With the selection of Tom Perez as DNC Chairman, many progressives within the Democratic Party are aghast. They view Perez as a continuation of a corporatist Democratic party that has failed to learn the lessons of the Sanders Revolution. Nevermind that Perez served under Barack Obama, a very popular U.S. president and someone who received broad support from the progressive wing of the party. These far-left Democrats seem to believe that the future of the party lies with people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, politicians on the extreme fringes of the Democratic Party (indeed, Sanders isn’t even a Democrat). Thus, they had hoped that Keith Ellison – a grassroots politician more similar to Bernie Sanders – would lead the party as DNC Chair and transform it into something resembling the social democratic parties of Europe. Honestly, I don’t know enough about Ellison to say whether he would have been a better pick than Perez. What I can say, however, is that this absurd belief that the Democrats need to move ever further to the left is completely wrong.
To demonstrate why these progressives are wrong, one need only look at the major parties in Europe. As I’ve written about before, the British Labour Party has attempted the strategy favored by the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, and it has been an unmitigated disaster. In contrast, both Martin Schulz and Emmanuel Macron have seen a large amount of support in their bids for the Chancellorship of Germany and Presidency of France despite being relatively moderate left-leaning candidates. Indeed, Macron is more right-leaning on economic issues than not. Meanwhile, the far left in both Germany and France is politically irrelevant.
Of course, these countries are not the United States, and there are unique factors that make the comparisons to Europe imperfect. Nonetheless, it is far from clear that a shift to the far left would be a recipe for success. If the European elections are anything to go on – and I’m convinced they are – the Bernie wing is absolutely mistaken, and their attempts to reshape the Democratic Party in their image will likely do nothing but further increase GOP control of the country. These progressives’ political demands suggest that they are as misguided as the hardcore Trump supporters. They exist in a bubble that is entirely divorced from reality, and they are trying to hijack the Democratic Party because they are still frustrated that their candidate lost to Clinton in the Democratic primaries.
The simple truth is that the United States does not have some secret yearning for socialism just waiting to be tapped into by a clever politician. Throughout its history, the United States has always been further to the right than just about every other developed Western democracy, and there is simply no evidence that this has changed in the past few years. Despite what Bernie-supporting conspiracy theorists would have us believe, the DNC primary system was not rigged, and Clinton won the contest fairly. If there truly were a huge amount of support for the type of politics that Sanders, Warren, and Ellison stand for, Bernie would have actually posed a serious threat to Clinton down the stretch. He didn’t. Moreover, public opinion polling suggests that a clear majority of Americans support the centrist positions held by mainstream politicians. These data are important because they capture the views held by the overall population and are not simply anecdotal evidence from people ensconced within the far-left echo chamber. Now, to be sure, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is far more engaged and vocal than their more moderate compatriots. But their enthusiasm does not mean that the Democrats should cave to their demands. Instead of shifting the entire party to cater to a vocal minority, the Democrats should work to excite and motivate the more apathetic majority. Trump’s terrible policies and inflammatory positions have given the Democrats a unique opportunity to mobilize this generally uninterested section of their base, and the far-left wing of the party is threatening to squander this opening.
It’s always important to adapt and modernize. Losing to Trump has demonstrated that certain Democratic positions simply aren’t resonating with the American people. That being said, the solution is not to blow up the system and abandon the entire party platform simply because a Vermont senator had a better than expected showing in the Democratic primaries. As European politics has demonstrated, running to the fringes only satisfies the delusional extremists. It does not, however, win elections.