Democrats’ lurch toward the radical left — and other useful myths
Mondaire Jones, who won a congressional Democratic primary last month proclaimed all the Democrats’ energy “is on the left.” Former Sen. Judd Gregg, an anti-Trump Republican, worries Joe Biden and his party have been “captured” by “the hard left.” Donald Trump charges the Democratic nominee “has gone radical left.”
It’s conventional wisdom that Democrats, on political and policy grounds, have moved sharply left.
It’s also untrue.
Democrats have embraced issues that are more liberal, more pro-government action, in no small part as a reaction to the Trump failures. These include climate change, taxes, health care, and racial justice. This is the more progressive party, not a new version of the old moderate Republicans.
But in contrast to expectations only six months ago, the Democratic presidential nominee and the vast majority of its congressional candidates have rejected a far-left agenda.
This reflects their voters. Democrats scored big wins in the 2018 congressional elections, electing dozens of moderate, slighty to the left of center candidates.
It was Joe Biden who easily defeated Bernie Sanders, a socialist, and super-liberal Elizabeth Warren, who was forced to temper her stances on matters like health care.
Much attention is paid to attractive left-wing newcomers like Jones or Jamaal Bowman, another New Yorker who recently beat a longtime Democratic incumbent in a primary. These handful of left-wing candidates, like the celebrated Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), win primaries in overwhelmingly Democratic districts, replacing out of touch incumbents.
Yet they rarely win in competitive districts that determine the majority in the House or in Senate contests.
They get a lot of press, but it’s worth remembering that during this congressional session when AOC and her band of allies, nicknamed “The Squad,” tried to raise a ruckus, they were brushed aside by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as she marshalled a long line of victories.
If, as today seems likely, Joe Biden wins in November by eight to ten points, Democrats would likely gain ten to 15 additional House seats. These will be Pelosi Democrats — oh how that term has changed — with the new “squad” members a small minority in the Democratic caucus.
The Democrats are positioned to pick up at least five or six Senate seats: Western state governors John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Montana’s Steve Bullock; veterans Mark Kelly in Arizona and Cal Cunningham in North Carolina; Sara Gideon, Speaker of the House in Maine, and businesswoman Theresa Greenfield in Iowa.
None are lefties.
On policy, the Biden-Sanders accord this month is certainly liberal, but hardly radical. If Mitch McConnell and House Republicans hadn’t tried to block everything Barack Obama did after 2010, this would have been his second term agenda.
On health care, Biden, eschewing a government-run plan that ends private insurance, wants to expand Obamacare with a public option, a crack-down on rising drug prices, and an expansion of Medicaid and Medicare. Biden cuts back some on educational reforms, testing and charter schools, while pledging increases for spending on schools that service low income families and for students with disabilities.
The nominee proposes to roll back mean-spirited Trump immigration policies, protect the Dreamers and liberalize border policy, but does not de-criminalize illegal immigration or abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
New help would be offered disadvantaged people of color, and there would be drug and police reform. It does not defund the police or legalize marijuana.
On taxes, the Democrats would repeal most of the top-heavy 2017 Trump tax cuts, return both the estate tax and the top individual rate to Obama-era levels, raise the corporate rate to less than it was four years ago, close a number of special interest loopholes, and tax capital gains as ordinary income. Americans still would be taxed less than most major Western countries.
There are some innovative new economic initiatives like baby bonds. This would give every newborn $1,000 with subsequent federal investments for the less well off.
The Joe-Bernie pact calls for an ambitious $2 trillion climate change plan, targeting zero carbon emissions by 2035. It has been warmly embraced by former New York mayor and presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg; he’s the guy the left calls a corporatist. (Full disclosure: I used to work for Bloomberg News.) In a smart political move, Biden does not call for a ban on fracking.
On foreign policy, in the era of Trump, who knows what’s left or right? Biden — and most Democrats — would start off tough on China and Russia, committed to strengthening alliances, mainly acquiescent to Israel and waffling on trade.
Overall, it’s a left of center agenda, close to where the public is, though it would have to be modified to be enacted. It is not radical.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.