black and brown communities across our country, the question of whether America will follow the leftward surge is a question of life or death. Donald Trump is denying immigrants, specifically Latinx immigrants, a life in this country, or a life at all. The shootings in Ohio and El Paso are proof that the Trump presidency has put Latinx lives at risk by emboldening those who think that this country should work just for white people.

We — as Latinx voters and, more broadly, voters of color — are leading the move to the left. We are demanding that the Democratic Party follow. This is a huge shift for a party that has historically ignored us except for last-ditch efforts leading up to an election. Through grass-roots organizations and networks like the Center for Popular Democracy Action, Mijente, Texas Organizing Project, CASA, Make the Road and others, we are pushing the Democratic Party to take our votes seriously and propose policies that create a future for all of us in this country. The movement of the Democratic Party to the left is a necessary step, but a reactive one.

Voters of color, including Latinx voters, are an increasing percentage of the American electorate — and our share will only grow bigger. There are 32 million Latinx voters who will be eligible to vote in the 2020 election. For us to turn out, we need a candidate who will commit to undoing the damage that Trump has caused us and to proactively promoting a vision for this country that includes us and allows us to thrive.

If a leftward move of the Democratic Party means a move to represent our voices, our perspectives and our interests, then that is the direction we should be headed.

Natalia Salgado is the national political director of the Center for Popular Democracy Action, a liberal organizing group based in New York.

The left-right spectrum has lost all meaning

By Katherine Mangu-Ward

The left-right spectrum is worse than useless for understanding the American ideological landscape. We live in a world where Fox News pundit and unofficial presidential adviser Tucker Carlson has kind words to say about Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s extremely progressive economic policy proposals, but only because he thinks they will help restore traditional family structure and bring back blue-collar manufacturing jobs.

The snake isn’t just eating its own tail, it appears to be vomiting it back up as well.

Since Donald Trump became president and embarked on his convoluted trade war, Democrats have a newfound skepticism about tariffs. Republicans, meanwhile, are no longer troubled by deficit spending and even seem keen on some new entitlements, such as mandatory paid parental leave. Every major-party 2020 hopeful is campaigning on regulation of free speech online; Democrats want to bar hate speech on social media while Republicans are mad at massive corporations (!) for what they perceive as “censorship” of conservative opinions. Things are even more topsy-turvy in foreign policy, where a sitting Republican champions antiwar views (while oscillating wildly on implementation) and powerful Democrats take to the nation’s op-ed pages to urge him to listen to the wise generals who favor the interventionist status quo.

All of which is to say: I’m not at all sure what it means to say the Democrats (or Americans) are moving left. But Americans seem increasingly comfortable with reactionary authoritarianism in its various guises. Both socialism and nationalism are experiencing resurgences in popularity after having spent decades in the doghouse for very good reasons. There is a bipartisan consensus emerging in favor of a larger, stronger and more-intrusive government. And that’s a more telling — and worrying — trend than whatever the polls say about left or right.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is editor in chief of Reason magazine.

Warren’s steady rise in the polls in recent months has left her, by some estimations, the front-runner in the race — or at the very least, the field’s most formidable challenger to Joe Biden. Her success is a strong indication of the left-wing mood among Democratic voters. (Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

You can’t defeat Trumpism without a broad coalition

By Neera Tanden

Under Trump’s presidency, most Democrats — and much of the country — feel that America faces an existential threat to progressive values and to our democracy as a whole. That is why electability has become such a central issue in the Democratic primaries. But this debate is not just about the best candidate to beat Trump. It is also about the best kind of campaign and agenda to defeat him.

Part of the debate concerns ideology: whether the best strategy for winning is a left agenda that could energize the base, or a broader and more practical agenda that could attract swing voters. However, this is a false choice.

Only mobilizing the Democratic base may not be enough in 2020, since we know Trump will likely motivate his own core supporters. In fact, Trump’s recent campaigning in the Louisiana governor’s race turned out an additional 200,000 voters compared with the last election in 2015 — many of them white and rural — helping to force a runoff for the Democratic incumbent.

