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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Progressive Centrism, Hillary Clinton, and the Future of Party Coalitions

Sean Trende notes the Judis article on the emerging GOP advantage. He actually praises The Emerging Democratic Majority, explaining its shewd prescription that Democrats embrace progressive centrism.
Progressive centrism remains a somewhat vague term, but in essence it was epitomized by Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign: Embracing populist/progressive goals, but opting for solutions that were free market enough to not scare off upper-middle-class voters (in the case of economic issues) and respectful enough of traditions not to scare off working-class voters (in the case of social issues).

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I think Judis and Teixeira’s point about the strength of progressive centrism is a powerful one; in fact, if the theme of the book had been more “this is what the Democratic majority will look like when Democrats are successful,” I would agree (and indeed, a hefty portion of the book is dedicated to just that argument). Today, however, a large portion of the Democratic Party’s intellectual class seems more interested in the weaker, predictive part of Judis and Teixeira’s book rather than the prescriptive portion of it. That is, they see demographics both as destiny and as an opportunity for abandoning Clinton-style centrism. But if the book is correct, this is exactly backwards: Clinton-style centrism is the way to harness these demographics. Abandon it, and you risk abandoning the majority.

Note Judis’ case study of Maryland. His point here is basically this: There is a limit to white suburbanites’ willingness to embrace new taxes, even in a deeply blue place like the Old Line State. Yet as others have noted, the ability to raise taxes for new social programs without touching those voters is limited. Embracing a full-throated progressive program places real strains on these voters’ loyalty to the Democratic Party.
In 2016, Democrats have as their likely nominee possibly the single strongest candidate for putting the old Democratic coalition back together again. I think with an adequately strong economy and a campaign founded in progressive centrism, Hillary Clinton could very well put together a broader coalition than Obama’s, and a victory that eclipses his. Whether her party allows her to run such a campaign is probably the most important question of 2015; this book explains why.