Strident progressivism versus incrementalist centrism


in Law, Politics, The environment

The debate on the left about what lessons to take from the 2020 US election has the same contours as the main debate within climate change activism, with one side arguing that the success of the right demonstrates that Democrats have compromised too much with Republicans while a strongly progressive candidate and platform would have done better with voters while the other argues that since most of the available votes are to the right of progressives the Democrats’ promotion of policies which appeal to their most fervent base turns off centrist voters while energizing the conservative base.

This is a lot like the debate between climate justice advocates who favour a broadly intersectional progressive agenda including economic redistribution and the endorsement of a broad range of social justice causes and climate-energy or CO2-energy advocates who think the most plausible path to success is to remain focused narrowly on climate in ways calculated to not offend or challenge those with more conservative political views.

Since both arguments rely on counterfactuals (if only we had done this or that) the debate is hard to resolve. Either can be reconciled with the political outcomes we have observed, though each has contradictory implications for what the best approach moving forward is.

On climate specifically, I think one crucial element is the ability of decarbonization policies to endure between changes of government and party. If decarbonization is integrated into a progressive left agenda there is both the risk that the elements with more immediate political benefits will be given priority over the more painful changes needed to deal with climate change and the danger that the next right-wing government will dismantle the whole assembly.

To function, democracies need a consensus that the decisions of past governments were legitimate and that society as a whole needs predictability in what laws and regulations will be in force so that they can make appropriate long-term decisions. The historical pattern so far in climate change policies has been to see comparatively ambitious but still dreadfully inadequate proposals from left-wing governments and then their dismantling and contradiction by succeeding right-wing governments. Breaking out of that pattern somehow seems like our only path to the durable consensus on decarbonization which will need to hold for decades if we’re to avoid catastrophic climate change.

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. November 10, 2020 at 7:39 pm

Cillizza: Did you see a single message or issue break through with voters in swing districts? Was there an attack that particularly hurt Democrats?
Poling: If you put all of the messages into a single broad category, it would be the extreme leftward lurch of the Democrat Party.
That was messaged in different ways in different districts. In New York state, bail reform was extremely unpopular and meshed well with defund the police, so a public safety angle was the most effective. In some districts, it was “Medicare for All” and the loss of private health insurance. In a number of suburban districts, we talked about pocketbook issues like higher taxes under Biden. And in other districts, we focused on the extremism of the “Green New Deal.” And in south Florida especially, it was socialism more broadly. All of those messages fit within the rubric of extremism.

. November 10, 2020 at 7:45 pm

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ends truce by warning ‘incompetent’ Democratic party

The congresswoman said Joe Biden’s relationship with progressives would hinge on his actions. And she dismissed criticism from House moderates, calling some candidates who lost their races “sitting ducks.”

But we also learned that progressive policies do not hurt candidates. Every single candidate that co-sponsored Medicare for All in a swing district kept their seat. We also know that co-sponsoring the Green New Deal was not a sinker. Mike Levin was an original co-sponsor of the legislation, and he kept his seat.

It’s really hard for us to turn out nonvoters when they feel like nothing changes for them. When they feel like people don’t see them, or even acknowledge their turnout.

If the party believes after 94 percent of Detroit went to Biden, after Black organizers just doubled and tripled turnout down in Georgia, after so many people organized Philadelphia, the signal from the Democratic Party is the John Kasichs won us this election? I mean, I can’t even describe how dangerous that is.

. November 10, 2020 at 8:07 pm
. November 11, 2020 at 5:56 pm

The first post-election myth is the same that emerges from Democratic leadership and media talking heads after every election: the threat of the “far left”. The election has given an opportunity for elected Democrats to engage in their favorite pastime and primary political commitment: lashing out at anyone, anywhere who might want to do anything about climate change or crushing inequality or systemic racism. This myth must be combatted, not only is it a threat to the progressive left and Democrats ability to win elections, it’s on its face false.

As noted by the New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, incumbent Democrats in swing and even Republican-leaning seats who co-sponsored Medicare for All were undefeated, while every Democrat who lost their seat took a conservative position on the issue. An analysis of swing seats by Justice Democrats showed that more conservative voting records were actually correlated with decreased vote share among incumbent Democrats. Exit polls showed massive support for a leftwing policy agenda. Where this agenda was on the ballot, it was triumphant even as moderation-obsessed Democrats lost up and down the ballot. In Florida, where Democrats distanced themselves from a ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the result was a huge win for the $15 minimum wage and a bloodbath for Democratic candidates. For many voters, the Democratic party isn’t associated with raising the minimum wage, and with the Democrats’ messaging strategy, why should it be?

