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Progress Across the Spectrum
November 4, 2017
by William P. Meyers

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Generalities are fine, as long as specifics are accounted for

Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and their crews could hand the Democrats a big victory in 2018 and 2020. America urgently needs that. But victory is no more guaranteed than Hillary Clinton's election as President was. A lot will depend on decisions made by leftist, progressive,and democratic party activists during the period.

Even in the highly doubtful scenario that the myriad factions of the Democratic Party, and those left of Democrat, play a perfect game, we could lose (not win back majorities in Congress) in either or both elections. The single most important variable is the economy. If the economy continues to grow, Trump will take credit for it. Then swing voters who benefit from the growth will need very convincing arguments to keep them from swinging back to the Republicans.

There appear to be two main theories in the Democratic Party about how to put together a winning team. One is that we have run candidates across the board who can whip people up for socialist, or perhaps progressive, ideas like universal health care, defunding the military, stronger protections for the environment, and a more progressive income structure.

The other theory is that American voters are not ready for socialism. To win, we have to win swing voters. That means at least posturing about military strength, making only incremental changes in health care, and only modestly messing with America's mostly free-market economic structure. Running slightly left of center should be a winner when Republicans run to the hard right.

Then there is the left-of-democrat mishmash. It includes Trotskyists (who secretly admire that their namesake murdered many of his political opponents, including Marxist social democrats), anarchists (of many stripes), the Green Party, other leftist political parties, and many independent leftists who are generally opposed to capitalism, environmental destruction, and various things from fluoride in drinking water to traditional gender roles.

The problem for every group (here, I include centrists, conservatives, and the rest of the Republican spectrum) is that American voters are not uniform. Aside from the usual variables strategists worry about (sex, age, income bracket, ethnicity, urban/suburban/rural) there are a host of variables that come into play in elections.

I want to focus on geography. Even though it is just one of many variables, it is the one that electoral districts are created around. Looking at geography shows it is possible to optimize progressive values. But it can't be done by adopting, as a national standard, positions that only work in the large urban cities of the west coast.

The non-profit realm offers some clues. There are hundreds of non-profit organizations. There are some that focus on changing people's minds. Let's look at one that wants to change people's minds about Issue A.

There is a spectrum of opinion about Issue A. 40% of Americans don't even know it is an issue. 20% are firmly against it, 20% lean against it. 19% lean towards it, and only 1% is firmly for it.

People for A needs to fundraise from the 1% pro-A people to start changing minds. With money to do work, there are a number of strategies available. The most obvious is a focus on converting the 19% leaning towards A to being firmly for A. But even if that strategy is successful, it only goes so far. Somehow, to get a 50% majority that might get A put into law, some combination of 40% apathetic group and the 20% who were leaning against it must be brought over to the pro-A side. Typically this is a long process, taking years or decades, depending on the issue. Also, the anti-A people will start their own anti-A education.

In voting for politicians we have to take geography into the mix, and the fact that politicians represent policy bundles. A voter might agree with a politician on all issues but one, and yet vote against the politician because that issue is a key priority for that voter.

So, progressives, in case you have not figured it out, we need some flexibility based on geography and specific issues if we want to get to the point where we can pass progressive agendas in Congress, and in most state legislatures.

Many progressives and leftists hate flexibility. Mainly this is just a personality defect, but it also comes from some bitter experience. Politicians who pretend to be progressive, but are too flexible and afraid of taking risks, have disappointed us many times.

Those who hate flexibility tend to forget some important history lessons. My favorite example is universal health care. Many left-progressives count it as an all-or-nothing game. They may know that a universal federal healthcare plan was proposed back at least as far as the Harry Truman administration, when it was seen as a natural extension to the New Deal.

The first crack in the free market health care world was the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, covering citizens over the age of 65 and low-income citizens. Jimmy Carter tried to expand government healthcare, in a program similar to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but it was killed by opposition from the left wing of the Democratic Party, led by Senator Ted Kennedy. These single-payer, universal healthcare Now politicians thought that a partial solution would undercut getting single-payer in the long run. But they had nowhere near the ability to get single payer passed.

Progress was made with certain extensions to Medicare and Medicaid. Even Republicans helped at times, like when the "donut hole" in Medicare was shrunk. Hillary Clinton and allies passed universal health coverage for children. But the next big step was not until Obamacare.

For those of us who would like to see a single-payer insurance system, or even government run medicine in general, Obamacare is not the greatest. But it is a remarkable improvement on the prior system.

So, gaming history, what would have happened if Ted Kennedy had supported Jimmy Carter's program, and it had become law? I think we would have single payer by now. Democrats would have pushed incremental improvements, and the Republicans would have sought to incrementally undo them. When Obama was elected and has majorities in both houses, passing single payer would have brought America into line with other leading nations.

The same could be said of racism. You can be against racism, but you can't wave a magic wand and make it go away. It requires continual education, and the approach taken needs to vary with the level of racism (and the personality) you are dealing with.

For the Democratic Party, Georgia is different than Ohio, and Ohio is different than California. Cultures are different in each state, and most people pick up most of their political cues from cultures. Moving people in a progressive direction requires a lot of education. The best form of education comes from friends, family, and neighbors (though media does shape people too). While people are educating each other, we want them to vote Democrat.

Face up to the facts: lots of people want the spoils of political office. We want to win elections to be able to enact good public policy. What we want is the most progressive level of consensus we can achieve and still win an election in a given district in a given year. Refusing to support a progressive politician, as defined by the current politics of the particular district, is a recipe not just to lose a particular election, but to lose the nation.

Progressive within a particular electoral district. That is the winning formula. The entire U.S.A. is the electoral district in only one election, that for President.



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