Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke for many Democrats across the country when she said in Tuesday’s South Carolina Democratic presidential primary debate, “Bernie [Sanders] is winning right now because the Democratic Party is a progressive party, and progressive ideas are popular ideas.”
But are they?
If you define “progressive” in the mayonnaise way that former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg did, as “an American majority that wants to see real change, wants to see wages go up, and go up faster than the cost of health and saving for retirement,” then, sure, we are all progressives now.
But, come on, who doesn’t want that? Donald Trump wants Americans’ wages to rise higher and faster than expenses and is pursuing policies he thinks will make that happen. Any Republican in Congress or a governor’s mansion or a mayor’s office wants that. It’s what we used to call a no-brainer.
But if you start to look at some of the things that the Democrats are actually proposing, in terms of new programs, lavish spending, and greater taxation to pretend to pay for it, while we continue piling on ruinous debt, most Americans remain deeply ambivalent or outright hostile to a liberal-progressive agenda.
This is reflected in the avowed ideological makeup of the country. According to Gallup polling, 37 percent of Americans currently call themselves conservative, 35 percent moderate, and only 24 percent liberal or progressive.
Does that mean the Democratic presidential candidates are squabbling over less than 25 percent of potential voters? Fellow presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg asked, “Can anybody in this room imagine moderate Republicans going over and voting for [Bernie Sanders]?” In case you haven’t heard yet, the septuagenarian senator from Vermont calls himself a socialist, and proudly.
Subtract the word “Republicans,” and the party-flipping former New York City mayor was on to something. According to trend lines that stretch back to the early ’90s, one big change is that slightly more Americans will now call themselves conservatives than moderates. Yet self-described moderates (which individual Americans often define very differently than how it’s defined in D.C.) hold the balance of power.
What Warren, Sanders, and company are betting on, with some early state polling to encourage them, is that there is a silent majority of progressive voters just waiting to break their way in. What Bloomberg and Buttigieg believe is that maybe there isn’t. (And former Vice President Joe Biden — well, he thinks that Sanders is Yosemite Sam, or something.)
It was telling that after Buttigieg conceded in Tuesday’s debate that “it’s right that there’s a progressive majority,” he both defined that majority in a way that would encompass a whole lot of people who aren’t progressives and then held out an additional olive branch.
“But also,” Buttigieg said, “there’s a majority of the American people who I think right now just want to be able to turn on the TV, see their president, and actually feel their blood pressure go down a little bit, instead of up through the roof.”
Buttigieg, Bloomberg, and so many other Democrats believe that between progressive voters and anti-Trump voters, they can cobble together an electoral college majority come November. It’s looking like the man who will test that theory is the furthest thing from a moderate.
Jeremy Lott is probably not a socialist.