The Country Is Moving Left

Dave Johnson

It might not seem so in the middle of a day’s news cycle, especially with that news always being about Donald Trump, but 2015 marked a year of change in a progressive direction. And the country is solidly behind this move.

Progressive Victories In 2015

The country is moving in a progressive direction. In November,’s Terrance Heath wrote in Progressive Victories from Maine to Washington Inspire Hope,

Off-year elections are almost never good for progressives, and 2015 is no exception. But this off-year election held some surprising victories for progressives in Maine, Ohio, Washington and elsewhere that could lay the foundation for more victories to come.

Heath cited Seattle’s “Democracy Vouchers” – “designed to loosen the grip of the ‘donor’ class”; Ohio’s Issue One that banned political gerrymandering; Maine’s Question 1 that strengthened the state’s system of publicly funding elections. Heath wrote,

The wins in Seattle, Maine, and Ohio are game-changing victories for democracy. Each represents an impressive effort by state and local activists and coalitions, and will no doubt inspire more Americans to take action. Each shows what people-powered movements can do.

The Democratic primaries reflect this progressive direction. If you were one of the 9 people who watched Saturday’s near-secret Democratic debate (the debate schedule was set up to try to avoid people tuning in, and the ratings reflect that) you saw a solid, substance-filled progressive discussion of the country’s problems offering progressive solutions. If you take a look at CAF’s Candidate Scorecard you’ll see the Democratic candidates by and large line up with a progressive agenda that would be unheard of in previous election cycles. That’s progress.

Speaking of progress, Think Progress cites The 7 Most Important Progressive Victories Of 2015:

1) A growing number of workers are earning more – thanks to local and state progressive-pushed initiatives to raise the minimum wage and new overtime rules.

2) Same-sex marriage is legal. People can marry who they want now.

3) Health insurance, The Supreme Court didn’t back conservative efforts to kill Obamacare.(So now we push on toward a public option or Medicare-for-All.)

4) Some states have been able to push out gerrymandering, and a few places were able to pass measures fighting back against money in politics.

5) The world finally came together to begin to fight climate change. (Even if the timing has been compared to starting your Christmas shopping an hour before the stores close on Christmas Eve,) President Obama has introduced his Clean Power Plan.

6) Successfully replacing No Child Left Behind and historic graduation rates.

7) Historic Iran nuclear deal.

That’s Think Progress’ list. There are many other good examples of progressive progress in 2015.

Progressives Seeing Public Support Instead Of Public Backlash

Take a look at the polling numbers at the Populist Majority website. The polls show that the public supports the progressive position on many, many issues. Money in politics, education, trade, inequality, Social Security and Medicare, taking on the big banks, you name it, across the board the public sees things the way progressives, not conservatives and their corporate/billionaire funders do.

Peter Beinart writes about the country’s leftward shift at The Atlantic, in Why America Is Moving Left. He writes that in the 60s and 70s “leftist” ideas faced a popular backlash, but now the country is embracing the ideas of a new progressive movement.

Beinart cites the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement compared to the country’s reaction to the militancy of the 60s and 70s, how the inequality situation dominates economic discussion, how LGBT rights are now mainstream, and writes about the differences between today’s Democrats and those of the previous decade, “In the Senate, Bush’s 2001 tax cut passed with 12 Democratic votes; the Iraq War was authorized with 29. As the calamitous consequences of these votes became clear, the revolt against them destroyed the Democratic Party’s centrist wing.”

As Beinart sees it, Howard Dean began the revolt of the “Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party,” the blogger movement grew and Daily Kos emerged as a leading Democratic voice, Huffington Post came along, MSNBC hired a few liberals, and George W. Bush made conservatives look like idiots. (That has only gotten worse.)

And then Obama and his Wall Street tilt led to Occupy, which “injected economic inequality into the American political debate”,

“Given the militant opposition Obama faced from Republicans in Congress, it’s unclear whether he could have used the financial crisis to dramatically curtail Wall Street’s power. What is clear is that he did not. … 40 percent of the Occupy activists had worked on the 2008 presidential campaign, mostly for Obama. Many of them had hoped that, as president, he would bring fundamental change. Now the collapse of that hope had led them to challenge Wall Street directly.”

Occupy led to Elizabeth Warren’s election, Warren’s voice helped propel the Sanders candidacy. And Sanders has pushed Clinton left,

“All of this has shaped the Clinton campaign’s response to Sanders. At the first Democratic debate, she noted that, unlike him, she favors “rein[ing] in the excesses of capitalism” rather than abandoning it altogether. But the only specific policy difference she highlighted was gun control, on which she attacked him from the left.”

Blake Fleetwood, writing at the Huffington Post, echoes this view, in The Democratic Debate Steals Occupy Wall Street Rhetoric,

Today, all of the three democratic candidates are singing the same song: That economic inequality, the 30-year downward spiral of the middle class and the corruption of the campaign finance laws — OWS’s main themes — are the most important domestic threats to the American way of life.

… At the Saturday night debate, the same key OWS words, were repeated over and over by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley — “rigged political system”, “super-wealthy”, “tax on Wall Street.”

[. . .] Indeed, these tax-the-rich ideas and the decline of middle class prosperity have recently come to influence the presidential political debate in even the Republican party…

But Republican/Corporate/Billionaire Money Brings Power

There’s a ‘but.’ But money has pushed Republicans into power in the states, and the resulting GOP state gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement has locked them in in the House. So even though Democrats got more votes for Congress than Republicans, Republicans dominate the House and can prevent votes on things that would pass. Beinart again,

“Congressional redistricting, felon disenfranchisement, and the obliteration of campaign-finance laws all help insulate politicians from the views of ordinary people, and generally empower the right.”

Yes, there’s that. A progressive country with a Congress elected by “dark money” and vote-rigging, insulated from the views of ordinary people.

The public might be moving left, but The Money isn’t, and so far The Money talks. So federal policies aren’t moving anywhere. If enough people walk to the polls in 2016, we can change that.

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