Monday, November 16, 2020

Progressive Perspectives on the 2020 U.S. Election Results

Above: U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota). Both women are outspoken progressives within the Democratic party and both experienced landslide victories in the 2020 U.S. general election. (Photo: Getty Images/Saul Loeb/AFP)

It’s well documented that in congressional districts across the United States, it was the progressive agenda – climate, healthcare, racial justice, and addressing income inequality and corporate power – that mobilized the Democratic party’s base and catalyzed Joe Biden’s victory. This agenda also ensured that numerous progressive Democratic candidates won their races, often by impressive margins. Yet moderates (or centrists) of the party have been quick to blame this same progressive agenda for their dismal showing in the election, as most of them lost their races or just scraped through. “Never Trumper” Republicans, such as John Kasich, who had attached themselves to the Biden-Harris ticket, have also been vocal in their criticism of progressives and the progressive agenda, claiming that “the far left . . . almost cost [Biden] this election.”

What are we to make of all of this? And how are progressives responding to the accusations being hurled against them?

To help answer these questions, I share today a compilation of perspectives on the 2020 election results from a number of leading progressive voices, including Ro Khanna, David Doel, Norman Solomon, Marianne Williamson, Naomi Klein, Branco Marcetic, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Peter Bloom, Ilhan Omar, and Paul Blest.


Let’s start with some facts. The Fox News exit polls showed that, overwhelmingly, Medicare for All, government-provided health insurance, was popular with the American people. Florida, the same state which we lost in the presidential, voted for a $15 minimum wage, so, obviously, increased working wages is popular with the America people. Overwhelmingly, people showed a transition to a green economy, clean tech jobs, is popular with the American people. Free public college is popular with the American people. So the policies that we are advocating are not just for deeply blue districts. They are policies that will help people in the Midwest, in the South, across this country. . . . They’re popular policies, and they’re the correct policies.

. . . I believe we have to take the fight to the Senate. We have to have bold policies that are popular, and make it very clear that Mitch McConnell either has to do what the American people want or he is the person standing in the way. And if we are accommodationists and incrementalists and aren’t taking a bold agenda in the fight to the Senate, then we’re going to let down a lot of people, and we’re not going to be on the side of progress. I also think it’s bad politics.

. . . I don’t believe Joe Biden would have been president if it weren’t for the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd. Look at the turnout in Philadelphia, in Atlanta, in Milwaukee. I mean, Donald Trump had high turnout; we had even higher turnout. That started because of the Black Lives Matter movement. That started because of these people organizing. So, to blame the Black Lives Matter movement or activists, when, in my view, those are the – that is the mobilization that put Biden into the White House, is just flat-out wrong. I mean, I don’t see what data they’re looking at.

A memo to the Democratic Party from four progressive organizations outlines how through a number of unforced errors in an attempt to appeal to conservatives and moderates rather than the more forward-looking Democratic base, the party allowed the loss of a number of congressional seats – and now risks further alienating the racial justice organizers and working-class voters who helped deliver President-elect Joe Biden's victory.

The memo (pdf) from Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement, New Deal Strategies, and Data for Progress comes a week after centrist Democrats including House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), and Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Penn.) explicitly blamed progressive policy proposals such as Medicare for All, far-reaching police reform, and a fracking ban for congressional losses.

The accusations set off a fierce debate between progressives including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and their centrist counterparts, with progressives attempting to redirect Democratic leaders’ attention away from broadly popular proposals and toward the party’s lack of organization and willingness to play into Republican attacks aimed at dividing and conquering.

“There is no denying Republicans levied salient rhetorical attacks against Democrats, but these will continue to happen as they do every cycle,” reads the memo unveiled on Tuesday. “We cannot let Republican narratives drive our party away from Democrats’ core base of support: young people, Black, Brown, working class,and social movements who are the present and future of the party.”

“Historic voter turnout by Black voters, Native voters, Latino voters, and young voters ensured victory for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris,” the groups added. “Scapegoating progressives and Black activists for their demands and messaging is not the lesson to be learned here. It was their organizing efforts, energy, and calls for change needed in their communities that drove up voter turnout.”

Centrists in recent days have zeroed in on the rallying cry to “defund the police,” which came out of the racial justice uprising that began in May, and the term “socialism” as reasons behind their own losses and near-losses.

“Not a single Democrat – progressive or otherwise – argued that Democrats should run primarily on these themes,” the memo reads. “Moreover, these attacks will never go away, nor will demands for reform from social movements. The attacks are designed to stoke racial resentment, which is core to the GOP’s election strategy. Our party should not feed into it.”

