6/13 Update: I wrote this piece back in February and never published it, because it had been a while since I wrote anything on Medium and wanted some sets of eyes before I published. Then I waited too long, the primaries happened, then the pandemic, and now BLM. So I am now writing my thoughts on BLM, but decided to publish this anyway because I think it’s still relevant in the discussion of what it means to be a fierce ally to Black people and as a side-effect to the larger group of racial minorities. TLDR if you want to be an ally to BLM, you can’t stand in the middle.
I recently found myself in a discussion on the 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates. Who would actually be able to gather enough votes to defeat Trump? Can Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren really appeal to enough voters in the “center”? Doesn’t Amy Klobuchar have a great track record of uniting votes from across the ideological spectrum?
My argument, of course, was that Amy Klobuchar was too “centrist” and that we need someone who had the courage to stand up to the billionaires and the rich corporations, that we ended up in the situation that we are in because the Democrats had tried to “compromise” too much, had allowed too much leniency with capitalism — the predatory system which has forced half a million people onto the streets, Americans, the country of abundance, unable to provide adequate healthcare to over 80 million people, or able to feed children in low-income households.
I did, however, post-debate, have a moment of introspection. What the heck does being in the “center” mean exactly? Do I truly understand what political pundits mean when they talk about the “independent” / “swing” / “moderate” / “centrist” voters who will supposedly determine the fate of the 2020 elections? After all, there are (at least) 4 candidates running on the platform that their “moderate” views were the answer to a divided country. Pundits and even the Democratic Establishment argue that their moderate policies are more palatable to those in the “middle” — i.e. the “swing” voters who once voted for Obama but swung over to vote for Trump in 2016.
Well, I did some digging (I am an engineer and love diving into pedantic details). I had a rude awakening (this may be a rude awakening for you too). Tldr: there is no such thing as a political “center.”
It would be difficult to site all the research and evidence that support the fact that what pundits describe as “moderate voters” are people who are confused, tired of partisan gridlock, uninformed, disengaged from politics and/or are all over the spectrum on political issues — but ultimately vote right along party line. It is safe to say, though, that the data out there are sufficient and credible. Additionally, research and polls have uncovered that most people don’t vote based on issues or policies, but rather pick a candidate or a party based on their family, religious or cultural background, and take cues from the leadership of that party and justify their views according to party line.
Are we really surprised that at least 40% of Americans (who claim to be moderate/centrist/independent/undecided) are people do not keep up with politics, don’t really have a deep understanding of policies or issues (though there is a fraction that do pay attention and maintain undecided), and almost always fall back to their party-line tendencies (a cognitive shortcut)? To make matters worse, those who fall into this category often make decisions based on news and events at the last minute, like how the economy is faring or James Comey’s letter to Congress.
After reading nearly two dozen articles on this subject, I began to realize that the emphasis placed on “moderate voters” and their supposed ability to determine the outcome of the elections had gaping with holes in their claims. To site another hole, it turns out independents/moderates/undecideds are all over the place on the ideological spectrum. There are people who actually want medicare for all but also want a wall along the border, as there are people who think gay marriage should be legal but abortion should be banned. It is also unlikely that these people would change their stance on these individual issues and there is no “moderate” candidate on the left who could possibly appeal to such a vast matrix of issue combinations. If there were such a candidate, they are more than likely, what I like to call, “Republican-light.” Like a left-leaning Republican.
Another hole to be poked in the moderate voter narrative: that being moderate means being bipartisan on economic issues and that because bipartisanship is needed more than ever, the “moderate majority” would find such a candidate appealing. This is what everyone says, but it is not what voters actually do. True bipartisanship is not what voters actually want in their heart of hearts. When it comes to the issues— healthcare, immigration, gun-control, abortion, LGBTQIA rights, medicare, welfare, tax legislation — there just isn’t a middle ground anymore no matter how much we want to believe there is. What would bipartisanship for abortion look like? The Republicans have been single-mindedly attempting to overturn Roe vs Wade since its inception. The appointment of Brett Kavanaugh was not some coincidence. The notion of bipartisanship goes out the door when one party is actively working to dismantle institutions put in place to protect the human rights of people in this country.
Ok, so maybe voters aren’t as “moderate” as they claim to be, nor what the media claims them to be. What about the candidates running on the moderate platform, what do they stand for? Is there something they have in common ideologically? Are they candidates talking about bipartisanship and uniting the country?
Warning, this may not be what some people want to hear.
