Advocate says progressives should go on the offensive despite election setbacks
After the Democrats’ drubbing in the midterm elections, some have either muted their message or moved to the middle, but a North Carolina progressive commentator says it’s time for progressives to speak up more clearly and more forcefully.
In a column posted Wednesday, Rob Schofield, director of research and policy development for NC Policy Watch, said the battered left should go on the offensive.
Schofield’s column, headlined “Taking the Fight to The Right,” lists steps North Carolina Democrats should take now that they are in the minority of both legislative chambers for the first time in more than a century. He urges them to resist broad cuts in state spending, adoption of new fees and efforts to privatize government.
“So, in the days and weeks ahead, don’t shrink from the fight. Stand up, speak out, and organize with your friends and fellow travelers. Conservatives may have won an important battle last month, but the real fight is just beginning,” Schofield writes
Schofield’s call to action comes as top Democrats have signaled a different approach. President Obama has disappointed progressives by extending all the Bush tax cuts. Gov. Perdue has reinforced Republican claims of government waste and inefficiency by calling for a reorganization of state government and more power to cut spending.
In an interview, Schofield said he put out the call to stir progressives to recommit to their core beliefs, but he so far sees few signs that the recently defeated are heading back to the ramparts.
“This column was an attempt to urge them in that direction,” he said. “But, in fairness, they may still be licking their wounds.”
David Rohde, a professor of political science at Duke University, said Democrats may be discouraged after the midterm elections, but their ability to recover depends on what they can’t directly control — the economy. As the ruling party, Democrats in the midterm elections “got the blame, if not the responsibility” for the poor economy, he said.
“The main that has to happen for the Democrats to be more successful in 2012 is that the economy gets better,” Rohde said. “That’s the reality under the Obama administration’s willingness to conclude the tax deal with the Republicans … If the economy improves, at least the president will be in a lot better shape and the political context will be much better for his party.”
Schofield thinks part of the progressive Democrats’ problem is a wariness of being labeled by conservatives in the manner that Obama was described at as “socialist” for supporting universal health insurance.
“I think a lot of progressives and liberals are just afraid of being called names,” he said.
Schofield said progressives are at a disadvantage in sound-bite style debates because their positions are often more complex than conservative calls to cut taxes and cut government. But he said progressives should speak out anyway.
“For people who see gray areas and see that life is complicated and there aren’t simplistic answers, it’s not always as easy to sell to the public,” he said. “But [progressives] shouldn’t shy away from expressing a real moral vision of where they want to take the country.”
John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh, said he doesn’t see progressives lacking in conviction.
“I think they are pretty active and pretty loud. I’m not seeing any lack of their participation in the debate,” Hood said. “I think advocates for government spending are always well represented in policy debates and they will be this year, too.”