Alright, let’s get this out of the way, before any wild accusations start getting thrown my way by the 10 people that will actually read this. I voted for Joe Biden. But only because I believe in voting for the lesser of two evils.
Yes, I believe Joe Biden the President-elect of the United States is evil. I know many will contest and say “Joe is a good father bluh, bluh, bluh” as if loving your family is sufficient for being a good person. But his personal life aside, it is hard to describe Joe Biden’s policy agenda by anything but evil.
His healthcare plan would leave 3% of Americans without health insurance killing 125,000 people in the next 10 years. He supports a welfare system that leaves 6.5 million Americans in poverty and an immigration system that locks most of the poorest people in the world out. His climate proposals will leave parts of the world inhabitable long after he is gone. That’s not after some Republican blockade, that’s Joe Biden’s plan where he gets everything he wants.
When you evaluate Democrats on the actual morality of their ideas instead of simply contrasting them to the White Supremacy Party, things don’t look that rosy.
“Shhhh don’t say that too loud you are COSTING US ELECTIONS”
I can promise you that no Republicans are reading this. So if you believe that no person should live in poverty, that all people should have healthcare, and that immigration is a human right, let’s talk about the best way to get there.
Centrists Democrats have been pitching the same bland strategy for decades, the thought process goes something like this (note this is the most generous possible explanation of their strategy, I mostly think they don’t have one):
Step 1: Accept median voter theorem as true and the median voter to be unmovable during an election.
Step 2: Due to Step 1, run the candidate closest to the center, and only support ideas that are already popular.
Step 3: Pass popular reforms and pass some democracy reforms that make it easier to win future elections.
Step 4: Wait for Americans to become more progressive.
Step 5: Repeat Steps 2–4 indefinitely
Step 6: You made it! Hundreds of millions of people have suffered and died unnecessary deaths over the last few centuries but now if Democrats choose to, then we can finally create a humane country.
To evaluate if this strategy is working, then we have to determine the criteria. I think it is fair to say it is working if Democrats are winning elections, consistently passing policy that improves people’s lives, and/or passing Democracy reform that makes radical change more possible in the future.
None of those things are happening.
Over the past 40 years, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have been the only Democratic Presidents. Joe Biden will mark the third. In total, Democrats have won 5 out of the past 12 Presidential elections. Congressional and state level elections have fared much worse.
When Democrats do get power, they aren’t exactly passing progressive legislation. As President, Clinton passed “welfare reform” which really just meant shrinking the welfare state and adding work requirements. As a result, the amount of Americans receiving cash assistance under Clinton fell from 12.2 million in 1996 to 5.3 million in 2001. He also signed the 1994 crime bill which has been a key contributor of mass incarceration in the United States (Senator Joe Biden was a leading proponent of the bill) and deregulated the banking market, which some claim is partially to blame for the 2009 financial crisis. He did sign the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 which guaranteed workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave for certain medical and family reasons, including pregnancy. So at least there was some good. But there seems to be much more bad.
Obama’s key piece of legislation was the Affordable Care Act, which has helped 20 million people gain health insurance. That’s great, but if Democrats would have simply pushed to abolish the filibuster then he could have added a public option and insured more people at a lower cost (or even a single payer system). But they did not. Other than healthcare, Obama got almost nothing through Congress. Where he had the most executive power, foreign policy, he failed on multiple fronts — earning the name “deporter in chief” and signing off on countless drone strikes that killed hundreds of civilians.
Democrats have won control of both chambers of Congress five times in the past 40 years (20 attempts). They controlled the Legislative and Executive branch from 1991–1995 and from 2009–2011. They have not passed any Democracy reform during this time.
Of course, you’re supposed to believe the future will be different. Through the entire 2020 campaign season anyone with a sense of morality was told to shut up, or it would be your fault Trump won. I mean, a man was killed on the streets by an armed agent of the state and when protests broke out some of you yelled “go back inside you’re costing us votes!” The message is clear, don’t demand good things! Shut up and wait and eventually we will give them to you. But the good things aren’t coming. The theory of change doesn’t work.
Here’s the current “plan”. Run the most moderate possible campaigns. Win the both seats in the Senate runoff in Georgia. Then, abolish the filibuster by getting every single Senate Democrat to vote on it, including Joe Manchin and other Democrats who said they would not. Then pass DC statehood and change the lopsided electoral advantage of the Senate from like +6% for Republicans to +4%. And then uhhhh??? I don’t think they’ve gotten that far. Any Democrat with half an ounce of understanding of the current situation would carve up every blue territory into a new state and take permanent control of the Senate in order to force the Republican’s to create an actual democracy. But they won’t. Big ideas are completely off the table to them. Nobody is thinking even on the edge of the box. I’m a teacher with a side hobby and this shit is obvious to me….stop excusing and staning these people who are clearly very bad at their jobs. From Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi to Bernie Sanders and AOC, start demanding much, much more.
