Should the Democrats move to the left or the center for the future of their Party? 

For this debate, we will be having three debaters: one from the progressive end of the Democrats, one from more of the center, and a center-right Republican. 

Markus Daskal: 

Firstly, I believe that the "dire situation" the Democrats are in is overstated. I remember when George W. Bush was President and the Democrats ran the table in 2006 and Obama won in a landslide in 2008 while the Democrats increased their majority in the House and got to 60 seats in senate. The Republicans were DOOMED! That didn't last very long. They did very well in 2010 after running in opposition to every single thing President Obama had done or said, including ordering a burger with arugula which was apparently proof of his horrible elitism. They mostly ran against the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which they did a very good job of demagoguing and the Democrats did a horrible job of defending.

After all that, and with unemployment still near 7 percent, President Obama won re-election handily against Romney. The Democrats also got half a million more votes for their House candidates than the Republicans did, but the Republicans still had a 30+ seat majority - a subject I'll return to. And after that election, there was plenty of despair on the part of Republicans, who had now lost 4 of 6 Presidential elections and had lost the popular vote in 5 of 6. There were articles about them being a regional party that was strong in many districts and states but weak overall nationally. 

The points I'm trying to make are that both parties have plenty of challenges - not just the Democrats.  The Republicans have national power for the first time since Bush's miserable failure of a presidency and Trump is well on his way to being far worse. Their legislative power is proving to be a trap as they now have to prove they can govern and all evidence is that they cannot. They promised a better health care bill for seven years and it was a total con - what they're offering is awful. It's so bad that I predict they don't have the nerve - or stupidity - to pass it. They don't have solid legislation on tax cuts, tax reform, and will greatly struggle to pass a budget. I believe they'll need a good number of Democratic votes to increase the debt ceiling, which won't come for free.

Elisabeth Winter:

The Democrats should absolutely still be advocating for progressive policies--but their messaging is terrible, and that's ALL they seem to stand for. It makes them seem out-of-touch to a lot of people. The bathroom issue in North Carolina, for example, is important. Democrats SHOULD be out in front of that championing the rights of the LGBT community. BUT when those are the only kinds of issues they're out there taking a strong stand on, they lose the middle. They SHOULD be trumpeting the fact that Obama saved the American auto industry, but they're not. The messaging isn't sticking, and it needs to.

Mark Romaniw:

So... I have my own ideas about how to answer these, but here are a few questions I'd like to hear your take on:

What constitutes far and center-left? Is it a social issue vs. economic issue division?

Also, who do you consider "everyman" voters to be? What appeals to them, what turns them off, and who doesn't qualify as the "everyman," but instead has more specific (or different) interests?


Firstly, I believe the center left vs. far left divide is largely artificial and it also means very different things to different people. If you ask a hardcore Bernie supporter it's almost exclusively about economic and safety net issues - tax rates, trade policy, Wall Street regulation, "Medicare for all", free tuition - they'll give lip service to issues of racial justice and reproductive rights but they don't really care about them very much. Neither does he, although he won't admit that publicly. 

As far as I'm concerned, these things are not separable. Racism impacts the lives of minorities in every way, including economic opportunity. A woman who cannot make her own choices on reproductive issues - who may not be able to finish college for example - is also impacted. Anyone who divides the progressive coalition is ensuring its failure. If we are not for economic fairness and racial justice and women's rights - then we don't deserve the support of people who want every American to have a fair shot at success.  Last point - there is no such thing as "Everyman" - every person is unique. If we support empowering individuals and doing our best to give everyone a chance to fulfill their potential, we will have broad enough appeal to win, and a moral platform that deserves to.


I think it's interesting that both of you argue that progressive aims (and the constituencies they seek to help) can be reconciled. I think that's certainly true for the affirmative message -- which both of you articulate -- of expanding individual opportunity and personal empowerment. I don't disagree with the sentiment, although I'm sure we'd disagree on the best way to realize those goals.

However, I think you need to acknowledge another message that's prevalent among the left -- that injustice is the result of a system of oppression that's supported by those who benefit from the system, and that to achieve justice, the system must be completely destroyed at all costs.

