It’s time for the Democratic Party to stop nominating only centrist candidates for president

Despite fears of socialism, progressives stand a chance on the national stage

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

By Srija Nagireddy, Collegian Columnist

This weekend marked Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. Rather than the sweep Democrats dreamed of, Biden narrowly beat his opponent by slim margins in several key states. This was a victory far too close to validate the Democratic establishment’s claim that Biden, a moderate candidate with decades of experience, would deliver a sizable blow against President Donald Trump by virtue of his sheer electability. That, of course, did not happen, and the way this election played out has made one thing clear: the Democratic Party should no longer solely rely on centrist presidential candidates with the premise that their moderate policy views make them popular with most Americans.

Over the last couple of decades, the Democratic base has increasingly shifted to the left on hot-topic issues like immigration, healthcare and race. Progressive policies have become more mainstream and the desire for legislation like Medicare for All (which boasts support from 69 percent of voters) has increased.

During the primaries, candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren garnered significant support, impassioning Americans by tapping into the vein of the nation looking for extensive change. Voters rejected their bids in favor of Biden’s, however, under the belief that these more progressive candidates would not stand a chance on the national stage.

The main argument for picking a more conservative candidate lies in the assertion that a progressive one would be too divisive and that the merest whiff of socialism would be enough to send voters away. A moderate Democrat, the logic follows, would be the more electable one by simple virtue of steering clear of this ideological landmine, thereby allowing them to accrue support from a wider slate of Americans.

There’s a problem with this claim, however. It does not take any sort of real socialist platform to be labelled as one by competitors. During the presidential election, Biden was consistently painted as such, an almost laughable proposition considering his reputation as the quintessential moderate Democrat.

Medicare for All, which many conservatives see as a socialist policy, is something Biden notably does not support. He’s even implied he would veto the legislation due to cost. Rather, Biden’s plans for healthcare revolve around building upon the Affordable Care Act, a main part of which is the integrated marketplace allowing for the purchase of private insurance. This is very different from Medicare for All.

Based on his proposed policies and record in the senate, it’s clear that Biden is no socialist. Yet that did not stop Trump from calling him one. In a political landscape where allegations of socialism against any liberal politicians have become the norm, no amount of denial will save candidates from getting painted as anti-capitalist. Blindly rejecting progressive candidates out of terror over the specter of socialism, therefore, is simply ineffective. It also invalidates the real draw towards the ideals these candidates espouse among many Americans today. Rather than focusing their efforts on hyping up the “electability” of the most blandly inoffensive and status quo Democrats alive, the establishment needs to focus more on energizing and assembling voters in support of candidates willing to make real change.

Biden was able to clinch victory in part because of the sweeping efforts of progressive organizers to mobilize voters in support of him. Georgia stands out as a clear example of this, especially the remarkable work of grassroots efforts like Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project, which helped register more than 800,000 new voters, creating a “new coalition of first-time voters, many young and of color, [who] put Joe Biden over the top in the state by more than 10,000 votes as of early Sunday.”

It’s this ability to connect to voters and empower them to show up at the polls, rather than the perceived universal appeal of given candidates, that matters most. Nominating out-of-touch and uninspiring candidates who are essentially relics from the past is no way to ensure a strong future for the party. Democrats are changing, and it’s time we have a presidential candidate who reflects that.

Srija Nagireddy can be reached at [email protected]