Reese: Progressives Are Winning And Centrist Democrats Need to Stop Scapegoating Them


Courtesy of mollyktadams via Creative Commons

By Isaac Reese, Opinion Writer


This year even more progressive Democrats have been elected to Congress, joining the ranks of representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal and Ayanna Pressley, to name a few. However, these newcomers have been met with the same resistance that other progressive congress people have received from Democratic leaders. Following the recent election, moderate Democrats were quick to blame the left side of the party’s flank for close races in swing districts as well as lost seats. Rep. Abigail Spanberger blamed the American boogeyman of socialism for her close race, stating “We need to not ever use the word socialist or socialism ever again.”

Democratic Party leaders are weary of progressive policy ideas, even though they helped candidates win many House races. Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out on Twitter that all 112 co-sponsors of Medicare for All won reelection, as did 98 of the 99 co-sponsors of the Green New Deal. In an interview with New York Times, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez also emphasized that some progressives who retained their seats did so in swing districts — like Rep. Mike Levin, a co-sponsor and advocate of the Green New Deal. It’s clear Americans believe in these policies. Now, the Democratic Party needs to fulfill its image as the “Big Tent Party” by making room for progressive ideals and caucus members — especially because they win.


The Green New Deal

Since the 2020 election, progressives have been belittled by their caucus and blamed for party losses in the House of Representatives, but this isn’t the first time ranking Democratic Party members have brushed aside progressive ideals. Take the Green New Deal, for example. In 2019, Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed it as “the green dream or whatever.” Similarly, Senator Dianne Feinstein ridiculed elementary school children associated with the Sunrise Movement and replied to their demands with the age-old excuse, “There’s no way to pay for it.” But these leaders fail to acknowledge that the slogans they blame for Democratic incumbents’ defeat, such as “defund the police,” came from activist groups and not progressive congressional campaigns. Using their further-left peers as scapegoats is not helpful in realizing the ideal of the “big tent” the Democratic Party claims to be.

When it comes to the Green New Deal in particular, centrists’ moves to distance themselves from progressive plans are also unproductive for their personal careers. 49% of swing district voters are actually in favor of the climate action plan. Of the 99 co-sponsors of the Green New Deal, only one member from a swing district lost their seat. In fact, campaigning on it helped incumbents like Rep. Levin, who penned an op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune in support of the Green New Deal. The ambitious plan is not the Achilles’ heel moderate Democrats frame it to be. Both Democratic voters and young Republicans are demanding government action to mitigate the climate crisis. The Green New Deal would not only fulfill that demand but also create jobs and stimulate the economy. So how could it be at fault for Democratic losses?


Medicare for All

Despite centrist Democrats’ complaints and criticism, “Medicare for All” also did not hurt incumbents who ran on it nor is it an unpopular policy in public opinion. A 2020 Hill-HarrisX poll found that 69% of voters favor Medicare for All. Rep. Katie Porter flipped her district in 2018 while running on the policy and held on to her swing district in 2020 as well. Other pro-Medicare for All candidates, like Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, also retained their seats in districts that Trump won in 2020. It makes absolutely no sense to blame Democratic losses on Medicare for All when the 112 incumbent co-sponsors of the bill won their 2020 races. It deflects responsibility from the national party, whose poor campaign strategies cost Alabama Senator Doug Jones and other well-funded Democratic hopefuls their races. These losses didn’t happen because of Medicare for All or any other progressive policy mission. They happened because the Democratic campaign committees for both the House and Senate are failing to engage with voters in the right ways.

The Green New Deal and Medicare for All are the best known progressive policy proposals, but Americans want similar changes across the board. For example, 67% of Americans support raising the federal minimum wage. When the House passed a bill to do so in the summer of 2019, three Republican representatives crossed party lines in support of the measure. Americans across the political spectrum support this progressive policy, signaling that progressives offer something new and necessary that centrist Democrats are missing.

The branches of the Democratic Party have defeated Donald Trump, their common enemy, but failed to reach the 2020 “blue wave” for which they’d hoped. Now they are becoming a divided tent, once again scapegoating the progressive branch of the party. Instead of demonizing the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, centrist Democrats should listen to progressives. People want the real, robust action on climate change, healthcare and the economy that progressive policies deliver — and in the next election cycles, I expect many progressives to retain their seats and more to join their ranks in Congress. If the old guard of Democratic leadership has any wisdom left, they will recognize the advantages progressive policies and candidates bring to the table rather than work against their own peers to the nation’s detriment.


[email protected]