Op-Ed: Directionless Democratic Party Must Embrace Progressivism

By Michael Sutter

In February, progressive Democrats saw DNC chair candidate Keith Ellison as just what the doctor ordered. Ellison, a representative from Minnesota, was endorsed by popular progressives Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and had a surprising amount of momentum heading into the election. In spite of Ellison’s long list of endorsements and a major social media campaign, he was defeated by former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, 235-200.

Perez, sensing that progressives may feel alienated by the Democratic Party as they were after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defeated Sanders in last year’s Democratic primary, immediately appointed Ellison as Deputy Chair of the DNC. While Perez is more liberal than moderate, it was another disheartening event for an ever-growing grassroots movement.

Even with Perez, Ellison, Sanders and Warren at the forefront of the Democratic Party, the party continues on a maddeningly moderate track befitting of “third way” Democrats such as former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Vice President Al Gore. The DNC needs to realize quickly that they cannot keep undermining grassroots progressives.

Former President Barack Obama ran a very progressive campaign in 2008, and while he was not nearly as progressive in office as he was on the campaign trail, his message excited people and the voter turnout numbers prove it: Obama earned about 69.5 million popular votes and beat his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), by nearly 10 million votes.

In 2012, after an underwhelming first term, Obama defeated former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney by a smaller margin of 5 million votes, but those votes were cast where they mattered in states such as Florida, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, where Obama decisively won over millennial voters.

Motivating young people to vote has always been a challenge, but the numbers make the problem obvious. The Democratic Party lost votes on Election Day because they failed to convince voters to come out to the polls. Most of the ground they lost was to third party candidates and to people who simply decided to stay home.

This is an open letter to the DNC: the ball is in your court. Trump and the GOP are becoming less popular every day. There is no excuse for 2018 not to be huge for the Democratic Party, and you cannot afford to waste the opportunity by sticking to the same old tired schtick. Truthful, sincere, benevolent populism is what will work.


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