From the standpoint of news coverage, we Democrats have had a good couple of weeks. Senator Chris Murphy’s filibuster and the House sit-in led by Representative John Lewis have shined a spotlight on how beholden our Republican legislators are to the NRA. Donald Trump has proven himself too incompetent to run a political campaign, let alone the entire country. And there have been signs that our fractured party is slowly coming back together behind the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Bernie Sanders ignited long-simmering passions among my progressive brothers and sisters and got them excited again about the possibility of effecting change through electoral politics. This is a good thing.
But I despair at what I perceive as intolerance among my brothers and sisters on the left for those of us who are firmly stuck in the center-left.
There will always be radical thinkers with ideas ahead of their time, and I’m thankful for them. But they will always need to persuade a majority of the rest of the population of the efficacy of those ideas before they can be put in action, and that’s not something that can be accomplished by brute force. It is certainly not something that can be accomplished by insulting the very people they need to help them enact those ideas.
As Democrats, we’ve witnessed the rapid disintegration of the GOP as they lurched into Tea Party extremism. We saw stalwart party leaders vilified for being “Republican In Name Only” and the message was clear: Those who could not pass the litmus test of perfect conservative orthodoxy were purged. Everyone else had to get with the program, as defined by people like Grover Norquist, Charles and David Koch, and Wayne LaPierre. And now we’re at a crossroads where the man who got the most GOP votes is a hate-mongering Fascist who would like to do away with freedom of the press. Way to go, Republicans.
But this election cycle has also seen some of these tendencies repeat themselves on the left. Some Bernie Sanders supporters have rewritten our recent history and their version erases the fact that the Democrats have been the champions of labor, education, health, and social progress and a bulwark against the onslaught of ever-more radical right-wing proposals.
Lifelong liberal Democrats – like myself – are derided as “neoliberals” for deigning to believe that Bill Clinton was a pretty good President despite being dogged throughout his two terms by ridiculous investigations and a bogus impeachment trial that should never have seen the light of day. Yes, some of his policies had bad unintended consequences that need to be addressed now – but it’s wrong to look at what was accomplished out of the context of what the environment was in the 1990s.
If you don’t count Jimmy Carter, the United States had been under Republican administrations for almost 25 years, and the only reason Carter made it the White House in 1976 was the public’s disgust with the revelation that Richard Nixon really was a crook. Other than that year, Democrats didn’t even come close in the popular vote or in the Electoral College. The majority of Americans didn’t seem to want to hear an FDR-style Democratic progressive message then. Many older Americans equated Democrats denouncing our involvement in Vietnam with being unpatriotic. Maybe there weren’t enough of us any longer who remembered living through the Great Depression. Maybe they believed the measures we took to dig ourselves out of the Depression were outmoded. Maybe they were simply disgusted with the fallout from Watergate.
We could not win a national election. So yes, Bill Clinton pushed the party towards the center and (with a little help from third-party candidate Ross Perot) he won the White House. The result was a whirlwind of crazy from the political right, who seemed to believe that the Oval Office belonged to them and any Democrat elected was illegitimate. So they did all they could to delegitimize him – and especially his wife, who dared to have the audacity to have had a career before becoming First Lady.
Hillary Clinton must find it sadly ironic that in the 90s, she was considered a liability for being TOO LIBERAL and now we’ve got a faction that despises her because she’s not liberal enough. When she served as Senator from New York, she was rated more liberal than 70% of the other Democrats in the Senate – including Barack Obama.
I know when I was raising my daughter, I worried that she might decide to become a Republican and was relieved that she saw through their policies – but she, too, thinks that both Clinton and I don’t deserve to call ourselves progressives. I’ve seen a lot in my 60 years: I got to watch the Douglas court morph into the Burger and Rehnquist and Roberts courts and slowly strip away hard-fought rights I thought were ours for the keeping. I watched JFK’s funeral on TV when I was 7, and MLK and RFK’s funerals on TV when I was 12. My political opinions were shaped by those leaders; they have not changed in 45 years. When Reagan and Bush I and Bush II were President, people thought I was a radical. Now, I’m supposedly a “neo-liberal” and somehow aligned with evil.
I haven’t changed. But the fringes have.
I have been waiting 40 years for the political pendulum to swing back to the left, and seeing so many of the ideas I’ve espoused MY ENTIRE LIFE back in the mainstream makes me happy. But applying some kind of progressive purity test to loyal lifetime Democrats is no way to turn them into actual policy. We’ve already seen that happen over on the Republican side. I hope we’re too smart to fall into the same trap.
But after seeing some of the material that my fellow MOMocrats are posting here, I worry that I may be wrong. I hope I’m not.