The Cynicism of a Suddenly Progressive Democratic Minority

© Josh Sager – January 2014

Ever since losing control over the Senate, the Democratic Party has shifted its rhetoric and policy positions to be more progressive. Among other things, Obama has announced support for making public college education free, increasing the minimum wage, fixing our broken immigration system, and making our tax system more progressive. Similarly, Democratic legislators have aligned themselves with the left wing populism in the Elizabeth Warren branch of the party. While, on one level, I welcome this shift, there is a deep cynicism that pervades this sudden change in the Democratic Party’s ideology.

Now that the Democrats are in the minority and don’t actually have to back their rhetoric up with votes, they have become strong “liberals”—they realize that the American people holds center-left ideals and that supporting left-wing policies will make them more popular. While in control over the legislature the Democrats couldn’t grandstand as much, as they would be expected to try to pass those liberal ideas into law but wouldn’t do so out of fear that their donors would get angry.

Put simply, the Democrats want to play liberal rhetorically while they lack the political power to pass substantively liberal policies into law—the second that they regain power, they will almost certainly undergo the reverse of this dramatic shift and return to their center-right conciliatory ideology that stresses the need to meet the Republicans half-way between centrism and the extreme right wing position. This is a truly cynical view of policy which reveals that the Democrats know the true preferences of their constituents, yet they refuse to implement them out of fear that the elite will fund their opposition.

Ironically, this mimics the Conservative strategy of pretending to be progressive during election seasons. They support minimum wage increases, protecting entitlements, spending money on jobs programs, and a whole host of other progressive ideals—at least, until they are elected and begin eliminating the minimum wage, cutting entitlements and imposing austerity.

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If Obama and the Democrats were truly liberals, they could have passed the liberal policies that they are suddenly adopting into law at any point between 2008 and 2010, when they had control over the legislature. Even after 2010, when the Republicans took the House, the Democrats could have pushed far harder against the GOP obstructionists while grandstanding to the American public about their support for these liberal priorities.

Liberals and progressives must not be tricked into supporting politicians who simply pretend to be liberals when it is convenient. If we are tricked in this manner, we will elect “liberals” who never pass liberal policies, but then pay lip service to liberalism when their failures inevitably lead to them losing the majority (I.E. 2010 and 2014).This is a recipe for a long-term conservative policy primacy that leads our nation down an extremely damaging path.

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There are true progressives within the Democratic Party—like Elizabeth Warren, Raoul Griialva, and Alan Grayson—and these politicians must be supported and have their influence increased. Over time, this will shift the ideology of the party elite to be more progressive and not just in rhetoric. Through replacing pretend progressives with real ones, the Democratic Party can be rehabilitated and become not only politically dominant (after all, the average American is center-left) but also a strong force for good.

3 thoughts on “The Cynicism of a Suddenly Progressive Democratic Minority

  1. The Dems did pass some good legislation for the brief two years they had control of the Congress and the WH. For example. The Dodd-Frank Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Dems raised the minimum wage when they had control of the Congress. The ACA, while imperfect, is a good step toward recognizing that all Americans deserve a basic level of health care. Two sane members have been put on the SCOTUS.
    I am not saying the Dems are progressive, but at least they are not reactionary, for the most part.
    The Dems seem to make the same mistake every election year. They try to be Republicans. Look how they ran AWAY from Obama in 2014. Cost them the Senate and some House seats. Remember how Gore ran away from Clinton in 2000? Cost him the presidency.
    The true progressives are still a minority in the Dem party.
    I agree with you 100% that the Dems need to purge themselves of Blue Dogs and non-progressives. Stop trying to be Republicans.

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  2. One factor missing. The more extreme political conservatives get, the more their base comes out. To have someone like Sarah Palin as the candidate for Vice President is the perfect example. This is not true for the “Liberals”. Their is the Democratic Party, then there are Liberal. A “extreme” liberal, compared just a Democrat, would be having someone from a Socialist party chosen to run as VP or President. When Dems want votes, they move to the right. When Republicans want votes, the also move to the right. Neither gets many more votes moving to the left. I have never seen the Republicans move to the left like mentioned in this story.

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    • In NY-23 we have a very conservative/Tea Party GOPer named Tom Reed. During the campaign he moved to the left. Had many photo ops with seniors (although he wants to privatize SS) and vowed to protect SS. As soon as he was reelected his first bill was an attempt to CUT SSDI.

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