As the 2016 presidential election inches closer, candidates on both sides of the aisle are starting to define their individual platforms. On the left, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are focusing on issues that matter to progressives, a voting block that, according to Richard Eskow of the Campaign for America’s Future, matters more than ever.
Noting the current friction between the Obama Administration and what’s been dubbed the (Sen. Elizabeth) “Warren Wing” of the party, especially over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Eskow said that Obama “hasn’t sounded this piqued since 2010, when he dismissed progressives who criticized his compromises (some would say caves) with Republicans as seeking to ‘have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people.’”
By the time the 2012 election rolled around though, the White House had changed its tune.
“The administration’s rancor toward the activist left seemed to disappear, or at least go underground, after the dustups of 2010 and 2011. The president tacked rhetorically to the left in response to the Occupy movement and in the run-up to the 2012 election. That boosted his poll numbers and is arguably responsible for his reelection.
In fact, five years after Obama excoriated progressives for rejecting his overtures to the GOP, outgoing White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer essentially acknowledged that Republicans never intended to work with the president and the left had been right all along. ‘There’s never been a time when we’ve taken progressive action and regretted it,’ said Pfeiffer.”
The admission that progressive policies usually work was not lost on Clinton, who has — at least in her rhetoric — shifted towards the left and the positions that fellow candidate Sanders has been championing for years.
“Clinton’s campaign is taking a decidedly different tone this time around, which is both judicious and welcome,” said Eskow. “Secretary Clinton seems to have recognized that idealism and leftist ideals are part of the essential DNA of her party — and of American politics.”
Now that much of the party is rallying behind its more progressive stars like Warren and Sanders, has the Obama administration responded accordingly?
“President Obama recently moved to increase the minimum wage for federal contractors, and has increased the hourly minimum wage he endorses,” said Eskow. “But he has not cracked down on Wall Street fraud and did not move to break up the big banks when he could have done so.”
Eskow also pointed out that not only has the left been correct on issues like welfare reform, the Iraq war, deregulation of the financial industry, and mass incarceration, it’s been quite popular.
“It’s true that relatively few Americans describe themselves as liberal or progressive (although that number is rising), but Americans hold progressive positions on many issues.
Vox said it best: “Bernie Sanders’s ideas are so popular that Hillary Clinton is running on them.” Polls show that, issue after issue, Americans support a leftist agenda of economic populism – that is, as long as is presented to them on an issue-by-issue basis.”
As the Democratic candidates get closer to the full-on campaign assault ahead of them, they need to remember that progressives feel that “today’s political debate isn’t addressing their issues. They’re sick of candidates who eat hot dogs at Iowa barbecues while telling them they know what they’re feeling. They’ve heard a lot of rhetoric, but not much in the way of specifics.”
“[It] will take more than rhetoric to win millions of other alienated voters,” concluded Eskow. “It will take commitment — and action.”