The current anxiety about the phrase “defund the police” follows earlier Republican attacks in recent years regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and protests by Colin Kaepernick and other Black athletes, which Democrats distanced themselves from. Allowing the GOP to construct a narrative around “defund the police” – instead of reframing the debate around the specifics of the idea as outlined in the BREATHE Act, such as abolishing the Pentagon program which allows local law enforcement agencies to obtain military equipment – will only “demobilize our own base,” the memo suggests.

. . . The memo emphasizes the material damage that can be done in future elections if centrist Democrats don’t put to rest the notion that progressives and their demands are to blame for centrists’ own losses — even as progressives themselves were successful after embracing policies like Medicare for All.

The evident defeat of Donald Trump would not have been possible without the grassroots activism and hard work of countless progressives. Now, on vital issues – climate, healthcare, income inequality, militarism, the prison-industrial complex, corporate power and so much more – it’s time to engage with the battle that must happen inside the Democratic Party.

The realpolitik rationales for the left to make nice with the incoming Democratic president are bogus. All too many progressives gave the benefit of doubts to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, making it easier for them to service corporate America while leaving working-class Americans in the lurch. Two years later, in 1994 and 2010, Republicans came roaring back and took control of Congress.

From the outset, progressive organizations and individuals (whether they consider themselves to be “activists” or not) should confront Biden and other elected Democrats about profound matters. Officeholders are supposed to work for the public interest. And if they’re serving Wall Street instead of Main Street, we should show that we’re ready, willing and able to “primary” them.

Progressives would be wise to quickly follow up on Biden’s victory with a combative approach toward corporate Democrats. Powerful party leaders have already signaled their intentions to aggressively marginalize progressives.

. . . Biden almost lost this election. And while the Biden campaign poured in vast financial resources and vague flowery messaging that pandered to white suburban voters, relatively little was focused on those who most made it possible to overcome Trump’s election-night lead—people of color and the young. Constrained by his decades-long political mentality and record, Biden did not energize working-class voters as he lip-sunk populist tunes in unconvincing performances.

That's the kind of neoliberal approach that Bernie Sanders and so many of his supporters were warning about in 2016 and again this year. Both times there was a huge failure of the Democratic nominee to make a convincing case as an advocate for working people against the forces of wealthy avarice and corporate greed.

In fact, Clinton and Biden reeked of coziness with economic elites throughout their political careers. To many people, Clinton came off as a fake when she tried to sound populist, claiming to represent the little people against corporate giants. And to those who actually knew much about Biden's political record, his similar claims also were apt to seem phony.

It's clear from polling that Biden gained a large proportion of his votes due to animosity toward his opponent rather than enthusiasm for Biden. He hasn't inspired the Democratic base, and his appeal had much more to do with opposing the evils of Trumpism than embracing his own political approach.

More than ever, merely being anti-Trump or anti-Republican isn't going to move Democrats and the country in the vital directions we need. Without a strong progressive program as a rudder, the Biden presidency will be awash in much the same old rhetorical froth and status-quo positions that have so often caused Democratic incumbents to founder, bringing on GOP electoral triumphs.

Norman Solomon
Excerpted from “Progressives Made Trump's Defeat Possible.
Now It's Time to Challenge Biden and Other Corporate Democrats

Common Dreams
November 6, 2020

There needs to be a strong opposition to corporatist moderates within the Democratic party, smug blowhards which they too often are, who'd now brush over the fact that in the final analysis the party has failed miserably. The election of 2020 has been a repudiation of both parties. The election of Biden has been more than anything else the rejection of a madman, and the abysmal showing of Democrats in the House and Senate races should bring with it the sober sounding of an alarm, not the self-satisfied clinking of champagne flutes.

Yes, we dodged a disaster. But more potential disasters are coming around the corner. Many mini-Trumps are lining up even now for 2022 and 2024. This is not a time to relax or go back to the conditions that paved the way for them to begin with. We need to give people more than a reality devoid of Trump. We need to give them a genuine alternative not only to his mendacity, but to the chronic despair that, under Democrats, as well as Republicans, became a feature of their daily lives. Thankfully, we won a battle for the soul of our nation. But there are more ahead. Now a battle will rage for the soul of the Democratic Party. And well it should. It's been needing to happen for a very long time.

