Historians Elizabeth Catte, Rebecca Solnit, and Peniel Joseph Quoted in Washington Post Article, "The Democrats Are Moving Left. Will America Follow?"Historians in the News
tags: historians, Democratic Party
Perhaps the great unknown of 2020 is how the tenor of the Democratic nomination contest will affect the general election. The outcome of the primaries and caucuses, of course, is far from clear — the nominee may ultimately lean to the center or the left — but what is clear is that the party has shifted in fundamental ways since the last presidential election. You can see it in the policy positions being discussed and embraced by Democrats, many of which go well beyond the positions taken by previous Democratic presidents and nominees — from banning private insurance to free college to a wealth tax to the Green New Deal. You can see it in the left-populist worldviews and solid poll numbers of two of the three leading candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. And you can see it in the substantial popularity among the Democratic rank-and-file of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her allies in Congress. In this issue of the magazine, journalists, wonks, activists and politicians — from a variety of ideological perspectives — reflect on how all of this might play out in the months and years to come, and how Americans should feel about it.
From Elizabeth Catte:
"On an electoral map, I live in Staunton, Va., a dot of blue in a sea of red — a small city surrounded by a large rural county that should be, according to conventional political wisdom, filled with the kind of unexciting, middle-of-the-road voters that Joe Biden dreams of and the centrist wing of the Democratic Party mythologizes. Our local Democratic candidates, hampered by gerrymandering, lose gracefully to their Republican rivals. Our assistance to the Democrats in state and national elections is reliable but delivered in modest numbers. We are the kind of people the party likes to seek donations from but never listen to. We are folks who know our place.
Except in 2019, our local Democrats decided to write their own platform, to step up and articulate a vision amid what to them felt like an absence of coherent principles and values from the national party. As working issues, their platform included the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, divestment from fossil fuels, universal health care, total student loan forgiveness and the repeal of right-to-work laws. Their collective direction on more than 60 issues covered by the new platform puts our local organization squarely to the left of both the state and national party, as well as many of the current primary candidates. It was adopted by a unanimous vote.
From Rebecca Solnit:
"I'd invert this question to say: America is far to the left of its political representation, and if we’re lucky the Democrats will catch up with us. That is, the Americans who are eligible to vote believe far more sincerely in the importance of climate action, human rights and equality, social services, gun control and economic justice than the Americans who actually do vote. That’s often cast as “why didn’t those young/brown/black/poor people vote” by people uninterested in the answer. We know the answer.
Decades ago, Republicans faced a choice: They could adapt to an increasingly nonwhite America and try to win votes from people of color, or they could do their damnedest to prevent those people from voting. As we all know, they chose the second option. Former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach’s Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program was a cynical means to remove legitimate voters from the rolls, as are some red states’ new tactic of striking from the rolls anyone who didn’t vote in a recent election. Voter identification laws disproportionately affected poor, nonwhite people. In many places, polls were closed, forcing voters to travel great distances; poorer places often had shoddy equipment; college students and people in poor precincts sometimes had to wait in line for hours — if they could afford to miss class or work or have someone watch the kids while they did so. As of 2016, 6 million citizens with felony convictions had their right to vote taken away — in Florida that meant 1 in 5 black voters before the laws were changed in 2018.
From Peniel Joseph:
"Since at least Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the Democratic Party, to both the benefit and the ill of its electoral prospects, has been identified as the party of social justice and racial equality. Losing five of six presidential contests between 1968 and 1988 prompted a rightward shift exemplified by Bill Clinton’s politically deft yet morally reprehensible triangulation on the question of black America. Easily the most striking aspect of today’s Democratic primary race has been the distance traveled, especially by some contenders, from the days when Clinton triumphantly passed criminal justice and welfare reform that penalized the black poor. The candid discussion of reparations for descendants of enslaved African Americans shows how far we’ve come since Democrats believed that racial scapegoating was necessary for electoral success.
The Obama coalition built its political strength on demographic transformations combined with the implicit belief that the election of a black president could both represent racial progress and contribute to the eradication of institutional racism. Donald Trump’s electoral coalition, based on explicit and ugly appeals to white nationalism, upended the racial optimism of 2008-2009 and liberated Democrats from speaking politely about racial equality while largely ignoring the promotion of racial justice as a policy agenda. The rise of Kamala Harris, Ayanna Pressley and Stacey Abrams has highlighted the fact that black women represent the party’s “stickiest” voter, a loyal constituency that Democrats now need more than ever to reclaim the White House. On race matters, Democratic support of reparations, ending mass incarceration, universal health care and a living wage for all Americans recognizes right as well as reality.
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