Corporate Democrats are extremely worried about the wave of progressive enthusiasm that is sweeping the country in red and blue states alike, and—according to a report by NBC News on Sunday—they are beginning to organize a "counterrevolution" to beat it back.
Ignoring survey after survey showing that progressive priorities like Medicare for All, a living wage, and tuition-free public college are overwhelmingly popular among the American public, Democratic politicians and operatives with the notorious think-tank Third Way used an invite-only event in Columbus, Ohio on Friday to tout an alternative agenda that centers on "opportunity" and access rather than equality—a platform that explicitly avoids alienating the ultra-wealthy.
"You're not going to make me hate somebody just because they're rich. I want to be rich!" Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said during last week's closed-door event, which was titled "Opportunity 2020."
"Once again," added Third Way president Jon Cowan, "the time has come to mend, but not end, capitalism for a new era."
Real headline should be: "Democratic leaders: How can we keep preventing the things Democratic voters actually want?" https://t.co/TkYEeENEE0
— Will Bunch (@Will_Bunch) July 22, 2018
Polls show stuff like Medicare for All, $15 minimum wage & debt-free college are mainstream. One of the most Orwellian tactics is to nonetheless label the corporate Dems who oppose these things as “mainstream.” They arent — polls show they are the fringe. https://t.co/uwYA7kZ8Wc pic.twitter.com/7kmbSrPkbm
— David Sirota (@davidsirota) July 22, 2018
Heartening tale of a closed-door “safe space” strategy session for Third Way Dems determined to save humanity by putting a stop to unhelpful billionaire-bashing (“I want to be rich!” sez Tim Ryan). https://t.co/YdlJw9XSwv
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) July 22, 2018
As NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald notes, the "anxiety" centrist Democrats have felt about the rousing campaigns of democratic socialists and bold progressives like New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michigan's Abdul El-Sayed "has largely been kept to a whisper among the party's moderates and big donors."
But now, with organized events and more frequent interviews with the press, corporate Democrats and strategists are beginning to openly state their plans to undercut surging progressive momentum, "with some of the major fundraisers pressing operatives on what can be done to stop" Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) if he decides to launch another bid for the presidency, Seitz-Wald reports.
"Sanders' wing of the party terrifies moderate Dems," Seitz-Wald writes.
"They need to wake up and pay attention to what people actually want. There are so many progressive policies that have widespread support that mainstream Democrats are not picking up on, or putting that stuff down."
—Rachel Conner, social worker
In terms of electoral strategy, Democratic insiders are advocating an approach that reaches out to so-called moderate Republicans who have supposedly broken with Trump, instead of placing the bulk of their focus on inspiring both non-voters and Democrats disgruntled by the party's corporate turn.
"Where progressives see a rare opportunity to capitalize on an energized Democratic base, moderates see a better chance to win over Republicans turned off by Trump," as Seitz-Wald explains.
The problem with this approach, as many commentators have noted, is that it was tried in 2016—and it failed miserably.
As a counter to progressive ideas like a federal jobs guarantee, Medicare for All, and expanded Social Security benefits, NBC reports that Third Way has put forth an "apprenticeship program to train workers, a privatized employer-funded universal pension that would supplement Social Security, and an overhaul of unemployment insurance to include skills training."
Progressives were quick to denounce such proposals as a thinly-veiled push to privatize Social Security and undermine more ambitious—and far more popular—left-wing proposals that have been winning big in Democratic primaries across the nation.
Funded by a random billionaire, 250 Democrats gathered together to discuss how they could make sure the party stands against progressives like Bernie & instead reminds people more of the Republican Party. https://t.co/31voFpORRO
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) July 22, 2018
A reminder that these are the same people who tried to cut Social Security under Obama. Anyone who associates with Third Way is part of a plan to do it under the next President. https://t.co/tQzqhiQnPu
— People For Bernie (@People4Bernie) July 22, 2018
Warning: Third Way's "opportunity" agenda would give Wall Street a ton of taxpayer cash managing private retirement accounts instead of expanding Social Security. In 2011, their big idea was to cut Social Security. That's not "mainstream." That's radical. https://t.co/T6KieytFOD
— Warren Gunnels (@GunnelsWarren) July 22, 2018
Responding to the Democratic establishment's attempts to dismiss the successes of bold progressives and uphold a toxic status quo, 27-year-old social worker Rachel Conner told the New York Times on Saturday: "They need to wake up and pay attention to what people actually want. There are so many progressive policies that have widespread support that mainstream Democrats are not picking up on, or putting that stuff down and saying, 'That wouldn't really work.'"