Before Tuesday night’s Democratic debate, the first of two this week, the issue on everyone’s mind was not healthcare or the humanitarian crisis at the border, it was finding the best strategy to motivate Americans to vote Trump out of office. Would a centre- or left-leaning candidate be better equipped to bring the voters out?
With Amy Klobuchar, Tim Ryan, John Delaney, and Steve Bullock angling themselves as moderates, the focus was on Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders – and, to a lesser extent, Pete Buttigieg – to see how far left they would go.
Both Sanders and Warren seem like they have been preparing for a lifetime to be president, to shape America into a more egalitarian nation, with an international, progressive vision. From nuclear weapons to steel tariffs, Sanders and Warren were detailed in their plans; they made a strong case for getting rid of a centrist status quo that has devastated cities such as Detroit, where Tuesday’s debate was held.
The anticipated leftist showdown between Sanders and Warren, however, did not take place – though the pair both came out punching.
For her part, Warren accused the moderates of sticking to the GOP’s talking points and challenged the idea that using the presidency to make change was radical. The soundbite of the night came when, in response to Ryan’s accusation that Sanders didn’t understand the impact his healthcare bill would have on union workers, Sanders retorted: “I do know; I wrote the damn bill!”
The suggestion that both candidates had been veering too far to the left has been circling in the US for months. Take the words of the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, for instance: “Dear Democrats: This is not complicated! Just nominate a decent, sane person, one committed to reunifying the country and creating more good jobs, a person who can gain the support of the independents, moderate Republicans and suburban women who abandoned Donald Trump in the midterms and thus swung the House of Representatives to the Democrats and could do the same for the presidency. And that candidate can win! But please, spare me the revolution! It can wait.”
The problem with Friedman’s argument is that it assumes that more Americans will vote for a centrist candidate than a left-leaning one. That’s not necessarily true. As I have previously argued, the 2016 presidential election should have made clear to Democrats that a moderate is not what Americans want right now; it was precisely the promise of radical change that got Donald Trump elected to the White House.
Throughout last night’s debate, Sanders and Warren reminded the American people that, though their ideas might seem “radical” in the sense that they are not currently in practice in America today (take universal healthcare, for example), their policy proposals were not unusual if you look at international trends and consider these against the best interests of the American working class.
If there was any doubt remaining about whether the left stood any chance, this debate made it clear that Sanders and Warren are both serious contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. The kitchen table issues that American families worry about are nuanced; they no longer fit neatly into prefabricated “moderate” or “left-leaning” boxes that the political pundits find it useful to put them in.
America desperately needs a political revolution. Now it is ready for one. Nothing less than the prospect of a political revolution will bring enough Americans to the polls to vote Trump out.
A reality TV personality with no prior experience in politics, and preparation for the presidency, won the 2016 election on a platform of a radical political upheaval. Why should the Democratic establishment be afraid to embrace change?
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