The Future Of The Democratic Party And The Folly of Ideological Rigidity [Opinion]

Medicare for All Act of 2017 press conference.
Alex Wong / Getty Images

Over the course of the last several weeks, the headlines have been captivated by the veritable “Old Guard” of the Democrats’ congressional leadership, primarily House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, striking tentative deals with President Trump on issues ranging from raising the debt ceiling to solidifying protections for “Dreamers,” as was reported by media outlets such as the Washington Post.

To be certain, the legislative success of the Democratic Party’s “Old Lions” speaks to the deep yearning a vast majority of Americans possess, a desire to see the manifestation of productivity-enhancing bipartisanship. Perhaps more importantly, it delivers middle ground solutions to the all-important, but seldom enthusiastically pursued, moderates. The very voters that constitute a bulk of states in the recently lost Upper Midwest and “Rust Belt,” regions that once served as bastions for Democrats.

However, while veteran Democrats were busy striking a hot political iron, sure to secure tangible legislative results with almost tailor-made appeal to coveted moderate voters, results more amenable to a 50-state electoral strategy in 2018, the party’s ideological lurch could be clearly seen on Capitol Hill. As was reported by ABC News, a veritable all-star lineup of contenders for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination have come forward to co-sponsor Senator Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for all” bill.

With exceptional haste, the Senate’s Democratic firebrands have flocked to a measure which is doomed to falter in the upper chamber. So far, the likes of Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), have rushed to the podium to lend their support to a bill that CNN estimates would cost some $1.4 trillion per year and require a tax increase on all Americans, if it followed the general framework of Sanders’ 2016 “Medicare for all” initiative.

Senators address the media during Medicare for All press conference.
Senator Kamala Harris addresses the media following the unveiling of the Medicare for All Act of 2017. [Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images] Alex Wong / Getty Images

What we’re left with is little more than the distinct impression that the “Medicare for all” bill effectively doubles as an ideological litmus test for Democrats, as POLITICO has speculated. For a party trying to reclaim a modicum of exercisable control in Washington, this newest test of progressive purity is but another footstone in the Democratic Party’s path to electoral isolation, one more deviation from a true route to success in November.

In the last decade, we’ve been provided with a substantial body of evidence which suggests that Democrats are growing increasingly uncompetitive in modern America’s polarized political environment. According to analysis provided by FiveThirtyEight, Democrats have been utterly decimated at the ballot boxes on almost every level. It appears that on election day, fervently divisive and readily identifiable ideological issues don’t necessarily guide public voting patterns.

According to a 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center, the single-most influential issue for voters is economic policy, followed somewhat closely by terrorism and defense policy. As it turns out, the votes of a sizeable share of Americans aren’t directed by highly visible, but partisan, issues like abortion and gun control. Ultimately, most Americans are far more worried about putting food on the table than they are about immigration reform or securing further environmental protections, as important as those issues may be.

The average blue-collar American in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, is primarily worried about holding down their job and staying current on their rent or mortgage, which necessitates keeping more of their increasingly stagnant paycheck. These Americans, a massive portion of the electorate, care significantly less about the secondary issues that energize the ideological partisans located at the political spectrum’s poles—the very issues that Democrats devote destructively copious sums of their vote-courting and messaging energy to.

Shuttered General Motors plant in Baltimore.
Baltimore’s General Motors plant shortly after it was closed down in 2005. [Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images] Joe Raedle / Getty Images

If Democrats want to win in 2018 and beyond, and if progressives want to preserve the collection of values they hold most dear, they need to embrace the notion that ideological rigidity and tests of purity will only ensure that they’re indefinitely kept out of the White House and firmly-entrenched as the vulnerable minority party. All those who fall left of the center line must recognize that the key to victory lies not only in being the purveyors of a forceful and relatable economic message, but in fielding a wide array of candidates that resemble the districts they seek to represent.

If a return to political dominance is the goal, Democrats must foster unity by erecting a tent which houses multiple degrees of ideological diversity, and they must serve as the stewards of an economic strategy which resonates in middle America.

[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]