In 2020, Democrats can — and should — turn out their base, while simultaneously making their case to swing voters. That’s precisely what happened in 2018. Participation rates among millennials and people of color soared, with the number of Latino voters nearly doubling from the previous midterm elections in 2014. But persuadable Trump voters played the more important role: According to Catalist, a progressive firm that tracks voter data, “Democratic gains were … largely driven by voters who voted for Trump in 2016 and voted Democratic in 2018.”

We can have a bold agenda that also appeals to a wide spectrum of voters. For example, the Center for American Progress has released a proposal that would achieve universal health care by creating a national health plan similar to Medicare that’s open to everyone, while allowing those who receive private insurance through their employers to keep their current plans. This approach receives broad support across the political landscape, including from a majority of Democrats in Iowa. What’s more, it would not raise taxes on the middle class — making it less vulnerable to attacks from Trump while still providing coverage for all.

To end Trumpism, not just beat Trump, will take a major electoral defeat. That is possible, but it means building a broad coalition with a broad agenda.

Neera Tanden is president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

A centrist’s case for a leftward tilt

By Elaine C. Kamarck

America is already there. Which is why, as an avowed centrist, I have no problem with my party’s leftward tilt, especially on economic issues.

In recent decades the country has undergone what is often called the “financialization” of the economy: People who make money playing with money have become richer and more important than people who make things that we like and use such as iPhones and washing machines. Think of it as Wall Street takes out Main Street. This doctrine encompassed a set of behaviors that emphasized short-term returns to investors over long-term growth. The economist William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell has summed up these changes as a shift from “retain-and-reinvest to downsize-and-distribute.” The results have cost Americans good jobs and hollowed out the middle class while increasing returns to an obscenely rich 1 percent.

This “vulture capitalism” plays out in several ways. One is through the work of so-called activist investors. Indeed, an activist-investor drama is taking place as I write. Elliott Management Corp., a large hedge fund, has been buying stock in AT&T. Elliott has recently put AT&T on notice that it could be more profitable (i.e., have a higher short-term stock price) if it divested landline businesses and closed retail stores. The Communications Workers of America, a labor union, estimates that these suggestions could negatively affect 30,000 workers.

Average Americans have seen this happen hundreds of times in their own towns. It was one of the biggest reasons that, in 2012, Mitt Romney lost the presidential election. I am neutral in the Democratic presidential race, but it is clear that anger at a capitalism that guts corporations and kills jobs to enrich the 1 percent is fueling the campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of the first people to blow the whistle on it. When it comes to correcting the abuses of vulture capitalism, the Democratic Party’s leftward tilt is a very real response to what has happened to Americans and their jobs.

Elaine C. Kamarck is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where she edited a series titled “The Initiative on 21st Century Capitalism.”

Fealty to intersectional politics spells doom

By Wesley Yang

At the recent LGBTQ candidates forum, Elizabeth Warren promised a 9-year-old transgender boy input into whom she would name to run the Department of Education.

Trans people make up a minuscule percentage of the electorate. And yet, this gesture — like other similar ones by her campaign — was a necessary symbolic act of fealty to a specific mode of politics. Warren was deferring to the activist cadres that run and staff the organs of the institutional left. This faction is situated at critical choke points of the nonprofit and governmental civil rights apparatus, which derives its power and authority from the manufacture of new protected classes on whose behalf the latest moral crusade requiring federal intervention can be launched. These factions in turn are axially allied with a novelty-seeking media that has a role in reporting what happened, but an even larger role, as the writer Ben Sixsmith has put it, in “memeing trends into existence.”

The California state legislature recently tabled a model ethnic studies curriculum for public high school students, which the same body has repeatedly tried to make a graduation requirement. The curriculum calls on students to “critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism and other forms of power and oppression,” in order to “connect ourselves to past and contemporary resistance movements that struggle for social justice.” This is the language around which this new administrative class has coalesced.

When the Working Families Party made the surprising choice to endorse Warren over Bernie Sanders, it was likely motivated by the concerns and interests of these cadres, who are pursuing the “intersectional” practice of stitching together a tapestry of identity groups in shared pursuit of the power vested in the federal government to regulate. Sanders is an old white man fixed in a mid-20th-century class politics that this coalition regards as essentially anachronistic, not just because of who he is but because, as an outsider to the institutional Democratic Party, he is a stranger to the administrative classes for whom the language of “ableism” and “cisheteropatriarchy” is the coin of the realm.