Marianne Williamson
Excerpted from “A Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party
November 8, 2020

Defeating Trump is a really important popular victory. A great many people did not vote for Joe Biden, they voted against Trump, because they recognize the tremendous threat that he represents. And the fact that the movements that are behind so much of that political victory are not able to even just take a moment and feel that victory, because they are already under attack by the Democratic establishment, as it seeks once again to abdicate all responsibility for ending us in the mess that we are in, is really its own kind of crime. People should not have to be fighting off these attacks. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should not have to be on Twitter all day, making the point that it is not the fault of Democratic Socialists that the Democratic party has underperformed in the way that it has.

Biden was a risky candidate for the same reasons Hillary Clinton was a risky candidate. He was risky because of his swampy record, because he had so little to offer so many people in such deep crisis. It seems he has secured an electoral victory by the skin of his teeth but it was a high risk gamble from the start. And not only is the Left not to blame. We are largely responsible for the success that has taken place.

. . . This [election] should have been a sweep. It should have been the sweep that we were promised. And the fact is, the Democratic leadership bungled it up on every single front. It wasn’t just a mistake. They did not want to offer people what they needed. They are much more interested in appeasing the donor class than they are in meeting the needs of their constituents, who need them now more than ever.

Naomi Klein
Excerpted from “We Were Told Joe Biden Was the 'Safe Choice.'
But It was Risky to Offer So Little

The Guardian
November 8, 2020

There is some indication that the corporate centrists at the top of the Democratic Party realize the urgency of the moment, at least in word, if not deed. Biden has made vague gestures at an FDR-style presidency, and even Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the quintessential Wall Street Democrat, is talking about the need for an ambitious agenda surpassing past Democratic efforts.

It is now incontrovertible that, despite an alliance with plutocratic bigots like John Kasich during the campaign, Biden received a smaller share of the Republican vote this year than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. And, due to the Democrats’ failure to make a robust economic pitch countering Trump’s, Biden lost a chunk of voters from key groups of the former Obama coalition to the GOP, including some African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, LGBTQ voters and even Muslims, as well as lower- and middle-income households. But what put Biden over the top was the tireless work of grassroots progressive groups in key states and cities, and massive turnout by young people, particularly young people of color.

In other words, political success for the Democratic Party lies not in continuing to appeal to the Republican voters they’ve imagined in their heads, but by constructing a popular, bread-and-butter agenda that works for a broad swath of Americans, and by exciting their base. Stopping a far-right comeback in the years ahead means getting Democratic voters to turn out in similar numbers in the 2022 midterms, without the threat of Trump to motivate them.

In 2010, after failing to sufficiently respond to the pain felt around the country, Democrats spent the run-up to the midterms hectoring voters for not being more enthusiastic. “You can’t shape your future if you don’t participate,” Obama told voters, while Biden hit the trail and lectured their “base constituency to stop whining and get out there and look at the alternatives.” They were rewarded with a drubbing at the ballot box.

This approach didn’t cut it then, and it certainly won’t cut it this time. The party barely scraped through this year’s election under historically favorable conditions. To avoid this fate, Democrats will have to give voters something to actually turn out for. Even with an obstructionist Congress, there is more than enough President-elect Biden can do if he has the courage and the political will. The moment is his, to seize or squander.

Branko Marcetic
Excerpted from “Instead of Repeating the Obama Administration,
Biden Must Do Better. Here’s How

In These Times
November 13, 2020

The established and conventional line about Centrism and Centrist is that they are committed to incremental change. A movement that gained prominence in the 1990s as a vehicle to win elections against an established Conservative majority, has evolved into an entire worldview of its own. Like all ideologies, what this belief system is varies depending on the context and what is required of it in a given historical moment. However, it rests on two abiding bedrock principles above all others – that “moderate” market-based policies actually work and that any attempt to stray from them to the Left will invariably lose.

Ironically, this Centrist ideology has its roots in fighting off a Conservative Reaction to Liberal principles gaining traction from the 1950s onward. The rise of Reagan was a direct response to progressive social movements and cultural changes combined with increased pessimism regarding the ability of once accepted Liberal orthodoxy to provide for basic economic wellbeing. A decade later, Clinton won and continued to win politically by presenting a softer and kinder version of this neoliberal pro-market orthodoxy against seemingly “out of touch” Republic zealots.

The crimes and misdemeanors of this morally compromised “winning” strategy were multiple. It was an embrace and a willingness to take even further mass incarceration of minorities, the War on Drugs, US militarism with bloated defense budgets, and a refusal to even consider the merits of any ideas that had the stench of being “too left-wing”. When Clinton declared that “The era of big government is over”, he was proclaiming the defeat of progressive change for a generation, if not permanently.

This position of triumphant surrender has crystallized into a dangerous force of reaction. Two decades ago, there may have been credible arguments that such Centrism was the only bulwark the nation had against a full-scale hyper-capitalist and retrogressive Republican majority. Fast forward to the present, and the exact opposite is true. They are now the very thing helping to keep the Far Right, ironically, alive and well.

