If You Want to Win, Go Progressive

The big question right now is whether to call Hillary Clinton a progressive, or a "moderate."

And then there's the question of who is more electable in a general election: an unabashedly progressive democrat, like Bernie Sanders; or a "centrist" democrat, like Hillary Clinton.

Jonathan Capehart weighed in on the matter on Thursday morning's edition of MSNBC Live with the claim that it will be important for Democrats to move to the center to win the general election - and he added that it will be easier for Hillary Clinton to do that.

It may be conventional wisdom that a candidate has to swing to the center to win in a general election.

And that conventional wisdom has been central to the Democratic platform ever since Al From's 1992 "bloodless coup" transformed the FDR/LBJ Democratic Party into the Clinton party of "centrist" corporatism.

But that conventional wisdom just doesn't stand up to the scrutiny of history.

The truth is, Democrats win when voter turnout is high.

And voter turnout is high when voters have real progressive candidates to support.

Back in 2014, Democrats were devastated by the midterm election results - Republicans easily won control of the Senate and strengthened their majority in the House.

In Arkansas, Republican Tom Cotton beat Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor by seven points to win a House seat; in Kentucky, Allison Lundergan Grimes lost to Mitch McConnell by over 15 points.

In West Virginia, Wall Street darling and state GOP legacy Shelley Moore-Capito won the Senate seat that Democrat Jay Rockefeller had held for 30 years.

Moore-Capito easily trounced West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who ran as a so-called "centrist" democrat and campaigned against many of Obama's policies -just like Grimes had run away from Obama on guns.

Perhaps most shockingly to the Democratic establishment in 2014, three-term Louisiana Democratic Senator and friend of the oil industry Mary Landrieu lost her bid for re-election by 11 points in a runoff election against Republican Bill Cassidy, because she campaigned as a "centrist" Democrat.

Beyond that, Democrats lost their majorities in state legislatures across 9 states, AND they lost 24 of the 36 gubernatorial contests that year.

But while some so-called "centrist" Democratic politicians were losing big on being Republican-lite, the voters were going full-on progressive.

In 2014, for example, voters easily passed measures to increase the minimum wage - in four Republican-controlled states.

In state and local elections across the country, voters passed measures to guarantee paid sick leave, to protect access to abortions, and to implement real criminal justice reforms.

2012 was similar: Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives, but Democratic voters in numerous states voted for solidly progressive policies like raising taxes, protecting unions, and moving forward on marriage equality.

So why did voters reject the "centrist" Democratic candidates so thoroughly - but they embraced and passed progressive initiatives across the country?

The truth is, Republicans didn't win majorities in 2012 and 2014; Democrats lost them.

Why did they lose?

Because, when voters don't turn out, Republicans win.

Republicans know that, and Heritage Foundation and Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich spelled it out over 35 years ago.

Democrats know it too, but it's only progressive democrats, like Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, and, yes, Bernie Sanders who seem to understand what actually brings voters out to vote.

That new energy that he's bringing into the Democratic Party is exactly what Democrats will need if they want to win big in 2016.

Like Harry Truman once said, "Given a choice between a Republican and a Democrat who acts like a Republican; the voters will pick the Republican every time!".

After the Democrats got "shellacked" in 2014, DLC co-founder Al From told the New York Times that Democrats were losing because "[The policies] we promote the most are ones that don't speak to the middle class, like raising the minimum wage."


Never mind the fact that voters passed measures to raise the minimum wage actually passed in four REPUBLICAN controlled states in 2014.

That's the conventional wisdom from the DLC Democrats, though: they cling to the fantasy that Democratic candidates are losing even as progressive policies are winning, and it's because the candidates aren't centrist enough.

But the reality is: truly progressive ballot measures passed in 2012 and 2014.

And truly progressive democrats, like Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, and Bernie Sanders easily won their contests.

Because they ran as progressives with progressive stances on the issues that impact America's disappearing middle class.

Like Barack Obama in 2008.

Like Bernie Sanders in 2016.

Jonathan Capehart can keep spouting the inside-the-beltway DLC "conventional wisdom" about how Democrats will need to move to the center to win the general election.

But the truth is, Democrats win when voter turnout is high.

And voter turnout is high when voters have real progressive candidates and a truly progressive platform to support.


jrbot22's picture
jrbot22 7 years 18 weeks ago

I almost never disagree with you, Thom, but in this case I do. I am a Bernie supporter, but I believe that most Americans, while supporing progressive "issues," don't connect those issues to progressive "candidates." This crazy disconnect will probably doom Bernie this year. Eventually though, Americans will get it. Clean energy, tariffs, free health care, breakup of the banks, will happen. It just probably won't happen in my lifetime.

sakkela's picture
sakkela 7 years 18 weeks ago

I think we are all Progressives. We all don’t have to agree on everything. I am a Christian but I know a few people who have said I do not pass their test and as a result, as far as they are concern I am not one.

The idea that to be a progressive I have to agree with you on everything will be a mistake. We can disagree on issue but if we start pushing people out we are no different from the conservatives.

Ideological purity will destroy us. Sometime as progressive is it not our job to move a mountain. Because doing so or trying to move a mountain will be the detrimental to our health. Sometime we get our changes incrementally.

We should learn from the conservative group and see how they never really push to move the mountain but just move as much rock they can one at a time.

