During a town hall meeting two days ago, California Senator Kamala Harris announced that she would co-sponsor the “Medicare for All” bill introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders. In her announcement, Harris declared that lending her support to Sanders’ bill is “just the right thing to do.”
The announcement came as something of a surprise; until this announcement, she had not taken a public position on the proposed legislation. With our without Harris’ support, the bill is unlikely to become law; 64% of conservative Americans believe that government should not be responsible for ensuring health coverage for all, and a Republican-led Congress would never vote for it.
Even though single-payer isn’t a viable option right now, Senator Harris’ endorsement signals an important development: the leftist wing of the Democratic party is no longer being ignored.
Last year’s Democratic primary was the official coming-out party for the socialist and progressive movements, and as the general election demonstrated, politicians ignore this voting bloc at their own peril.
Hillary Clinton’s failure to champion leftist ideas doomed her chances, and since her loss, there has been no end to the infighting on the left. Traditional liberals believe that leftists doomed the country to a minimum of four years under the least-qualified President we’ve ever seen, purely out of ideological zealotry.
Meanwhile, leftists view Clinton as the personification of the Democratic Party’s historical pattern of propping up the candidate who is least likely to push for meaningful change and, therefore, least likely to bother anyone. Furthermore, a candidate like Hillary Clinton could never convincingly promote the kind of socialist ideals that made Bernie Sanders so popular—socialism is, by definition, an egalitarian political ethos, one that places the collective good above the individual need. With her close ties to big-money donors and a decades-long career working within a flawed political and social system, Clinton is part of the problem that people like Sanders want to solve.
A convincing argument could be made for both sides. Liberals are correct that incremental change is easier to implement than sweeping reform; leftists are correct that liberals are more concerned with not upsetting the apple cart than they are with actually improving the lives of others. Conservative Review offers a succinct definition: “Liberals we contend with, but leftists we must defeat.” If a more damning indictment of liberal ideas (that even staunch conservatives are okay with them) exists, I’ve yet to find it.
Following Trump’s election, faced with an opportunity to finally become the party that looks out for those who need it most, Democrats have avoided taking any kind of stance aside from “Hey, at least we’re not the other guys.” (I’m not kidding. That was actually a slogan of theirs.) This mulish insistence on staying the course—despite overwhelming evidence that the party needs to evolve in order to survive—is what has rightfully frustrated many on the left. And as demonstrated by their record in special elections since Trump’s inauguration, that strategy isn’t working. The politics of “good enough” are over; they are neither good nor enough.
Though Senator Harris has neither confirmed nor denied rumors that she will run for President in 2020, her endorsement of a healthcare plan that’s overwhelmingly popular among leftists indicates that, for the moment, she hasn’t ruled it out. This is a positive development.
Say what you will about Republicans (and Lord knows I have), but they know how to win elections. And it’s not because their ideology is preferable to that of Democrats; we need only look at the legitimately appalling legislation a GOP-led Congress has attempted to pass in recent months for evidence. It’s because they’re masters at getting everyone on their side in lockstep.
It’s rare to see the kind of in-fighting on the right that we see on the left—Democrats are typically split on how best to take care of this country’s citizens. The conservative ideology, on the other hand, is decidedly less nuanced: either you’re a conservative or you’re not, and by God, you’d better vote for the conservative unless you want a 95% tax rate and ISIS coming to town, kicking over your Christmas decorations and using the Bible to prop up wobbly tables.
On a long-enough timeline, the Republican Party will likely collapse in on itself. It’s difficult enough to sustain a party when its primary stance is “Whatever they want to do, we’ll do the opposite”; it’s nigh-impossible when the secondary stance is “Never compromise on anything.”
The problem is, there’s no telling how long it will take for the GOP to completely swallow its own head. As long as there exist outlets like Fox News and Breitbart to serve as de facto PR firms for the GOP, public opinion is unlikely to change dramatically.
The Democratic Party simply cannot afford to wait around for a backlash that may not come for another 50 years; it has to adjust its direction. Senator Harris’ announcement is a sign that Democrats are finally listening to the people whose support they need most to regain power in Washington.