The Washington Post has a new story that’s ostensibly about the resurgence of centrists in the nascent Democratic presidential primary. These people are predictably terrified that running on policies popular with the Democratic base—taxing the rich, Medicare for All, and the Green New Deal—could cost them the 2020 election.
It’s a piece featuring all the same whining we’ve come to expect from the Democratic center. At its core, though, it’s a story about how progressives have successfully redefined the center by actually forcing moderates to come up with ideas that, while nowhere near good enough, also aren’t the status quo.
Per the Post, emphasis mine:
After ceding the policy debate to the left for months, Democratic centrists have begun to fight back with new proposals and a stark warning: The latest wave of far-left ideas, though popular with many in the Democratic Party, could lead to electoral disaster in 2020.
Instead of the government health care for all proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), they are pushing public options or marginal Medicare expansions. Instead of colossal government spending to solve climate change, they are offering market-based solutions. Instead of heavy taxes on the ultrarich, they are focused on closing loopholes and expanding tax breaks for the middle class.
The public option was the central intra-party fight as the Democrats were coming up with the Affordable Care Act. The progressives wanted it so bad that they threatened to not vote for the final healthcare bill unless the bill contained a public option, and Joe Lieberman threatened to filibuster the whole thing if it was included. The compromise from Senate leaders was a Medicare buy-in at 55. In the end, the moderates won, and neither was included.
Now, not only is the public option characterized as the safe moderate position against the frightening Medicare for All—something which would jeopardize the existence of health insurance companies, which is the real reason centrist Democrats oppose it—but other plans are too. From the Post:
[Beto] O’Rourke, who supported replacing private health insurance with government insurance in 2017, is pushing for a more moderate Medicare for America proposal, which would expand government-run insurance to include those in the Affordable Care Act’s individual market while allowing those who want to keep private insurance to do so.
Even non-candidate Joe Biden, who was characterizing himself as a “fiscal conservative” as far back as his first term in the Senate in the 1970s, is being goaded ever so slightly to the left:
Biden has talked about income inequality and the large gap between the rich and the poor that is “having the effect of pulling us apart.” His advisers cast as unrealistic plans such as those proposed by presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
Biden is likely to propose eliminating a tax provision often referred to as “stepped-up basis,” which adjusts the value of inherited assets in a way that allows heirs to avoid paying taxes on any appreciation in value that asset accrued during the decedent’s lifetime. The proposal is not as far-reaching as Warren’s but is likely to bring in less additional tax revenue.
Warren’s plan, a two percent annual tax on people with $50 million or more in assets and three percent on those with over $1 billion, is not only realistic, it’s wildly popular. But the willingness of someone like Joe Biden, who has been one of the most reliable allies to capital for his entire career, to even offer a technocratic, do-less alternative to Warren’s very simple proposal shows that the centrist candidates—or at least the centrist candidates who are serious about winning the primary—are being forced to acknowledge that the left’s ideas are starting to stick.
People like Biden will continue to gripe for as long as they’re being forcibly reminded that they aren’t the most left-leaning person in the room, but they’re being forced to confront a simple fact about the Democratic base: It’s tired of neoliberalism and tinkering around the edges, and it wants something bolder and better.