Editor’s Note: David A. Love is a writer, commentator and journalism and media studies professor based in Philadelphia. He contributes to a variety of outlets, including Atlanta Black Star, ecoWURD and Al Jazeera. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidALove. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Last-minute presidential candidates such as billionaire Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a managing director at Bain Capital, have entered the race in an effort to promote moderation and defeat progressive Democratic candidates who Wall Street fears.
But the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt is actually poised to return to its roots in the real center of mainstream public opinion, in which people believe in an active role for government to improve their lives. In this presidential election season, the party could reclaim the mantle of protecting working people, the middle class and the poor at a time of gaping wealth inequality, when popular opinion increasingly believes billionaires have too much, corporations pay too little in taxes and ordinary people are suffering.
This is why, contrary to the concerns of some political leaders and pundits, most prominently former President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party does not risk veering too far to the left.
At a recent event with wealthy donors, Obama claimed the “average American” does not want to “completely tear down the system and remake it,” and America “is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement.”
Despite running for president and energizing the nation just a decade ago as a center-left candidate with a message of hope and change, Obama seems to think America does not need systemic change, and Democrats should not rock the boat or make any sudden moves.
Democrats on Twitter who reject Obama’s warning not to move too far left responded to the former president’s comments with the hashtag #TooFarLeft, which at the time became the top trending tag in the US and the third globally, according to Democratic strategist Peter Daou.
Daou, who started the hashtag, wanted to eviscerate the mainstream talking point that social, economic, racial and environmental justice is somehow a radical position.
Indeed, considering the state of the country, its festering political, economic and social problems and the seeming inability of government to address them, Daou and others who have embraced the hashtag make a good point. America is not well, and ignoring the symptoms of what ails the nation – not pushing too far for change – is what gave us Donald Trump.
Consider the status quo with rising inequality, low taxation on the wealthy and corporations, and the dimming life prospects of millennials.
For the first time in history, the ultra-rich – the 400 richest families – paid a lower tax rate than the bottom 50% of the population in 2018. Also last year, Amazon paid no federal taxes on more than $11 billion in profit, and its employees, like many across the nation, face brutal working conditions. Amazon maintains the company “provides a safe, quality work environment in which associates are the heart and soul of the customer experience,” according to a spokeswoman.
Similarly, FedEx paid zero in taxes after the Trump windfall corporate tax cuts, as was the case with so many companies, while Netflix paid less in taxes than a monthly subscription to their streaming service, according to Bernie Sanders.
Earning less money and saddled with more debt than their parents, young people in America, one study finds, cannot afford their health-care needs and are on a trajectory for a shorter life span than generations before them. According to the study, millennials are facing more chronic health issues, depression and suicide than Gen Xers due to the economic crisis, student debt, the opioid crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other issues. The impending health crisis is eroding the earning potential of this younger generation.
Wall Street is frightened at the prospect of a progressive in the mold of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, and some billionaires are having a temper tantrum because they refuse to pay their fair share of taxes.
A number of big money Democratic donors have vowed to sit out or support Trump if Warren receives the nomination. Bill Gates seemingly has not ruled out voting for Trump if he would otherwise be forced to pay Warren’s wealth tax.
The Beltway punditry consensus dictates that Democrats must move center to appeal primarily to the white moderate swing voter or Trump supporter in the Midwest, rather than cultivate a multiracial base and court nonvoters.
Establishment and Wall Street Dems are misreading the winds of public sentiment if they believe moderation is a winning political strategy for 2020. There is no constituency for a presidential candidate who prescribes half-measures to put out a fire.
And polling indicates that.
For example, a 2019 Quinnipiac poll found that 60% of registered voters support a 2% wealth tax on people who own assets over $50 million. The wealth tax concept enjoys support across political parties and all demographic groups.
Further, according to a KFF Health Tracking Poll, health care is the leading issue that Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents want the presidential candidates to discuss. Further, according to a poll earlier this year from Politico and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans believe it is “extremely important” for Congress to tackle student debt.
Get our free weekly newsletter
Even while acknowledging the historic diversity in the Democratic field, Obama urges that candidates rein in their messaging.
“We have a number of women candidates and we have one gay candidate. And those candidates are going to have barriers if they win the nomination, or they win the general election – just like I did,” Obama said at another event. “You can overcome that resistance if the way you are framing these issues and messages indicate, ‘Look, I’m part of an American tradition … of opening up opportunity.’”
The former president is mistaken if he believes that in appealing to the electorate, Democrats must tamp down their message and advocate for tweaks in the system rather than systemic reform. This, in a country that touts itself as the “land of opportunity,” yet has one of the lowest rates of socioeconomic mobility.
The party of FDR could very well inspire and energize Americans looking for change with policy prescriptions such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and free college.