What constitutes "injustice," "oppression," or "benefits," as well as the identity of the system's supporters, are defined in different ways, but that basic message is propagated among the various constituencies progressives court -- women, African-Americans, the LGBT community, immigrants (legal and illegal), the "99%," and so on.

This message broadens what we think of as "political," casts politics as a life-and-death struggle, personalizes political issues that often don't affect most individuals, and casts individuals as either oppressors or the oppressed based on their identity rather than their circumstances, actions, or ideas. I think it's a deeply corrosive message -- and, as a conservative, I'll add that there are parallels on my side of the spectrum that are just as bad and bother me just as much.

When I think of "center-left" vs. "far-left," I think of those who have an affirmative message and want change, on the one hand, and those who propagate this negative, dangerous message and want to wreck the system, on the other. As a conservative, I can discuss issues and reach solutions with the first group; the second group doesn't really want to talk.

Do you see that distinction, looking from within progressive circles? Because I see more outrage than empowerment and fewer constructive solutions than destructive ones.


Danielle - I'm going to absorb and offer my thoughts on Mark's eloquent post. I continue to believe that thoughtful conservatives like Mark and thoughtful progressives like you and I would do a hell of a lot better finding common ground and compromising on a governing agenda than what is going on in Washington which I think we'd all agree is atrocious. As far as Bernie Sanders, let me say this - I would support any Democrat - ANY Democrat - over him for the nomination, and he will never be our nominee. He has plenty of skeletons in his closet - there's a reason he hid his tax returns and had his wife continually lie about when they'd be released. He may be complicit in his wife's possible crimes regarding the university in Vermont. And for sure, I'll never forget his sleazy and unfair character attacks on our nominee. Count me as 100% #NEVERBERNIE.  

We should throw this into the mix. I'm with Kevin Drum here --


Holy crap, Mother Jones is right. Ninety percent right.

Seeing things through the lens of "liberals are privileged /conservatives are marginalized" is wrong to me; I'll bring this up later if the conversation comes around to it, but I think each side accepting the other as equally smart (slash equally stupid) is the real alternative to mapping the two sides onto a "powerful vs. powerless" social structure.


Danielle - I am having some minor issues caused by too much typing and texting so I'm gonna have to take a break for a bit. I'll stand with what I said earlier - Democrats are far better on policy and most Americans would do better with what we offer. We need to do far better at communicating that and at political tactics. We need to stop bickering - there's a lot of bitterness from the primaries so no Bernie and no Hillary next time. I will vote for the Democratic nominee - anyone we nominate will be far better than the alternative.

Moderator/Danielle Solinski: 

So I want to help steer this conversation....what do you think of this quote from this article "What matters is this reality, which many liberals refuse to accept: To get to 218 House seats, Democrats have to win in 20 to 25 purple districts. And that means electing some moderates.
Let me put it another way: There can be ideological uniformity. Or there can be a House majority. There cannot be both."

I completely agree. In fact I don't see how it's debatable. Does anybody?


I guess you can take it two ways -- that Democrats need a few candidates to "play moderate" in order to get a majority and push forward a not-moderate platform, or that the party as a whole needs to moderate.

In other words, are the candidates running in those purple districts moderates when in government, or is it just for show during the election?

I mean, if you take a look at what's going on with the health insurance debate, you can see a Republican Party where a significant portion is sticking to their principles and voting against the party line. And you're seeing defection from both the moderate and the conservative wings of the party.

Would Democrats be open to that? Could the party tolerate moderates who won't follow a more left-wing policy direction?

Alternatively, if *both* parties have a moderate/centrist wing, I'd expect that there's more of a possibility of bipartisan coalition-building. But both the most progressive Democrats and the most conservative Republicans would constantly rail against the status quo.

But I also think it makes a difference what we mean by "most progressive" and "most conservative." By "most progressive," I'm thinking of the Democrats who support or articulate the kind of divisive politics I mentioned before. On the other hand, by "most conservative," I mean those Republicans who are principled constitutionalists -- *not* populists, *not* nationalists, *not* the Christian Right, and *not* crypto-authoritarians. All of those, to me, are the false right, even if they put themselves (and are put by others) in the same category as constitutional conservatives.

