The Democrats’ Leftward Move
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After the Democratic debates last week, two of my more conservative colleagues — David Brooks and Bret Stephens — criticized the party for moving too far to the left for its own good. Many liberals reacted to the columns with either anger or disdain, saying that the Democrats don’t need to win over center-right elites in order to win the White House in 2020.
My own view falls somewhere in between that of my colleagues and their critics. On basic economic issues, I think Democrats have plenty of room to adopt a more progressive agenda. Substantively, that’s a smart agenda for an economy suffering from severe inequality and climate change. Politically, it fits with the populist, progressive views that most Americans hold on economic matters. Higher taxes on the rich, to take one example, are extremely popular.
But just because the Democrats have room to move to the left on some issues doesn’t mean they’re wise to move to the left on all of them. And I think the arguments — both substantively and politically — are much weaker for some of the policies Democrats are now pushing.
Free college for all ends up helping a lot of affluent families who don’t need help (as Pete Buttigieg has done a nice job of explaining). Trying to abolish private health insurance will lead to an epic political fight that will crowd out every other issue, including climate change. And abandoning the party’s traditional support for rigorous immigration enforcement would encourage more illegal immigration. (Here is a longer version of my thoughts about the Democrats’ strange new vagueness on immigration policy.)
I recognize that many progressives are to my left on at least one of these issues, and I respect their substantive arguments. But the political case strikes me as much weaker, especially on immigration and health care. Most Americans aren’t in favor of a more open immigration policy or the banning of private health insurance. And I’m skeptical that these issues are potent enough among occasional voters to inspire a turnout surge. The politics of free college are arguably better, but some polls suggest that it too is unpopular.
So I wonder: Are any of these priorities worth increasing the chances of President Trump’s re-election?
On the latest episode of “The Argument” podcast, Michelle Goldberg, Ross Douthat and I debate these issues. We also talk about Joe Biden’s early campaign stumbles.
And regardless of your views on these questions, I hope you have a happy Fourth of July.