This intersectional approach is excellent at acquiring power through intramural struggle within institutions. It has been less successful in winning national elections. Whether the country follows the Democratic Party on its left turn largely depends on whether Warren or whoever the party picks as its standard-bearer can preserve some room to maneuver apart from the implacable demands of this faction. At the moment, I’m not optimistic.

Wesley Yang is a columnist for Tablet and the author of “The Souls of Yellow Folk.”

Democrats are finally catching up on racial justice

By Peniel Joseph

Since at least Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the Democratic Party, to both the benefit and the ill of its electoral prospects, has been identified as the party of social justice and racial equality. Losing five of six presidential contests between 1968 and 1988 prompted a rightward shift exemplified by Bill Clinton’s politically deft yet morally reprehensible triangulation on the question of black America. Easily the most striking aspect of today’s Democratic primary race has been the distance traveled, especially by some contenders, from the days when Clinton triumphantly passed criminal justice and welfare reform that penalized the black poor. The candid discussion of reparations for descendants of enslaved African Americans shows how far we’ve come since Democrats believed that racial scapegoating was necessary for electoral success.

The Obama coalition built its political strength on demographic transformations combined with the implicit belief that the election of a black president could both represent racial progress and contribute to the eradication of institutional racism. Donald Trump’s electoral coalition, based on explicit and ugly appeals to white nationalism, upended the racial optimism of 2008-2009 and liberated Democrats from speaking politely about racial equality while largely ignoring the promotion of racial justice as a policy agenda. The rise of Kamala Harris, Ayanna Pressley and Stacey Abrams has highlighted the fact that black women represent the party’s “stickiest” voter, a loyal constituency that Democrats now need more than ever to reclaim the White House. On race matters, Democratic support of reparations, ending mass incarceration, universal health care and a living wage for all Americans recognizes right as well as reality.

Ultimately, for Democrats to regain the White House they must offer a political vision that recognizes the centrality of race to our national politics, but in a manner that pushes us closer to, rather than farther from, the “beloved community” that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. often evoked. For King that community required elected officials and ordinary citizens to wrestle with the legacy of slavery, the impact of Jim Crow and the prevalence of inequality throughout society. Contemporary Democrats bold enough to discuss the structural nature of racial inequality and the way race continues to shape positive and negative social, economic and political outcomes recognize that to achieve our country’s highest aspirations requires plumbing the depths of its lowest historical moments. That means that Democrats are on the right path to not only electoral success but also a long overdue reckoning about the relationship between race and democracy. Will America follow? If Americans of all races and backgrounds who proudly joined the Obama coalition are given free and unfettered access to the polls next year, the answer promises to be a resounding yes.

Peniel Joseph is a professor of history and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he directs the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.

Actually, Democrats are moving to the center

By Howard Dean

Much has been made of the supposed movement of the Democratic Party to the left. But the evidence suggests that the Democratic Party as a whole is more centrist than it was four years ago, while the electorate is moving from center-right to center-left.

First, while the four dynamic and outspoken women who make up “The Squad” were winning seats in Congress in 2018, Americans were also electing more than 30 other new representatives from Orange County, Calif., as well as Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Virginia, replacing very conservative members like Dave Brat, Dana Rohrabacher and Pete Sessions. These members, like Conor Lamb, who won two congressional elections in rural Pennsylvania last year, are centrist Democrats. Many of them are veterans.

Second, it is fair to say that the debate among presidential contenders skews left given the strong showings by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg have staked out more-moderate positions, and the latter two are climbing. Kamala Harris also appears to be portraying herself as a practical progressive.

Finally, the Democrats’ rise is entirely because our party base is increasingly young, female and of color. But the younger generation, which elected Barack Obama, is in many ways more moderate than mine. Gay rights, diversity, climate change and women’s reproductive freedom are critical issues for them, but they also don’t trust big institutions — including political parties, government, religious authoritarians, big corporations and labor unions.

