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Democrats must think big to win big

Democrats must think big to win big
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Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE’s victory was a step forward for a nation mired in President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE’s response (or lack thereof) on most issues and indifference to the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 240,000 people and brought the economy to its knees. But the failure of Democrats to run on an aggressive progressive economic platform meant that the party came up short in realizing the potential it had to win a big victory.

The failure of the Democrats to win back the Senate and to increase their majority in the House of Representatives means that the 46th president won’t have much help in moving the nation forward to confront the serious problems that face America. The party’s lackluster performance gives the Republican Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop aide: Biden expected to visit Georgia in push to boost Ossoff, Warnock Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' MORE (R-Ky.) the power to blunt Biden’s legislative initiatives unless Democrats win both the Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

Election Day was a disaster for Democrats except at the highest level. Conditions were ripe for a big Democratic victory up and down the ballot. The nation was in the throes of a health care and economic crisis, which the unpopular Republican president did not proactively address. The party had tons of money and plenty of vulnerable GOP targets but failed to win decisively.

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In the aftermath of a big presidential victory, criticizing Democratic performance is like being a skunk at a garden party but the down ballot campaigns failed miserably. Democrats whiffed on a great opportunity to win control of the Senate, lost seats in the House and failed to gain control of any state legislative bodies. The lost battle to win majorities in state legislative chambers will bite Democrats on the butt for the next 10 years as Republicans will control the redistricting process after the 2020 Census.

The blame game started right after Election Day with centrist Democrats criticizing Democratic advocates of Medicare For All and the Green New Deal for the party’s failure to make big gains on Election Day. 

Moderates should take a cold hard look in the mirror. Centrists who blame progressives for their losses believe the tail wagged the dog. The party leadership set the tone for the Democratic campaign, not the progressives.

The Democratic standard bearer, Biden ran as a moderate who went to great lengths during the primary and general election campaigns to distance himself from the progressive agenda. The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives dismissed progressive economic proposals out of hand.

Moderates are unfairly blaming lackluster election results on progressive economic agenda. Progressives shouldn’t be defensive; they should take the initiative and blame leadership for saddling the party with a timid economic message. The House Democratic leadership branded the party with a tepid economic message when it rejected Medicare For All and the Green New Deal. 

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The progressive economic message — economic security for working families — is fundamentally sound. Medicare for All could have been the ingredient that would have added some much-needed spice to a bland Democratic menu. It would have addressed the inadequacy of the current health care system that has been badly exposed by the deadly pandemic.

A poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation last month indicated that most Americans including a majority of independents supported Medicare For All. 

The problem is the failure of establishment Democrats to adopt bold economic proposals. Progressives are being beaten up by moderates for the centrist failure to go big and bold.

Democrats had the worst of both worlds. Biden talked a lot about the pandemic during his campaign but less about the financial concerns of middle class voters. It wasn’t what Biden said about the economy that caused him problems; it was what he didn’t say. He didn’t talk about the economy enough and he got hammered for being a socialist anyway.

Biden lost on the economy because he didn’t empathize with the problems facing cash strapped working families. The national media exit poll showed that the economy, not the pandemic, was the biggest issue. A third of the voters said the economy was their priority and Trump won those voters 83 percent to 17 percent

Democrats can’t thrive when they lose the issue that voters are most concerned about by such a divisive margin. Franklin Roosevelt, who turned an economic disaster into American economic dominance and Democratic political hegemony with a progressive economic program, must be rolling around in his grave.

If Democrats want to win big, they must think big. The party must take the economy and make it theirs with a progressive slant. Otherwise, the only thing voters will hear is the GOP message that we are socialists. Democrats played defense on the economy without mounting much of an offense. We were passive instead of aggressive. If Democrats fight the good fight, we will at least have a chance of winning the economic debate. If Democrats are bold, our economic message can be sold. If we’re shy, progress will die. 

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.