Card-carrying Democrats and their messengers are still loathe to use the L-word (liberal) and even the most ardent members of the left struggle to make the case the party – as a whole – is moving in their direction.
Sure, there are liberal cultural transformations – like the growing acceptance of gay marriage – that are coursing through the veins of the country. But, if anything, that dramatic change has been spurred by public opinion and at the local level, not a concerted effort by the top of the party of Andrew Jackson. The new liberal litmus test is much more economic-centered, including support for more generous entitlement benefits, higher taxes on the wealthiest and punitive laws that punish nefarious financial institutions.
And despite claims otherwise, Democratic candidates this cycle aren’t centering their re-election bids around their support for the health care law – President Barack Obama’s singular biggest and most liberal domestic achievement. Try to find a television ad in which a Democratic Senate candidate in a competitive race trumpets his or her explicit support for Obamacare.
Perhaps the most glaring evidence that the Democratic Party isn’t truly becoming more instinctively liberal is this simple but glaring fact: It’s difficult to find a party stalwart who will say it is.
“I think it’s a complicated question,” says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “I don’t think it’s particularly left or moving left.”
Even with all the current advantages the Democratic Party wields on issues, demographics and cultural relevance, “conservative” remains a more politically palatable term than “liberal.”
“You can be conservative in a lot of ways. It could just be being cautious, careful, saving money. There’s a lot of ways it’s a positively balanced word. Liberal has a very political meaning that I think in the current landscape is seen as a more extreme label than conservative,” says Michael Dimock, a vice president at Pew Research who has studied political ideology. “That’s why you see all these groups in Washington using 'progressive' instead of 'liberal.' They see progressive as less of a stark term.”
While it’s true that more Americans are identifying as liberals, the heart of the Democratic Party remains in the middle. In a January Pew Research survey, just over a third of Democrats described themselves as liberal, compared with 63 percent identifying as moderate or conservative.
Cantanese also explains why this erosion to the right is happening and it's a reason we also already knew:
Roger Hickey, co-founder for the liberal group Campaign for America’s Future, contends that while the base is lurching leftward, party leadership is less comfortable with the path.To put it in other words, instead of trying to win by reaching out to the people, they Democrats are reaching out to the Big Money special interests.. That is why we end up with people like Chris Abele, Lena Taylor and Mary Burke. People that could be called progressive only when compared to the extremists running the Teapublican Party.
“The structure of the Democratic Party [is] trying to figure this out,” he says. “There are the timid Democrats who don’t want to threaten their possibility of getting money from Wall Street. There’s a lot of them, including Hillary Clinton.”
The innate pressure of keeping up with Republicans on the money front is a constant concern, Democrats will admit.
Bonior, who rose to be the No. 2 Democrat in the House, says even those best-intentioned lawmakers who come to Washington heralding liberal values are prone to become overwhelmed by the impact money has on the system. "Progressivity gets lost in a system that is corrupt and broken," he says, citing the gradual but consistent loosening of campaign finance laws. "It’s very difficult. You have to be a very strong leader to overcome that."
Therefore, as one left-of-center Democratic consultant puts it, “everything from prosecuting Wall Street to a more robust estate tax ain’t happening.”
“It’s the green,” he says.
And that is also why the Democrats are having such a hard time winning elections. If people have to vote for the Republican, they might as well vote for the one that is honest about it. One expects that a Teapublican is going to be a ill-informed nut job. It is even more disappointing when that nut job is someone that is supposed to be a good guy.
And even if a Republicrat still wins, we still lose. One does not have to go any farther than Abele to see that. It's wrong when the mentally ill are abandoned, when union workers are attacked or when austerity costs us the things we've been fighting for - whether it is a Republican or a Democrat doing it.
The only way to stop this slide to the right is for the good people to stand up. Contrary to what the "professionals" cited in the article say, I don't see the majority of Americans, much less Democrats, to be moving to the right willingly. It's just that not enough people are saying, "Enough!"
A change won't occur as long as we keep accepting the people being forced upon us. Nothing will change as long as we try to rationalize our bad choices by saying things like "Anyone but what's-their-face." Nothing will change as long as we rationalize it as the less of two evils. The lesser of two evils is still evil.
Nothing will change as long as we continue to accept what is happening.