Democrats Can’t Keep Ignoring Progressives’ Concerns if They Want to Win in November

Photo by Mirah Curzer on Unsplash

I sincerely believe that only a moderate Democrat could have defeated Donald Trump in 2020, and that Joe Biden was the right person for the job.

As an unpolished, straight-talking man of the working class, he projected the image Democrats needed him to project to help them build a winning coalition. He wasn’t an Ivy League elitist whose entire career was built upon an academic foundation and extreme family wealth. He was a friend and ally of working people who earned his lot in life.

That said, he didn’t win the election all by himself. He had quite a bit of help, much of it coming from like-minded moderates and centrists, as well as more than a few disaffected Republicans.

The progressive wing of the Democratic Party also rallied to his side, albeit reluctantly. Progressives are a small voting bloc, to be sure. But they’re also very politically engaged, and they almost unanimously supported President Biden in the 2020 election.

They could also be one of the keys to preventing a GOP takeover of Congress in this year’s midterms.

In presidential elections, voter turnout matters a lot. But in midterm elections, it matters a whole lot more. In that respect, Republicans have an advantage. According to Pew Research Center, Republicans “are more likely than Democratic voters to say it ‘really matters’ which party gains control of Congress in this fall’s midterms.” Pew also found that 71% of right-leaning voters regard their vote as a vote against Biden, while just 46% of left-leaning voters regard their vote as a vote for Biden.

In other words, Democrats are in real trouble, and they’re going to need all the assistance they can get.

That’s why it’s time for Biden to do himself and his party a favor by giving progressives something that they really want. It won’t be enough to just throw them a metaphorical bone; it needs to be something meaningful, something substantial, and something that makes progressives want to vote for Democrats in the midterms.

Student loan forgiveness is one option — and a particularly popular one among progressives. It isn’t without its risks, however. It really all depends on how Biden goes about it. According to a very recent poll from Morning Consult and Politico, only 19% of Americans support canceling all student debt for all borrowers. Clearly, that option is off the table. But that same poll also showed that a majority of respondents support some debt relief for at least some borrowers, so perhaps there is a middle-ground option that Democrats could pursue with minimal risk of alienating working-class voters.

Biden has previously suggested that he could forgive up to $10,000 of debt per borrower through executive action, and reports suggest that he’s currently considering just such a move. That might not excite progressive voters as much as Democrats would like, but it’d certainly be better than nothing.

A better option might be to make another aggressive push for a minimum wage hike. Raising the minimum wage isn’t just popular with progressives; about half of Republican voters, along with large majorities of liberals, Democrats, moderates and Independents, all agree that it should be raised. This strikes me as the best option Democrats could pursue right now.

The problem, of course, is that Congress just recently voted down a 2021 bill that would’ve raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Republican senators shot the bill down with help from 8 different Democrats.

But a $15 wage was always going to be tough to get, as it represents a more than 100% increase in the current wage. A more modest goal of somewhere in the range of $10-$12 could be doable before November, but only if Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress are ready to do what it takes to make that happen — which would, I believe, include eliminating the filibuster.

There is also the matter of the leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court on Roe v. Wade. It looks like SCOTUS might be ready to strike that ruling down, opening the door to a wave of abortion bans in conservative states like Texas, Oklahoma, and more. If that happens, it could be enough to spur progressive voters into action this November under the banner of preserving a woman’s right to choose. It’s a bit premature to assume that that’s how the future will unfold, but if it does play out that way, it could give Democrats a golden opportunity to shore up the support they need to hold onto Congress.

No matter which path they choose, President Biden and Democrats had better do something to encourage progressives to get out and vote this November. They can’t afford to rest on their laurels because, frankly, their laurels aren’t terribly impressive. It feels very much like the concerns of low-income and working-class citizens are going ignored by establishment liberals and moderate Democrats who aren’t personally impacted by things like wage stagnation, inflation, and the rising costs of living. If that doesn’t change, there just isn’t much incentive for progressives to help the Biden administration hold onto Congress in this year’s midterms.

And I say that not as a progressive myself, but as a self-identified liberal who has had more than a few disagreements with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. They deserve better than what the Biden administration has given them so far — and so does the average American worker.



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D.A. Kirk

Outer space enthusiast. Japanese history junkie. I write about politics, culture, and mental illness. Disagreement is a precursor to progress.