After every election like the one earlier this month, in which the Democrats are, to put it politely, less than successful, pundits pick apart every aspect of every campaign and decide that in the future, the party needs to move closer to the center.
“Since every election is a contest over the ‘center,’” wrote Thomas Frank for Salon, “every round that goes poorly for Democrats is a call for that party to move to the right. All Democratic failures are, by definition, failures of the left.”
As Frank pointed out, this has been the strategy, pretty unsuccessfully, since 1984 when “Walter Mondale ran for the presidency … on a platform that The New York Times called ‘bluntly conservative,’ a ‘turn to [the] right,’ because it promised spending cuts and higher taxes in order to deal with the federal deficit.”
But Mondale lost, and he lost bad. So what was the Democratic plan in 1988? Move even farther to the right.
“The Democratic candidate in 1988, Michael Dukakis,” said Frank, “seemed like a centrist’s dream, a post-partisan problem-solver who famously refused to call himself a liberal until the race was as good as lost.”
“Democrats run to the right and lose an election – and then pundits claim they lost it by running to the left,” Rick Perlstein wrote for The Nation earlier this year.
So many Democratic candidates this year lost after distancing themselves from the “national” Democrat, from President Obama, and from the Affordable Care Act. Candidates who embraced them fared much better – just look at Al Franken.
“Instead of running away from the progressive accomplishments of the Obama era, he embraced them, railing against bankers, advocating for student loan form – even defending the [ACA],” reported Mother Jones. “Franken ran as an Elizabeth Warren-style Democrat, running a populist campaign that didn’t shirk the discussion of the specific policies Democrats could pursue to help the middle class. And the voters rewarded him.”
After winning his seat in 2008 by just 312 votes, Franken defeated his Republican challenger by 10 percent earlier this month.
Voters want candidates who actually care about the majority of them, not just the ones that pour millions into super PACs to buy elections.
“Our single grandest problem these days is one of constantly falling wages, of deindustrialization, of the destruction of our small towns, of the collapse of the middle class,” wrote Thomas Frank. “It is familiar to all informed citizens outside, say, the top 10 percent of the income distribution, and yet our politicians seem incapable of doing anything about it.”
They’re capable, they’re just too scared of losing the millions and millions of dollars they stand to gain by keeping the middle class down. It’s much more profitable for them to allow billionaires to control the government. And as long as Democrats keep running to the right, scared, it’s going to keep happening for the foreseeable future.