By Osita Nwanevu
Last week, moderate Democrats gathered for Opportunity 2020, an invite-only convention in Columbus, Ohio, hosted by the prominent centrist think tank Third Way. “Unlike a traditional conference, expect a stimulating mix of thought provoking presentations and interactive small-group sessions focused on the urgent need for the next generation of Democrats to offer a new social contract for the Digital Age,” the event’s webpage read.
NBC News’ account of the event suggests it wound up being little more than a group therapy session for Democrats fretting about the rise of an insurgent left energized by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign and recent high-profile victories for candidates like democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who scored an upset win over Queens Democratic Party boss and incumbent congressman Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary last month. “Third Way unveiled the results of focus groups and polling that it says shows Americans are more receptive to an economic message built on ‘opportunity’ rather than the left’s message about inequality,” reported NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald. This was heartening stuff for moderates like Delaware’s former Gov. Jack Markell. “The only narrative that has been articulated in the Democratic Party over the past two years is the one from the left,” he lamented. “I think we need a debate within the party.”
More than 73 percent of the 2016 electorate was economically liberal, including, of course, the economically liberal and socially conservative populists who swung for Trump.
That debate over the party’s direction is, of course, well underway, and the left has indeed dominated it. Six proposals to expand the government’s role in providing access to health care have been advanced by Democratic leaders and analysts in recent months. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for all bill, specifically, has been endorsed by 2020 candidates in waiting Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. In April, Chuck Schumer announced that he would be introducing a bill to decriminalize marijuana, a move that followed Booker’s introduction last July of the Marijuana Justice Act, which would decriminalize marijuana and provide reparative measures for convicts and communities deeply impacted by the war on drugs. Late last summer, the Democratic Party released its “A Better Deal” policy platform, which called for, among other proposals, a $15 minimum wage and a reinvigoration of antitrust policy to tackle corporate concentration. In her memoir What Happened, Hillary Clinton wrote that she had considered proposing during her campaign a universal basic income program—a welfare measure that would provide cash payments to every American.
But the most significant development in the Democratic policy conversation over the past year has been the rise of proposals for a federal job guarantee, which would have the government directly create employment for all who seek it—an idea with roots in New Deal programs like the Works Progress Administration and Democratic pushes for “full employment” in the 1960s and 1970s. Bernie Sanders is on board along with a few unlikely advocates. …