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The Big Tent Is Really No Tent: Why the Democrats' Old Guard Has to Get Out of the Way

It's time for the party to follow the people and back a set of progressive policies and candidates that put people first.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speak at a press conference in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

"The nearly complete defeat of the centrist, corporate Democrats over the last four decades should have made it obvious that the age of the DLC centrists has been coming to an end for some time."The Democratic Party’s leadership would phrase it differently. Something like, “Their go our people. We must stop them, or they will make us give up our triangualting centrism,” or more likely, “…they will make us give up our corporate campaign contributions.”

If there was ever a question that there’s a revolution going on in this country, the stunning rebuke of Dianne Feinstein by the California Democratic Party on July 14th should have put it to rest.

And no, this isn’t just a left-coast phenomenon. One of the most obvious lessons in politics is that Trump won because people were angry at the status quo, corporate-funded candidates from both parties, and they stayed home in droves. The nearly complete defeat of the centrist, corporate Democrats over the last four decades should have made it obvious that the age of the DLC centrists has been coming to an end for some time, now, and that the future belongs to progressive candidates who are not beholden to the ultra-rich and corporations.

If you unpack the polls going into 2018, what you find is that people favor:

  • Affordable healt care with a majority now backing a single-payer system;
  • An end to the rigged economy—jobs paying a living wage, a higher minimum wage, more equitable tax policies, and controls on big banks and Wall Street;
  • Candidates who will protect Social Security;
  • Stricter gun control laws;
  • Fairer immigration laws;
  • Stronger climate policies and programs; and
  • Getting the money out of politics.

People want progressive populists as candidates; they want a government that works and that represents them; they want elected officials who are serious about economic justice, environmental protection, and support for the working man and woman. And this isn’t a red state/blue state split; it’s not a Republican/Democrat split. These are values that transcend party and partisan lines.

But there’s been a lot of confusion about what the 2016 election was all about. Pundits have spent endless hours and pages mulling over why Trump won, without understanding that the real winner was “none-of-the-above,” which trounced both Clinton and Trump.  Democrats, in particular, have been loath to abandon the centrist strategy that has enabled them to fill their campaign coffers with corporate money, and the party has shrunk in size and influence as a result.

Beyond money, another reason Democrats have run from the notion of government as a force for good rather than on it is that they’ve been driven by polls, while Republicans have driven and shaped the polls. Indeed, the modern political landscape is a caricature created by a de facto coup, funded with billions of dollars from far-right individuals and self-interested corporations. In this caricature, government is at best incompetent, at worst the enemy, and free markets and corporations are our savior. To keep folks from examining this parody of reality, Republicans in particular have implemented a divide and conquer strategy in which a whole host of “thems” are robbing “us” (a minority composed of angry and frightened white voters) of our wealth and our freedoms.

But the old guard Democrats have steadfastly refused to take on this mythical political world of uses and thems. In fact, their reliance on identity politics has inadvertently reinforced it.

The real lesson from 2016 is that the people won’t vote for mediocre candidates who won’t represent their interests. They don’t want political spinmeisters, tacticians, and corporatist posers – they want men and women of values.

And the reality is, progressive policies based on values benefit all Americans. As the polls show, people have figured this out. And for all the decidedly horrible aspects of a Trump presidency, there is one silver lining. He has showed people the danger of sitting out the political process. As a result, there is a nascent but, rapidly emerging, revolution of the people, by the people, and for the people forming, and candidates outside the tired old guard of the Democratic party are emerging across the country.

We are in a race with time, however. Trump and his cronies are inflicting great injury on our country and our planet, some of which will be irreversible. Climate change, for example, is approaching – or in some cases – exceeding our capacity to reverse the damage of inaction. And we will live with the consequences of a conservative court system at all levels for decades to come. Similarly, if Republicans retain control of the majority of state governments, they will control the redistricting following the 2020 census.  It was the targeted efforts of a few conservative PACs that allowed them to gerrymander the hell out of the districts in key states, allowing a minority to control Congress and state legislatures. If they retain control of state governments in 2020, the progressive majority will have an uphill battle in elections until 2030.

The Democrats’ commitment to a big tent is really an endorsement of no tent. It’s time for the party to follow the people and back a set of progressive policies and candidates that put people first, and that champions a government that is strong enough to confront the tyranny of corporate and moneyed interests.

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