Fox News would have you believe “Democrats are quickly becoming the party of Karl Marx and Che Guevara, not John Kennedy.” I hate to burst Fox’s bubble, but the Democrats aren’t becoming anything like the 20th Century communists. To understand the Democratic Party’s new direction, we need to answer two questions: what is the new movement’s philosophy, and why should they be the Democratic Party’s future?
A populist, progressive and anti-establishment movement is indeed changing the Democratic Party. Democratic socialism, however, is a misnomer for the left’s progressive movement since their policies are more reflective of social democracy. While both philosophies are populist in nature and advocate for state regulation to prevent corruption and increase equality, the latter would preserve the free market. In contrast, the former would prefer to eliminate the private sector. The progressives’ goal is to reform capitalism, not overthrow it and implement a socialist regime.
For instance, Bernie Sanders is no stranger to controversy, declaring himself a democratic socialist. However, while he has been pushing significant reforms since his 2016 presidential bid, Sanders is more of a social democrat than he is a democratic socialist. He is merely attempting to reform free-market capitalism, not abolish it. Similarly, progressive candidate Elizabeth Warren’s goal is to preserve capitalism but institute more rules so the rich do not game the system. While she doesn’t identify as a democratic socialist, Warren reflects many of social democracy’s principles.
Another organization that is pushing the new, progressive agenda is called Justice Democrats. The group’s most notable members are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ro Khanna. Their platform emphasizes workers’ rights, ending corruption and protecting minorities similar to Sanders and Warren. One may argue that Ocasio-Cortez is a textbook democratic socialist since she is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), a group that aims to transition to a socialist economy rather than preserve some capitalist structures. However, Ocasio-Cortez’s disagreements with Nancy Pelosi demonstrate that the party establishment has the ability to silence the young representative. This means that to have any tangible impact on the party, Ocasio-Cortez must work with other social democrats to reform instead of replace capitalism.
Despite what some conservatives and establishment Democrats would have you believe, Sanders, Warren, the Justice Democrats and other progressives aren’t socialist. They do not support a post-capitalist economy, nor do they advocate for an authoritarian regime like the U.S.S.R. The bottom line is that progressives want structural change to eliminate big money in politics, guarantee workers’ rights and make capitalism work for more than the rich.
Of course, establishment Democrats would argue that running on radical ideas does not equate to promoting good ideas. But are social democrats and other progressives that radical? Let’s take two of the most significant reforms the new left is defending: universal health care and free college. According to the Reuters, 70 percent of voters, including 52 percent of Republicans, support medicare for all. The same poll also showed that free college tuition is polling at about 60 percent.
Are social democrats “radical” if an overwhelming majority of the nation supports their policy platforms? No, policies that only the political fringes support should be considered radical. That’s why the Democratic Party should move further to the left. More than 70 percent of Democratic voters support the progressives’ policies, so it should be a no-brainer for the party to shift to represent their constituents.
Many indeed believe progressives are steering the Democrats towards Marxism and argue that the party needs a centrist in 2020. In reality, social democrats want to reform the system to benefit everyone, not just the people at the top. With the widespread support that their policies enjoy, progressives are steering the establishment away from elitism and towards populism, fighting for the average American instead of corporate interests. Perhaps the new left can reform the Democratic Party to the point that it lives up to its name.