If I was to pick my ideal, well-functioning legislature, it would be something like 40% moderate Democrats, 40% moderate Republicans, and 20% constitutional conservatives keeping everyone honest.

The problem is that a small but loud portion of the left-leaning electorate wants to push extremist policies that encourage division, victimhood, grievance, and outrage. And, in an increasing number of instances, either violence or the threat of violence.

To me, that stands in the way of a functioning government and a well-ordered society and it really has no place in either.


Mark - I need to keep it short for health reasons. Let me straighten things out on one point you made. A small number of Republicans voted against the Republican health care bills - which are total crap. That's not cause for celebration. The fact that most Republicans voted for that abomination is an utter disgrace.


That's neither here nor there with regard to the point I was making. What I was highlighting is that there isn't rigid party discipline that would compel every Republican to vote for a bill the leadership favors independent of how individual legislators view the merits of the bill.


Mark - I take your point. It's true of both parties though. At the end of the day these folks want to get re-elected, and most of them put that over anything - what their party leaders want, what's good for the nation, basic morality...the BCRA is a horrible bill that would seriously harm many people, yet 43 Republicans voted for it. You should think about what that says about the reality of today's Republican Party. It's a cancer on America.


Again, I was only using that as an example of a lack of party unity. The question is, if running moderate candidates gives Democrats a majority, would those moderates support a more progressive agenda once elected? Or would they shift to the left?

Also, this "Republicans are cancer" thing is a pretty good example of the divisive, personalized, life-and-death rhetoric I was talking about, and it's pretty disappointing to hear it. The problem is that it turns this into a zero-sum game. You don't negotiate with cancer. You don't try to understand where it's coming from. You don't disagree but then put that all aside and crack a beer together.

It's trying to kill you.

You cut it the fuck out.

And you make sure you get every last fucking cell.

And then you drench yourself in chemicals and radiation until you kill any part of yourself the cancer might have touched.

Fuck it. It's not people. It's cancer.

So if that's where you're coming from, there's no longer a discussion.

You're trying to kill me.

And my only prerogative is to kill you first.

That's why rhetoric like that destroys any chance at discussion.

And it might be an offhand comment on your part, but there are elaborate arguments couched in theory and philosophy and bolstered by statistics that make the case much more earnestly.

Honestly, I hear it from the hard left all the time. And if you accept what they're saying as true -- that you can't discuss anything with me, that you can't compromise with me, that I'm trying to kill you, that I hate you -- then we're outside the realm of normal politics and in the realm of war. There's a different logic to things and I need to act accordingly.

I've argued against conservatives who think we're in a "second civil war." I argued against Trump's demagoguery. But what's going on didn't start on the conservative side. It started among the fringe left and it's become mainstream among many progressives. Conservatives, unfortunately, have started accepting the fringe left's argument that we are, in fact, in mortal conflict with each other.

So the choice is really whether we step back and rethink how we see each other, or whether we jump right into this.

You can go punch a Nazi; I'm gonna go punch some Commies. Maybe we'll meet up that way then.

But if that's really the case, this conversation's done.


Mark - I can always have dialogue with you. You're a reasonable person. I don't think you are facing the reality of what today's Republican Party has become. They want to overhaul health care in this country and excluded the Democrats from the process completely. Where's the negotiation and compromise? This is a party that put Sarah Palin on a national ticket - and Trump at the top of one. A cancer is a malignant force that will kill you if not stopped. I absolutely believe that Trump and his base will do that to America as we know it if not stopped. If the Democrats were to ever nominate - and support - people like that, it would be quite correct to say the exact same of them. You should not equate conservatism or the historical Republican Party with what we have today. If you do see yourself as aligned with THIS Republican Party, then I'd be surprised and disappointed.

I happen to think you're mostly right on Trump. I didn't vote for him and argued against him and his supporters every step of the way. The man and many of his supporters have authoritarian instincts, and I think the Republican Party as a whole will be tainted for decades because they thought they could ride his coattails to power.