The most interesting phenomenon to me, however, is that roughly 70 percent of under-35s, independent of ethnicity and gender, vote for Democrats, not because they love the party but because our values and their values are mostly a good fit. Republican values are too authoritarian, too spendthrift and too oriented toward corporate donors to appeal to this generation anytime soon. This new generation is fiscally moderate and socially very progressive with a streak of libertarianism, and they are now the largest voting bloc in the electorate. Even as they are dragging the Democrats toward the center, they are also dragging the politics of the country as a whole leftward because they are so overwhelmingly socially conscious compared with the more authoritarian and much older generation of Republican voters.

Howard Dean served as governor of Vermont from 1991 to 2003 and as chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 to 2009. He was a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2004 presidential election.

A plea for national unity, not socialism

By Rep. Will Hurd

Our nation faces generation-defining challenges as we enter an age when American military and economic dominance is no longer guaranteed. My experiences as a former undercover CIA officer and member of Congress have convinced me that to solve these challenges we must understand that way more unites us than divides us as a country. The most successful politicians of the future will have to defy the political truism that, as summarized by author Tim Alberta, “elections in modern America are won principally by mobilizing the base, not persuading the middle.”

As you are reading this, China is working to replace the United States as the most important economy in the world, and our adversaries are challenging us around the globe. If they are successful, the quality of life of every American will decline. To meet this challenge, we should strengthen alliances, not weaken them, and be prepared to fight the wars of the future, not the wars of the past. America is successful only when our enemies fear us and our friends trust us.

According to a Federal Reserve survey, 39 percent of Americans would struggle to cover an unexpected $400 expense. To ease these burdens we should empower people, not the government; however, many Democrats have proposed policies like taking away private health insurance from millions of people or ending the energy revolution we are currently benefiting from. These policies will negatively affect all Americans by weakening our economy and national security. For every family to have a chance at the American Dream, we must promote prosperity through free markets, not socialism.

Representing one of the most swing districts in the country, I know that reasonable Democrats and independents share these concerns and agree on the solutions. That’s how I’ve defied the odds and continued to win.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) is a former CIA officer who has served in Congress since 2015.

The Democratic nomination could come down to a choice between a candidate like Biden, who opposes Medicare-for-all and prefers incremental change, and a more left-leaning candidate such as Warren, who supports Medicare-for-all and is promising bold action if elected. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

How left-wing foreign policy converged with Trumpism

By Aaron L. Friedberg

Democrats may be running hard to the left on domestic policy, but on foreign policy at least the more “progressive” among them appear to be headed in the same direction as President Trump: toward a greatly diminished U.S. world role.

Like their arch-nemesis, progressive Democrats want to end the nation’s “endless” wars and to avoid future military interventions, especially in the Middle East. Like Trump, they are skeptical of the benefits of free trade and believe that the international economic system has been “rigged” to benefit “globalist” elites. And, like Trump, they want to focus on “making America great again” or, as they might prefer, on “nation-building at home.”

There are differences, of course. Trump is scornful of international institutions, denigrates America’s traditional allies and defines the nation’s interests in narrowly material terms. Progressives, by contrast, speak the lofty language of human rights and universal values, and hope to find cooperative, multilateral solutions to every global problem. Trump’s desire to put “America first” risks leaving it isolated. The progressives’ inclination to turn inward, cut defense spending and unfurl massive social welfare programs risks allowing external challenges to grow unchecked.

There are less-extreme voices to be heard on both sides of the political aisle, including from a few of the Democratic candidates and some congressional Republicans, as well as many former Democratic officials and their currently exiled “Never Trump” Republican counterparts. Dismissed by their parties’ populists as out-of-touch and irrelevant, the views of these centrists may actually be closer to those of most Americans. A recent report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows that significant majorities — despite favoring a measure of restraint — still express support for preserving military superiority, maintaining alliances, pursuing trade and promoting democracy. In other words, although the necessary leadership may be lacking at the moment among both Republicans and Democrats, public support for an active, engaged U.S. foreign policy remains strong.

Aaron L. Friedberg is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

One of the two Americas is shifting left

By Tanzina Vega

It depends on which America you’re talking about. Despite the Mueller report, the impeachment inquiry, multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse, racial animus toward immigrants and asylum seekers, and deeply unpopular foreign policy initiatives, support for President Trump has remained around 40 percent. Expecting his base to shift is useless.

