PI Original Josh Kalven Tuesday March 18th, 2008, 1:10pm

Moving The Center

The conventional wisdom in many Democratic circles stipulates that in order to win the White House and form a governing majority, the Party must shift away from decidely progressive values and towards a more moderate platform. In other words: if we want to win that 50-plus-...

The conventional wisdom in many Democratic circles stipulates that in order to win the White House and form a governing majority, the Party must shift away from decidely progressive values and towards a more moderate platform. In other words: if we want to win that 50-plus-one percent of the vote, we must take just enough issues off the table.

In a column posted here today, Bob Creamer offers an alternative to this tired line of thought:

An historic opportunity exists for progressives to create a generational political realignment in America of the sort that happened in 1932 with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt and once again in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan. Illinois could lead the way.

Realignments of this type involve two major components. On the one hand, they require the creation of a replicable electoral majority. On the other, they require a shift in the value frame for political debate – a shift in what is considered political “common sense.”

Fundamental political realignment does not require us to move to the center. It requires that we move the center in a progressive direction.

The Democratic establishment must remember this Election Year that abandoning forceful positions on so-called "hot button" ideological issues only serves the interests of the Right. They can't forget that there are certain voters who, precisely because of Democratic candidates' hestitancy to take strong stances on such issues, simply haven't been exposed to convincing progressive arguments. But just because they haven't heard such views, doesn't mean they can't be swayed.

Moreover, there is a large swath of swing voters in this country who cast their ballots on issues of character and will, rather than policies and platforms. Embracing a truly progressive platform -- rather than diluting one -- actually helps to attracts these voters.

One example that always comes to mind is Sen. Russ Feingold's (D-WI) lonely vote in 2001 against the Patriot Act.

At the time, shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, it seemed to many that Feingold was committing political suicide by casting that vote, that he had abandoned all "common sense." But even in the crucible of the national security debate in the years that followed, that one vote continued to resonate with many Wisconsin voters. In the weeks leading up to the 2004 presidential election, I canvassed for the League of Conservation Voters in rural Wisconsin and repeatedly encountered voters who were adamantly supporting Bush, but also planned on voting for Feingold's reelection. When I pressed them on this, they would often cite the Patriot Act vote. Ideology and policy differences aside, they respected the strength of Feingold's stand.

But Feingold didn't just earn the respect of many Wisconsin swing voters. He also took the first step in "moving the center." Indeed, when the Patriot Act came up for renewal in the Senate four years later, Feingold once again opposed the measure. This time, however, he was joined by a bipartisan group of Senators opposed to the bill's most extreme provisions. Standing up to the Bush Administration's infringements on civil liberties had suddenly become "common sense."

The fact is, while the media and Beltway establishment may not have realized it yet, we live in a progressive country. Last year, a report by Media Matters for America and the Campaign for America's Future documented this fact using years of issue-based polling data. But in order to turn this popular majority into a governing majority, Democratic candidates need to put issues on the table, not take them off.

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