Pragmatism, Not Stridency, is the Key to Progress

In the news this weekend was a cautionary tale every progressive should learn from. (Source)

Outgoing Indiana Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly said Democrats need to be careful in promoting too many progressive ideas in red states like his because they'll "start losing the people in my state."

"Medicare-for-all" is a progressive stance that some Democrats worry could alienate Midwestern voters from the party going into the 2020 presidential election. It has become popular thanks to liberal leaders like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

When asked by CNN's Dana Bash on "The Lead With Jake Tapper" if Democrats could be viable without appealing to interior state votes, Donnelly replied, "I don't know how you do that."

There are many reasons why the progressive movement has been stalled for a generation, but there is one overarching reason that trumps all others. The rhetoric the loudest of us uses is just as strident as that coming from the right wing. You have to understand, just because the yelling comes from a lefty perspective doesn’t mean it’s more acceptable to the average voter. Face it; most people don’t want to be yelled at and called stupid by anyone, no matter how right you think you are about everything.

I see this nonsense on a daily basis and it is effectively killing the progressive movement. It’s most certainly preventing actual movement of any kind.

What Donnelly is talking about is very important and it’s a key to liberals becoming viable again. People dislike us, even though our positions on most issues should be more attractive to most voters. And they dislike us because we don’t think about their needs.

Take the “Medicare for All” issue…

Start with the fact that “Medicare for All” is absolutely NOT the issue that needs to be addressed. The actual issue is universal healthcare, and single payer is one possible solution. We want to make sure everyone has access to a doctor whenever they need it. We want to make sure no one dies because they can’t afford to see a doctor. We don’t want any family to lose everything they’ve worked for because of medical bills. Medical care should be a RIGHT.

That is the issue, and there are many ways to do that. Yet, here is a large contingent of liberals, mostly white, who act as if the only way to accomplish universal healthcare access is through “single-payer.” Somehow, these people have gotten it into their brains that only single payer can get us to the point where most other developed countries are, in which someone gets sick and goes to the doctor and everyone is paid for that.

I don’t know where that comes from, especially since most of the countries who have a robust universal healthcare system are NOT single-payer systems. The vast majority of healthcare systems in the developed world are hybrid systems, in which most people carry private insurance and there is a government system (a “public option,” if you will) to pick up the slack.

Yes that’s right. While so many non-pragmatic know-it-all white liberals have been pissing on the system created by the Affordable Care Act as if it’s incredibly flawed, the fact of the matter is, the vast majority of universal healthcare systems worldwide are closer to the ACA model than a “single-payer” model. In most countries, insurance is largely private and heavily regulated, like the ACA, not socialized governmental systems. And there are practical reasons for that reasons that don’t seem to occur to many white liberals. For one thing, if the government is funding the entire healthcare system, how do you prevent the Republican Party from cutting the hell out of it?

From a practical standpoint, more than 90 percent of Americans have health insurance, and the hardcore “Medicare For All” people are asking them all to give up their current insurance in favor of “government insurance.” It’s not impossible to convince people of that, but it will take a lot more than simply declaring it the best way to get healthcare, and people who choose not to do it that way are not necessarily stupid.

This is why a pragmatic approach is so much better for the progressive movement than simply declaring a solution to a pressing societal problem as the “best way to fix things” and demanding that, as if there is no other choice available. It also requires that we listen quite a bit. This may be hard for many “progressives” to believe, but we talk too much and we don’t listen nearly enough. Too many of us seem so enamored with our positions on what we decide are key issues, that we stop listening to the people who have the most to teach us.

Yes, that’s right. A great many white liberals are so invested in their position on the issues that they tend to forget that other liberals may not agree. If you want to know why so many Black people dislike white liberals, well… that’s it. Black people want universal healthcare, just like every other sane person in this country. However, they are less concerned with HOW we manage to do that. And please forgive them if they feel the idea of “free college” is a bit less important than black men being shot by police with impunity.

This gets to the heart of what Rep. Donnelly was talking about above. Many white liberals – the ones I call “unicorn progressives” – are so invested in their own positions on issues, they stop listening to everyone else. For example, everyone agrees there is a college debt problem, but “free college” is not necessarily the best solution. And on the list of “most important issues,” it is not in the Top 5, and possibly not in the Top 10. The solution is not necessarily “Free College,” but “DEBT-free College.” Likewise, the issue is a “living wage,” not a $15 per hour minimum wage. While the idea of a $15 per hour minimum works well in many cities, including those in which the most unicorn progressives live, the poor in places like Alabama and Mississippi could do quite well with a minimum wage that is in line with the minimum wage in 1968 or 1969, which is right around $11.50.

This is why being pragmatic is the key to a progressive/liberal resurgence, for the first time in a half century. We have to win elections, and we can’t win elections if most of what the loudest voices in the progressive movement talk about resonates with no one. We will never achieve a majority of anything if the vast majority of voters consider us as “left wingers,” who are just as bad as right wingers with our stridence and immovability.

This blog is changing because it needs to change. The progressive movement has to actually make progress now. We can no longer afford to languish on the sidelines, which is where we have been for far too long. You are not a “good progressive” because you have adopted certain stances on specific issues that you have decided are the most important. A “good progressive” is someone who leads progress or works to make sure progress is being made.

Yes, that means Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are FAR more progressive than Bernie Sanders or any of the “Young Turks” or anyone on the professional left. Black people and minorities are the Democratic base, and they are far more progressive than any white liberal who thinks their position on any issue is the “only way to get there,” whatever the hell that means.

As I said, the issue is NOT “single-payer,” it’s universal healthcare and healthcare as a basic right. What do you plan to do if “free college” results in a loss of funds and the elimination of programs people need? Why can’t we advocate for “DEBT-FREE College”? If a $15 per hour minimum leads to tens of thousands small businesses in rural areas and small towns, what is your plan? What do you plan to do to make law enforcement accountable for killing black people? While we all agree that the GOP Tax Scam was ill-conceived, what do we progressives plan to do to make taxes fair for everyone?

And be pragmatic. Listen to what people need and stop assuming you know their interests. In most cases, you don’t.

Also published on Medium.


Pragmatism, Not Stridency, is the Key to Progress — 1 Comment

  1. What I’ve often noted is that many of the people who talk about “Medicare for all” don’t understand Medicare to begin with. Ask them if they want an insurance program that has limits, deductibles, co-pays, and requires the purchase of supplemental insurance plans to cover various healthcare needs, and they’ll all answer “No.” But that’s what Medicare is. I think they’d all scream their heads off if it were enacted, because it’s “not what we wanted!”