Liberal, conservative, moderate? I mostly reject those terms. “Progressive” is now a popular term for people on the left who want to underscore just how more to the left they are than “liberals.” If you go issue by issue though, you find the distinction doesn’t mean much. They’re almost all the same on the issues, and you can find issues where supposed progressives are less to the left than their “centrist” opponents- usually social issues.
All of this is a silly game of optics, a way for people out of power to try and replace those in- with themselves. Yes, there are “Democratic Socialists,” a further left-leaning camp of Democrats of anti-capitalist Democrats, but even there, there’s not a lot of policy difference. An overwhelming majority of all Democrats agree on expanding Medicare to achieve universal coverage, raising the minimum wage (whether it be to $12 or $15 an hour), investing in our nation’s infrastructure, opposing tax cuts for the rich, fighting climate change, investing in public schools, equal pay for women, supporting collective bargaining, protecting social security, supporting Civil Rights, preventing gun violence, protecting our environment, investing in renewables, and any other platform issue you can think of. I know that I do- as do most of the “radical” leftists that I end up arguing with, even the radical wacko from California that put a fatwah on me on Twitter this weekend. Sure, there are some elected officials who have modest or singular differences with party orthodoxy, but for the most part, Democrats are unified on policy. So, why do we fight?
For some people on the left, the difference is defined by whether you supported Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in 2016- no, really. For the radical, fringe left, supporting Hillary makes you a neoliberal, a corporatist, a Republican, or any other number of negative terms. The minute you attack them for Bernie’s vote against immigration reform, voting with the NRA on protecting gun manufacturers, voting for almost every war resolution in his career, or any other sin of his though, you’re either lying or divisive. The whole discussion is tiresome, and pointless- Hillary Clinton is very, very unlikely to run for anything, ever again (her husband definitively won’t be running again). While I don’t like those votes from Bernie that I just mentioned, I don’t oppose him on those policy grounds, really. I think Bernie should get the same slack for voting his constituents’ views as Cory Booker should for voting his.
So why do I oppose these people?
The first reason is that I do not want the Democrats to become an ideologically rigid party, like the Republicans. I don’t want a left-wing Tea Party. Parties like that are limited in the people and places that they can represent, as not every place is Arkansas or Manhattan. Rigid ideology ends the concept of national parties.
The second reason I oppose them is their willingness to shoot at people in their “own tent.” I’m perfectly fine with Joe Manchin being a socially conservative Democrat in a West Virginia- that’s who West Virginia is. I’m also fine with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders being economic leftists in New England- that’s who they are. People in Brooklyn or DC shouldn’t pick Congressional candidates in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We should not attack representatives who are representing their district. This is why we have representative government, and not a national election for our legislature. We shouldn’t make it harder for Democrats to win general elections in the pursuit of utopia.
The third reason I oppose them is their opposition to compromise. Despite the passions of activists, they are not where governing happens. Building majorities around “pure” liberalism or conservatism is impossible- and maybe worse for Democrats. We are a coalition party, and trying to make it all “one thing” is pointless and actually destructive. Legislation passes on compromise, good government is realizing you can’t get 100% of what you want. Our more radical folks disagree.
The fourth reason I oppose the radical left is the black and white way in which they see the world. No, not all bankers are evil. No, being rich is not necessarily evil. Private business does some bad things, but it also employs most of America’s working class. Crushing capital would not work well for us. Should we regulate them? Of course. Should we govern towards the many, not the few? Sure. Should we crush capital and wealth? I think that’s a bad idea.
My fifth and final problem with radical leftists? Their insistence on the centering of their issues. Again, the Democratic Party is a coalition, and coalitions have to work together and compromise to govern. No, women’s issues shouldn’t take a back seat to free college. No, Civil Rights should not take a back seat to Medicare-for-All. It’s a coalition. You can’t center yourself above all others, all the time.
Now there are specific things I hate about the radical left- defending Russia and Wikileaks, peddling in conspiracy theory, inviting grifters to their tent, and attacking “identity politics” specifically. I particularly hate Bernie Sanders for spending his career doing these things. Even so, it’s not like I have big policy differences with them, on the whole. My opposition to them is mostly on their rigid ideology, and unwillingness to be adults and compromise. Otherwise, I think this divide is a big joke.