Here is a better theory of change, one with some historical evidence to show it actually works. Stand up for what is right and demand that others stand with you. Pitch big ideas like a UBI, Medicare For All, and open borders and show selfish people how they will personally be better off….and then persuade them not to be so selfish. We HAVE TO convince people that a better world is possible, and elections are way, way, way too big of a platform to quietly sit in the corner nodding along telling people that they are right. If you ever get an audience of a few million Americans, don’t nicely tell them what they want to hear, passionately tell them what they need to hear. Look directly into that camera and talk about all the unnecessary suffering that’s happening and have the facts and the data to show how we can end it.
This trend of insisting that saying what you actually want to do is a bad strategy isn’t new. In 1961 just 27% of Americans believed that civil rights demonstrations would help the cause of Black Americans. People have been fooling themselves for decades.
So yeah, this long game theory of change might sound nice in your head, but it is not going to work. It never has and it never will. In the past 40 years almost all the reduction in suffering has come despite policy change not because of it.
We have to go out there and win the battle of ideas, it’s the only chance we have. I’m tired of Democrats running towards the center while Republicans drift further and further towards White Supremacy. It’s maddening. I’m not saying incremental change doesn’t matter, I’m saying it’s not good enough.
And yes, yes, yes….Democrats are 1 million times better than Republicans. You’re not going to win some gotcha with me with a shopping list of Democratic accomplishments. I’m not some fringe third party voter. I’m someone with a concrete theory of change — pull on that Overton window until it rips off the hinges and then throw it across the room. There’s way too much suffering in the world to do anything else.
If one accepts that we should try to create a better world without poverty, borders, or people without health insurance then the best way to get there is to actually name those ideas and fight for them, not the 6 step process I outlined above. One of the best things about good public policy, is that it almost always benefits the majority of people. So Democrats should lean into good public policy and not be afraid of Republican name calling. But that hasn’t been the trend.
The best example I can think of is the 2020 primary. The progressive end of the party fully leaned into single payer health insurance, a policy that would both lower costs and expand choice. It would almost certainly benefit the majority of Americans. This left moderate democrats with two choices: 1) Build on what Bernie and Warren were saying and explain to the electorate the benefits of national health insurance, collaborate to create an in-depth tax plan to fund it, and show Americans that the majority of people would be better off under the system or 2) Regurgitate right wing talking points to try carve out their own lane for power and setback the progress for national health insurance.
All the major players chose option 2 either because of faulty logic, bad policy chops, or a personal greed for power. Don’t let them or their supporters fool you, standing on a stage with millions of people watching and lying and misleading Americans about health insurance did not help Democrats win elections. It did decrease the probability of the US having national health insurance any time soon. Nobody on that stage was dumb enough to think a system where you can go to any doctor in any place gives a person less choice than the current system that requires you to be in network IF you have insurance at all.
Lying about good policy is not in fact how you enact good policy.
To me it really boils down to this: in a democracy, for the most part, for policy to pass it needs to have the support of the majority. When you have a platform of any kind, you decide if you want to increase or decrease the probability of that policy getting majority support. If you want to increase it, then you should advocate for it.
Constantly running towards the center and trying to brand yourself perfectly on par with the median voter is not working. Most people don’t have concrete policy beliefs, they are malleable and we can change them. If you want to win elections, present people with compelling new ideas on how you can improve their lives.
But for a second let’s pretend that centrists are better at winning elections, that still doesn’t mean always electing them is the best way to reduce suffering. Let’s do a little math:
Candidate A has a 60% chance to win an election and would reduce suffering/increase utility by 50 points and candidate B’s numbers are 40% and 150 points. The expected value of Candidate B is much higher (60 to 30), a moral, and rational voter should vote for candidate B. And this ignores the potential future benefits of Candidate B shifting policy preferences in the long run even if they lose in the general election. I don’t agree with Bernie Sanders on everything but his losing 2016 primary campaign changed the Democratic party forever.
The idea that it is bad to try to change the median voter’s mind during an election is contagious in Democratic circles, even amongst progressives. It is immeasurably dumb. Elections are the only time normies are tuning in, it’s the best time to present and persuade people to accept new ideas.
Most Democrats don’t get that. Other powerful ones are purposefully misleading you so that you do their bidding for them…..like “progressive” NIMBYs and affluent homeowners.
Here’s how to actually make change: research the best policy and then persuade people to support it. I’m tired of losing this 3d chess match, it isn’t working and people are hurting. If you believe in a Better World, then go persuade people to join you, it’s that simple folks.