. . . The facts clearly and totally contradict claims the Left was to blame for Democratic defeats [in the 2020 general election]. Progressive policies such as “Medicaid for All” and raising the minimum wage are popular among both self-proclaimed Democrats and Republicans. They also consistently win when put on the ballot as referendums. In this election, progressives were the only candidates from the Centre to the Left who consistently won and the DSA claimed victory for 26 out of the 30 races they ran in. Further, it was high profile Centrists such as Amy McGrath in Kentucky and Jamie Harrison in South Carolina who went down to defeat despite massive war chests and DNC support. Meanwhile, progressives held strong across the board, even in swing districts in places like Oregon and California.

Perhaps ironically, it is Georgia that will ultimately deliver Biden the Presidency given that it serves as a playbook for how to actually bring down Trumpism. Rather than seek out the false mirage of “moderate Republican” voters or the fickle allegiance of middle to upper class “suburban” voters, activists on the ground inspired by Stacey Abrams sought to mobilize the real “silent majority” – a diverse cross-section of working-class and poor traditionally non-voters. They also put on the ballot a progressive candidate for Senate, Reverend Raphael Warnock, who offered the opportunity to bring real change if elected. And in one of the few real Left-wing upsets of the night, Georgia looks close to going Blue for the first time in a generation and even possibly bring two new Democratic Senators to Washington.

Over the past decade, as inequality has grown and the system has been revealed as corrupt and rigged for the rich, Centrists have told anyone who would listen that basic reforms such as single-payer healthcare or a reduced Defence budget or defunding the police were politically impossible and mere fantasies policy-wise. Even more worrying, by attacking movements like “defund the police,” they are giving in to the racist politics of Trump and seeking to gain political advantage by blaming non-whites for fighting for their lives and rights.

Centrists have positioned themselves as a “sensible” political oasis that can stave off the forces of Right and Left-wing extremism. In reality, their fear of progress is grounded in their concern that they will lose massive amounts of corporate funding. In the best of times, this would be a callous unwillingness to do any more than lip service to fighting economic, social, and political injustice. In our current era of Far-Right populism, it is a dangerous force aiding and abetting, however inadvertently, the rise of 21st-century fascism in the US and around the world.

Peter Bloom
Excerpted from “Resisting the 'Moderate' Reaction
Common Dreams
November 6, 2020

There is an autopsy that clearly has to get done. You know, you’ll hear from people who will say, “Oh, it was the talk of socialism, and it was this, and it was that.” But many of the places that we lost seats in or Biden didn’t do so well in were places where Obama won, and they threw so much at him. I mean, he was [said to be] a secret Muslim, who was a socialist, who was going to destroy this country. But [in] places like Florida, [he] did really well. And that was because he believed, as an organizer, in investing in a ground game, having conversations, not shying away from the power of relation[ship]-building.

And we’ve seen that with candidates like Katie Porter, who [are in] swing districts. Katie’s race was the last to be called in 2018, and she’s done really well this time, because she understands her district, she puts in work, she has real conversations with real people about what’s really important to them. And so, I don’t know, I think people will make excuses about why we lost. But I think it always comes down to building trust, building relationships, and having conversations about what really matters to people and not buying into the narratives about what people care about, but actually asking them.

Rep. Ilhan Omar
Quoted in “What Happened?
The Intercept
November 6, 2020

One thing centrist Democrats might consider is that in a lot of places, their brand is absolute garbage even if their policies are well-liked. How else do you explain a 23-point victory for a $15 minimum wage in Florida and a three-and-a-half point loss for Biden, who supported it? How do you square a 67% defeat of right-to-work in Missouri in 2018 along with a six-point loss for Claire McCaskill? What is the lesson from voters casting ballots for recreational weed in Montana and South Dakota, and medical weed in Mississippi, despite those states all going for Trump by double-digits? It’s not the fault of trans people, socialists, or Black Lives Matter.

The Democrats are struggling in these places for the same reason they’re beginning to get successfully primaried from the left, at the local, state, and federal level, in the urban centers they’ve ruled forever. They have not learned the lesson of why Bernie Sanders was such a force in the last two primaries even if he ultimately came up short, or the lesson of why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez resonates with so many people. They have not even learned the lesson of why conservative Democrats who run as far away from the national party as possible are often successful. People do not like them, and more often than not elections between Democrats and Republicans are decided based not on who has the better vision for America, but on who has a worse reputation in that particular place at that particular moment.

