There is a new division in the Democratic Party which consists of political activists who are ideologically Progressive but who take a practical approach to long-term strategic thinking for success.
By David Todd McCarty | Tuesday, November 12, 2019
In the movie Trumbo, about the Hollywood Ten and the Black List of the 1940’s, there is a scene where screenwriter Arlen Hird says to Dalton Trumbo, “You talk like a radical, but you live like a rich guy.” To which Trumbo responds, “It’s the perfect combination! The radical may fight with the purity of Jesus, but the rich guy wins with the cunning of Satan.”
There is a movement in this country that wants to present itself as fighting with the purity of Jesus but winning with the cunning of Satan. Let’s call them Pragmatic Progressives.
There is a strong, Progressive movement within the Democratic Party, but it’s mostly confined to the vocal activists on Political Twitter, political elites and those in the news media. The rest of the country remains considerably more moderate, looking for incremental change as opposed to sweeping revolutions.
Progressive Democrats want to see large-scale change not seen since Roosevelt’s New Deal and they want to see it happen quickly. The main factors seen as most critical to the welfare of America are the environment, healthcare, income inequality, and criminal justice reform. More moderate Democrats would probably be happy if we moved more slowly, improving the ACA, re-engaging with the Paris Climate accord and returning to Democratic norms of governing.
The Democratic Party has shifted rather dramatically Left in recent election cycles, with more and more candidates, adopting a much more Progressive ideology and denouncing the more centrist approach embraced by establishment moderates such as Bill Clinton. The center had been shifting to the Right with each election since Clinton’s Presidency, resulting in the Tea Party and culminating in the election of Donald Trump and his band of miscreants. Democrats responded by nominating Hillary Clinton, a moderate Democrat. Her main opponent in the primary was Bernie Sanders, an independent Senator from Vermont and a self-described Democratic Socialist. He ran on a platform of universal healthcare, breaking up the big banks, free college education, and other radical ideas he’d been running on for four decades. He almost won. Four years later, nearly his entire platform in one form or another, was adopted by the entire field of Democratic Party candidates. That’s a pretty momentous shift and not one that would have come up in a poll.
Pragmatic Progressives think like radicals in their ideology, in large part because the country has been pulled so far to the right, but they have very practical, long-term strategies for changing the party. They aim to influence the Democratic electorate with pragmatic solutions to populist issues, while growing the party to include independents that are fed up with the status quo. It’s not about ideological purity, it’s about creating aggressive goals and then taking reasonable steps to eventually achieve those goals.
Pragmatic Progressivism is the desire to dream big, and then find practical steps that we can achieve right now, while we work towards the big goals. One step at a time, instead of one great leap. This also isn’t about incrementalism per se. It’s not saying it wouldn’t be preferable to make great leaps right now, but it may not be a practical enough to win over enough moderate and independent voters. Fighting the good fight without winning elections is a long-term loser. You can be in opposition and change public opinion over time, but eventually you need to be able to govern in order to make real change.
Progressive leadership demands that you have bold goals and then show people the way to get there. It requires vision and out of the box thinking. No one knew they wanted an iPhone until Steve Jobs told them they needed one.
There has been a lot of discussion in the national news media about how Medicare for All doesn’t poll particularly well, with a majority of Americans having an unfavorable view of it. But that’s because most people don’t understand what it would mean to them. The majority of Americans, including most Republicans didn’t want Obamacare, but once they discovered the benefits of the ACA, even Republicans couldn’t get rid of it when they had total control of government.
Leadership doesn’t have to come from behind, no matter what your favorite meme says. Leaders have to be out in front of the group, with an idea of where we’re going, even if the rest of the group, doesn’t fully understand how we’re going to get there. Progressive leadership will require us to trust our leaders that they will do the best they can with the tools they have, and that they will make difficult decisions that will not always be popular.
The other idea we have to deal with is this idea of any candidate, policy or idea, being “too far left” or “too radical.” We need to get over that and embrace radical ideas and big thinking. We have really critical problems that need to be solved, and bandaids aren’t going to cut it. But we need people who can find practical solutions to big ideas. Those require the most thought from really creative, intelligent people.
We need more Pragmatic Progressives.