Pragmatists and Moderates Must Take a Stand for Democracy and for the Democratic Party

 This is my favorite scene from one of my favorite movies, The American President.

Here is the good part, in transcript form.

Lewis Rothschild : They don't have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.

President Andrew Shepherd : Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.

The progressive movement, and the Democratic party, stand at a crossroads analogized by the colloquies outlined in a story about the presidency, love, and a lobbyist who painstakingly gathers the votes for her legislation twenty three years ago. There are those have a big microphone, those who are arresting blowhorns, and those who are staying quiet because we feel our voices aren’t loud enough, and those who are quiet because every time we speak, we are drowned out by what seems like an army of extremists in our midst. In the age of social media, this paradox of amplification and isolation is extreme.

But the truth is that pragmatists, center-left liberals and moderates do not just make up the governing center of this country, we make up the center of gravity within the progressive movement and the Democratic party. A recent poll found that people who prefer a fight over results, confrontation over compromise, and “breaking” the system over rebuilding amount to just 15% of Democratic voters. Almost 80% want leadership that can work in a pragmatic way to get things done, including when that means the essence of governance: compromise.

Let that sink in. Pragmatists outnumber ideologues among Democratic voters by more than 5:1. So why does it feel like the ideologues are succeeding in hijacking the Democratic party and the progressive movement?

One reason is twisted and tilted media coverage. The media loves controversy, and covering a “fight” gets more people to click on their links, tune into their stations, and “engage” (meaning, incessantly rant) on social media. So of course the media is obsessed about what AOC said about Republicans, how a Republican racist burst out crying about being called one, and how everyone is loaded for a fight. Of course, it rarely earns a mention that Democrats won the majority predominantly on the strength of pragmatic, moderate candidates in swing and even red districts. Because where’s the fun in patiently explaining legal sausage making? It’s much more exciting to cover the 9-car pile-up than to cover the meticulous clean up.

Some of that is flat out bias in the media to try to make the Democratic side look as crazy as the GOP. But a lot of it, honestly, is human nature. We all slow down for the crash on the side of the road. We can’t look away from a train wreck. And so the people charged with keeping our eyes on their screens have to constantly talk about train wrecks.

But at the end of the day, in all truthfulness, the ideologues get away with hogging the limelight and the microphone because we, the pragmatists who outnumber them 5:1, let them. We, the pragmatists who understand that government is to be used to do good things and not just talk about breaking things, see ideologues, who are a small minority within our movement, harass and hound the rest of us and we decide it’s not worth standing up and dogwalking them. We see them peppering the rest of us about what they want and decide we’d rather not get into a fight about how to accomplish things. We allow them to pretend that “feeling” resolutions that take no legal steps, spend no money, mandates no action, is somehow an audacious and ambitious plan to fight a planetary existential threat.

We don’t assert our claim on a movement that we comprise the vast majority of, and we let the ideologues represent a movement they clearly do not. We act like we’re the minority, and we surrender to the ideologues whatever they want, including the fantastical claim that they, the 15%, and not us, the 80%, are the righteous gatekeepers of what even counts as progressive.

Stop. We need to stop. Pragmatists and moderates need to stop ceding ground to extremist ideologues. We need to take back our movement, our party, our country. We need to speak up so that conversations in person and on social media do not feel like a void being filled by high pitch decibels from ideologues from either side. We need to warn that Donald Trump is the logical conclusion to ideological extremism. We need to act. We need to recruit candidates, volunteer, donate. We need to demand that the media give voice to the 4 in 5 pragmatists in our movement rather than allowing the 1 in 7 ideolgues to suck out all the oxygen. We need to support the media that does so, and politicians who care more about results than about screaming matches.

Because at the end of the day, we have to be the difference so that people stop drinking sand.

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