As the 2018 midterms approach, we’re living in a moment when progressive and even leftist ideas — and unabashed, unapologetic idealism — can be cool.
Progressive candidates have won congressional or gubernatorial primaries by ardently supporting so-called radical policies like Medicare for All, free college tuition, ambitious plans to safeguard our climate, and calls to abolish ICE. They’ve staged dramatic upsets across the country, unseating incumbents and beating out centrist challengers, and have also done well in down-ballot state legislature races.
They’re proving you don’t have to go to the center. If you believe in your heart that health is a fundamental human right, that every American should have health insurance, and that the government should pay for it, you can say that.
You can scream it from the rooftops.
I’m not endorsing any specific candidate. But I’m excited about this progressive wave.
These progressives are young, diverse, and idealistic. Record numbers of people of color, women, and LGBT candidates are running for national office.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Boston, both first-time congressional candidates, unseated 10-term congressmen in their primaries and will almost definitely win seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Also watch out for Andrew Gillum, Stacy Abrams, and Christine Hallquist, who could be the first black governors of Florida and Georgia, and the first openly transgender governor of Vermont, respectively; and Beto O’Rourke, running for Ted Cruz’s Senate seat in Texas.
Even if these candidates don’t win, their campaigns have been historic. If November isn’t kind to progressives, I don’t think we should brush this wave aside.
Why? Because I don’t think centrist politics works.
Despite the prevailing wisdom that moderates “get things done” by working across the aisle, being “polite,” or showing “decorum,” I just don’t buy it. Centrists keep failing.
Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump. John McCain gave great speeches but never lived up to his “maverick” brand. And Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court with the votes of moderate Democrat Joe Manchin and moderate Republican Susan Collins — two so-called “independent” voices who could have saved us from a far-right justice who’s been accused of sexual assault or misconduct by multiple women.
Yeah, I’m pretty down on moderates right now. I’m more interested in my representatives taking stands, taking risks, and reaching for the extraordinary, rather than making endless compromises and settling for “good enough.”
Jahana Hayes, running for the House in Connecticut — on a platform that includes single payer health care and an assault weapons ban — summed up the mentality of being bold. “You have to be willing to lose,” she said. “Everyone says, ‘You’re not taking the right path,’ but I was just very firm that I don’t want to just step into someone else’s footprints: I want to create new footprints.”
Is this progressive wave a reaction to Trump, or to establishment Democrats who have often been critical of these leftists? Is it a continuation of Bernie Sanders’ momentum? Yes, yes, and yes.
But I believe it’s so much more.
In this time of chaos and fear, people are speaking up, full of indignation and anger, but also full of hope. Right now, hope is a radical idea. And I think that policies like single-payer health care and abolishing ICE (or taking other dramatic measures to make immigration humane) represent a belief in radical kindness, understanding, and empathy.
I believe that our country will be better for making kinder choices. And I don’t believe that we’re going to create real change through the compromises and decorum of the moderates.
Let’s be brave enough to fail.