If you doubt the truth of this assertion I recommend carefully examining the following statements and the likely responses by progressives from Andy Levison's latest Democratic Strategist memo. This exercise exposes how far from being a big tent party Democrats currently are.
"Democrats routinely describe the Democratic Party as a “coalition” or even a “big tent coalition.” But in reality Dems know that this is not the case.
To observe the evidence for this statement firsthand, decide if you agree with the following three statements:
1. It is entirely reasonable for progressives to insist on candidates who do not just agree to support certain progressive policies because they are required as part of participation in a political alliance but who fully and sincerely embrace basic progressive values.
2. It is entirely reasonable for progressives to be suspicious of candidates who come from backgrounds and reflect the cultural outlook of communities that are culturally distant from the progressive world and culture.
3. It is entirely reasonable for progressives to feel that non-progressive voters ought to be willing to support a progressive candidate if they agree with his or her economic platform even if they disagree with other aspects of his or her agenda.
For most progressives, these three statements seem entirely reasonable and indeed obvious. After all, why shouldn’t progressives have the right to demand candidates who sincerely support progressive views and reflect a progressive cultural outlook while expecting non-progressives to be sensible enough to support a progressive candidate based on his or her economic agenda even if they may disagree with other aspects of his or her platform.
But now consider this second set of statements:
1. It is entirely reasonable for culturally traditional rural and white working class people to insist on candidates who do not just agree to support certain culturally traditional policies because they are required as part of participation in a political alliance but who fully and sincerely embrace certain traditional cultural values.
2. It is entirely reasonable for culturally traditional rural and white working class people to be suspicious of candidates who come from backgrounds and reflect the cultural outlook of communities that are culturally distant from the rural and white working class world and culture.
3. It is entirely reasonable for rural and white working class people to feel that voters who are not rural or white working class ought to be willing to support a culturally traditional rural or white working class candidate if they agree with his or her economic agenda even if they may disagree with some of his or her other views and proposals.
As can be seen, the underlying logic is identical in the two cases. Yet many progressives will agree with the first set of propositions but then reject the second.
Many Democrats will resolve this dilemma by simply asserting that left/progressives are “right” and rural and white working class people who hold culturally traditional values are “wrong.” – even if they do support a range of populist economic policies. But this does not really resolve the underlying problem. What this shows is that many Democrats want and expect rural and white working class people to be willing to support progressive Democrats and make certain concessions and accept certain compromises as part of participation in a coalition that they themselves are unwilling to make in return.
Let’s face it. This is not the philosophy of a political party that genuinely seeks to create a “big-tent” political coalition – it is the philosophy of a parliamentary-style ideological political party that has a platform and agenda that is not open to negotiation. In parliamentary systems political coalitions are formally negotiated between two or more ideological parties of this kind rather than within one large “big tent” party."
Levison recommends that Democrats tolerate, indeed encourage, the formation of a "Heartland Common Sense" grouping within a truly big tent party that would be based in redder areas of the country and would embrace the following principles:
1. Strong support for populist economic policies
2. A clear rejection of racism, theocracy and intolerance
3. A clear and firm embrace of basic traditional values – respect for religious faith, support for small business, hard work, respect for law and the constitution.
4. A firm and principled rejection of a range of extreme and unpopular Democratic policies – “Defund the Police,” “Open the Borders,” etc.
Levison notes the probable resistance to tolerating such a politics within the party.
"It is predictable that many on the Democratic Left will oppose the development of a “heartland”, culturally traditional wing of the party because it would dilute a proper and consistent radical Democratic message….[On]…this perspective a wide range of traditional cultural views are considered inherently reactionary and unacceptable, even if they reflect attitudes that were firmly “liberal” in the civil rights era (e.g. judging people by the “content of their character, not the color of their skin” or being “tolerant” of people and ideas that challenge traditional cultural views rather than actively endorsing them). In the modern view, a true progressive “ally” must fully agree with the radical position across the entire range of issues or be defined as either hopelessly ignorant or actively evil and a person with whom no political alliance of any kind can be seriously contemplated."
But that kind of attitude is of course antithetical to developing a truly big tent party. So that attitude has has to go.
Timothy Egan in a New York Times column makes a similar plea for common sense and a big tent approach, in the context of a sort of popular front against the return of Trumpism. (It is ironic that some of those who most fervently believe fascism is right around the corner are the very same people most likely to oppose the very big tent approach that might forestall it.)
"The way to hold off the barbarians on the right should be pretty simple. A unified Democratic message — helping people live better lives with a targeted hand from government — is hugely popular. It’s the essence of both the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act and Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill. And it should be the essence of what voters think about when they think about Democrats.
Another message, on cultural issues, is much less popular. In a recent congressional race for an open seat in New Mexico, Democrats won in a landslide by emphasizing economic fairness while directly confronting attacks on law and order. The winner, Melanie Stansbury, ran an ad that featured support from a former sheriff’s deputy.
The rise in violent crime is now the top concern of many voters across the country, according to a Yahoo News/YouGov survey, and in the Democratic primary for New York City mayor, according to a recent poll by Spectrum News NY1/Ipsos. Polling also shows that a majority of Americans oppose defunding the police, and Maloney says it’s a “pernicious lie” to label Democrats as the party of defund. But lies, fueled by lefty overreach in some cities as well as social media amplification, tend to have a much longer shelf life than boring talk about infrastructure....
[I]in promoting the teaching of critical race theory — a term so misunderstood that it’s best known now as a Republican weapon — some educators have played into the hands of the Trumpers...If the message is that being born white is something akin to the Roman Catholic concept of original sin, then there’s bound to be a backlash among the moderate voters who came around to Democrats in the Trump era.
The longtime liberal strategist Ruy Teixeira warned of this very thing in his newsletter in May and said moderates are afraid to push back. “The administration is doing nothing to head off this impending culture war in the schools because to do so would bring the wrath of the stridently woke sector of the Democratic Party down upon Biden’s head,” he wrote....
Democrats won’t be able to contain the tornado of awfulness around Trump with the “stridently woke,” in Teixeira’s words. Common-sense politics may not be a rallying cry, but it wins elections."
The threat of the return of Trumpism, like a hanging, should concentrate the mind. A truly big tent party is more necessary now than ever. In fact, it's just common sense.
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