January 15, 2019

January 15, 2019

The Emerging 2020 False Choice: “Just Beat Trump” or “Progressive Change?” According to a story in today’s New York Times, “the most consequential political question facing the Democratic Party is whether liberals will insist on imposing policy litmus tests on 2020 presidential hopefuls, or whether voters will rally behind the candidate most capable of defeating the president even if that Democrat is imperfect on some issues.”

This question, however, is rooted in the muck of dubious assumptions. The first such assumption is that the “imperfect” policy positions of more centrist candidates will have broader electoral appeal than more distinctly progressive policy positions. Relatedly, the second dubious assumption is that progressive policy positions (by which centrists generally mean progressive economic policy positions) will make it difficult for the eventual Democratic nominee to defeat Donald Trump.

Which progressive policy positions would those be? Breaking up the big banks? Raising taxes on the rich and corporations? A Green New Deal that involves major public investment and good job creation in the economically abandoned regions of the country (which include inner cities as well as small towns and rural America)? Rejecting corporate PACs? Instituting public financing of campaigns? Dividing corporate boards between representatives of workers and shareholders? Expanding Medicare and Medicaid as a phase in to single payer? Changing labor law to enable workers to form unions again? Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit? Mandating free public college and university educations?

My hunch—and I’ve got a passel of polls to back it up—is that such positions will help rather than hurt the Democratic nominee, in purple states no less than in the blue. And that shying from such positions will exact a toll that exceeds the benefits of centrist reticence. Americans—not just Democrats—are looking for leadership that will help them transform our nation from a plutocracy to a democracy. A nominee who doesn’t fit that bill—and there are a number of centrist hopefuls who don’t—would be less, not more, likely to defeat Trump in 2020.   

So—progressive change or just beat Trump? That’s the choice the centrists are saying we must confront. It’s a false one.