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Musings on digital media, urbanization and politics from Seattle, Wash.

Progressives should look back for a path forward


Ray Strong’s ‘Golden Gate Bridge’, one of the best examples of New Deal art.

August 19, 2020

Two nights into the 2020 Democratic National Convention, more Republicans have given speeches than Democratic Socialists. Given the party’s clear strategy—even in its more opaque moments—it isn’t surprising the firebrand wing of the party is all but banished from the big stage.

But it still feels pretty gross.

And listen, I get it. Winning come November takes precedent over all else. Gotta have it. If 45 takes this one, it’s all over—if it isn’t already.

Isn’t there more to it, though? Like, isn’t the object to govern in a way that fits a certain set of ideals? To help the greatest number of people? To put a dent in American history, if not the universe?

The notion that there isn’t an enormous difference between establishment Democrats and modern Republicans has, at the very least, made for good meme fodder.

But there’s something so irritatingly on-the-nose about the full-on embrace of Republican figures and, at times, ideology. You combine who Dems are rolling out there with the giddy fandom for the Republican-powered Lincoln Project, and you start to wonder—what is a Democrat these days?

The message for progressives should be simple, and it should be loud: “We are.”

My thinking goes back to these Democratic primaries, a process that officially ends tonight. Oh, and speaking of great meme fodder—


So, what went wrong?

Here’s a tweet that’s stuck in my mind since I saw it, and have meant to write on since:

As tough as the two-party system is, it isn’t going anywhere. And for the demographics that progressives need to swing the most, it matters and matters a lot that someone is a proud flag-bearer for the Democratic Party.

Proclaiming you’re going to overthrow the establishment—as essential as it is for the progress this country needs—doesn’t play well with everyone.

As hesitant as I am to critique anything the Sanders campaign did, given that the Super Tuesday maneuvering is truly what did him in, there’s something to the notion that he didn’t quite seize on frontrunner status as well as he could.

Hell, there was a time not that long ago when it looked like it’d be Sanders or no one headed into this convention with the nomination in hand. And even then, the pitch was that of an underdog beating back the powers-that-be.

Do it all over again, and you know what it should be?

This is what a Democrat looks like.

It’s someone battling like hell for the working class. It’s a robust social safety net. It’s driving up revenue for outstanding government programs. It’s ascribing to the belief that every man, woman and child deserves to live a dignified life—that we’re all in this together and, if we’re gonna get anywhere, you have to fight for someone you don’t know.

It may feel revolutionary, but it is not new.

And while overthrowing the establishment—particularly the Democratic Party—may not play well with everyone, you know what does? Good old-fashioned nostalgia.

Remind the people you need on your side of the things and the people that made them a Democrat in the first place.

Government is intended to be a service by and for the people—and there’s no shame in having a big one.

I mean, which wing of either party could you see rolling out something like this now?


Can you imagine if someone proposed public libraries now? Public schools? Public transit? We know who it’d come from.

For the big stuff progressives want now, it isn’t new.

While Obamacare was invented by the Heritage Foundation and rolled out first by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, there was a time when Democrats weren’t afraid to set their sights on universal healthcare.

Reining in military spending—to benefit citizens back home? There was a time when even a Republican understood that, and Bernie’s digital team had that one covered.

High taxes on the über-wealthy? That’s how we built this country. Literally—built the places, things and services that power the United States, but are woefully out of date.

So when we talk about things like getting the country (or state or city, for that matter) back on track by driving up revenue and using it to invest in infrastructure and services—and the people that will build it and fuel each—none of it is new.

It’s worked. And it’s what Democrats do.

•    •    •    •

Like I mentioned above, now isn’t the time for this. Get DJT out and move from there. But the movement should come quickly.

As the transition team is set, the cabinet unveiled and Congressional leadership chosen, the country’s progressive leaders—looking at you, AOC, Pramila, Ilhan, etc.—should be vocal on whether what they’re seeing represents a truly Democratic administration.

We’ve done the thing before where we bide our time and are content with just making a little progress—and it got us House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a toothless check on the GOP.

It should mean something to be a Democrat. Something more than “Well, we’re not that guy.”

When it comes to the battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, progressives have more of a claim than the people running it.

And soon, it’s time to stake it.

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