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Clive McFarlane

The Democratic Party shuns its base

I am cheering the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris presidential ticket, but I’m thinking, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

I’m thinking that Black Lives Matter activists and their social justice comrades are marching in the streets against structural racism, but the Democratic Party is putting up two moderates for president and vice president in November.

Once again, it seems, the question of what’s best for the country— the patient and sometimes backsliding pace of moderate democrats, or the impatient radicalism of the party’s progressive base—has been answered resoundingly.

It’s the moderates’ approach that’s best, that is, according to party leaders.

We saw this moderate bent during the primaries, when the Democratic establishment members banded to help Biden vanquished Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the two candidates most committed to the structural changes BLK activists and their supporters sought.

And we are seeing it now with the nomination Ms. Harris, a former California prosecutor who served as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general.

Progressives will dutifully and energetically support the Biden/Harris ticket. They must. It would be suicidal for the party and the country for them not to do so.

Nevertheless, Ms. Harris’ prosecutorial background will worry some, and rightly so. Whether due to ideology, self-interest, or the design of the justice system, prosecutors have often excused police misconduct or turned a blind eye to it.

Ms. Harris is not unblemished in this regard, even though she will argue she worked within the justice system to change it.

Ms. Harris, a U.S. Senator, is imminently qualified to be president or vice president and will do great in either role. But what the country needs now is transformative leadership.

Whether she and Biden will provide that kind of leadership is a harder prediction to make.

There is a feeling I have struggled to repress since Trump took over the country and began driving it to the ground, the feeling that Democrats should shoulder some of the blame for the president’s carnage.

Had the party been a bit more uncompromising in the face of Republicans’ persistent racism and assault on civil liberties, perhaps the country would have been more resistant to Trump’s destructive behavior.

But the prevailing wisdom among moderate democrats is that the suburbs of battleground states have veto powers over who democrats can elect to national offices and what policies they can safely embrace.

Moderate democrats also tend to believe that remedies to battle racism and injustices are nonstarters unless they are palatable to these battleground suburbanites and the constituents of Red state democrats.

Many moderate Democrats join Republicans in thinking that the police can do no wrong.

Those constraints are necessarily observed during the moderate’s time in office to keep his or her reelection bid viable. 

As such, we shouldn’t expect significant structural changes in the country’s social and economic underpinnings from a Biden/Harris administration.

Still, progressives should take heart.

The Biden/Harris ticket might not be ideal, but a major party nominating the first woman of color for national office is progress. And it is progress made possible by progressive activists.

Ms. Harris’ nomination wouldn’t have happened without the national Black Lives Matter protests, which informed Biden’s decision.

Still, it is a bit disappointing that in the midst of one of the country’s most riveting and tantalizingly hopeful social justice movements, party leaders on both sides of the aisle are still selling us the status quo.

On the right, the Republican Party employs whatever tactic it deems necessary to win, even if it means destroying our democracy.

On the left, the Democratic Party promotes progressivism but courts conservatism in its leaders, even at the cost of selling short its ideals.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.


  1. As a left leaning moderate (is that even a thing?) I am thrilled with the choice of Kamala Harris. Neither she nor Biden were my preferred candidates but they are significantly better than the turnip I promised I would vote for rather than the current Occupant. Over the years I have seen what has happened to the idealistic Stevensons and McGoverns at the top of the ticket. For the first time in many years I am seeing a down ballot revolution that will I pray will create the real change so many hope to see.

    1. Now that we are after the Democratic Convention, I’m wondering if CF feels he overestimated the party’s lean to moderation?

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