Booing pragmatism is a huge sign that Democrats don’t really want to win
With Mayor Bill de Blasio spending his time tilting at windmills in 2020 presidential primary states, it’s only natural that the local political class would have already started thinking about the race to succeed him in 2021. But one obvious candidate — former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn — is starting out with a terrible handicap. As The Post reported over the weekend, some Democrats think she’s a conservative.
In what bizzaro universe would a hard-core liberal like Quinn be considered a right-winger? Only in New York, you say?
No one should underestimate the willingness of Big Apple leftists to impose exacting ideological litmus tests on mayoral candidates. Still, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge them as being completely out of step with the national party. After all, a credible presidential contender at a California candidates’ forum was booed for urging Democrats to realize that “socialism is not the answer” if their goal is to defeat President Trump next year.
That’s what happened to former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper at the California Democratic Party State Organizing Convention in San Francisco Saturday. A crowd of 4,500 at the event rained down jeers on him for having the chutzpah to imply that Democratic Socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are out of touch with most ordinary Americans.
Perhaps Quinn — whom de Blasio demolished in the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary despite her having started out as the favorite in that race — has been around too long and made too many enemies to have a shot at the job she has long desired. And maybe Hickenlooper is too much of an unknown to have a chance at the presidential nomination.
But the knocks against the two — both of whom have every right to call themselves “progressives” — isn’t so much related to any specific act of heresy against the liberal catechism. The hard-left base in New York takes Quinn to task because she’s a politician who likes to get things done. National Democrats likewise booed Hickenlooper for extolling the virtues of “pragmatism.”
Both parties have become sharply ideological, with liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats both becoming extinct species. But control of the House of Representatives has shifted back and forth in the last decade largely due to the ability of moderates in both parties to win the few seats that are in competitive districts.
Even more to the point, the Democrats lost key Rust Belt states in 2016 because they stopped trying to appeal to working-class voters who are socially conservative but not necessarily right-wing on economic issues.
But anger about Trump has served to energize the Democrats’ liberal base in a way that essentially delegitimizes anyone willing to work with Republicans or embrace a problem-solving attitude to politics rather than leftist purity. Indeed, though he often positioned himself as a moderate in the Senate, even former Vice President Joe Biden, who currently holds a big lead in the 2020 Democratic polls, has been careful to avoid opposing leftist nostrums about expanding entitlements and raising taxes.
Quinn was originally tagged as a “conservative” by some left-wingers in 2013, because despite her liberal ideology, she worked with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and was reluctant to embrace job-killing measures that would hurt small businesses and their employees. But in today’s Democratic Party, socialism has become the flavor of the month despite the fact that the prime victims of its misguided policies would be middle- and working-class Americans.
And war on anyone who dissents from collectivist myths is obligatory.
New York and San Francisco may be extreme examples, but the broad popularity of left-wing candidates in the presidential race demonstrates the way the “resistance” to Trump has dominated the party — to the extent that Biden will have to hope that he has the moderate lane to himself if he is to ultimately prevail.
It may be that the collapse of the Republican Party in New York means that — as was the case with de Blasio’s two mayoral victories — it won’t matter how far to the left the Democrats drift. But if they don’t want to lose again to Trump in 2020, they should be listening to Hickenlooper rather than booing him.
Jonathan Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS.org and a contributor to National Review.
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