. November 11, 2020 at 5:58 pm

This current iteration of the Democratic coalition should be terrifying to anyone with leftwing policy goals or anyone who wants to see Democrats win elections. Biden’s coalition was whiter and wealthier than any Democrat’s before. Biden’s winning margins depended on suburban voters who were entirely motivated by personal animus towards Trump, who voted Republican down-ballot and will certainly be voting Republican in future elections. After buying into the mantra that turning out working-class voters was an impossible Bernie Sanders fantasy and messaging had to be tailored to wealthy suburbanites, Democrats were entirely caught off guard by massive turnout among working-class voters of all races, voters who voted Trump at higher rates than any previous Republican has achieved.

. November 11, 2020 at 6:55 pm

The Democratic party is fractured between centrist and liberals.
Just eight days removed from a disappointing election which will see them lose seats, House Democrats have rapidly turned into a circular firing squad. Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger denounced her liberal colleagues on a phone call last week. “We need to not ever use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again,” she said. “Because while people think it doesn’t matter, it does matter. And we lost good members because of it.” Which drew an immediate rebuke from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the caucus’ most prominent, liberal voice.
“You can’t just tell the Black, Brown, & youth organizers riding in to save us every election to be quiet or not have their reps champion them when they need us,” AOC tweeted. “Or wonder why they don’t show up for midterms when they’re scolded for existing. Esp when they’re delivering victories.”
Now, given all of that, think about Biden’s challenge if Democrats manage to win back Senate control in Georgia early next year.
He will be constantly pressured by liberals — particularly in the House — to push programs like the “Green New Deal,” “Medicare for All” and all sorts of other progressive wish list items. (Biden, of course, has already made clear he doesn’t support those massive liberal initiatives.) And he will also be pushed to pick liberal favorites for top Cabinet posts — like Elizabeth Warren at Treasury or Bernie Sanders at Labor.
It would be a massive headache for Biden. While he could try to go his own way — in terms of Cabinet picks and his first-term agenda — he would face opposition from the liberal left at every turn. And while Biden’s primary win over several more liberal options does suggest the pragmatic center of the Democratic Party remains vital, there is little doubt that the passion (and donor dollars) are primarily located on the ideological left.

. November 12, 2020 at 7:20 pm

Unlike the president, Mr Biden’s party is already reckoning with its failure. Bruised members of the centre-left—a faction that includes almost all the party’s candidates in the battleground states—blame the activist left for making them seem radical and untrustworthy. The left, in particular its 31-year-old standard-bearer, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is hitting back.

The Democratic losses were in spite of a huge cash advantage and against a Republican opponent that over the past four years appeared to have given up on governing. The Trump party passed no major law besides a tax cut. It has no health-care policy. Yet Democratic candidates ran behind Mr Biden almost everywhere. And there are signs—beyond what Ms Spanberger and other battleground Democrats heard from their constituents every day—that the party’s perceived “radical leftism” was a big reason why. The Democrats lost most ground with two groups that have a special loathing of socialism, Cuban-Americans and Venezuelans. Their shift to the Republicans cost the Democrats two House seats in Florida and Mr Biden the state.

If all the battlegrounds continued on their current electoral trajectory, North Carolina and Texas, where they had such hopes, might not turn Democratic until after the ageing, white rustbelt has become so reliably Republican that Democrats will have lost their five Senate seats there. Having approached the election hoping to win sufficient power to reform the system, Democrats are now contemplating a bleak struggle to stay competitive in it.

. November 12, 2020 at 9:27 pm

Joe Biden’s coalition is whiter, wealthier – and will not stick around | US elections 2020 | The Guardian

. November 12, 2020 at 9:31 pm

Biden Has Won! The Left Gets How Much Credit? | The Tyee

. November 13, 2020 at 3:38 pm

Each time the Republicans lose the presidency, there are internal reviews that say they need to broaden their base. In practice, they swing further right. So much so, that what had been the loony fringe at the start of the process becomes their centre. By the time of the 2016 primaries, virtually all their candidates had gone full Tea Party. The next step – with Trump already shuffling toward it – is full Q-Anon.

