President Obama this last week issued a rare and unusual public statement about the Presidential race, warning the Democratic field not to veer "too far left." While almost all of the candidates have made their obligatory pilgrimage to meet with the former President, such a public near rebuke of the progressive, majoritarian wing of the party seems out of place, happening at time where the buzz of backroom wealthy Democratic donors is encouraging the late entries of Deval Patrick and Michael Bloomberg into a race that wasn't lacking for centrists or billionaires in the field.
The New York Times reported Obama not mentioning any candidate by name, "but he took aim at the 'activist wing' of the Democratic Party and 'left-leaning Twitter feeds,' saying they were out of touch with the average voter. 'This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement,' he told an audience of some of the party’s wealthiest donors on Friday evening." (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/16/us/obama-left-democrats-2020.html)
Well...of course he was talking to wealthy donors, because many of them are quite concerned that a Warren or Sanders Presidency will actually impact their financial lives in ways that that the previous Democratic presidencies of Obama and Clinton did not. Indeed, the economic policies of third way centrism only made them preposterously more prosperous and did little to lift all economic ships. The truth though is that if we are going to make a serious dent in the gross economic inequality, if we are truly going to educate every citizen well through post-secondary, if we are going solve the climate crisis, if we are going to ensure access to health care for every citizen, than we will need to rely on the wealth of those billionaires with a significantly more progressive tax scheme than we currently employ.
We also found out this week that for the first time in American history, the very wealthy are being taxed at a lower rate than working people. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/camilomaldonado/2019/10/10/trump-tax-cuts-helped-billionaires-pay-less-taxes-than-the-working-class-in-2018/#3249eb03128f - And yes, that's no left-wing socialist rag making this report, it is Forbes). This inflection point of our economic history must become the very bottom of the historical tax curve. We need to tax wealth and raise the marginal rates on incomes for millionaires and billionaires if we hope suspend our descent into plutocracy and maintain a functioning democratic republic.
And so, I wonder if Obama is missing the moment here. Does he not realize how quickly the party that he led has moved ideologically to the left? This is not the same party or country in the last time he ran in 2012 or even 2016. The demographic shifts that we were all discussing in 2016 about a younger, more diverse electorate all still hold true despite Trump's last gasp of xenophobia and racism. The Republicans, already headed towards minority status are cementing such a position for a generation in their embrace of white nationalism and topsy-turvey, mafia-style foreign policy. A decade and a generation from now, we will all still be asking, what did you do to fight the racism, lies, and civic ugliness of Trump?
I'm not saying the leftward shift is Trump-driven. though it has catalyzed activism in the country and crystalized many issues for folks. For example, we now see that Democratic policies unjustly deported millions of immigrants, created cover for pre-emptive war and slaughter in Iraq, supported stop and frisk laws and other racist policing methods that encouraged a mass incarceration system, or more immediately in our discussion, didn't ask the rich to do their fair share out of fear of being deemed a class warrior or worse yet, because Larry Summers did not think it was a good idea.
The fact is that most Americans and certainly most Democrats support almost all of what's on the policy table of the progressive Democrats in the race. This past summer, I warned against letting Republicans or Republican-leaning folks tell Democrats for whom to vote (https://www.civicaction.center/story/dont-let-republicans-tell-us-how-vote). It is worth reiterating here the broad support that progressive policy has with Americans:
Single Payer Healthcare. 56% of Americans support single payer 38% oppose and support is trending upward over time. https://www.slideshare.net/KaiserFamilyFoundation/public-opinion-on-singlepayer-national-health-plans-and-expanding-access-to-medicare-coverage-150455379
Green New Deal. The policy prescriptions have support of 80% of registered voters. https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/421765-poll-majorities-of…
Taxing the Rich. 76% of registered voters want to increase taxes on the rich. https://fortune.com/2019/02/04/support-for-tax-increase-on-wealthy-americans-poll/amp/
So frankly, I'm not even sure what President Obama is talking about when he warns about being #toofarleft. These are mainstream issues. Candidates who offer full-throated support for these issues like Warren and Sanders are polling well with their support growing rather than shrinking. Obama is missing the moment and it is up for the voters to bring him along. We need his voice moving forward, but as a catalyst, rather than impediment: not for the change we can believe in, but rather for the policies we know we need to bring about lasting systemic change.