The Need for Democratic Litmus Tests

Ed Burmila argues Demcorats need some non-negotiable positions (boldface mine):

Why should voters, especially the Democratic base and the ideological left the party takes for granted, be expected to support candidates who cannot even promise a few basics? Here are just four purity tests—reasonable, bare-minimum expectations—that we are repeatedly told are just too much for the Democratic brand to guarantee:

      Defense of abortion rights. Abortion access is popularly supported. Democrats who have a personal or moral opposition to abortion should at least be able to commit to refusing to help Republicans turn personal beliefs into public policy.
      Refusal to “reform” Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If the holy trinity of Democratic welfare-state programs is on the chopping block to appease higher earners who don’t care to pay taxes, what isn’t?
      Funding the Green New Deal or similarly aggressive climate change mitigation policy. None of these political issues matter if we render the planet uninhabitable.
      Universal health care that does not depend on the vagaries of state legislatures and the for-profit insurance industry. Every single American should have health insurance that provides the level of benefits offered under Medicare or better, period.

All of these basic positions have public support, yet Democrats are forever arguing that they can’t win elections with such “radical” policies. The stock-character White Working-Class Hard Hat Guy won’t go for them, we are told. Oddly, the real opposition to these policies comes not from lower-income or working-class people but from the highly educated, better off Democrats Bill Clinton worked so hard to woo in the 1990s.

…Democrats often conclude from that [Republican] success that being more like Republicans—that is, more conservative—is the answer. They have it halfway right: Democrats do need to be a bit more Republican in their outlook, but not in terms of finding points in common on the ideological spectrum. Rather than adopting positions that drift ever further to the right, they should consider the way Republicans practice politics. The GOP insists that its partisans—at a minimum—commit to lower taxes, privatization, and policy devolution to state governments. In this way, it provides a North Star to voters, in the form of principles to which it’ll always be true. Given its success, it may be worth considering whether offering voters some amount of fundamental certainty might be a good thing.

I would add two caveats. First, the Democratic Party is actually two parties, and the conservative Democratic Party, for reasons having to do with ideology and personal self-interest, doesn’t favor the last three points*. Second, Republicans have been successful, in part, because of structural imbalances that give Republican voters disproportionate power. Without these imbalances, Republicans and their ideas wouldn’t be nearly as successful. That said, there is a compelling argument to be made that these litmus tests would encourage turnout and reduce these imbalances.

While a lack of litmus tests probably won’t hurt Democrats that much in 2020, since there is a lot of anti-Trump sentiment, thinking past 2020–and some professional Democrats need to do this–Democrats will need to stand for something. You can’t just whip that up either; it requires a lot of ground work and repetition.

*If Sanders wins the nomination (and to a lesser extent, Warren), a ton of ‘moderate’ Democrats are going to show their asses. And it will be very ugly–and very disappointing for some Democrats who don’t understand who the ‘moderates’ really are.

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