By Kevin Levy, Executive Editor
Recently, my colleague and Chairman of The American Moderate, Michael Hout, announced that he was leaving the Democratic Party, in large part because of the hostile rhetoric that is now being espoused to those who adhere to a politics that doesn’t mirror that of the far-left. He also pleaded his antipathy to Democratic acceptance of “identity politics” which he found to be an anathema to lower-case “d” democratic ideals. Instead of showing that his personal politics shifted rightward, he wrote of how the Democratic Party moved leftward. He didn’t leave the Democratic Party, per se, it left him.
Like Hout, I identify as a moderate. While a political quiz is likely to show that I am an intense Democratic partisan, I find that my political identity rests primarily in my rhetoric. I, like many of my fellow progressives, think that the top 1% of earners in the United States hold entirely too much influence in politics, but I won’t decry the wealthy or demand a sort of wealth redistribution. I believe in peaceful protest and expressing our distress in our national government, but I don’t support flag burning that seeks to incite anger.
I also believe, however, that what Hout incorrectly identifies as the “far-left” is, in fact, the far-campus-left of students heavily isolated on university and college campuses. Students who have yet to pay income or property taxes do not make up the largest part of the Democratic Party, but they are easily able to be heard as the loudest. They have (often literal) megaphones and are frequently featured on Fox News or Campus Reform, but they do not make up the core of the Party. In fact, even if college students statistically broke for Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary contest, the balanced hand of the Democratic Party that Hout and I both supported split for the more pragmatic Secretary Hillary Clinton, showing that the Democrats did not collapse to the Party’s more radical left-wing brigades of online troops.
When I was an undergraduate at American University, I felt myself, like Hout, drift to the right. I saw radicals across campus intimidate students who did not follow their purist progressive agenda. They cared not for compromise or results, but rather focused on headlines in the campus newspaper or making splashes on social media by proving how they could out-edge each other. I began to identify as a moderate and even a conservative Democrat because I was enmeshed in the relative politics of my peers at the hyper-progressive insular private school in the nation’s capital.
Once I returned home to blue New Jersey and began interacting with my peers at Rutgers Law School in Camden, New Jersey, however, I felt much more able to embrace the progressive identity. I believe that women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, immigrant rights, worker rights, and so many more rights are basic human rights, and vice versa. I unabashedly support raising the minimum wage slowly, but surely. I believe that we should limit money’s influence in politics. I believe that humans have heavily contributed to climate change and that the government should take action against it . These are progressive positions, and I won’t throw them aside simply because they happen to be shared by the far left wing of my own party.
Hout went as far as saying that he was leaving the Democratic Party because of its commitment to “identity politics,” which he saw as incredibly stifling to public discourse. I could not disagree more. “Identity politics” were dismissed as secondary by Senator Sanders which led some progressives to doubt his authenticity, like myself. “Identity politics” has never been about tokenism, as Vox writer Emily Crockett notes, but rather is about the empowerment of various groups.
Before President Obama there had never been an African American President of the United States and that’s pretty significant. Representation is important, not least as it allows even the youngest of American citizens to see that they have political role models. American University Professor Jennifer Lawless has headed the research foray into this field and found that young girls are significantly less likely to desire to enter into politics than their young male counterparts since they see less representation and experience less encouragement. “Identity politics” doesn’t serve to privilege women over men, but rather to encourage women to achieve their goals in spite of the obstacles they face. I was inspired everyday by my former boss and Congressional Candidate Kathleen Matthews (MD-08) who optimistically sought to break barriers and be that role model. She believed that, “diversity of experience and diversity of background and point of view lead to better outcomes.” I find myself consistently agreeing with her. She never once shied away from her identity of being a working mom. Although she was unsuccessful in her Congressional aspirations, she inspired me. Identity politics is about banding together to push forward, not falling behind by silencing others, as Hout suggests.
The Democratic Party fights for inclusion at all levels of government. It has its partisan failings, of course. It doesn’t recognize that it can be wrong, sometimes, and fails to criticize its national leaders when criticism is due. Hout is right that ideological purity should not be tolerated, as ironic as that statement may seem. We, as Democrats, have long termed ourselves the “Big Tent” Party, able to represent the many millions of members that we have. Democrats should find strength, not weakness, in our diversity: both ideological and demographic.
Hout wrote that he believed that, “Trump could be just what the doctor ordered.” But Donald Trump campaigned as being one of the most ideological divisive candidates in modern history by seeking to separate the “us” from the “them.” By pitting Americans against Muslims, Americans against Mexicans, and Americans against Women, Trump consciously attempted to regress America into an unspecified time where it was once great, most likely the 1940s or ’50s, before people of color were fairly able to engage with the American political system and before most minorities were afforded basic rights.
Hout very incorrectly believes that a potential Democratic strategy is to eliminate white men from Democratic Party, encompassed by the supposed empowerment of more radical voices within the party. He believes that our core message is alienating, rather than all-encompassing. But I think he has only been exposed to the very limited college conversation. I don’t believe that he has met the pragmatic progressives, like myself, who feel that we can affect change from the center of our own party and move the nation forward. I hope that my message will be able to convince Americans like Hout to rejoin the Democratic Party, and encourage millennials like myself to find the compassion in their hearts not to rebut “identity politics,” but to embrace the growing diversity that is the American citizenry.
Democrats are compassionate. We care about our fellow citizens and we dismiss the myth that everyone starts on the same footing and faces the same journey. Today, some Americans need a hand of assistance but not a handout. We want to fight for the defenseless and we want to provide a voice to the voiceless.
We'll take the fight to Donald Trump and Mike Pence with their regressive agenda. We'll fight to ensure that millions of Americans will continue to have access to quality healthcare, regardless of their economic situations. We'll fight to ensure that Americans have the right to love whomever they love. We'll fight for minorities of all shapes and sizes. We'll fight to pass on that torch and amplify other voices instead of monopolizing the spotlight. We'll fight to ensure that women have the right to decide what goes on in their bodies. We'll fight to ensure that people who fled their homes can find refuge in the United States. We’ll fight to keep education costs low to enable all Americans to rise up and achieve their goals. We’ll fight to protect the little guy from corporate exploitation. We'll fight to prove that Black Lives Matter. We'll fight to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have access to them and mean to do us harm. We’ll fight to stay true to the first amendment and protect people of all religions, whether they say “Thank God” or “Allahu Akbar.” As Democrats, we’ll continue to fight for what we believe is right, regardless of the roadblocks ahead and no matter how steep the hill.
I am a moderate. I am a progressive. And I'm a Democrat, because I believe that we can make the strongest change when we push forward.