Skip to main content
Kansas congressional candidate James Thompson and Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Kansas congressional candidate James Thompson and Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

After Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprising win in New York, moderate Democrats wasted no time declaring her victory a fluke. It is pragmatic Democrats, they say, who will lead us to victory. The only bold idea they want is how to better court Republican voters. One recent article explains how “Corporate Democrats Plan ‘Counterrevolution’ in the Midst of Progressive Success.”

It’s disappointing, certainly, but not unexpected.

My first inkling that the Democratic Party didn’t always have the best interests of Americans at heart came when President Obama pushed his healthcare reform early in his first term. People clamored daily for him to propose single-payer or at least include a public option. But even though he controlled a Democratic Congress, he took those possibilities off the table almost immediately, in a gesture of “compromise.”

It’s not a compromise to start the negotiation with, “I give up.”

I was surprised when I heard a coworker tell me she wasn’t sure whether to vote for Trump in the 2016 primary or for Bernie. Didn’t she realize the two candidates were polar opposites? What became clear as the campaigns of the various candidates progressed, though, was that people could no longer endure the status quo. One way or another, change was coming. And those who “pragmatically” didn’t want change proved to be out of touch with voters.

I belonged to LAGPAC (the Lousiana Gay Political Action Caucus) when they supported an openly gay man for City Council. During one meeting, the candidate came to thank us for our endorsement and went around the room shaking everyone’s hand. When he came to me, he smiled and said, “Can I count on your vote?”

I replied, “Well, I don’t know where you stand on any of the issues yet.”

Everyone around me gasped, and one of my colleagues said, “But he’s the first openly gay man to run for office in New Orleans!”

“I understand. But what does he think about rent control?”

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

What we need now is not a candidate of a certain racial or ethnic identity, anyone of a certain gender or sexual orientation. It’s time for someone—anyone—with policies that will improve the lives of Americans. Two dozen other countries already offer tuition-free college to their citizens (and sometimes even to international students). These include Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Germany, France, Austria, Denmark, Poland, Spain, and Scotland. Is it really a miraculous feat if it can be accomplished so routinely? Argentina, Panama, Uruguay, Brazil, Turkey, Greece, Kenya, Egypt, Morocco, and Malaysia do it, too.

The two parties may not always be the same on every issue, but they're the same way more than we should accept merely out of a sense of “being realistic.”

Moderate Democrats tell us we’re asking too much. But are we to believe we possess fewer resources than every single one of these other countries? Many nations around the world also have various forms of universal healthcare. They’ve banned fracking and instituted strong programs for developing solar, wind, and wave energy. Governments with far fewer resources than the U.S. have done all this and more.

These are not pie-in-the-sky dreams proposed by naive idealists. These are practical ideals. But if my only choice is between a Republican who is against these policies and a Democrat who is against them, it’s not much of a choice.

Moderates are irritated, though, when dissatisfied voters claim that “Democrats are as bad as Republicans.” Maybe those voters just see the distinction moderates are making between the two parties as splitting hairs. I don't believe anyone thinks they're completely the same. But when a Republican votes against single-payer healthcare and a Democrat votes against it, they're the same. When a Republican votes to support fracking and a Democrat votes to support fracking, they're the same. When a Republican won't support the idea of tuition-free college and a Democrat won't support it, they're the same. The two parties may not always be the same on every issue, but they're the same way more than we should accept merely out of a sense of “being realistic.”

Moderates insist it’s a losing strategy to tie them ideologically with Republicans, and maybe they’re right, but how can I not see them as tied when they tell me they’re trying to appeal to Republicans and then propose policies that prove it?

A friend once told me, “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want and get it.”

It’s a tough decision. No matter how disappointing Clinton might have been as president, I don’t think there’s any doubt Trump is worse than most of us could have predicted. And we predicted disaster. And yet, if the DNC only gives us “pragmatic” choices, voters will inevitably be split on election day, and right-wing oppression will continue to strengthen.

Do DNC leaders not understand how hard it is to generate enthusiasm? They’re throwing away a gift. Voters are energized by progressive values. Why don’t they take advantage of it?

You can’t win popular support with pragmatism, at least if you define pragmatism as an appeal to conservatives. What is truly pragmatic is giving people not only what they want, but also what they need.

Offering voters candidates with bold, progressive ideas and policies may not be pragmatic, but it’s the smart thing to do.

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend