What Progressives Get Wrong About the Center-Left

I consider myself a progressive, but you probably don’t think I am. I’m the guy who would love to see a Sanders presidency, but voted for Hillary in the primary. I’m glad she won.

You will never elect a social democrat without the support of people like me. And because I would have loved to see a Sanders presidency, I’m going to tell you how the center-left thinks. In fact, read on and I’ll explain exactly what you need to do to get moderates like me to vote for your next candidate.

I’m a party man. I believe in the party more than the policy or the candidate. The Democratic Party has been the single most important force for progressive change in America for the last 50 years. I’ve voted the full Democratic ticket at every election since 2000. In my personal views, I stand somewhere between Hillary and Bernie. I like that she will work with Republicans. And I love that she put in place the international sanctions that paved the way for the Iranian nuclear deal. I think Bernie is right on healthcare, but I don’t think college should be free. Given disastrous decisions such as Citizens United and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the most important thing for me is a liberal majority on the Supreme Court.

I voted for Hillary because general elections are won in the political center. That’s where the votes are. But the center moves over time, and it’s hard to know where that is. For me, I determine my understanding of the political center by looking at election results. I’ll vote for the candidate furthest to the left who will still win 50% of the vote.

In 2012, Obama won with 51% of the vote against a highly flawed opponent. Anyone to his left would have been annihilated. I know it’s popular to think now that elections are won by appealing to the base (and mid-terms probably are). But imagine if Obama had proposed single-payer healthcare in 2012. For every Green Party vote he might have picked up, he would probably have lost three in the center. If you agree that Obama couldn’t win on a platform with single-payer healthcare, what makes you think Bernie (a candidate further to his left) could?

The only way that people like me will know that it’s safe to pick someone to Obama’s left is when the Democratic majority is far larger. Imagine if Obama had won 60% of the vote in 2012. Then it would make sense to opt for a candidate that ran to the left of Obama. However, Obama only won 51%. That’s why I feel that a centrist like Clinton is the better pick.

If you’re a progressive, you might want to convince me that I’ve made the wrong choice. I get it. You’re to the left of the candidate every time, and you’re tired of being ignored. So you plan to either vote for the Green Party or send a write-in ballot. Perhaps you even plan to vote for Trump (to show people like me what happens when I vote for a centrist). This is what Sanders’ supporters get wrong. That doesn’t convince me that we need a radical-left candidate. It actually makes me look further to the center.

I know that surprises you, but that’s how we think. The center-left doesn’t make as much noise as activists, but our beliefs are just as strongly held. You can’t push us to the left by sitting out, you can’t push us to the left by booing at the convention; you can only push us to the left by showing up to vote and moving the party with you. If the Democrats scrape a win, then the political center is unchanged. However, if the Democrats start winning in crushing landslides, that’s when I’ll vote for someone further to the left.

Trump is your chance to move that line. He is the worst candidate the country has ever seen. Moderates are looking in droves for a reason not to vote for him. But you’re booing at the convention, and you’re talking about email servers and cattle futures. You’re not doing anything to help even though the alternative is a fascist who foments racial hatred. I hear you say that Clinton and Trump are more or less the same. How do you think that sounds to somebody who supports the Democratic Party? I may just nod my head when I hear you do it, but I’m secretly thinking that you don’t understand the party and you don’t care about its achievements.

To convince me to vote for your guy (or gal) next time you should be pushing for a landslide win. And here’s the tricky bit. You have to do it twice in a row. It’s not enough to just win once in an anti-Trump vote. You need two big wins in a row to make clear that Hillary is more of a centrist than she needs to be. That’s what will show me the ground has shifted and it’s safe to elect someone like Sanders. Here’s how you do that:

- Vote for Hillary. Even if you’re in a state where it doesn’t matter and you know you can get away with voting for a third party, still vote for Hillary. Show us that we have the numbers to elect someone further to the left.

- Stop writing horrible things about Hillary. Stop saying that you don’t like her. Stop saying that you have to hold your nose to vote for her. She’s not perfect, but neither am I, and neither are you. When you see other people saying nasty things, explain why they’re wrong.

- Find a reason why you’re excited about this campaign. Maybe you think that the first female president is a big deal because it will pave the way for others. Maybe you admire the platform (much of which was written by Sanders’ appointees). Maybe you want Supreme Court justices who will bring in a generation of liberal change. Or maybe appreciate that the party itself has been the only party to drive progressive change in the USA for the last fifty years.

- Volunteer for the Campaign or donate to the Democrats. If that feels like a step too far, donate to the American Civil Liberties Union to help them fight voter disenfranchisement. I know you believe in voting rights. Now is the time to support charities that protect those rights.

- Then do it all again in 2020. If Hillary wins, don’t even think about running a candidate against her in the next primary.

I can’t make you change your mind about a candidate, and I’m not going to try. However, I can help you to understand the center-left and explain what will change our minds. If you start working on landslide wins, if you show us that there are enough votes for the party on the left, then you’ll have my support for your next candidate.