Lost in the bedlam of the current administration—and more broadly, the modern Republican party—is the fact that Democrats may be in more disarray yet. The strategy for 2018 at this point seems to be rudimentary: we are not that guy. That strategy rests on the assumption that the American voter has learned from their mistake and is ready to run back into the arms of the establishment begging for forgiveness.
True, it’s clear by now that Trump has been more brazenly irresponsible and incompetent than even his detractors (myself included) feared. But Hillary lost in large part because she had no clear message to galvanize the voters of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. People don’t go to the polls if they aren’t inspired.
The Democratic Party needs an effective and easily communicable ideology going forward. Some may argue that the election was a loss for technocratic policies and messaging. If it was, then we are in long-term trouble. But that’s a discussion for another time.
More to the point, based on recent political maneuvering from Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Mark Zuckerberg (puke) and other 2020 presidential hopefuls, Dems seem poised for a race to the left, reminiscent that of Bernie Sanders. There’s scant evidence to suggest that this strategy is any less shortsighted than Republicans’ politically expedient support for Trump.
Cory Booker has always been a progressive in terms of social policy, but is no doubt more of a fiscal conservative than the majority of his Democratic counterparts. Supporting single-payer healthcare all of a sudden is inconsistent with his expressed ideology. Why would he get out ahead of the single payer train years before his inevitable campaign begins in earnest? Because the ideological purity test that is sure to come will not favor those who appear reluctant to embrace progressive policies.
Single-payer is not a political silver bullet, nor is it a panacea for our current healthcare debacle. Bills calling for state-run health insurance have stalled in both the California and Vermont legislatures recently due to exorbitant projected costs. It has also been suggested that single-payer would be catastrophic on the national level for 10-20 years after it begins, due to shortcomings in the US’s healthcare cost controlling measures compared to European models. It’s not hard to see how Republicans would attack single-payer as unviable.
Perhaps more problematic for Democrats is the likelihood that making support for single-payer healthcare a prerequisite for the nomination would further deplete the base of moderates from which they can draw support. Polling has shown increasing support for government-run healthcare in theory, but it’s clear that people aren’t very well informed about what that would entail. Though a slight majority of polled Americans initially claimed they would support single-payer, about 40% of nominal single-payer supporters proved to be highly impressionable. When told they would have to pay more in taxes (this is an unequivocal fact of how single-payer healthcare would have to be funded) or that the plan would give government more control of healthcare (this should seem obvious), opposition rose above 60%.
It does seem like Democratic leadership is more reluctant to embrace single-payer at this point. But Nancy Pelosi isn’t running for president, and she’ll fall in place with the direction the eventual candidates choose to lead the party. If the Democratic Party ceases to include space for any ideological variance, there will be no party for the healthy contingent of Americans who find white supremacy abhorrent and single-payer healthcare irresponsible. Forcing liberal-leaning people to comply with progressive principles (which are not the same as liberal principles in many cases) will backfire by creating candidates who are even more unacceptable to a portion of the country than the average Democratic politician would be. The response to that candidate would be Trump on steroids.
Trump is a reactionary response to the fear that the country is fundamentally changing. People, albeit mostly on the fringe, earnestly believe(d) Obama to be a socialist. Seeing a major political party campaign on a platform of universal basic income and free college would send those people, as well as voters far more tethered to reality, into a tizzy.
It’s essential for the continued functioning of the United States government that there is a place for centrism. Compromise will not happen if all of our elected officials are far-left and far-right, alternatively. The acrimony will continue its upward trend without an end in sight.
It’s okay if Democrats end up deciding through voting processes that they do indeed want to become the progressive party. But the marketplace of ideas has always produced the most fully-formed ideas. A purity test would force centrist Democrats to abandon their convictions in order to remain attractive to the primary electorate, a relatively small guard of left-wing progressives who demand ideological compliance. Eschewing the marketplace of ideas for a seemingly unified party might defeat Trump/Pence in 2020. But at this rate, that might not take much. So even if they win on that platform, the root cause of their victory would be ambiguous.
It’s ultimately in the best interest of the country to have political parties with a rich array of ideologies within them. In the medium to long-term, the purity test will exacerbate the ideological division and all but purge reasonable centrists from the political picture.