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Tea Party Progressives

As I write this, the fate of the Republican replacement for Obamacare is unclear. The intransigent Tea Party group, which successfully led the opposition to anything Obama proposed, has held out on any compromise on the healthcare proposal championed by both their party’s leaders and their president. This faction threatens to make it impossible for the Republicans to govern. Are progressives trying to do the same thing to the Democratic Party?

Right now, progressives are more than happy to push the Democratic Party to become the new “party of no” in congress. The movement to filibuster Judge Gorsuch,  a doctrinaire, but seemingly reasonable conservative, represents this attitude and projects a picture of a Democratic Party that is vindictively obstructionist. Many Democrats, who otherwise might give in on the Gorsuch appointment, are reported to be afraid to do so for fear of alienating their “base.”

The Democratic base is more progressive than the rest of the country and even more than than those who routinely vote democratic. Most, but not all of them rallied behind Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary. Following Sanders’ defeat to Clinton, many progressives did not switch their support to Hillary. Those same progressives argued that there was no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both being equally dangerous for the country. Since the election we have seen that the malignancy of Trump was underestimated by nearly everyone, and his policy decisions, not to mention his temperamental inability to govern, have produced a national nightmare.

To beat Trump in the next election, it is necessary either to motivate a larger segment of the liberal/progressive electorate to vote for a rival candidate, or to woo Trump followers into that rival’s camp. These strategies are not mutually exclusive, but addressing both of them is a tricky task.

Many of President Trump’s policies run counter to the interests of those who voted for him. Seniors on limited incomes will suffer from the Obamacare replacement bill the president favors. Coal country workers and struggling southerners will suffer from his cuts in funding to the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority, both of which provide federal assistance for development across much of Eastern and Southern America. As Wall Street and large corporations line their pockets under Trump policies, and the poor middle class workers become poorer, many former Trump supporters should be ready to defect.

The problem is that progressives have no interest in winning over disaffected Trump backers. Progressives see themselves as differing from those who voted for Trump on political and social issues which allow no compromise. But is that true? The majority of Americans support gay marriage, LBGTQ rights, a woman’s right to choose, and even favor allowing non-criminal undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. Following implementation of whatever Republican healthcare bill is eventually passed, and finding themselves with unaffordable or no health insurance, they may also favor universal healthcare. Among this majority are many who supported Donald Trump for president.

Perhaps progressives can muster enough popular support among themselves and new voters to take back the House and Senate in 2018 and defeat Donald Trump in 2020. But if they can’t, they must pay attention to the message that they are conveying to those voters whom they must attract if they want to achieve these goals. Adhering to a purity of goals and a resistance to compromise, as is happening now in the Democratic reaction to the Gorsuch nomination, seems to most Americans as another case of irrational self-righteousness, just like that of the Tea Party, which denies the fact  that compromise and consensus is necessary for a democracy to function. Voters in 2018 and 2020 may decide that they want politicians who are willing to govern, not just take political stances that continue the partisan stalemate in Washington.


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