The Democrats are not changing ideologically like the Republicans
The Democrats are amazingly unified on their priorities right now. I say this as a lifelong Democratic activist who has spent much of his life agonizing over our party’s celebrated “circular firing squad.” More often that not, it seems that we manage to shoot ourselves in the foot. After all, it was about the Democratic party that Will Rogers famously quipped “I do not belong to an organized political party.”
That unity is in part thanks to Trump. Indeed, a recent poll showed that most Democrats — 56% — would support a candidate they disagreed with on most points if he or she could defeat Trump.
Some might argue that this unity is the mirror image of the personality cult that has developed within the Republican party over Trump. But I think the Democrats are taking this position not just because of Trump — although disgust over his personality certainly is one driver — but because of the policies he has put in place.
For example, Democrats were amazingly unified over the wall, Obamacare, the tax bill, and Brett Kavanaugh. At the same time, they were willing to vote for a bipartisan package that would reform federal mandatory sentencing — an accomplishment led by Jared Kushner that Trump has trumpeted (pun intended). This is nothing like Mitch McConnell threatening to block anything that Obama proposed, good or bad.
These positions represent the Democratic grassroots’ views. For example, a poll taken by Quinnipiac at the height of the shutdown found that 94% of Democrats opposed building a wall on the Mexican border. Thus, Pelosi, Schumer and their caucuses were merely reflecting the will of their voters when they stood firm against building a wall.
Republicans have radically changed their positions to follow Trump, something that has not happened among Democrats.
Contrast this with the changes Trump has wrought on Republican policies. Republicans used to be hard-liners opposed to Russian expansionism. Now, 59% of Republicans view Russia as an ally, a near mirror image of their position just four years ago.
Similarly, Republican support for the FBI has fallen by over 20 percentage points since Trump has taken office. Now a minority of Republicans view the FBI favorably. Contrast this with Democratic opinion which, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, has actually remained amazingly consistent and positive dating back to the beginning of the decade.
Another example: trade. Free trade used to be an article of faith among conservatives, and tariffs, which are, by the way, a tax on Americans, were viewed very negatively. Now, because Republicans will follow Trump wherever he goes, 63% support tariffs. Again, this is nearly the mirror image of Republican voters’ opinion right before Trump.
Again, in contrast, Democrats have not experienced such a shift in views. If anything, they have actually become more progressive. This shift is not simply a response to Trump. It is a function of the Democrats’ frustration over certain problems we face as a nation: growing inequality, global warming, stagnating wages, increasing level of uninsured (again).
These issues have not been solved by more moderate politicians, and there is good reason to panic over them becoming crises. For example, climate change is actually accelerating, according to recent research. If something is not done soon, the damage will be permanent. As a result, the Democrats shift left is more a reflection of the fact that minor tweaking will not resolve the problem anymore. That time has passed. More dramatic action is necessary to, without hyperbole, save the planet. The same can be said for the other issues I listed above.
Enter the Green New Deal. Some have criticized the fact that this proposal is about more than the environment. But this proposal was never just about the environment. It has two parts: the green part and the New Deal part.
The New Deal, of course, is a reference to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s legislative agenda to help the United States recover from the Depression. It included what were, at that time, radical proposals that were called “socialist” at the time, proposals such as Social Security, the FDIC, and securities regulations. Needless to say, these are all popular laws these days.
On the other hand, “green” even means more than just the environment. We have to remember that in Europe, Green parties emerged. While environmental protection was part of their agenda, they advocated a broader progressive agenda as well. As a result, the Green New Deal’s emphasis on a broad range of issues fits well with the Green tradition.
Even so-called “centrists” among Democrats support much of this agenda. Consider Gina Raimondo, the Democratic Governor of Rhode Island. She supports free community college, taxes on firms whose employees qualify for Medicaid, and efforts to address “grotesque income inequality.” A few years ago, she would have been considered a radical with these positions.
So when Howard Schultz and others bemoan the Democrats’ move to the left, their criticism is misplaced. Their move is actually a reflection of growing panic that time is running out to address some of these problems, and that Trump is actually making these problems worse. That is why the Democrats don’t like Trump.
Democrats don’t want to be fiddling while Rome burns. To them, it is time to open the floodgates. The time for half measures has passed. It’s time for real action, and that is what the Green New Deal is all about.
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