Despite candidates running in the moderate lane having fairly progressive views in comparison to moderates in the past, there is one glaring fact that should make every left-leaning voter very, very weary, if not skeptical (it’s good to question a lot of things in life, in general). What centrist candidates have in common, besides their moderate-to-progressive stances on issues, are most notably, wealthy donors and corporate backing. The current top 3 presidential candidates running in this lane — Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar — are all backed by wealthy donors and corporations. If you don’t think there is anything wrong with corporate sponsorship, think again.
Pete Buttigieg, for example, is against Medicare for All. He didn’t used to be. He advocates for keeping the current healthcare infrastructure, while offering a public option. This almost sounds reasonable, but one must also pay attention to the fact that “Pharmaceutical, health insurance, and hospital industry donors have have flocked to Mayor Pete all year.” He flipped positions on Medicare for All since accepting money from the healthcare industry. He is also creating a very confusing message about giving Americans a “choice,” when in fact most Americans do not have a “choice” in which doctor to see or which hospital to visit — one emergency and a visit to an out-of-network facility could leave you bankrupt. In fact, the predatory and confusing insurance industry has lead to half a million families to file bankruptcies every hear over healthcare costs.
Amy Kobuchar, who is also not the worst candidate in the world, has accepted contributions from billionaires and now a super PAC, and contributions from the likes of (questionable) Stanley Hubbard who is a Trump supporter. One cannot help but wonder, what favors would you end up owing when accepting money from billionaires, super PACs and a Trump supporter? We don’t really need to go too far to also question Joe Biden’s connectedness to wealth. Despite his campaign advertising his middle-class-ness, we know he is not going to really challenge the wealthy elites and corporations with the kind of donations he has accepted.
We also should not fail to mention my personal nightmare of a candidate, Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican running as a moderate Democrat. Is buying an election really a moderate thing to do? His past is filled with attacks on civil rights. If elected, he will perpetuate a plutocratic society. If this is a favorable moderate candidate in the Democratic Establishment, I say burn the establishment down. We really need a new one.
If you are left, left-leaning, or just plain sick of the widening income inequality, the opioid crisis, mass incarceration, mass shootings, the war being waged against BIPOC, the poor, immigrants, women’s/abortion rights, the environment, the LGBTQIA community, our civil liberties, the constitution, etc., I think the institution we must fear most is unregulated capitalism, the super wealthy, (tech/pharmaceutical/retail/agricultural) corporations who are exerting their power and influence to keep things the way they are. Part of that influence is backing politicians and presidential campaigns. They are running ads and influencing media to back their candidates who will also back their agenda. This is why I have concluded that advocating for a centrist/moderate candidate is incredibly dangerous, and also is not really the same thing as voting for a bipartisan candidate, as stated in my earlier argument. There is also compelling evidence that backing a centrist candidate will lose us an election. We did in 2016. The fear that far-left candidates will lose us seats is bogus. The majority of Americans want better healthcare, less income inequality, greater taxation on the 1% and environmental protection. There is nothing radical about these policies if you think of them in those terms, and I believe the candidate who can explain these concepts in a way that can be understood by most is the candidate who will beat Donald Trump.
In conclusion: what is so powerful about candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are that they are willing to stand up to these corporations who have been buying their way through elections and contributing to the gross income inequality and the climate crisis. They are willing to stand up to the establishment, including the Democratic Establishment. As an aside,(about why we must stand up to the Democratic Establishment) the media blamed President Obama for the 900 Democratic seats lost across the country during his administration, which lead to the election of Trump. But if you had been paying attention, it’s because the Democratic party didn’t prioritize midterm elections where state legislative seats were up for grabs whereas the GOP did, which is why we are where we are now. The GOP overtook State legislature, gerrymandered the fuck out of voting districts and won their way to the Senate and the White House. The Democratic Establishment IMO badly needs a makeover and Sanders/Warren represent the much needed change.
I highly recommend reading Democrats Can Abandon the Center — Because the Center Doesn’t Exist written by @EricLevitz back in 2017 that explain in detail why the idea of the “center” is so dangerous. Also, cited earlier here is actual data by FiveThiertyEight that support this view.
Elections have consequences, hopefully more people have internalized this concept in the last few years. I know that paying attention to the news or trying to understand politics can be overwhelming, but it’s so important to stay resilient and pay attention to what is happening in the world. We can’t fix income inequality, racial/gender inequity, the environment or immigration by just passively standing by or standing in the “middle.” In the words of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:
He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
I recommend not standing in the middle, even if it’s in the middle of the Democratic party. Stand on the side of true justice and equity, because that’s what being American means.