At the CNN debate in Las Vegas during the 2016 presidential campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., proclaimed that he was a democratic socialist. At the time, I’m sure that had at least a few of my fellow Democrats scratching their heads or furiously Googling “democratic socialist.” What is that? What exactly does that mean?
When Sanders was asked that very question, his response was, “To me, when I talk about democratic socialism, what I talk about are human rights and economic rights.”
At first, many mainstream Democrats felt this was too farfetched and too far left. But we were wrong. Sanders started a revolution, especially among younger millennial voters. He raised millions of dollars, and thousands attended his rallies as he campaigned throughout the United States.
With that phrase "democratic socialism," and his push for a $15 minimum wage and “Medicare for all,” Bernie Sanders single-handedly pulled the Democratic Party to the left. It concerned me then, and it concerns me now.
The Democratic Party today seems to be two factions and two mindsets. On the left – and seemingly moving farther left every minute – are those who support the “Green New Deal.” But those who are more moderate and centrist, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., seem to be saying whoa – hold on a minute.
The election to Congress of new, young people with new ideas is adding to the Democratic Party’s pull the left, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., now known as “AOC,” leading the charge.
From where I stand, this is dangerous for my party. And it’s divisive.
In the 2016 election, we clearly saw the divide between the liberal faction and the centrist faction of the Democratic Party – Bernie’s supporters (democratic socialists) and Hillary Clinton’s supporters (who refer to themselves as progressives or just Democrats).
That divide led to infighting and contributed to the failure to put a Democrat in the White House. And I fear in this next election cycle, we might be facing that same problem again.
If Democrats continue to pull the party left, they risk losing not only the moderate and centrist Democrats, but also any hope of appealing to independents and Republicans who are not enamored with Trump and want a better alternative.
I am already starting to see the divide and the infighting among the Democrats, especially those running for office. Although almost all of them embrace the $15 minimum wage and “Medicare for all,” there are definitely lines in the sand delineating who is a socialist, who is a democratic socialist, who is a progressive, etc.
For example, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., while campaigning in New Hampshire last month, told reporters outright “I am not a democratic socialist.”
And the battle over whose campaign and fundraising efforts are the most grassroots has already begun. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Harris both have renounced money from corporate PACS and federal lobbyists. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is taking it a step further, rejecting all PACs, and swearing off high-dollar fundraisers, receptions and phone calls with wealthy donors.
The Republican Party also has its divisions – there’s the Tea Party faction, the libertarian faction, the Christian evangelical faction, and the more moderate mainstream Republican faction. But Democrats should take a page from their playbook. In 2016, many of the Republicans I knew didn’t like Trump. But on Election Day, they held their noses and voted for him. They united to support their Party’s candidate.
Democrats need to do the same. Whether there’s a left-leaning liberal on the ticket, or a more moderate Democrat, they must put their differences aside and unite for the causes they believe in: $15 minimum wage, “Medicare for all,” immigration reform, and of course, the number one priority for every Democrat – making Donald Trump a one-term president.
But if Democrats continue to pull the party left, they risk losing not only the moderate and centrist Democrats, but also any hope of appealing to independents and Republicans who are not enamored with Trump and want a better alternative.
I am worried that the Democratic Party’s pull to the far left will pull us apart and derail us from our goals, including winning the White House – again.