Is it true that Democrats lose elections because they are not sufficiently populist? Would they enlarge their vote, motivate those who usually don’t vote, and sweep into office if they took the unabashedly liberal, or progressive positions, on health care, education and more heavily taxing the rich?
Along with a lot of my friends, I’d sure like to think that is true. It’s what liberal politicians –dead and living—from Paul Wellstone to Howard Dean to Russ Feingold meant when they have said they represent “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”
It’s what Robert Borosage, of the left-of-center Progressive Majority argued recently in The Nation.
For these liberal and progressive Democrats, their blood enemies are the conservative or so-called "centrist" Democrats grouped in the Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC types argue, meanwhile, the opposite case i.e. that the only hope Dems have is to firmly occupy the middle ground and cede nothing to the left. The most recent broadside from these quarters was issued by former Al Gore confidant Elaine Karmach and Clinton domestic policy adviser William A. Galston.
Their latest report was bloody chum for liberal attackers who argued that the two wonks were proposing a Republican Lite strategy. Among the critics was the Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum who declared himself “underwhelmed” by what he called the “conventional slice-and-dice electoral polling analysis.”
Drum’s critique of the centrist Dems wasn’t harsh enough for Internet Liberals like Avedon Carol who wrote:
“I'm sick and tired of being told the base is too far left. What does the base believe in? Universal health care, universal education, safe and fair employment, a healthy economy that provides good jobs, regulation to prevent corporations from defrauding us, care for our environment.”
Now, Drum has responded with a new post defending himself that also raises some pretty tough questions. Like the one I started off with this on this post i.e. how do we know if Democrats were just more outspoken on progressive positions they would win more? Is it possible that “the people” really don’t want political solutions that more closely conform to what we think their “real interests” are? Can it be than it for four decades the Democrats have just failed to find bold enough candidates? Or is George Lakoff – who I have criticized— actually right and it’s a matter of proper messaging?
I’d add a few more unccomfortable questions implied in Drum’s posting. If, ineed, the Democratic base and its supposedly latent allies are so liberal and progressive, why did Howard Dean never poll more than 30% among these same Democrat primary voters? Why did Dennis Kucinich only get about 3% of the Democratic vote? Why didn’t Democrats flock to these progressive alternatives? Why is it, indeed, that the only successful Democratic Presidential candidates of the last 45 years have been southern conservatives?
I don’t have any facile answers. Nor am I endorsing any side in this debate. I just want to know how we know what we say we know.