Large tent or smaller base
As the election of 2020 moves closer to the voting in primaries and caucuses, the Democratic party is quickly coming to a point where it will have to choose between two parties. One will got in a direction that stresses identity politics and the other that stresses inclusiveness and economic opportunity. It will also test whether the Democratic party wants to have a large tent or be an association that is small and narrow in its base.
Since the 1970s, the progressive wing f the party has lurched not so much to the left in the economic sense of the term but more to a puritan position. It has become a faction of dos and don’ts, a group that treasures a world of exquisite moral sensibilities.
As Theodore White stated in 1972, it was more a theology than an ideology.
These views were common among the new left of the 1960s where what you were was more important than how you voted. If you did not like a curriculum in a university or a statue or a history you did not find agreeable, you moved to destroy it or push it out of existence. There was no such thing as being authoritative, everyone had a right to an opinion regardless of how much knowledge they possessed. Ironic as it proved to be that actions of the 1960s student revolt only strengthened the hand of those who scorned the liberal arts.
But the liberal center of the Democratic party remained and remains still today. Represented chiefly by Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, it is trying to resurrect the party on the lines of economic opportunity. The Democratic liberal center recognizes that the free enterprise system creates the wealth that feeds the coffers of government. Without it no state program can exist.
Bernie Sanders, with his college for all and medicine for all, expands entitlements beyond those limits that an economic system can sustain. Moreover, to make it a children’s crusade of rights and wrongs with no in between not only bewilders the rich but much of the middle class. So far the Bidens, Bloombergs and Steyers are way ahead of Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Except, however, in one position, where Sanders is cleaver and more constructive. He possesses a strength in that he questions America’s role abroad. Almost alone, he questions the role of America’s actions, such as the one recently in Bolivia that overthrew Evo Morales. Unlike most Democrats, Sanders was not eager to mix it up with Iran. The simple strength of the old anti-war left was its ability to question foreign adventurism on the part of the United States. Before the new left embraced controversial ideas, they were essentially correct about foreign policy.
This is the challenge for the moderate liberals, to rethink the neo-conservative foreign policy they adopted. It makes them seem a warmed-over version of George W. Bush policies. It has been the source of division in the party since 1968. If the Democrats can strengthen their position as the party of equal opportunity and become more enlightened on foreign affairs, their chances against Donald Trump will be enhanced.