As a nation, however, we’re becoming more racially diverse and less religious. We are also less able to get and sustain wealth. The yawning inequality gap in the United States has many Americans, young and old, disillusioned about the so-called American Dream. From digital media companies in cities like New York to factory floors in the Midwest, workers across the country are demanding better pay and protections from an increasingly automated economy. Americans are also scarred from the exorbitant costs of health care and prescription drugs, and from an opioid crisis that has devastated families and communities. All of these things have pushed younger Democrats further from the political center than their parents, and have invigorated marginalized groups to become more vocal in the fight for civil rights and economic justice.

The majority of Americans disapprove of the job this president is doing, and they want to see change. We already hear Democratic presidential candidates talking about concepts like the racial wealth gap, growing income inequality, criminal justice reform and LGBTQ rights in far more progressive terms than would have been thinkable during the last election cycle.

There is a fierce debate happening among Democratic voters about which candidate they’d prefer to have as a nominee. Younger voters of color seem captivated by Julián Castro’s progressive stances on many of these issues as opposed to Joe Biden’s centrist and at times rambling approach to maintaining the status quo. Kamala Harris, a woman of color, has taken her share of criticism for her prosecutorial past, while Bernie Sanders, a white man in his 70s, nabbed an endorsement from progressive millennial icon Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But in the end, I suspect Democrats will have no choice but to vote for whoever runs against Trump, regardless of how progressive (or not) they happen to be.

Tanzina Vega is host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “The Takeaway” from WNYC and PRX.

Voters want an end to our rigged economic system

By Sheila Bair

The tango requires close synchronization between two partners. For decades, the government and moneyed interests have been performing a political version of it, gliding across a ballroom strewn with special breaks, boondoggles and bailouts. The failure of the Democratic ticket to acknowledge this unseemly pas de deux led to its defeat in 2016. This time around, most of the Democratic presidential candidates have felt the public’s not-so-gentle tap on their shoulders and have vowed that their administration will partner with the public electorate who brought them to the ball. Yet, to do so, they promise a bigger and more powerful government — the same government that has been so willing to let profiteers fill its dance card in the past.

Democrats have been as willing as Republicans to tango with the rent-reaping lounge lizards. Time and again, well-intended government programs aimed at expanded public access to health care, education or homeownership are co-opted by profit-seeking concerns. Tax breaks meant to spur economic growth instead exacerbate yawning economic inequality while inflating bubbles, as tax-advantaged dollars chase too few opportunities for real economic growth. Government regulators become captive of the regulated. Whether it’s plane crashes or financial crashes, the public is put at risk.

The general electorate wants to break up the dance party. This includes many business leaders who are also fed up with government waste and favoritism. But they will be skeptical of more government as the solution. Andrew Yang’s idea for giving financial support directly to families — cutting out the government and industry middlemen — may have particular appeal. Ultimately, the person will be more important than the policy, giving the edge to a candidate such as Elizabeth Warren, who has made restoring independence, integrity and trust in government a centerpiece of her campaign. That is the kind of leadership Americans need to bounce the cronies off the dance floor.

Sheila Bair is director of the Volcker Alliance, a nonpartisan group that aims to improve the efficiency of government. She was the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) from 2006 to 2011.

Borders with justice are in sync with America

By Hiroshi Motomura

Republicans try hard to cast Democratic presidential candidates as “open borders” advocates, feeding the narrative that Democrats are “moving left.” But nothing suggests that the Democratic candidates are especially “left” on immigration. In fact, they are very mainstream. Rather than wondering if America will follow, it’s more accurate to say that the Democrats are following America.

What do Democratic candidates and many Americans find deeply troubling? Not just separating children from parents, but sidestepping the rules in U.S. immigration law requiring full asylum hearings before immigration judges. Not just keeping spouses from living together in the United States, but doing so with a “travel ban” targeting six Muslim countries. Not just ending the humane treatment of young undocumented immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, but ignoring Congress’s requirements that any administration articulate rational reasons for policy changes. Broad public revulsion with the administration’s immigration policies has nothing to do with open borders. The Democrats are actually defending borders and U.S. sovereignty — by insisting on borders with justice.

