Democrats: Should they shift to the center?
The path back to power for Democrats is “to move to the center,” said Mark Penn and Andrew Stein in The New York Times. In the second Obama term and during the 2016 primaries, the party lurched to the left, embracing “identity politics, class warfare, and big government.” Transgender bathroom issues and hostility to police are popular with blue-state urbanites, but are poison to working-class voters in small towns and rural areas. That’s why the Democrats have surrendered Congress, the presidency, and over 1,000 seats in state legislatures in recent years. That shouldn’t be surprising—only about 25 percent of Americans identify themselves as liberals. We’ve seen this movie before. “After years of leftward drift,” Bill Clinton moved the party back to the center in the 1990s, promoting fiscal responsibility, welfare reform, and a sweeping crime bill, and “Democrats were back.” If they “reject socialist ideas” and return to the left-of-center pragmatism of Clinton and John F. Kennedy, they can win again.
Penn and Stein’s thesis “is utter fiction,” said Richard Eskow in HuffingtonPost.com. Democratic losses began not with a lefty lurch, but in 2009 when President Obama tried to “reach across the aisle” and govern as a centrist. While Bernie Sanders nudged Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric leftward last year, “her campaign ads shied away from progressive policy issues” and she chose centrist Tim Kaine as her running mate. That worked out well, didn’t it? What Penn wants is for Democrats to cater to angry white workingclass voters who’ve already fled the party, said Mark Stern in Slate.com. But the Democratic base is diverse and progressive, and the country is changing. Penn blames transgender bathrooms for losses, but a Public Religion Research Institute poll shows 53 percent of Americans support trans people using the bathroom of their choice. We’re not in the ’90s anymore—“Americans of all stripes have evolved.”
Nonetheless, Democrats are deeply divided, said Max Ehrenfreund in The Washington Post. There is a raging internal debate over whether it’s possible to woo back working-class voters, and there are significant rifts on bread-and-butter issues such as free trade, free college tuition, and singlepayer health care. What do Democrats stand for, aside from opposition to Trump? If they can’t agree on “a simple and straightforward pitch to voters,” they won’t be able “to expand the tent” and put together “a winning electoral coalition.” ■