Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the U.S. While pleased that my preferred candidate won, I remain skeptical about the Democratic Party’s future. As a left-leaning centrist and an ardent supporter of Israel, my fear is this: Biden’s election may only represent a temporary victory for the reasonable, Clintonian approach to governance championed by past Democratic presidents.
To be clear, the defeat of President Donald Trump — the most dangerous and divisive president in living American memory — warrants celebration. The U.S. will be a better place in the absence of his character and politics.
But to argue that Biden’s victory has miraculously relegated the radicalism that plagues our body politic to the ash heap would be shortsighted. The GOP remains enthralled by xenophobia and Trumpism, while the Democratic Party continues to move in a direction that I cannot endorse.
The election of an establishment liberal like Biden likely represents the momentary triumph of centrism over the current radicalism we are witnessing on college campuses. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an extremely popular figure in the academy, even claimed that she would not be a member of the same party as Biden “in any other country.” Hence, it is not surprising that the president-elect’s progressive critics label him an “atavistic placeholder.” I hold a much more positive view of Biden, but I unfortunately don’t believe he represents the future of the Democratic Party.
Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) are not representative of the majority of current Democratic voters and politicians. Most remain much closer to the ideological center. The same cannot be said of the late Sen. John McCain’s Republican Party, which has become ravaged by health care nihilism, Islamophobia and climate change denial. Yet younger radicals in the Democratic Party are driving a perturbing trend of their own.
I say perturbing because many of the ideas disseminated by those on the fringes of the party are malignant, ill thought out and counterproductive. The far left isn’t a moral equivalent to the far right, nor do I blindly eschew every item on their agenda. To the contrary, I have much in common with those who would call themselves progressives. As a liberal, I support a woman’s right to choose, the appointment of loose constructionists to the Supreme Court and an ambitious program to confront climate change (though I don’t support the Green New Deal).
Still, there are also elements of the hard left that are deeply misguided. Like the self-righteous extremists of the past, radicals on both sides of the aisle tend to believe that they have a monopoly on policy solutions and a consequent capacity to ignore perspectives divergent from their own. Civil rights activist Van Jones notes this problem has manifested itself on college campuses — the breeding grounds for future Democratic leaders — where far-left students have sought repressive tactics to shut down speakers who don’t tread their politically correct line and established “safe spaces” to avoid views that make them “ideologically uncomfortable.” This coercion and dismissal of speech is dangerous not only because it infringes upon individual liberty, but also because it deprives us access to a diversity of viewpoints, which is a requisite for good policy and progress.
Indeed, my quarrel with the far left is partly one driven by concerns over electability. I fear that a Democratic Party that adopts the domestic and foreign policies advocated by The Squad will alienate many moderate voters and bolster conservatives electorally. However, I also oppose ardent leftists because I believe that nations do best for their citizens when they govern from the pragmatic center. Despite embracing a more progressive platform than many expected, Biden appears to understand this. To the pleasure of many constituents of the center-left, he resisted calls to defund the police and shunned Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for all plan. The president-elect appreciates that both policies are crippled by warts unbeknownst to the fanatics who promote them.
The truth is that the problems we face are complicated and will only be solved through open-minded, nuanced action as opposed to the seemingly-perfect solutions prescribed by zealots. Let me be clear that I am not making the case for the status quo or some utopic past. I am a liberal who seeks dynamic change to ensure a more equal and just society. Those further to my left hold similar goals, but they are often so beholden to their own dogma that they fail to consider the shortcomings of their more extreme views. As the quintessential centrist Barack Obama argued: “Even as we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality.”
Moreover, as a Jewish American who grew up in the United Kingdom, I know from experience that bigotry is not limited to the far right. Today, American Jews are physically attacked more often by white supremacists and Islamic extremists, but we are also demonized and marginalized by the anti-Israel hard left. Though the Democratic establishment remains committed to supporting the nation state of the Jewish people and combating anti-Jewish hate, to see members of my own party embrace antisemites like Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour is especially frightening. The latter successfully campaigned for Starbucks to expel the Anti-Defamation League from its diversity training, while the former praised Louis Farrakhan — a virulent antisemite who has referred to Jews as “satanic” and labeled Adolf Hitler a “very great man.”
My hope is that Biden will not be a placeholder before this dogmatic, unelectable and illiberal wing becomes the mainstream of the Democratic Party. I’m unsure of what the future holds. In the words of Yogi Berra: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” What I do know, however, is that centrist liberals must defend centrist liberalism on its own merits.
Too often, moderates explain the items on their agenda as “workable” deviations from hard-left “truths” — policies less beneficial than those championed by staunch progressives but more likely to become law in our tripartite system of government. Yet this is to deny our own claims to authenticity and validity. Our subscription to the centrist approach is not merely motivated by an eagerness to “get things done” but also a belief that good policy exists in the center.
Former President Bill Clinton put it best: “Our democracy cannot survive its current downward drift into tribalism, extremism, and seething resentment. … We have honest differences. We need vigorous debates. Healthy skepticism is good. It saves us from being too naive or too cynical.”
Joe Beare (23C) is from London.