How to run against the Tea Party: Go left

We are properly focused on the short-term concerns about Republican obstinance in Congress. One way or another, we will get beyond this. The result may be as small as the United States being slightly damaged or as large as our planet sustaining a major economic blow. At this point, the right wing Republicans either don’t understand what is happening or they simply don’t care.

But what comes next after this particular episode of obstinance is over? Chances are that until the 2014 mid-term elections, President Obama will remain staunch in support of reason and logic. We need him to do that. And chances also are that the Republicans will declare victory and continue to make a mockery of democracy.

There are few times in American history where the people will have as clear a choice for their representatives in Congress as 2014. The Tea Party will be there on the ballots, both in primaries and general election. Members of the Tea Party give every indication that they are unwilling to compromise. In all likelihood, only a few of them will run as lions cloaked in sheep’s clothing. It doesn’t seem to be in their nature to “trim their sails” and pretend that they are moderates while campaigning and then as radical rights when they govern. Most of them will run as the right-wing zealots that they are. Some incumbent Tea Party members will lose to more moderate Republicans in the primaries. And those who make it to the general election are more likely to be threatened by their Democratic opponents.

The dynamics are more complicated than that. We tend to see our present political party alignment as Tea Party Republicans to the right; moderate Republicans to the center; and all Democrats as a united front against those in the Tea Party. Differences that exist in the Democratic Party are largely obscured by the unity that the Tea Party created among Democrats. But truth be told, there are at least two strong factions in the Democratic Party: (1) moderates who support the general agendas of labor, minorities, environmental reformers, etc. and (2) progressives who want to tackle the really difficult issues such as campaign finance reform, real gun control, economic redistribution, Medicare for all, etc.

Conventional wisdom would be that the best way for the Democrats to defeat the Republicans in 2014 would be to find engaging, reasonable candidates whose politics are really “Republican Lite.” At times this political animal has been referred to as “Blue Dog Democrats.” Some, perhaps most of the Democrats currently in Congress are of this ilk. They support major entitlement programs but are rather leery of new federal spending to jump start the economy. They support environmental regulation, unless it has a negative impact on their own district or their contributors. They want to reduce the budget and they hesitate to raise taxes. Fortunately, they do realize that generally the more money that the government spends the healthier (in many ways) the American people will be. Because they are about as close to the Republican philosophy as any Democrat can be, they are considered the least threatening kind of Democrat to Republicans who may be able to step away from their party, at least for the time being.

However, a somewhat different and possibly more lucrative approach for Democrats to take would be to run real progressives against the Republicans. Why progressives? First, they have an enthusiasm for their agenda that might be the equal of  Tea Party fervor. Second, there is a bit of a libertarian strain that runs through both groups. Tea Partiers want to be left alone from those who would control their guns or impose safety regulations on their business. Progressives oppose the government imposing their reproductive choices or limiting basic human rights to a few of the “more privileged.” Progressive candidates will give the Democrats needed energy and they will excite much of their base.

A strategy of running progressives in the 2014 elections and seeing how well they do against Republican candidates compared to “Republican lite” Democrats would tell us a lot about what the future of the Democratic Party should be.

Wherever that might be, following the 2014 elections, Democrats will have a much better idea as to the political philosophy they most want to follow. Also, at that time, progressives need to work more at the grass roots to show the wisdom of their philosophy.