Also, like I said, I'm very much against this "second Civil War" narrative that some conservative commentators are pushing. Dennis Prager, who's really involved in making those claims, maintains that it's a "non-violent" civil war, but as anyone who knows the first thing about civil war recognizes, there's no such thing as a "non-violent" civil war. That rhetoric coming from conservatives (and in various forms from Trump, during his election rallies) is extremely dangerous because it rises to the challenge the hard left has issued and because it embraces the logic of conflict and the tactics of the hard left. write, "They want to overhaul health care in this country and excluded the Democrats from the process completely. Where's the negotiation and compromise?" I said the same thing in the summer of 2008 when people like me were locked out of the ACA debate and were derided as raging teabaggers and pitchforkers or regarded with pity as "the dispossessed."

And you say, "This is a party that put Sarah Palin on a national ticket." True, and I've been disappointed by her support for Trump, but the Democrats also put Obama at the top of *their* ticket and he's as much an an extremist to me as Palin is to you.

And people dying as a result of a health care overhaul? No more or less than the original ACA directly killed people. The argument, rationally presented, is that the ACA distorts the health care market in a way that results in more expensive, less accessible, and lower quality care.

My point is that as invested and frustrated and concerned and, possibly, angry as you are about the current Republican attempts to get rid of the ACA -- that's how invested and frustrated and concerned and angry as I was about the the original bill.

The question is do we talk about the best way to go forward, or do we accuse each other of killing people and take it from there?

Sorry for making you type, Markus.

I mean that seriously.


Mark - your elected Republican representatives had plenty of opportunity to affect the ACA. It went through months of committee hearings - there was a "gang of six" that included three Republican senators and negotiated for months to try to get to a bipartisan agreement. The 3 Republican senators were heavily pressured to withdraw and eventually did. I'll post some articles to contrast then vs. now --

One more comment - as I was reading back through what Mark wrote, he said he considers Obama as extreme as he assumes I consider Palin.  My problem with Palin isn't that she's extreme, it's that she is an uninformed dummy and was an embarrassment as a VP candidate.  She's not qualified to be VP of a condo board let alone our great nation.


Just as another thought point:

Should he run again? Would that be a good/bad idea for Democrats to get behind him? Who (if any) are smarter candidates?

This article too: 


It is more on current situation (although the Democrats already have someone announced running:


Biden's a real missed opportunity. I understand why he didn't, but I wish he'd run in 2016. That said, as an old white dude, I don't know that he has a place in a more doctrinaire left-wing Democratic Party. So I kind of put him in the same category as Romney -- a right choice for the moment that was passed over.

Markus -- I think you and I are remembering 2009 differently, particularly the completely unreasonable tone of the debate.

Discussing the ACA and attempts to get rid of it is, I think, largely beyond the scope of the topic we're discussing; however, I don't think Democrats' overtures at cooperation were really both sides meeting in the middle as one side getting the other to come over to their position, and that position is mostly incompatible with conservative principles.

Plus, conservatives were (and are) skeptical about the ACA's intended goals -- there's a fear (not unfounded, in my opinion) that it broadens the concept of "health" in such a way that it gives government authority over various social issues (gun rights, transgender issues, abortion, economic self-sufficiency, etc.) that conservatives still contest, and that it was structured as a precursor to a single-payer system.

So Republicans walking away from bipartisan negotiations? That's understandable under these circumstances.

And, I'll add that after last week's debacle, if we're going to see further change in the health care sector, it'll be as smaller-reaching bills that at least the middle of both sides can agree to.


Mark - sometimes I'm stunned by what you write. Who wants to give the government authority over abortion? The party that wants to make it illegal, or the one that argues it should be up to the woman - the individual who is most directly affected? Can you help me understand what the heck you're saying there?


I didn't explain that well.




Fair enough. Give me a second. 

