In January 1996, the centerpiece of President Bill Clinton's speech on the state of the Union was a statement that "the era of big government is over." Twenty-three years later, the brightest young star of the Democratic Party is the Republic. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who wants to nationalize the health insurance sector and pass a Green New Deal this would reduce the carbon emissions of the United States over the next 12 years.
When Anderson Cooper called him "radical", his program Sunday evening interview with the congressman, she proudly embraced the etiquette.
"I think that only the radicals have changed the country. Abraham Lincoln made the radical decision to sign the Proclamation of Emancipation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the radical decision to embark on programs such as social security, "she said. "If that's what radical means, call me a radical."
Much of the interview is a tap dance on the grave of liberalism of the Clinton era. The Clinton administration was deeply concerned about budget deficits; Ocasio-Cortez told Cooper that she did not need a plan to pay for her proposals. Clinton has adopted a social welfare reform to end the alleged "dependence" of black Americans on the welfare state; Ocasio-Cortez has described President Donald Trump as a racist condemning the "historic whistle of white supremacy".
Ocasio-Cortez is of course not the president, nor even the leader of the Democratic Party. However, the contrast is even more striking: here is a member of Congress appointed for the first time who does not yet have the power to set the agenda of his party and yet has captured the imagination of the party's base and the media nationals.
The contrast between Ocasio-Cortez and Bill Clinton suggests a very interesting and largely misunderstood division. For some time now, the Democrats' voting base has been much more aligned with the congressman than the former president, adopting more progressive positions on everything from taxes to immigration, to # 39; immigration. Israelo-Palestinian conflict. But the elected ranks of the party, and especially its leaders, have not moved as much.
This gap, between a more progressive party base and a more cautious institution, is part of the popularity of candidates like Ocasio-Cortez. They give Democratic voters what they want, a shameless and resolutely progressive party.
The meaning of "more progressive" is not always clear. Many of the democratic presidential candidates 2020 plausible, ranging from Sens. Cory Booker at Elizabeth Warren at Bernie Sanders, have different visions for the future of the party. The struggle between the so-called "liberals" and "leftists," raging daily on my Twitter feed, is a battle to define exactly what it means to be "progressive" in a post-Clinton era.
But no matter which faction wins this fight, it is clear that Clinton centrism is dead in the water. Its supporters within the party are older and out of step with the party base. Elected Democrats may not yet realize it completely, but the era of the liberalism of small governments is over.
Voters moved, elected officials did not (as much)
The gradual shift of the Democratic electoral base over the last 20 years is clear and profound. David Graham from the Atlantic presented some of the most striking data in a November summary:
On the economic front, three-quarters of Democrats say the government is not doing enough to help the poor, compared to half in 1994. Two-thirds say the government should further regulate businesses, compared to half in 1994. Conversely, in 1994 Two-thirds of Democrats thought that people could go ahead if they were willing to work hard. Now only half do it. The percentage of Democrats who think businesses make too much money is up 12 points. But the movement is not uniform. While the proportion of Democrats who say the government should do more to help the poor, even if it has to go into debt, rose from 58% in 1994 to 71% in 2017, it still has not reached the top. 77% achieved in 2007.
There is also a dramatic movement on race, which may reflect more than anything the exodus of conservative whites while the Democratic Party becomes more heavily minority. The percentage of Democrats who say the government needs to do more to combat racism has gone from 57 to 81 since 2009. In 1994, four out of 10 Democrats said that racial discrimination was the main reason blacks could not to go from the front; in 2017, more than six in ten have done so. White voters moved in a particularly dramatic way, as Thomas Edsall notesOn these two indicators, white Democrats are actually more leftist than blacks.
Party officials, however, do not fully reflect this change. The following table, from VoteView, presents the DW-NOMINATE scores of the two parties (political science metrics based on the voting record) from the 19th century to 2015. The Democratic Party average, in dark red, shows a relatively between the mid-1990s and the mid-2010s:
The contrast with the Republican line in the chart could not be clearer. Republican voters and elected officials have become increasingly conservative, even reactionary and nativist, in recent decades. The Democratic base is not a reflection of the Republican base – it is not so radical – but it has clearly tilted to the left during the same period. The difference is that party officials did not really follow.
When I talk to grassroots democrats, the kind of people who tend to run reliably in the party primaries, they seem to be quite aware of that gap. You often hear a thirst for shameless progressive politicians, who oppose Republican Radicalism boldly, rather than the more cautious approach on the part of a large number of elected Democrats.
This effect seems to have paved the way for more progressive candidates to win primaries. In July 2018YouGov asked the Democrats themselves if they wanted the mid-term election candidates to be "more or less similar to Bernie Sanders". Fifty-seven percent said they wanted more Sanders candidates; barely 16% said less.
The current composition of the party primaries begins to reflect the grassroots interest for more aggressive candidates. A Brookings October Report sorted the primary democratic field into three categories: moderate, establishment and progressive. It was found that the percentage of "moderate" candidates had halved between 2014 and 2018, while the percentage of "progressives" had increased by about 60%.
This does not mean that a takeover of the party by Sanders / Socialist is imminent. It is far from clear that Democratic voters are more interested in Ocasio-Cortez's democratic socialism than in Elizabeth Warren's welfare state capitalism. The struggle to define "progressivism" is still ongoing.
But the reason this battle between progressive factions is unfolding is that there has been a break with the past. The official party is somewhat out of step with its constituents, even more Clintonian than many electors would like. This has paved the way for a gradual change, making a kind of change inevitable. The only question is where the party ends.