Thursday, April 28, 2016

Convention-al Wisdom: A Progressive Campaign Will Appeal To A Non-Neanderthal Electorate

"There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos." -- Jim Hightower
Here we go.  The experts, pundits and insiders are beginning to suggest that Hillary Clinton, having sewn up the nomination by tacking to the left, must now move to the right for the general election.  For example, The New York Times, "cites some Democrats" who are concerned that if Clinton embraces positions pushed by Bernie Sanders, it "could later hurt Mrs. Clinton and other Democratic candidates."  And who are these "some Democrats"?  We don't know because they aren't named.  The only source for this bit of conventional wisdom, comes from the founder of the "Third Way," the fiscally conservative, so-called centrist group that had far too much influence over the first President Clinton.

The mainstream media continues to yearn for a candidate who magically will unite the left and right by appealing to ordinary (white) Americans  -- a candidate who will eschew the polarizing effect of embracing such progressive concerns as climate change, economic inequality, Wall Street corruption, campaign finance, mass incarceration, immigration reform, reproductive rights and LGBT rights.  According to the conventional wisdom, Hillary's failure to hew to the right will not only endanger her candidacy, but it will be the singular cause of a dispirited electorate and increasing rancor and gridlock on Capital Hill.  As the always insufferable David Brooks warned a while back, Clinton's campaign will become destructive and divisive if she "dispens[es] with a broad persuasion campaign" that fails to attract the ever-elusive swing voter.

We will continue to hear more of this fact-free claptrap about the need to resist pressure from the Sanders campaign and move to the center; about how Clinton and her fellow Democrats must seek to attract moderates and independents rather than continue to engage in narrow and potentially divisive pandering to liberals. But this unquestioned conventional wisdom is sorely out of date. 

It ignores that the Republicans have moved so far to the right and are so ideologically extreme that the center is nowhere near where it used to be. 

It ignores that while the Republican Party is moving to the right, the electorate -- increasingly younger and less white -- is moving to the left.  Indeed, the underlying premise that liberal ideas are unpopular and inherently divisive is simply wrong, with recent polls consistently showing that Americans have shifted to more liberal positions on a variety of issues.

It ignores the outsized role that Americans who are angry and frustrated with the status quo will play in this year's election.  It is a fact that independents are no longer -- if they ever were -- the equivalent of middle-of-the-road, moderate voters.  They are, instead, reflective of those energized by the Sanders campaign who decry the corrupting influence of money in politics and the widening gap between the haves and have-nots.  Moving to the center is going to alienate, not engage them.

It ignores that Clinton's leftward-leaning campaign has done nothing to undermine her support with the various constituencies of the Democratic Party that she has energized and that what she now needs to do is engage the voters energized by Sanders. 

And it ignores that Clinton actually is pretty liberal.  Sure she had a bad patch of supporting her husband's horribly misguided policies in the 1990s, and there is no excusing her Iraq War vote.  But she does have long history of supporting core progressive positions on reproductive rights, on childhood poverty, on health care, on gun control and a host of other issues.  As pointed out at FiveThirtyEight, she was one of the most liberal members of the Senate when she was there and has a history of espousing liberal views.

So, here's some wisdom for the Convention and beyond that stands at odds with the conventional wisdom:  Clinton must unequivocally embrace a progressive party platform.  She must choose a running mate to her left.  At the Convention, Elizabeth Warren should be the keynote speaker, Bernie Sanders should nominate Clinton, and other progressives must play prime time roles.   

A campaign and candidacy that focuses on progressive themes and chastises Trump, Cruz/Fiorina or whoever runs on the Republican side for not believing in climate change, for seeking to undermine women's reproductive rights, for their hostility to LGBT rights, for inhumane immigration proposals, for insisting that tax cuts for the wealthy are always the cure for what ails the economy, for facile demagoguery in the place of foreign policy ideas, might alienate extremist Republicans.  But such an approach will appeal to the wide swath of non-Neanderthal voters needed to elect the next president. 


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