Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), a presidential candidate, headlining a CNN-sponsored town hall in Des Moines on Monday night, set the tone for where Democrats will need to land on the big issues. What stood out in Harris’s answers to audience questions was her unequivocal support for progressive positions. She didn’t hedge or sound hesitant.
For instance, Harris supports Medicare-for-all as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has envisioned it — a universal health-care system that replaces the private system.
“It should be understood to be something that all people should be entitled to, so that they can live a productive life, so they can have dignity, Harris said. “And having a system that makes a difference in terms of who receives what based on your income is unconscionable, it is cruel and, in many situations that I have witnessed, inhumane.”
When asked whether that meant eliminating private insurance, she said yes.
Harris also came out in support of a Green New Deal, a plan to address climate change and income inequality promoted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). In tweeting about it in December, Ocasio-Cortez wrote, “Our goal is to treat Climate Change like the serious, existential threat it is by drafting an ambitious solution on the scale necessary - aka a Green New Deal - to get it done.”
At the town hall, Harris adopted similar language: “I support a Green New Deal. And I will tell you why. Climate change is an existential threat to us, and we have got to deal with the reality of it.”
Then, on the issue of guns, a topic Democrats in years past have shied away from taking a strong stance on for fear of poking the National Rifle Association bear, Harris said firmly that there should be a ban on assault weapons in addition to universal background checks. Referencing the 2012 slayings of 20 6- and 7-year-olds in their elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Harris said: “I think somebody should have required all those members of Congress to go in a room, in a locked room, no press, no one, nobody else, and look at the autopsy photographs of those babies. And then you vote your conscience."
These issues, in particular — health care, the environment and gun violence — are energizing ones for Democratic voters who want bold solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing issues.
Liberalism as a whole has been on a steady increase in the past two decades. Democrats in particular are more comfortable self-identifying as liberal. According to Gallup:
In 2001, nearly as many Democrats identified as conservative (25%) as liberal (30%), while the largest segment, 44%, were moderate. Since then, the percentage of Democrats identifying as liberal has risen by about a point a year, reaching 50% this year for the first time.
In past cycles, Democrats have flirted with more-progressive candidates and then ultimately landed on the safer choice, such as John F. Kerry over Howard Dean or Hillary Clinton over Sanders. When they didn’t go with the conventional pick in 2008 — though some progressives would argue Barack Obama was not nearly as liberal as they imagined he would be — the Democrats won.