From the Left



Democrats are the party of the left -- and liberal Republicans

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

WASHINGTON -- The core political challenges facing Democrats are not the rise of those who proudly call themselves democratic socialists and the danger that Republicans will succeed in red-baiting the entire party.

Instead, Democrats face formidable coalition management problems because they now provide a home to millions of voters (and scores of elected officials) who in earlier times might well have been liberal Republicans.

Democratic leaders -- and presidential candidates -- must find ways to cope with an alliance that spans not only their own long-standing left and center-left factions, but also many moderate voters who despise President Trump but have not been Democrats before.

The fractious dustup in the House Democratic caucus last week over how often its vulnerable members should be able to vote with the GOP is another reminder of the difficulty of holding a big-tent party together.

Here's the key point: The 2018 elections did not make the Democrats a more left-wing party. It had the opposite effect. A large share of the new Democrats in the House hail from districts -- a lot of them suburban -- that in the past would have happily elected Republicans with moderate-to-progressive inclinations.

Such Republicans, once a substantial minority in the party, are a virtually extinct species. The rightward shift of the GOP began before Trump's rise, and his extremism has, in turn, led to the defeat of even moderate conservatives. The survivors (with occasional brave exceptions) generally moved his way, fearing defeat in primaries.


This has had a peculiar effect on our politics: Many of the most important policy debates are no longer between the two parties; they are being carried out almost entirely inside the Democratic Party.

Because of the hold right-wing ideologues and extractive industries have on their party, Republican politicians are under great pressure to deny that climate change has human causes. Therefore, Democrats tussle over whether carbon taxes or the provisions of an ambitious Green New Deal are the best way to mitigate an impending catastrophe.

Republicans don't even support the advances in health insurance coverage brought about by Obamacare. Therefore, the question of how to achieve universal coverage is left to the Democrats. They quarrel about the relative merits of a Medicare-for-all system or incremental steps building on the Affordable Care Act.

My hunch (and hope) is that those preferring single-payer health care will come to see that, if their goal is ever to be realized, it will not pass in one big bang. It will be achieved in steps that would leave a private insurance system in place for some time. But in the short term, there's a lot of shouting.


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