Borders allow us to promote equality and dignity on the inside, as a way to build a stronger America. But if borders are to help create a just society, they must be ethical borders. This means that presidents must not weaponize immigration to stoke racial and religious prejudice or to divide Americans. Presidents must not use race, ethnicity or religion to treat some Americans better than others. It cannot matter if you are from Nigeria or Norway, Syria or Slovenia. Enforcement cannot be especially harsh against migrants from Latin America. Presidents must not ride roughshod over the immigration framework that Congress has enacted into statutes. Presidents must not ignore the basic principles of fairness that make sure enforcement is consistent with the rule of law.

But this administration is guilty of all these fundamental violations, undermining why we have borders in the first place. When Democratic candidates object, they aren’t supporting open borders. If Democrats make it clearer that they want borders with justice, they will be on the same page as the vast majority of Americans.

Hiroshi Motomura is a professor at the UCLA School of Law specializing in immigration and citizenship.

Democrats must refuse to be (falsely) called radicals

By Moisés Naím

Americans will not follow politicians who fit the caricature that Donald Trump and Fox News use to depict opponents of the incumbent president.

America-hating, illegal-immigrant-loving, soft-on-crime radical socialists will not do well with voters. Fortunately, these radical socialists are scarce and not very influential. Unfortunately, they are omnipresent in Trump’s speeches and tweets.

Politicians with credible proposals to solve the concrete problems that besiege Americans will do well with voters who are unwilling to take the president’s claims at face value. That is why persuading voters to double-check the president’s accusations and denounce his exaggerations and falsehoods will be important goals of his adversaries. But that will not be enough. The attacks of the president and his supporters need to be answered with a pragmatic stance and concrete solutions. For example, Democrats should keep reminding voters that a more affordable health care that is available to more Americans is not a left- or right-wing issue. It is what any citizen of one of the richest countries in the world has the right to expect.

Contrary to the National Rifle Association’s rhetoric, banning assault rifles designed to massacre a large number of people in a short period of time or requiring background checks for gun buyers are not measures promoted by the left to undermine America. These are treated as common-sense ideas anywhere else in the world — and, increasingly, by American voters as well.

Suspending U.S. foreign aid to the Central American countries where hellish living conditions prompt hundreds of thousands of people to seek refuge in the United States is not a smart, hawkish right-wing, anti-illegal-immigrant policy. It is, instead, a self-inflicted wound that weakens America because it boosts the pressures Central Americans have to leave their homes and flee north.

Defending the human rights of oppressed people everywhere is not a right or left issue either. It is one of the goals that the foreign policy of the world’s most powerful democracy should never abandon even if, at times, it may conflict with other national interests.

Americans are pragmatists, not ideologues. Voters will follow candidates who speak to their concrete needs and aspirations. The challenge for Democrats is to show that Trump’s policies, while at times seductive, are in fact poisonous and often hurt the great majority of Americans. And to show that the policies he routinely denounces as radical are no such thing.

Moisés Naím is a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

LGBT equality isn’t a left-right issue anymore

By Sharon McGowan

As significant as our legal victories have been since the Stonewall riots 50 years ago, perhaps more important has been the increase in social acceptance for LGBT people and our families. While there are certainly far too many places where anti-LGBT discrimination is rampant, it is no longer possible to describe support for LGBT civil rights as some kind of radical “lefty” position. We know this because a majority of people support marriage equality in 44 of the 50 states; 71 percent support transgender people serving in the military; over two-thirds support laws that “would protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing”; and six in 10 Americans are also opposed to businesses refusing to provide products and services to gay and lesbian people for religious reasons. In other words, far from causing “social upheaval,” the vindication of LGBT civil rights sits comfortably within the political mainstream.

Unfortunately, however, we continue to see anti-LGBT forces fighting this wave of public acceptance with every tool in their arsenal. For example, as cities in red states across the country increasingly try to expand protections against discrimination, deeply conservative — and often highly gerrymandered — state legislatures shut down these efforts by claiming that such local ordinances are preempted by state law.

