It is said that when the ancient philosopher Confucius was asked what he would do, if he was granted political authority, he responded, “Insist that people use words correctly.” While he may not have been speaking of the 2016 Democratic primary specifically, I am convinced he would have included the word “progressive” as one with a real meaning. That word continues to be misused today, when applied to the two Democratic candidates.
My father was a first-generation product of an Irish immigrant family. Most of the extended family worked on the railroads in the northeast. They were all union activists. Dad’s favorite aunt, Mary, was a charter member of the national Order of Telegraphers Union. Hence, my father passed down her definitions to me, as a family heirloom. These definitions apply accurately to the membership of the Democratic Party.
There are four basic sub-groups of Democrats. While the party has definitely shifted to the right since 1980, those definitions still hold. Going from right to left, there are: conservatives, moderates, liberals, and progressives. Obviously, not everyone fits neatly into the various groups. There can be differences, for example, in an individual’s beliefs on domestic and international affairs. Yet, the sum total of their beliefs tend to fit into one of the four groups.
The growth in the numbers of conservative Democrats accounts for the party’s shift to the right. The most obvious example of this was President Bill Clinton. His political beliefs were known as “Third Way,” as they combined both republican and Democratic values. Thus, the correct identification for this type of Democrat is “conservative,” or centrist. Still, some people misidentify President Clinton as a “liberal,” despite his record on important issues ranging from international trade deals to public assistance.
Perhaps the two most important groups in the context of the current primary are “liberal” and “progressive.” By definition, liberals seek to fine-tune the system by way of gradual change. Progressives, on the other hand, seek fundamental changes to the system. Senator Bernie Sanders is a perfect example of a progressive. We see this in his approach to the international trade deals, and in his health care proposals.
Hillary Clinton has stated during the campaign that she is a progressive. She was challenged on this during one of the debates, when a moderator played a recent film clip of her speaking to a conservative audience, where she took pride in identifying herself as a moderate. This attempt to be all things to all people is not something Clinton invented — it is not a new political tactic. But it is much harder to pull off these days, with the internet.
The Clinton campaign likes to portray Sanders as a radical. Perhaps the concept of social justice is radical today. They like to call his supporters dangerous extremists. Certainly, the environmental crisis we face presents very real dangers, and it will require extreme dedication in order to deal successfully with it.
We live in an “extreme” period of time. It is not possible to confront and resolve the extreme problems we face with a moderate approach. There may have been many times when a moderate politician, or a conservative Democrat, would be the best choice for president. Or, at least the safest choice. But that is not true today. We need a true progressive in the White House, who has the moral authority to call forth progressives at the grass roots, in order to deal with the extreme damage that has been done to our country by the 1% since 1980.
Add to this that as we approach the Democratic National Convention, neither Hillary or Bernie has the number of delegates required to put them over the top. Thus, the “super delegates” will be selecting the candidate that gets the nomination. It is safe to say that 100% of these “super delegates” are establishmentarians. A few might be liberal, but the vast majority are moderate and conservative Democrats. None are progressives.
It is anticipated that, barring unforeseen circumstances, they will be loyal to the Clinton dynasty. This will not transform Hillary into a more attractive candidate with the progressive community; rather, it will serve to confirm the negative impression they have of her. And despite her campaign’s attempts to portray her as so gosh darned popular that her presidency is inevitable, a growing awareness among her top advisers points to the great difficulty she would encounter in the general election. “There’s no where else for them to go” isn’t a strategy — it is an attempt to justify the vicious attacks that her people have unleashed at the Sanders revolution.
Some progressive Democrats would definitely vote for Hillary if she is given the nomination by the “super delegates.” And Clinton has the ability to convince others, between the convention and November, that she represents the lesser of two evils. It is certainly possible that she could win the general election. However, it is a shame that the Clinton campaign has no chance, at this time, of gaining enthusiastic progressive support, and has totally alienated the Democratic Left.
If Bernie gets the nomination, it is unlikely that the moderate and conservative Democrats would support Trump. Of course, they won’t be invested in campaigning for Sanders. But as long as they vote for him, Bernie will crush Donald Trump like a grape.
Patrick R. McElligott