The Democrats Aren’t a Left-Wing Party — They Just Play One on TV

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The Democrats on your television are more moderate and centrist than they appear.

Intelligencer - July 2, 2019

The Democrats on your television are more moderate than they appear.

On the debate stage last week, America’s center-left party sounded like a European one (only with 60 percent less racism). Almost all of the Democrats’ 2020 candidates lamented concentrated capital, celebrated labor unions, and vowed to insulate Americans from the slings and arrows of outrageous market failures through the expansion of social democraticinstitutions. On health care, the middle-ground position was a public option strong enough to drive private insurers out of business. On higher education, it was free public college for all children from working-class families. On wages, it was raising taxes on the wealthy to expand paycheck subsidies for working people.

The 2020 hopefuls paired these “centrist for Europe, but left wing for the U.S.” economic proposals with positions on (so called) social issues that would qualify as progressive in any country on earth. Virtually all contenders embraced federal funding for abortion, and expanding undocumented immigrants’ access to government services, while multiple leading candidates called for the decriminalization of illegal border crossing (a policy that is less radical than it sounds, but still signals a flat rejection of the party’s past commitment to projecting “toughness” on the border), and the revival of busing to desegregate America’s schools.

By all appearances, the arc of Democratic history was bending back toward George McGovern. Progressive activists walked away feeling triumphant; Never Trump columnists, aggrieved and concerned. But all could agree that this wasn’t your father’s Democratic Party anymore (assuming your father is a neoliberal shill).

And yet: If you turn your gaze from the Democrats on the debate stage to the ones actually governing in Congress, you’ll see a party fit for David Brooks. Hours before Team Blue’s 2020 hopefuls endorsed decriminalizing illegal entry, its House caucus approved $4.5 billion in new funding for the border crisis — without imposing strict standards on how that money can be spent. In doing so, House Democrats didn’t merely embrace a position to the right of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s, but one to the right of Nancy Pelosi’s.The House’s proudly moderate “Blue Dog” and “Problem Solvers” caucuses called the tune. They wanted bipartisan compromise without delay, and they had the votes to get it, their Speaker’s wishes be damned.

This wasn’t an aberration. Liberals may set the pace in Democratic discourse and presidential debates. But on Capitol Hill, the centrists often take the wheel. In May 2017, Pelosi vowed that House Democrats would pass a bill raising the minimum wage to $15 within 100 hours of taking power. It has now been six months, and that bill’s fate is still uncertain. ...
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