Do the political tides leave you cold? Read some of our opponents’ complaints. They’re unhappy, too. Recently I was cheered by a post in the leftwing internet magazine Current Affairs by one Jordan Bollag: “The Left Is Losing Because We’re Not Confrontational Enough.”
“More than a year into the Biden presidency,” he writes,
with Democratic control of both houses of Congress, progressives have not passed a single one of the core tenets of the moderate, professed Joe Biden agenda of a $15 minimum wage, free community college, a healthcare public option, student debt cancellation, paid family and medical leave, lowering prescription drug prices, climate action, free pre-K, subsidized child care, and marijuana decriminalization. Without a single one of these policies enacted, it is no wonder that Democrats are awaiting a bloodbath in the 2022 midterms (and plausibly the 2024 elections) — deferring any chance for progressive change for years to come.
The writer is frustrated. “Why are we losing?” he asks rhetorically. His answer: because of the Left’s “cowardly inaction” in not pushing “the corporate Democrats who stand in the way of the policies we need.”
The writer is a college student three years out of high school who seems to believe that a president will deliver on the promises he made when running for office. I recall some of those promises. In the Democratic debates of 2019 and 2020, the wannabes spoke as if they were running for king. Joe Biden was going to give us giant solar power plants, nationwide plugins for electric cars, and passenger trains to “take millions of automobiles off the road.” Bernie Sanders, the candidate Jordan Bollag loved best, promised Americans that he would pass a law putting the health insurers out of business; that his plan would provide medical, dental, and vision coverage with no copays, deductibles, or premiums; that it would cut prescription drug prices in half; and that all this would lower the cost of medical care. When other Democrats asked him what evidence he had for this magical result, the white-haired socialist snippily replied, “I wrote the bill.”
“Why are we losing?” he asks rhetorically. His answer: because of the Left’s “cowardly inaction.”
Could Bernie have delivered on the promises of the Left? Jordan Bollag thinks so. To back this up, he writes that the Left’s ace in the hole is that “a large majority of Americans support core Left policies. We have masses of people on our side.” He links to a press release from Public Citizen (a progressive lobby group) claiming that 70% of Americans support Medicare For All, two-thirds favor expanding Social Security, a majority favors the $15 minimum wage, and three-quarters want to make the rich pay more in taxes.
Polls do get results like that, if you ask the questions the right way. Libertarians were cheered by a Pew Research poll in 2014 in which 14% of Americans said they were libertarians, and most of them could describe in a general way what the word meant. What did it mean at the polls? In 2016, the Libertarian Party’s nominee, Gary Johnson, got 3% of the vote — a record.
Bollag’s pep talk to the Left ends with praise of Seattle’s leftist city councilwoman, Kshama Sawant. Sawant, a Trotskyist, has been elected three times, the last two in the most leftwing district in the city. She follows just the sort of tactics Jordan Bollag may approve of: loud, confrontational, nasty. The liberals of my generation can’t stand her. Last year she was the subject of a recall, and almost lost her seat. In 2021 the Left ran candidates city-wide for mayor and city attorney of Seattle. Their candidates did well, but they both lost. I note that in San Francisco, the leftwing city attorney was recently recalled by public vote.
Radical campaigns are important in the long run, but they almost always lose.
And that’s San Francisco. Imagine the Democratic Party following Jordan Bollag’s advice in Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Maine.
For years, I’ve heard the same argument on the right: “The reason our candidate failed is that he was not radical enough. We need a candidate to excite the base.”
Radical campaigns are important in the long run, but they almost always lose. If that frustrates you, look at it from the Left’s perspective. It frustrates them, too.
We need to enjoy that.