Democrats must recognize that radical social and economic changes demand a new politics.
By John Nichols
July 11, 2018
When Bernie Sanders was beginning his presidential run, I asked the nation’s most prominent democratic socialist how he thought the word “socialism” would play on the campaign trail.
“Do they think I’m afraid of the word?” he replied. “I’m not afraid of the word.”
That was a transformational answer, as it signaled a break with the politics of caution and compromise that for decades had stifled debate within the Democratic Party where Sanders was mounting his bid. It also marked a renewal of the historic premise that, in order to progress, America’s political leaders must be open to a broad range of ideas. This premise fostered the great economic, social, and political advances that tamed the excesses of the Gilded Age and its aftermath. It cleared the way for a bolder and more expansive politics—influenced by democratic-socialist, progressive, and populist ideas—that created space for the rise of national leaders such as Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Democratic socialism has deep roots in American history. Socialists have been campaigning for major offices and winning major elections for more than a century in the United States. Voters have elected socialist senators, congressmen, legislators, and mayors. Alliances of socialists, populists, and progressives once shaped the politics of Midwestern states such as Wisconsin. And this is not just a historical footnote. As an unapologetic democratic socialist, Sanders won 23 primary and caucus contests in his 2016 Democratic presidential bid—securing over 60 percent of the vote in almost a dozen of them, carrying urban and rural regions and sweeping the youth vote. A proud democratic socialist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just won a primary victory over one of the top Democrats in the US House of Representatives — and members of Democratic Socialists of America have been on a winning streak in legislative and local races nationwide.
So it should not come as a surprise that Cynthia Nixon, who is mounting an insurgent challenge to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary, took to Twitter on Tuesday to offer this perspective on the ideological debates of the moment: “Why don’t pundits who are so obsessed with @Ocasio2018 supporting democratic socialism ask corporate-backed politicians why they are so supportive of unfettered capitalism?”
That’s a very good question. A necessary question. And Nixon expanded upon her remarks with a statement that declared her campaign is aligned with democratic-socialist principles.
“Some more establishment, corporate Democrats get very scared by this term but if being a democratic socialist means that you believe health care, housing, education and the things we need to thrive should be a basic right, not a privilege, then count me in,” wrote Nixon. “As Martin Luther King [Jr.] put it, call it democracy or call it democratic socialism but we have to have a better distribution of wealth in this country.”