The overarching problem here is the idea of mandatory minimum coverage requirements and the potential to expand them. The ACA's minimum coverage requirements don't include abortion, but I think it's very likely that there will be a push to change that. The minimum coverage requirements are basically a way to create new rights -- if certain coverage is mandated, it will eventually become a right. The ACA already does that with contraceptive coverage, which is what the whole Sandra Fluke thing was about -- if coverage for contraceptives is mandated, that becomes a right and no plan, even claiming religious reasons, can be exempt from providing what you have a right to. It's not a stretch to see something like that play out with abortion, and if it does, it ends the abortion debate. Which is great for liberals, I guess, but not for conservatives who see abortion as unethical, so you can understand why conservatives won't sign onto creating a mechanism that'll be used against them later down the road. Is that clear? I don't expect you to agree, but do you get what I'm saying?


I do but you're twisting yourself into a logical pretzel. The ACA mandates minimum levels of coverage to prevent scam insurance companies that take peoples' money and offer worthless insurance that leaves them up the river if they actually get ill. It's no different than any regulation that constrains fraudulent behavior in order to protect the public. Abortion is not a mandated benefit and surely it never will be, that's just a political reality. Nixon actually had a sensible position here - the government shouldn't forbid abortion and shouldn't pay for it - keep government out of it altogether. Can you agree with that?


No, I can't, for the reasons I outlined. Even if the ACA was written to be apolitical -- just to be effective in a common-sense way, like you say -- it still provides a vehicle for prematurely settling issues that are still politically contested.

What you're calling a "logical pretzel" is simply looking ahead a step or two and realizing that today's compromise in your direction is just a precursor to tomorrow's compromise, again in your direction -- and so on.

And you really can't mean that a Nixon-era position on abortion is somehow an incontestable reality -- because I can guarantee that progressive activists are working to change the status quo.


I'm surprised that you think it's remotely possible that we will get to the government ever paying for abortions. Not in my lifetime - and not in yours or Danielle's either.


Well, see the above comment -- it looks like we hit submit at roughly the same time. [conversation held in real-time on Facebook Messenger]


I didn't claim it was an incontestable reality, I think it's a common sense position that reaches a reasonable middle ground. There's no consensus on abortion so keep the government out of it altogether.


But a "common sense position that reaches a reasonable middle ground" tends to be a moving target with many progressives. Twenty years ago, marriage being defined as one man plus one woman fit that definition, and two decades of activism with a supportive White House and a little judicial fiat at the end closed that debate, definitively. Now there's a new status quo, no doubt again a "common sense position that reaches a reasonable middle ground."

And now we're onto the "T" in LGBT -- the next thing we'll have to compromise on.

The nature of progressivism is to push boundaries and reorganize the social order. The problem with that is that it often disrupts a system that works just fine and replaces it with something that meets an ideological test but fails the real-world test of actually working.

That's not to say change needs to be stifled. The conservative problem is how to accommodate change without breaking the system, and that's often much slower and much smaller than most progressives are comfortable with.

I don't know all your politics, but I'd hazard a guess that you're not the "break the system" type...but many people calling themselves progressive today are.


I'm not at all. Progressivism is aligned with the natural order of things - mankind has been on a journey to more inclusiveness, compassion and justice since we were cavemen. Gay marriage became acceptable to a broad swath of Americans because younger Americans - many of them - have gay friends and they can't imagine why anyone would have a problem with their getting married if they want to. The politics changed because public opinion changed. That's how it's supposed to work, isn't it? True conservatism accepts the need for change but believes that it must not be so drastic or rapid that it destroys the institutions that our society is based on. If we had a true Conservative party in this nation, I'd agree on some issues. Make America Great Again is a call to go backwards to the 1950s when women, blacks and gays were subservient in many ways. That's what Trump wants and the Republicans nominated him. Until they disown that, they are not conservative but rather reactionary.


Conservatism is melting down right now over what it means to be a "true conservative party." There's a crowd that says it's Bibles and guns, there's a crowd that says it means listening to father-figures, and there's a crowd that says it's government handouts but not for black or brown people. I don't think that's true conservatism, but those three camps -- and in various configurations -- are shouting people like me down. At the start of this conversation when I talked about there being problems among conservatives that are parallel to problems I see among liberals, that's what I was talking about. So yeah, that's our's to fix.

