Andy Schmookler is the Democratic nominee for Virginia’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S. House.
Too often I hear that American politics has become polarized between the extreme left and extreme right. To those expressing this notion, I say: Get real.
Nothing in America’s main political battles today warrants being called “extreme left.” It’s clear that all of the extremism is on one side.
Put another way: On issue after issue on the playing field of politics, the Democrats are backed against their own end zone.
Consider that our nation is in its most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. Tens of millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed, and many are in danger of losing their homes. Against this backdrop, are we fighting over ways to extend the social safety net? No. Instead, the battle line is drawn over whether we’ll cut back on food stamps and whether Medicare will be gutted and Social Security diminished.
Is it extreme for Democrats to defend positions that have been established for generations and to protect what used to be called the “third rail” of American politics?
With the budget deficit soaring and the very richest Americans paying taxes at what some estimate are the lowest rate in 80 years, are we fighting over some extreme “soak the rich” tax hike? No. Congressional Republicans refuse to increase those taxes one cent, and they pass budgets that would reduce the taxes on the wealthiest still further. Meanwhile, Democrats seek to allow taxes for the very wealthy to rise back to where they were during the prosperous years when Bill Clinton was president and to close loopholes so that billionaires don’t pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.
Is it extreme for Democrats to take positions on tax policy that Ronald Reagan supported?
With our nation and humankind facing potentially disastrous consequences from climate change, are we fighting over measures to meet this challenge? No, the question at issue in U.S. politics is whether to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of some of its important powers, or perhaps even abolish it.
This leads me to ask: Is it extreme for Democrats to defend an agency created by a Republican president, Richard Nixon?
Our economic troubles can be blamed largely on the neglect and dismantling of our financial regulatory system. Yet the battle in our politics is over whether to fund and staff a modest financial regulatory program passed into law with the Dodd-Frank legislation almost two years ago.
Is it extreme for Democrats to rebuild some of the financial regulatory system established under Franklin Roosevelt that gave us decades of economic and financial stability?
With wages for workers no longer climbing in tandem with increases in productivity and, indeed, having been stagnant for years, and with the laws protecting labor no longer reliably enforced, are we fighting over attempts to make workers more powerful than management? No, the battle is over whether workers will be stripped of their rights to bargain collectively.
Is the defense of rights that workers have had for more than 75 years an extreme position?
Democrats are fighting for policies that used to be part of the bipartisan consensus. The nation’s political battles would have to move a long way to the left even to arrive at what we used to consider the center. There is no possibility in today’s political landscape for any policy decision that could be called “far left.” The thought is simply laughable.
Even President Obama’s health-care reform, often called radical, has decades-old antecedents in U.S. political history, including proposals from Republican presidents such as Nixon in the 1970s and Theodore Roosevelt at the beginning of the 20th century. Obama’s plan addresses health-care coverage with predominantly Republican ideas, including the individual mandate that grew out of a Heritage Foundation proposal.
So, no, this nation is not polarized. Rather, it is under assault from a political force that has taken over the Republican Party and promotes extreme and divisive positions.
When people talk about our nation being polarized between two parties that have moved to the extremes, I hear one more illustration of the mindless “evenhandedness” that has made today’s liberals such pushovers.
If we want to get our politics away from the goal line and bring humane, caring, constructive and progressive values back in force, Americans must see this crisis for what it is. And those who do see it need to stand up and boldly tell it like it is.