. November 13, 2020 at 6:43 pm

The president’s populist rhetoric—his hounding of elites and foreigners, his race-baiting—also proved to be much less of a turn-off generally than the Democrats had hoped. Bumper support from Cuban-Americans in Florida and Mexican-Americans in southern Texas saw Mr Trump more than double his winning margin in the first state and kill off Democratic dreams of winning the second. Exit polls suggest he increased his share of support from every group except white men. If that is right, Democrats won the election chiefly through their improved turnout effort, not by wooing voters from Mr Trump.

His low approval rating suggests he has again been backed by Republicans who dislike him, but cannot bear to vote for the alternative. The logic of such hyper-partisanship is that, once he is out of office, many Republicans will shift their allegiance to a new leader, and be influenced by him in turn.

Yet after a campaign almost entirely governed by negative partisanship on both sides, Democrats should think harder about how they may have actively repelled their flagging non-white base.

Milan November 14, 2020 at 6:30 pm

Dianne Saxe is an impressive representative of the CO2-energy side, and she has a new podcast featuring “amazing Canadians who are making a living building the green economy”

. November 18, 2020 at 1:09 am

Don’t Blame the Left for the Democrats’ Losses | The New Republic

. November 18, 2020 at 1:12 am

Opinion | Groupthink Has Left the Left Blind – The New York Times

. November 22, 2020 at 4:26 pm

With the support of the left, Biden can deliver progressive gains | US & Canada | Al Jazeera

. November 22, 2020 at 4:37 pm

Opinion | ‘The Far Left Is the Republicans’ Finest Asset’ – The New York Times

. November 24, 2020 at 6:41 pm

Democrats are vying for control of the Senate and their ability to control the legislative agenda of a Joe Biden administration. As Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer recently stated to a cheering New York crowd, “Now we take Georgia, then we change America!”

The Democrats strategy, however, is questionable at best. Though both Ossoff and Warnock are formidable and well-funded, their progressive roots and the Georgia Democratic Party’s more recent sharp left turn will make it difficult to prevail in a state that may be emerging purple but is definitely not deep blue.

. November 26, 2020 at 7:01 pm

As a result, the main harm identity politics does to America comes through animosity and gridlock. Politics is supposed to resolve society’s conflicts, but democracy is generating them instead. Partly because tribes live in different information universes, matters of fact like wearing masks and climate change are transformed into disputes about people’s way of life. The result is that American politics has once again become unresponsive. It fires people up so much that it obstructs the compromises needed for society to move forward.

Democracy is adaptable, too. In America’s election Republicans picked up Hispanic and black votes; and in Britain last year the governing Conservative Party won Labour seats in the Midlands. That mixing is just what politics in both countries needs, because it encourages parties on the left and right to break out of their tribal redoubts and to tilt the balance of political effort away from identity and back towards outcomes.

. May 20, 2021 at 6:21 pm

The green schism threatening Biden’s climate plan

Left-wing climate and environmental justice activists believe it isn’t ambitious enough.

. May 20, 2021 at 6:21 pm

“It’s not unusual for progressive groups to form circular firing squads over obscure technical disputes, and there are always ideological tensions between eco-purists and eco-pragmatists. But this spat is erupting at a particularly inopportune time for climate action. The clean electricity standard was already one of the most controversial planks of Biden’s $2.5 trillion infrastructure plan, and supporters worry that in a narrowly divided Congress, divisions within the green movement could imperil the entire plan — or at least its climate-related provisions.

The dissenting groups — including Friends of the Earth, the Center for Biological Diversity,, the NAACP and Food and Water Watch — say that no plan would be better than a flawed plan that values political viability over scientific necessity and could help prop up natural gas. The behind-the-scenes dialogue has gotten testy, with one critic accusing CES supporters of protecting a culture of white supremacy and “energy violence.”

Supporters have countered that it’s political lunacy to fight a dramatic presidential effort to mandate clean power in the hopes that Congress will require a utopian renewables-only scheme for the grid. Even the youth-oriented Sunrise Movement, which rose to prominence in recent years by attacking Democrats for insufficient radicalism, has sided with Biden and the mainstream enviros.”

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