© 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.
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.
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.