Do Progressives Really Want To Win or Just Virtue Signal?
“Getting anyone elected takes a village, but this is especially true of Democrats in ruby red states such as Louisiana. Beyond the work, it takes an important shift in Democratic politics.”Jessica Tarlov
Progressive journalist and writer Zaid Jilani has noted how success in shifting political agendas requires appealing to those not ideologically driven by party and media savvy. These are two things the progressive movement fails to do. How and why is this the case, and what can they do to reverse this course?
The “Not A Progressive” Problem
The progressive movement in America spends a lot of time purifying itself but does very little outreach or coalition building beyond a narrow ideological lane. Politics makes strange bedfellows. If you’re big defense, big agriculture, big pharmaceutical, or Wall Street, you look for allies everywhere to get your issues passed even though you have every advantage. On the other hand, Progressives focus more on being a narrow social club where sleight deviation from orthodoxy can result in banishment.
The question becomes who is Progressive enough? We know Pete Buttigieg, Sherrod Brown, Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, James Clyburn, and John Lewis are not.
If indeed they are not, what are the real political goals of progressives beyond establishing who’s progressive? Is the goal to eliminate all of the nation’s leaders that are not progressive? While that may or may not be a worthwhile goal, existing politics in 2020 America requires broad coalitions.
The 2020 Bernie Sanders Campaign
The monetary advantage entrenched institutions have are certainly a large factor working against progressive influence, but we saw in the 2020 Democratic Primary, where Bernie Sanders had a huge financial advantage over all other competitors, that money alone is not the only or even primary reason a political agenda is shifted. Much ink was spilled on the coalescence of the Democratic party around Joe Biden after the South Carolina primary; however, less has been written about the Sanders campaign never even reaching out to the Buttigieg campaign about an endorsement…the endorsement the entire Democratic race turned on. Sanders did not get endorsements from fellow progressives Tulsi Gabbard and Elizabeth Warren. If you can’t even unite one side of the left, how can you expect to unite the rest of the country?
How Progressives Can Win
The reality is that the Democratic Party is the only vehicle the progressive agenda has of getting passed, and in many parts of the country, it’s still the party of JFK from 1960. If progressives want to indeed succeed, they need to understand that Joe Manchin is not going to become progressive because the constituency he represents isn’t progressive. That does not mean he can’t be used to enact more progressive legislation or that progressive legislation is furthered with the seat in the hands of Republicans.
There are signs that Progressives are learning. Progressive supernova AOC has made overtures towards expanding her coalition beyond the most progressive progressive by replacing her insurgent Justice Democratic based staff with more traditional Democratic Party staffing and embracing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. This earned her praise from progressive bogeypeople Neera Tanden and James Carville.
Additionally, Justice Democrats, the political group associated with the AOC, has formed a super PAC. This is quite contradictory for a group that routinely lambasts the “power of large corporations, billionaires, and wealthy campaign contributions in our democracy.”
Progressives designing campaign strategies for the America they want, rather than the one that exists which will always make their opponents, whether Democratic or Republican, the pragmatists in almost any race involving them. However, where in the past they refused to make tactical retreats resulting in mounting losses, AOC’s olive branch to the establishment along with Justice Democrats acknowledgment of money in politics may yet forbode a more progressive future.