But can you acknowledge that what appeals to people about "Make America Great Again" isn't necessarily reactionary or exclusionary? Trump's use of the phrase is incoherent and meaningless, and others do use it as a return to "white America" with others (women, minorities) in their place. But I think most Americans would want the kind of quality of life -- decent jobs, affordable and accessible goods, healthy communities, security from social ills, and prospects for a better future -- that we had whenever America was "great."

I recognize that America was great, and also that America had many problems. Somehow the logic has become that they were both linked -- that greatness is the product of oppression and exploitation. That, for me, is the big leftist lie -- that you can't offer that American dream to wider groups of people without screwing someone over, and therefore the entire system has to go.


I don't at all believe that the entire system has to go. I won't assume that you support the agenda of the crazier right wingers and by now you must know that I don't support the agenda of the far left. We will never have the economic dominance that existed in the '50s when much of the Western world was in ruins from the Second World War and we were not. The world where a high school educated guy could work at the car factory, buy a home, send his kids to college and afford nice vacations will never exist again. Getting votes by promising to recreate that is a gigantic con. We need to figure out how we can continue the economic success that some Americans are having while improving opportunities and quality of life for everyone else in the world of 2017, not the world of 1955. Perhaps that should be the next topic on Danielle's blog!


A few things...first, I realize the American dream of 1955 is different from the American dream of 2017. But the concept has been updated before -- the 1980s and the 1990s were pretty good for, I think, most people and we can do the equivalent for even wider groups of people today.

Second...I don't think American greatness is contingent on the rest of the world being battered by war or totalitarianism. We can have an interconnected world where other countries reap the same benefits as we do. In fact, I think that's essential to our success.

I don't think it's necessarily a con; the things promised by the American dream are achievable, but not in the way a lot of Trump supporters think.


I don't really think we're in disagreement on this, although I'd expect we disagree on how best to realize the American dream.


We agree on all of it. I only disagree with the idea that America was once great and is not great today. I'm appalled at the stupidity now prevalent on both the Trump right and the Bernie left regarding trade issues - withdrawing from the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership} was about as dumb as it gets. Our economic success has never included everyone - it didn't in the '80s or '90s either. Look up the numbers for economic inequality by decade. I bet that I agree with you on a lot more than I'd agree with a typical Bernie supporter, and you agree with me a lot more than you would with a typical Trump fan. I gotta get to work now but let's pick up on the "how" next go-round!


I'd like to circle back to some of the concerns I have about what I think of as extremism in the Democratic Party and in the broader progressive / liberal movement.


Here are two recent op-eds that I think hit this topic pretty well:

First up is Lindy West on abortion, which deals with something that brought up in the last round of debate -- what kind of compromise on abortion is acceptable to progressives?

Next is this op-ed written by an editor who seems uncomfortable balancing between her progressive values and the extremist positions of some of the organizers of the Women's March movement.

Do you see these opinions (West's and Sarsour's, et al.) as extreme? Do they move too fast or reach too far? Are they distractions from more pressing issues? Do they alienate voters? Can you -- liberals, progressives, Democrats -- compromise with voices like this within your own party?

And, just to be clear, I expect to be asked this about Republican policies and positions in the upcoming parallel debate. [A debate on the future of the Republican Party is planned for the near future]


Mark - I participated in the Women's March in New York. It was great to see the massive involvement all over our nation in protest over Trump's disgusting policies. I knew only a little about Sarsour at the time and I didn't like what I was hearing, but it wasn't really about her, it was about us and about our nation. I know more now and her leadership is entirely unacceptable. She and the others are entirely abhorrent to me. The resistance is not about them and it must not be. It's about saving our democracy from a would-be tyrant. We must continue to be vocal but move on from them, and if I were Schumer or Pelosi and was asked about it that's what I'd say. I hope they do should it come up.


Well, congrats, Markus -- you're an "apologist for the status quo, racist ideology and the white nationalist patriarchy!" At least according to one of the organizers of the Women's March (the cis-het white one, as she makes clear) in this rebuttal to Weiss' NYT op-ed:

What I'm really worried about is that that brand of militant activist is co-opting your party and will, eventually, purge (or shame into silence) the liberals who want to and can find common ground with Republicans.

Which, I think, brings us to the next topic: how to deal with *another* party that's been hijacked...