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Moderate Democrats: Everyone’s older siblings

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I know something about taking the blame. I’m an older sister. The buck always stopped with me. I’m the one who should have known better.

The same is true in politics. Increasingly, I find that being a moderate Democrat is a lot like being an older sibling. While we’re measured in our positions and in touch with Americans’ policy preferences, extremists to our right and our left spout off with little consequence, the way our kid brothers and sisters did all those years ago. And then, we moderate Dems do the cleanup.

Take, for example, the ongoing “feud” between the progressive left, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and the center of the Democratic Party. While they are consistently lauded for their passion and authenticity, mainstream Democrats are tasked with answering for outlandish proposals and philosophies they do not support.

Consider the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. As Trump tried his best to define Biden as a Sanders acolyte who “agrees with [Sanders] on Medicare-for-All,” Biden shot back, “The fact of the matter is, I beat Bernie Sanders … by a whole hell of a lot. …The party is me. Right now, I am the Democratic Party.”

Just a few weeks later, in an interview in Wisconsin with a local TV station, Biden was again asked to address voters who might be worried about socialism. “I beat the socialist,” he said. “That’s how I got elected. That’s how I got the nomination. Do I look like a socialist? Look at my career — my whole career. I am not a socialist.” 

Biden has been perfectly clear on the most controversial left-wing policies. In the third debate, he was explicit about defunding the police, declaring that he is “totally opposed” to it. On the Green New Deal, Biden had this to say: “The Green New Deal is not my plan.” On Medicare-for-All, not only does Biden not support it, but he’d veto it if it came to his desk. “I would veto anything that delays providing the security and the certainty of health care being available now. … I want to know, how did they find $35 trillion? What is that doing? Is it going to significantly raise taxes on the middle class, which it will? What’s going to happen?”

How much more direct can the man be? Many in the media make moderates pay for the extremism of others. It’s absurd.  

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has not escaped the older sibling trap, either. From being asked if she presents a “socialist or progressive perspective” by CBS’s Norah O’Donnell to campaign ads falsely claiming that California’s former “top cop” wants to strip police departments of funding when, for well over 10 years, she has advocated for increasing funding for things such as body cameras, mental health professionals and officer safety and wellness, Harris regularly spends more time separating the Biden/Harris platform from progressive wish-lists than discussing their own proposals.

But it’s not just the extremism within our own party that moderates are made to address.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made it no secret what he thought of President Obama. In 2010, McConnell said that his top priority was to make Obama a one-term president. Three years later, Obama had been asked so many times why he didn’t make more of an effort with McConnell that he even joked at the White House Correspondents dinner, “Why don’t YOU get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has shouldered her share of the “why aren’t you working with Republicans?” burden. In a recent — and tense — interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Pelosi was asked, “Can you look them in the eye, Madam Speaker, and explain why you don’t want to accept the president’s latest stimulus offer?” In response, she pondered whether Blitzer would “ask the same question of Republicans.” Pelosi added, “I don’t know why you’re always an apologist and many of your colleagues are apologists for the Republican position.” 

That’s a question I often find myself asking. Moderates are just always expected to play nice. Can you imagine the same line of questioning to progressive stalwarts? Compromise would undermine their authenticity, of course.

Moderates can legitimately point a finger at a media perversity play. We all know conflict sells. Click-culture bolsters extremist stories and brands moderates as dull and dispassionate. 

Not to sound like my 10-year-old self, but it’s just so damn unfair — especially so because moderate Democrats’ positions are most in line with the preferences of a majority of Americans. Over 80 percent of Americans oppose defunding the police, nearly 60 percent want to preserve the Affordable Care Act, and most want to create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented migrants but cringe at decriminalizing border crossings and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I could go on.

Against this backdrop, why should moderates be the ones defending themselves? We represent the majority of Americans. And there is no doubt that extremists benefit from the strength of the middle. They are emboldened by the reliable solid and prevailing middle.

From Trump to McConnell to Sanders to AOC, none is made to examine his or her flaws and provide answers. But Biden, Harris and Pelosi are forced to do so on a daily basis.

Moderates are undoubtedly the older siblings of Washington. With Biden, we are already seeing a big sigh of relief settle into our lives. If we’re going to have to take the blame, at least we’re in charge.

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.

Tags 2020 Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Democratic socialism Donald Trump Joe Biden Mitch McConnell moderates Nancy Pelosi Political positions of Joe Biden progressives

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