Perhaps the most troubling trend is the packing of our federal judiciary with anti-LGBT ideologues. Notwithstanding far-reaching acceptance for our civil rights, this administration has succeeded in confirming judges at a record pace. Because these are lifetime appointments, we are now facing a generation or more of a federal judiciary that will be taking aim at our civil rights, and not surprisingly, our opponents are more emboldened than ever. Therefore, we cannot become complacent, and must recommit ourselves to the fight for full equality.

But make no mistake about it: This is no longer an issue of left vs. right. We know it, and the rest of the country does, too.

Sharon McGowan is chief strategy officer and legal director at Lambda Legal, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization for LGBT rights and people with HIV.

Voters are ready for bold action

By Richard Cordray

The American people are demanding progress toward real answers for the major problems we face. They want bold action. Most of us want a lasting solution to the constant threat that health-care costs pose to our families. The Trump administration utterly failed to “repeal and replace” Obamacare yet is still trying to dismantle the gains made to broaden coverage, control costs and protect those with preexisting conditions. On climate change, most people accept the overwhelming evidence and recognize the growing frequency of extreme weather events. They want meaningful action on renewable energy and new leadership to rebuild our global alliances to address this existential threat to our planet. Families want their children to be able to get the education and training they need to compete in our fast-moving economy without drowning in debt. And people are chafing at the dramatic and increasing income inequality that is driving down prospects for the middle class.

Despite inheriting a strong economy, the Trump administration has pushed the deficit to nearly a trillion dollars this year, with little to show for it except irresponsible tax cuts that benefit those who are already wealthy. On the major issues — health care, climate change, access to higher education and job training, income inequality and so much more — most Americans believe that we need to deliver big structural changes to move our country forward. They want practical reforms, but they will not be content with small half-measures. This same feeling gripped the country with the progressive movement, the New Deal and the Reagan Revolution. Americans seek real leadership on these issues, and the Democrats must offer a persuasive vision with the courage and determination to make it happen.

Richard Cordray was the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Ohio. He was the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and is a former Ohio attorney general.

‘Not Donald Trump’ isn’t enough

By Prachi Gupta

In the wake of Trump’s election, establishment Democrats struggled to find a more compelling vision than just “We are not Donald Trump.” In July 2017, former congressman Joe Crowley told the Associated Press that the party’s message was still “being worked on.” Almost a year later Crowley, the fourth most powerful Democrat in the House, was ousted by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old democratic socialist. After her primary victory, Ocasio-Cortez told MSNBC, “We have to stick to the message: What are we proposing to the American people? Not, ‘What are we fighting against?’ ” Within a year, the once-fringe ideas she championed — like the Green New Deal — have forced Democratic presidential candidates to move left.

Of course, many party leaders still are not on board with this shift, and recent polls indicate that almost half of Americans find the party too radical. Yet if Democratic leaders run back to the center, as they have in the past, they will risk repeating the mistakes of Hillary Clinton and handing another victory to Trump. Rather than chase the elusive swing Republican voter, Democratic leadership should lean harder into a movement that is so clearly animating its base.

Republicans have normalized right-wing extremism, both in rhetoric and policy. If America is to follow Democrats to the left (or even back to the center), Democrats must unify behind a strong, bold vision; they must reframe public debates around abortion, democratic socialism, immigration and climate change; and they must find a way to translate their values into terms that resonate with working-class people, people of color and young people — even in deeply red pockets. Gen Z is the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in U.S. history. To lead them, Democrats need to offer a brighter future, rather than simply trying to avoid the past.

Prachi Gupta is author of the upcoming biography “AOC: Fighter, Phenom, Changemaker,” and has written for such publications as Jezebel, and Salon.

On the economy, Americans are already there

By Heidi Shierholz

The answer to “The Democrats are moving left. Will America follow?” is no, because America is already there. Poll after poll shows that the large majority of progressive policies are already deeply popular.

Take the minimum wage. Pollsters have always found broad support for minimum-wage increases. Polls conducted earlier this year show a majority of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to $15, which is where the vast majority of Democratic presidential candidates stand on the issue.

