As the first round of debates among Democratic candidates for president clearly showed, the intellectual vitality of the Democratic Party right now is coming from progressives. On issue after issue, the vast majority of the candidates embraced views that have been seen as progressive priorities for years—whether that may have been a pledge to provide healthcare for all or vows to repeal tax cuts benefiting the rich, whether it was prioritizing combating our climate crisis or seeking to combat economic, gender, and racial inequality in America.
Indeed, as the uneven or faltering performance of its champions showed, it appears that the center is withering, offering only the formulations of the past that many see as having produced much of the inequality and many of the divisions and challenges of today.
During the debates and indeed in recent years, it has been hard to identify one new “centrist” idea, one new proposal from the center that better deals with economic insecurity, climate, growth, equity, education, health, or inclusion. You won’t find them in part because the ideas of the center are so based on compromise, and for most of the past decade it has been clear, there is no longer a functioning, constructive right of center group with which to compromise.
That is in part the fault of the corruption of the GOP and its near exclusive service to the one percent and corporate interests. It is also due, however, to the fact that so many products of Clinton and Obama-era centrism primarily served those elites as well—from the Clinton era repeal of Glass-Steagall to the failure of Obama to really push hard to implement meaningful financial reforms after the crash. The innovation of “Third Way” or New Democrats—a group of which I was part—was, well-intentioned as it may have been on some level, also seeking a way to buy into the popularity of Reagan-era policies (damaging as they were). [Continue reading…]