Before left-liberal candidates run away with the Democratic party and get Donald Trump re-elected, one of the moderate progressives has to have a breakout moment in the second round of presidential debates next week. I think one of them needs to prepare
to stage a “Sister Soulja Moment” and bring the party back to its senses.
To remind: the phrase refers to Bill Clinton’s June 1992 denunciation—at Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition convention– of a black hip hop artist and political activist who’d called upon blacks to “kill white people” and said she’d “never met a good white person.” Clinton said, with Jackson scowling beside him, “if you took the words ‘black’ and ‘white’ and reversed them, you’d think that David Duke was giving that speech.”
The move was a calculated effort by Clinton, who had the ’92 presidential nomination wrapped up, to demonstrate to general election voters that he was, as he said, “a different kind of Democrat” from George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis, liberal
Democratic nominees who were trounced in 1972, 1984, and 1988. Ever since, the phrase has described a politician’s boldly distancing him- or herself from extremists of his or her party—which, in 2019, consists of much of the activist base of the Democratic party.
One of the moderate progressive 2020 candidates needs to push back as most of the other contenders try to outdo each other running left and advocating policies such as decriminalizing unauthorized immigrant entry into the US and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service (essentially validating Republicans’ charge they advocate “open borders”). Plus Medicare for All and free college regardless of income, elimination of private health insurance plans, a government-directed crash program to stop US use of
fossil fuels in just 10 years (the Green New Deal), no-limits abortion rights, and raising taxes on the rich (also blaming “the one percent” for most of the country’s problems). The combination all these costly, government-heavy programs is even now being used by
Republicans to brand the party as “radical” and “socialist.”
If there’s another moment when debate moderators ask for a show of hands on who supports one far-left proposal or another, one of the moderates could refuse to join the others. Chances are, his or her action would be noticed and the candidate would be asked to explain. That would be an opportunity for a Sister Soulja moment.
If that scenario doesn’t unfold, the candidate will have to find some other opportunity to dissent—and should do so forcefully. The best suggestion I’ve seen for a pushback
statement comes from former Seattleite Ted Van Dyk, a veteran Democratic political operative, author, and op-ed writer. In a Facebook post last week, Van Dyk urged that a
moderate say, “I do not agree with many on this stage. I think they would pull this country farther apart rather than bring it together. I specifically disagree on issues of health care, foreign policy, and the best ways to grow the economy and make it more just.” VanDyk suggested the candidate cite some examples and finish, “I hope we can begin a debate on these issues. If you agree with me, I need your help and your vote. We can get moving and, as for President Trump, ‘Send him back!’”
I’d add to VanDyk’s script a statement that “our party does not need to explore the far frontiers of liberalism to beat Trump, which should be our No. 1 priority — not just so we win, but to stop him from ripping the country apart for political advantage. “Multiple polls show that the public already favors moderately progressive ideas like improving Obamacare with a public option, bringing drug prices under control, building infrastructure, investing in clean energy, stricter gun control, defending Roe v. Wade, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and even raising taxes on the rich. We should build our platform around ideas the public already supports and rally voters to our side, not turn them against us (and toward Trump) with extremism.
“While attacking Trump’s obvious racism, xenophobia, and disrespect for women—also his
vulgarity and lies– we should not accuse all of his supporters of being ‘haters’ or ‘deplorables.’ We remember how far that got Hillary Clinton in 2016 and how ideas left of the mainstream led McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis to suffer landslide defeats.
“We won control of the House in 2018 by running moderates in swing (many formerly Trump) districts. We dare not endanger those freshmen and risk losing any Congressional oversight over Trump. And we might lose badly at the state level, giving Republicans control of the 2021 post-census reapportionment and letting them gerrymander their way to unfair, lopsided power for another decade—and thus be able to restrict abortion, cut
education and Medcaid, and give big corporations break after break.”
Who’s daring enough to make that speech? I think Joe Biden is not. He’s past his sell-by date. His previous effort to demonstrate he can work with adversaries to get things done in Congress—by citing racists James Eastland and Herman Talmadge—was taken by most as
a gaffe. He might improve his debate performances, recover as a strong front-runner (he’s now weak) and actually win the nomination. If so, he’d certainly win my vote against Trump and might even win the election.
But I’d like to see one of the other moderates—currently lodged in single-digit territory—break through with a stunning, Sister Soulja-powered argument. That would be someone like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a spunky, eloquent former prosecutor elected three times in a heartland state. Or Steve Bullock, elected governor of Montana, one of one of the reddest, most Trump-supporting states in the nation. Or one of the Colorado candidates, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper. Or John Delaney. If any of these candidates got nominated—all are running on moderate progressive platforms—Democrats would have a much better chance of beating Trump.
Right now, moderate Biden is the only Democrat who consistently beats Trump in polls. The leading left-progressives, Socialist Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris either lose to him or narrowly lead. Trump doesn’t deserve it, but buoyed by what looks to be a strong economy, his approval rating is nearly 45 percent, nowhere near the level that would make him a sure loser. And this election won’t be decided in deep blue or deep red states, but in a handful of swing states where political extremes generally are not welcome.
Extremes may be irresistible to the media. Trump gets ink and airtime with daily doses of political pornography. And the four-woman leftist “Squad” gets obsessive attention by causing ruckuses within the Democratic party and goading Trump to the attack. Trump defines the Republican party now. Democrats dare not let the Squad define them. But it’ll happen unless someone pushes back—and hard.