Paul Blest
Excerpted from “The Democrats Are Already Back on Their Bullshit
Discourse Blog
November 6, 2020

Related Off-site Links
Democrats Are Already at Odds Over How to Win in 2022 – Ella Nilsen (Vox, November 13, 2020).
Progressive Coalition Demands “No Corporate Nominees” for Biden Cabinet – Andrea Germanos (Common Dreams, November 13, 2020).
Young Voters Helped Propel Biden to Victory. Now They’re Pushing for a More Progressive Democratic Party – Hannah Miao (CNBC News, November 13, 2020).
Don't Blame the Left for Underperformance Down-Ballot – Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan (USA Today, November 12, 2020).
The Good, Bad, and Extremely Ugly of the 2020 Election – Branko Marceti (Jacobin, November 11, 2020).
Corporate Democrats Are Attacking So-Called Far-Left Policies – Sen. Bernie Sanders (USA Today, November 11, 2020).
How the Left Beat Trump in Michigan – Ben Burgis (Jacobin, November 11, 2020).
Grassroots Organizing Defeated Trump. Now We Must Out-Organize Trumpism – Caitlin Breedlove (TruthOut, November 10, 2020).
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Beating Trump Is Not Enough – Jaisal Noor (The Real News, November 10, 2020).
Democrats Need to Clearly Embrace Popular, Progressive Policies or They Will Continue to Fail in Down Ballot Elections – Eoin Higgins (Business Insider, November 9, 2020).
John Kasich Contributed Nothing to Biden’s Election, So Why Should Democrats Listen to His Claptrap? – John Nichols (The Nation, November 9, 2020).
Rep. Rashida Tlaib Lashes Out at Centrist Dems Over Election Debacle: “I Can’t Be Silent” – Laura Barrón-López and Holly Otterbein (Politico, November 9, 2020).
Divided Democratic Party Under Biden Requires Compromise, Says Progressive Rep. KhannaMPR News (November 9, 2020).
99% of Green New Deal Co-Sponsors Won Their Races This Cycle – Kenny Stancil (Common Dreams, November 9, 2020).
Bree Newsome and Eddie Glaude on How Black Lives Matter Movement Helped the Democrats Defeat TrumpDemocracy Now! (November 9, 2020).
Apart From Defeating Trump, Why Did The Democrats Have Such a Bad Election Day? – Ralph Nader (CounterPunch, November 9, 2020).
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Biden’s Win, House Losses, and What’s Next for the Left – Astead W. Herndon (The New York Times, November 7, 2020).
This Election Proved That Medicare for All Is a Winning Demand – Jon Queally (Common Dreams via TruthOut, November 7, 2020).
As Centrist House Democrats Attack Medicare for All, Fox News Poll Shows 72% of Voters Want “Government-Run Healthcare Plan” – Kenny Stancil (Common Dreams, November 6, 2020).
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib Credited as “Major Factors” in Securing Biden Victories in Minnesota and Michigan – Kenny Stancil (Common Dreams, November 5, 2020).

UPDATES: AOC Is Standing Up for the Left – Lichi D’Amelio (Jacobin, November 16, 2020).
“Today Feels Like a Betrayal”: Sunrise Movement Blasts Biden Pick of Big Oil-Backed Cedric Richmond for Key Post – Jessica Corbett (Common Dreams, November 17, 2020).
Joe Biden Owes His Victory to the Left, No Matter What the Democratic Party Says – Rebecca Chowdhury (In These Times, November 18, 2020).
Corporate Democrats Are to Blame for Congressional Losses, So Naturally They’re Blaming Progressives – Norman Solomon (CounterPunch, November 18, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“As Much the Sounding of An Alarm As a Time for Self-Congratulations”
Election Eve Thoughts
Election Day USA, 2020
Who Half of Us Are
Bye Bye
We Cannot Allow a Biden Win to Mean a Return to “Brunch Liberalism”
Eight Leading Progressive Voices on Why They're Voting for Biden
Chadwick Boseman’s Timeless Message to Young Voters: “You Can Turn Our Nation Around”
Heather Cox Richardson on the Unravelling of President Trump
Progressive Perspectives on Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee, Amy Coney Barrett
The Sad Fate for Amy Coney Barrett
Deep Gratitude
My Summer of Supporting Progressive Down-Ballot Candidates
Progressive Perspectives on the Biden-Harris Ticket

Opening image: U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota). Both women are outspoken progressives within the Democratic party and both experienced landslide victories in the 2020 U.S. general election. (Photo: Getty Images/Saul Loeb/AFP)

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