Press: No, the progressive movement is not dead!
You’ve probably noticed. After the defeat of progressive Democrat and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) acolyte Nina Turner in the special election for Ohio’s 11th District, almost every political commentator has written the same obituary: For progressive Democrats, it’s all over. The election of moderate Democrats Joe Biden, Eric Adams, Terry McAuliffe, and Shontel Brown prove the progressive movement is dead.
When I say “almost” every political commentator, I mean everyone but me. I haven’t written that column for two reasons: First, because I don’t believe it. And second, because it’s not true. In fact, I’d argue just the opposite: The progressive movement today is stronger than ever.
Take Ohio 11. It’s true that one progressive Democrat, Nina Turner, lost. But it’s also true that another progressive Democrat, Shontel Brown, won. On the issues, there was barely a whisker of difference between Turner and Brown, over how fast to move to Medicare for All.
This was not a contest between liberal and conservative. This was a contest between two liberals. And, by the way, that fact alone was a win for the progressive movement. The real question in the special election was not which one is more liberal, but which one would be a more effective member of Congress? The difference was personality, not policy. Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) picked Turner. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) picked Brown and the Congressional Black Caucus backed Brown.
Either way was a win for progressives, as Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), one of the most liberal members of Congress and Chair Emeritus of the Progressive Caucus, told me. “Anyone who tries to read too much into a special election doesn’t understand elections or politics.” What really counts, Pocan notes, is policy: “The proof of the progressive movement is in the actual policies moving forward by the administration and by Congress.”
Indeed, the policies driving the Democratic Party today are the policies of the progressive movement. The heart of the party may not be as far left as some of its more outspoken progressives, like Ocasio-Cortez or Cori Bush (D-Mo.), but it’s a lot farther to the left than the party of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Issues that used to divide Democrats — like the $15 minimum wage, Medicare-for-All, tuition-free community college — are now party gospel.
Look at the priorities of “moderate” Democrat Joe Biden. Last week, by adopting tougher fuel efficiency ratings for new cars and trucks and ordering that half of new cars and trucks be electric by 2030, he took a bold, progressive, step to tackle climate change. Two days earlier, Biden ordered the CDC to extend a ban on evictions of families threatened with losing their homes over Covid-19-related financial losses. No “progressive” Democrat could have done it any better.
Biden will soon chalk up another progressive win: Senate passage of the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill, with $550 in new spending for rebuilding traditional, brick-and-mortar, infrastructure. Then, with Biden’s full support, the Senate will take up the so-called “human infrastructure” bill — a $3.5 trillion budget package chocked with everything progressives have ever fought for, including: expanded family and medical leave; expansion of Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing; universal pre-K; and continuation of the $300/month child tax credit enacted during the pandemic.
Ironically, Biden’s strongest ally is Sanders, the granddaddy of progressives, now chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. Biden and Sanders aren’t fighting over policy. They’re working together. They’ve forged a new partnership of progressivism and pragmatism. No, the progressive movement isn’t dead. It’s just discovered how to get things done.
Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”