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July 25, 2014 4:17 PM “The Left” is the New Center-Left

By Ed Kilgore

Doug Sosnik, a very smart cookie, has a somewhat meandering piece up at Poltiico Magazine today with the rather lurid title: “Blue Crush: How the left took over the Democratic Party.” It mostly focuses on the rather well-established ideological realignment of the two major parties, but then suggests that the leftward movement of the party could cause problems if an HRC candidacy doesn’t fortuitously arrive to paper over ideological hot-buttons in 2016. Here’s what I found most puzzling in Sosnik’s analysis:

These progressive forces are coalescing around a populist-inspired desire to combat income inequality and rein in large financial institutions, as well as an interest in focusing on priorities at home rather than abroad. It’s difficult, in this environment, to imagine a viable Democratic presidential candidate who isn’t willing to take clear positions on issues like increasing the minimum wage, securing comprehensive immigration reform, supporting women’s health and their reproductive rights, addressing climate change and eliminating or at least curtailing fracking.

If you look at the list of issues at the bottom of that graph, it’s pretty much the agenda Democratic presidential candidates have agreed upon since 2004 (with the exception of fracking, which hadn’t yet emerged). If it’s the agenda of the “Left,” it’s a “Left” with no big differences of opinion with the “Center-Left,” particularly if you add in the commitment to expanding health coverage reflected in the Affordable Care Act, which has been almost universally defended by Democratic politicians and activists alike. As for the idea of “focusing on priorities at home rather than abroad, I seem to recall John Kerry in 2004 talking a lot about George W. Bush “opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them in the United States.” There’s nothing in what Sosnik predicts as the demands of “the Left” that would be new or troubling to any kind of Democrats, aside from the energy-producing-state Dems who oppose action on climate change.

He does, however, point to a fundamental problem Democrats will face for the immediate future: the inherent difficultly of favoring an activist federal government at a time when anti-government sentiment is beginning to transcend all the old party and ideological divisions. Yes, you can get some mileage from some elements of the population by deflecting attention from hatred of government to hatred of corporations or Wall Street, and even coopting some anti-government attitudes by going after corporate-tainted public policies and practices. But in the end, unless we’re all going to become “liberaltarians,” progressivism is and will remain primarily committed to the active deployment of public agencies to promote the public welfare. So just as they did in the 1990s when hatred of government appeared to be at similar levels, showing that government can work is essential. But that means overcoming the obstruction of both the Right and of entrenched interests. And therein is the challenge.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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