Dalley: Democrats Shouldn’t Abandon Their Progressive History


President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Gold Reserve Actt on Jan. 30, 1934. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Nathan Dalley, Opinion Writer

Multiple establishment Democrats have criticized their further left colleagues directly and indirectly over the past year, claiming that their perceived ideological extremity will cost Democrats the 2020 elections.

Nancy Pelosi attacked multiple recently elected progressive Congressmembers saying, “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world, but they didn’t have any following. They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.” Joe Biden fired at Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare-for-All proposal and suggested that she is unwilling to accept criticism from other Democrats. Most recently, Barack Obama claimed that the average American does not want to “completely tear down the system and remake it” and that America “is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement.” Obama argued that the independents and moderate Republicans who can be persuaded to vote for Democrats are not motivated by the same values presented on many left-leaning Twitter feeds. Each of these comments are clear jabs at progressive Democrats.

Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1932, his winning campaign slogan proclaiming that “happy days are here again.” Roosevelt effectively convinced voters that he would lead the country out of the Great Depression better than his rival, Herbert Hoover. During the campaign, Roosevelt broke from tradition and flew directly to Chicago to accept the nomination from the delegates. It was there that he promised them “a new deal for the American people.” From there on, Roosevelt’s campaigns were based upon defending the New Deal as the way to protect the long term welfare of all Americans. He stayed in office for an unprecedented 12 years, winning four separate elections and going down as one of the most popular presidents in American history.

The issues faced today are different and arguably more complex than those faced by Roosevelt, but both are caused by the same inequalities that Roosevelt successfully challenged. “We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace — business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs,” Roosevelt said. “We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

Some of the optimism of the Roosevelt campaign was present decades later in Obama’s. Pelosi and Biden both supported Obama’s first presidential campaign centered around “change you can believe in,” and they should support real change now. The notion that Democrats cannot run and win on progressive ideas in pursuit of systemic change is false. Democrats have and will win upcoming races by running on progressive ideas. To concede and falter on their own values as a party would be a mistake.

This is the heritage of the Democratic Party, especially as many progressive Democrats are now entering the battle between the average American and the monopoly, reckless banking and war profiteering that Roosevelt adamantly fought against. Progressives argue that America is richer than it has ever been, but the wants of corporate interests have taken precedence over the needs of the American people as a whole.

CEOs and other executive salaries have risen dramatically in recent years, explaining the large percentage increase in average upper class pay while middle and lower class wages have not remained the same. This was worsened by Bill Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and the failure to reinstatement meaningful financial regulations after the Great Recession to protect Americans from irresponsible banking practices. Roosevelt pushed for Glass-Steagall to prevent the same behavior that happens now — banks, while being insured by taxpayer money, are making risky investments that endanger future economic stability.

The societal ills of today’s America are not so different from those of the one Roosevelt inherited. America is once again being run by oligarch-like figures that dominate the medical, pharmaceutical, auto, agricultural and media industries at great cost to the public. Nowadays, the most common causes for the working class filing bankruptcy is that they can’t afford their most basic needs, most of which only become unaffordable because of circumstances beyond their control. The most damning part of it all is that those who have been — and will continue to — losing their homes, cars and economic stability are some of society’s most vulnerable. The working and middle class constantly pay for the mistakes and outright carelessness of the wealthy class.

If Democrats continue to ignore the solutions of progressive members, the average American will only continue to pay the price. Establishment Democrats such as Pelosi, Biden and Obama are wrong to believe that Democrats should play it safe and not run on necessary systemic changes. It is time to hold the rich and the powerful accountable and give a voice to all Americans.


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