By Colby Etherton
Caption: Photo via KLRD.com
The second round of Democratic debates took place in Detroit, Michigan, on July 30 and 31 — split into two nights to feature all twenty candidates who qualified for the stage. There was one common theme that emerged from both nights: the ongoing battle between progressives and moderates within the Democratic Party.
The July 30 debate featured U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, largely having to defend their policy proposals (mainly, “Medicare for All”) against a slew of moderates who warned that if the party moved too far to the left, they’d be handing Donald Trump another four years in office. U.S. Representative John Delaney, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper were just a handful of moderates challenging Warren and Sanders’ push for bigger ideas and structural change within our government.
By contrast, the July 31 debate saw former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris front and center, taking hits from both sides of the stage for their records and past statements. U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard challenged Sen. Harris on her record as Attorney General of California opposing the legalization of marijuana and blocking further DNA testing for a man on death row believed to be innocent. Vice President Biden was accused of leaning on former U.S. President Barack Obama’s record when it benefitted him, and dodging accountability when it didn’t.
An ideological battle is starting to brew within the Democratic Party, with two very different viewpoints on how to defeat President Donald Trump at the ballot box in 2020. Those who are on the further left end of the spectrum seem to hold the belief that since our government has a myriad of issues and is fundamentally failing to deliver for the American populace, it needs complete restructuring. And those who fall into a more establishment or moderate side of the party appear to want to keep their focus on winning over independents and moderates.
Personally, I find that the Democratic Party as a whole has had an issue with marketing itself to the public for quite some time, whether it be ensuring all Americans are covered in our healthcare system, common-sense gun legislation that strengthens background checks and bans assault weapons, acting on climate change, or making college more affordable. These are all issues that a large percentage of the public supports, yet for some reason, so many people are apprehensive about voting for Democrats. It doesn’t help that media outlets like FOX News spread blatant misinformation. Nonetheless, it’s the job of Democrats to telegraph their platform in a way that appeals to the majority of people in this country.
Regardless of who ends up as the Democratic nominee (my money is on Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden), my hope is that the party will coalesce around that person. Yet at the same time, I doubt an election can be won with just the excitement and galvanizing of a single party as a whole. Democrats in the 2018 midterms largely made gains (in the House of Representatives) because districts that voted for Trump in 2016 ended up voting for a Democratic representative in 2018, and naturally, that meant that independents and more moderate Republicans dissatisfied with Trump switched over. While I don’t think a centrist platform is the right answer, I don’t think veering hard to the left is either. The Democratic platform needs to be progressive and forward thinking, but also sensible and able to appeal to independents.
Healthcare is the definitive issue that Democrats are wrestling with, and the 2018 midterms were largely won because Democratic candidates vowed to protect the Affordable Care Act and prevent people with preexisting conditions from being denied health insurance. Republicans came within spitting distance of repealing the ACA (Senator John McCain famously voted “no” on its repeal, upholding it 51-49), and the threat of millions of people losing their insurance was a prime motivator for voters. So, it’s puzzling to me that a number of Democrats are essentially chucking the ACA out the window and are stumping for a single-payer system where private insurance (outside of supplemental insurance for, say, cosmetic surgery), would be done away with. It’s never a good idea to tell voters that their health insurance will be replaced. “Medicare for All” as a policy proposal needs to be rethought or, at least, made a little more nuanced.