Americans keep supporting Democrats, who keep capitulating to conservatives.
The party will only change when Democrats realize their base won’t support them.
Giving up on mainstream Democrats frees up money for more effective political work.
P.E. Moskowitz is an author, runs the capitalism and psychology newsletter Mental Hellth, and is a contributing opinion writer for Insider.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
The Democrats are a mess. The moderate and conservative wings of the party have waffled in their support for major bills, the progressives feel unheard, the base is dissatisfied, and the Republicans are encroaching.
The most recent elections were a disaster for the Democrats: They lost the Virginia governorship, they nearly lost New Jersey, and they lost many down-ballot races that analysts say are an omen for a terrible midterm election ahead.
It’s no wonder people are dissatisfied with the party — their messaging is all over the place. They keep promising semi-progressive policies and then failing to deliver. Take the Build Back Better bill as an example: Had the Democrats been able to actually pass the most progressive parts of the legislation, they most likely would be popular and winning elections; a majority of voters support the substance of the BBB plan, like universal Pre-K, tuition-free community college, and allowing the government to negotiate cheaper drug prices. Though some of these measures made it into the House-passed bill, Democratic infighting in the Senate between conservative Democrats like Senators Krysten Sinema and Joe Manchin and the progressive wing of the party will likely result in the most progressive policies being trimmed down or cut completely.
Unsurprisingly, Joe Biden’s approval rating has hit an all-time low of less than 43%.
Pundits in the mainstream news and most political analysts have offered predictable advice: The Democrats must become more conservative, abandon their progressive policies (even though they’re popular with voters), and court swing voters who care about overhyped culture war issues like Critical Race Theory — even though those voters have proven themselves disloyal to Democrats over and over again.
Democrats have won some elections by capitulating to the right and center — that is, after all, how Biden won in 2020. But relying on these voters is not an effective strategy. These latest elections, and the loss of Hillary Clinton in 2016, are proof that moderates, even ones who have supported Democrats recently, are quick to turn their backs on Democrats and realign with Republicans
But if the Democrats fail to pass significant policies and keep lurching further to the right on social issues, they leave voters who care about progressive issues with no choice but to give up. And those who keep voting for Democrats no matter what they do end up enabling the party to ratchet the country further and further into conservatism.
If Americans stop spending their time, money, and energy on Democrats now, it will force the party to listen to their progressive base, and, more importantly, it will free up vast resources for politics that actually matter.
Think of it like a boycott
The Virginia gubernatorial race was the most expensive election in recent state history — former Governor Terry McAuliffe raised about $57 million from voters. Hard-working Americans gave their hard-earned cash to a losing campaign that was more focused on winning over conservatives than on providing anything to the people who donated to the campaign.
The race wasn’t an outlier; the 2020 elections cost more than $14 billion, double the total cost of the 2016 presidential election. Withdrawing money from Democrats sends a strong message: They must actually fight for progressive politics or be left in the dust.
Holding the line and not allowing Democrats to capitulate to the right is not simply a matter of morals — it’s a political strategy. Repeatedly, progressives have allowed Democrats to whittle down important legislation and think that courting moderate and conservative voters is more effective than courting a progressive base, even though that strategy — whether it was Obama’s 2008 capitulation to big banks, or Biden’s current capitulation to conservatives like Manchin — inevitably leads to electoral cataclysm.
The media often chastises young people, people of color, and other more progressive voting blocs for not showing up at the polls — but only by withholding our support (money, votes, time, and energy), will Democrats realize who their base actually is. We must not keep running after failing Democrats; we must make them come to us.
We’re already building back better
In addition to holding Democrats’ feet to the fire, withdrawing support from Democrats also allows Americans to focus on politics that are already successful. The recent Democratic losses were an excuse for the mainstream media to brush off progressive and leftist politics as unpopular — The New York Times wasted no time in claiming the elections were a referendum on the party going too far to the left — while, in reality, progressive policies are more popular than they have been in decades.
In local elections, progressives and socialists won important seats at the table, like the election of Michelle Wu as mayor of Boston. Candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists of America won elections in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and elsewhere.
And more critically, a wave of non-electoral radicalism is sweeping the country: Tens of thousands of workers, from machinists at John Deere to film production workers in Hollywood, have gone on strike and demanded higher wages and better benefits. Even the much-maligned nationwide labor shortage can be viewed as a progressive win: It’s an unofficial general strike. Americans have decided they would rather not work than give in to appalling working conditions and low pay. Polls show Americans support progressive policies and support for unions is higher than it’s been in 50 years.
These are all signs of a swelling progressive movement in this country. But for this movement to continue, the average Democrat has to completely reconfigure their own priorities: How much bigger could each strike be if the billions of dollars committed to failing electoral campaigns were instead committed to strike funds and local labor organizations? How many more local candidates who really have a chance of enacting significant change could win elections were Democrats’ attention spans not filled up with ineffective national politics?
Democrats are currently operating according to the sunk cost fallacy — like a gambler who thinks just one more hand will get him out of debt. The only option now is to simply walk out of the casino.
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