What about unions? Many Democratic candidates have very progressive labor platforms — which is exactly what workers want, since although less than 12 percent of workers are in a union, the share jumps to over 50 percent if you include nonunion workers who report they want to be in a union.

Polling shows that most Republicans and Democrats support maintaining or increasing spending on Social Security, and that most Americans support higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, paid family and medical leave, and on and on. In proposing these things, the Democrats are simply catching up to what America wants.

This doesn’t mean the work of progressive leaders is completely done. For example, while a large majority of Americans say they support Medicare “for all who want it,” support drops to less than 50 percent when respondents are asked whether they support Medicare-for-all that eliminates private insurance. In other words, on some things, more work will be needed to pull people along, and Democrats need a plan to convince the skeptical. But these are the exceptions, not the rule. On most progressive policies, Democrats’ move to the left has simply moved them closer to where America was all along.

Heidi Shierholz is a senior economist and director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute. From 2014 to 2017, she served in the Obama administration as chief economist at the Department of Labor.

Florida shows the potential of progressivism

By Andrea Mercado

Democrats moving left with bold policy proposals on education, climate, housing and health care are finally listening to America’s families and our real needs. With rampant racism and historic inequality, this is a time for strong leadership.

The last few election cycles in Florida prove we can energize a broad coalition of young people, black and brown communities, women and more around dynamic leaders with transformative policies. In 2016, Democrats lost Florida after nominating a candidate who did not motivate our base. Many of our voters stayed home, while the other side used fear and division to galvanize its base. In comparison, 2018 saw the biggest upset in Florida in the past 20 years when a bold, progressive black candidate won the Democratic nomination for governor, even after being heavily outspent by a large number of well-known middle-of-the-road candidates. Floridians heard Andrew Gillum and saw themselves represented in his story, his values and his vision for a state where we all belong. While he narrowly lost the governor’s mansion by less than half a percentage point, he garnered more votes than any Democratic contender in the past 20 years. He engaged and inspired young voters and voters of color, who don’t vote at the same rates as their white counterparts.

In Florida, we are coming together to build a new majority of voters that is demanding real leadership, not politicians who don’t come from our communities and are too afraid to talk about what is really affecting our lives. Will Democrats follow?

Andrea Mercado is executive director of the New Florida Majority.

Democrats are in danger of going too far

By Ruy Teixeira

Is the country moving to the left? Absolutely. Are the Democrats moving to the left? Absolutely. Could the Democrats move too far to the left? Absolutely.

Consider the evidence. According to political scientist James Stimson’s public policy mood index — which measures sentiment across a wide range of policies — Americans’ support for government action is now at its highest level since the 1960s. Thus the idea that the country is moving to the left is not wishful thinking on the part of liberal pundits and politicians.

Meanwhile, it can scarcely be disputed that the Democrats are moving to the left. Simply look at the range of measures under discussion in the primary debates. Even the leading “moderate” candidate, Joe Biden, is pushing policies substantially to the left of what Hillary Clinton ran on in 2016, including a public health insurance plan open to all Americans.

But it also cannot be disputed that Democrats could run too far to the left for even a country that is moving leftward. Take some of the policies that have been under discussion in the Democratic debates and pushed by Democratic activists:

1. Reparations for the descendants of slaves. This is massively unpopular. It would be more consistent with a country moving leftward to advocate needed social programs that happen to disproportionately benefit black Americans because of their income, education or location.

2. Decriminalizing the border or abolishing ICE. Neither of these measures is remotely consistent with the views of the public. It would make more sense for Democrats to advocate for reforming the enforcement agency plus a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants plus a humane immigration policy that still includes border security.

3. Medicare-for-all that eliminates private insurance. The polling could not be clearer: What the public really wants is Medicare-for-anyone or Medicare-for-all-who-want-it. This is embodied in the DeLauro-Schakowsky Medicare for America bill, as well as in the positions of some of the more moderate Democratic candidates.

4. A Green New Deal that commits to 100 percent renewable energy within 10 years. The public is not on board with anything quite so ambitious, but there is significant support for a Green New Deal that would focus on jobs, infrastructure and research.

In my view, these are the “four don’ts” of the 2020 campaign. Avoiding these are the key to Democrats moving smoothly to the left along with the country as a whole.

Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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