The human nature is always afraid of too much change too quick. Even when the change is good, it is the human nature.

I know you sometimes say President Obama did not fight hard enough. The truth is we did not push him to fight hard enough. You might remember the louder voices during his presidency where not the progressive. The T-party was loud and we kept quit. We did not show up to the polls to let him know. We did not call the office of the president like the T-party and the conservative movement did. Everything is not Obamas fault.

The general disagreement is on process who’s way is the best. I enjoy the debates I love politics but we have to be careful of not do the republicans job for them by destroying our candidate before the general election.

PS in the general the Republican Party is not going to give up all the cash that will be rolling their way.

dianhow 7 years 18 weeks ago

I will vote for Bernie in primary but if he loses, Hillary gets my vote in general election To vote for Cruz, Trump would amount to being UN American . Yes I feel that strongly GOP policies, trickle down.. cuts in SS & medicare, cuts in education, appointing more pro wealth judges, anti fair wage , anti birth control, which stops abortions. Reagan was last Repub I voted for ( Shining City on a Hill ? What a crock ! ) I have learned a lot since then.. I see NO GOP family values... Just the opposite

cccccttttt 7 years 18 weeks ago

How about a hybrid ticket?

Bernie for president and Hillary for VP.

He captures the populist energy.

She appeals to many women, Latino, and Black voters.

As a female Lyndon Johnson she would definitely kick butt in the Congress.


Old_Curmudgeon 7 years 18 weeks ago

Archaelogists in 3016

{… 1.8 limericks …}

When archeologists exhume

America from her tomb,

they’ll blame whom

for our nation’s doom?

Repugnantans, we presume.

Hence our gloom

that the bastids might zoom

into power, wearing a Fox costume.

{It’s Fox News which sponsors the doom.}

. . . .

Duck Dynasty wearing a Fox:



dtodd560's picture
dtodd560 7 years 18 weeks ago

The fact is it doesn't matter if we elect "sort of progressive" Hillary, or "really progressive" Bernie...if we don't win back either the Senate or the House, we will have 4-8 more years of gridlock. We should be spending more time focusing on the House and Senate races than the Presidential one...

George Wythe's picture
George Wythe 7 years 18 weeks ago

She has one problem.

Dose she worship this

Craig Bush's picture
Craig Bush 7 years 18 weeks ago

Bernie can win! He needs to focus on single payer by offering public option once more. Allow teachers to buy into medicare at a discount with the stipulation that all savings to the school district go directly to teacher salaries. This will raise our wages by $10,000. We can get the healthcare ceo's out of our education budget. They don't provide healthcare. Doctors and nurses and medical technicians do. Health insurance corporations are nothing more then a bookeeping service skimming 20% off the top. Before obamacare it was 30%. This is a ponzi scheme. We can provide this service for 3%. Give teachers a raise and healthcare at a discount. Our society can do this for our teachers.

joebhed's picture
joebhed 7 years 18 weeks ago

This election more than any will also weed out the self-selected as informed political commentators, and Capehart has already gone down.

Looking the revolution in the face and calling for centrism is just his latest and maybe worst example. Probably not the worst. Maybe ironic, historically.

Actually, his Clinton stripes have been obviously visible for a good long time. Going with the Foundation, are you Jonathan?

And if it's the Democratic Party that he's all of a sudden worried about, where the hell has he been, except pulling to the Clinton Center.

Thanks for the heads up there, Jonathan.

See ya at the party.

eagleye's picture
eagleye 7 years 18 weeks ago

Capehart thinks Dems should move to the 'center?' Oy! The center has been shifted so far right in recent decades that it's no longer the center. Consider this-- when polled on specific issues, voters consistently support progressive policies, yet the Democratic party keeps waffling and triangulating and accommodating the Right. Dems like Clinton, Schumer, McCaskill, Lieberman and Clinton have abandoned FDR's legacy and have become a extension of the corporate sector. Certainly Dems are better on social issues, but on kitchen table economics they have dropped the ball, and that is the reason for their abysmal performance in elections. Bernie is absolutely right to present himself as an unapologetic progressive. It's the only way to drive turnout to the polls, which has an impact on all the down-ballot races. We aren't going to bring about significant change by saying, "Hey, let's move to the center."

sacredori's picture
sacredori 7 years 18 weeks ago

I still can't get over Hillary calling herself a progressive. I lived through the 90's and I'm not brain dead. I remember when the conservative Clintons were the democrats answer to the republic shift. All of her doublespeak is really making me dislike her.

joebhed's picture
joebhed 7 years 17 weeks ago

Thanks for the advice, but the focus on a Sanders Presidency is well placed and in fact essential if we are to begin the changes to the Assembly immediately for the two year later takeover.

Bernie will laying the groundwork and setting the table, and those ignoramus will be dug in against doing what the people want. Which is where we want them. Can't do any of that with Prez Hill and Bill.

THAT is how you change the system

Every state, every seat.

Bernie is great, though far from perfect.

He alone is willing and capable of taking them all on like they need to be done.

Go, Bernie.

joebhed's picture
joebhed 7 years 17 weeks ago

That's the ONLY way I wouldn't vote for Bernie - put Hillary a hearbeat away.

Certin progressive suicide ... even if they COULD get elected.

LR from Oregon's picture
LR from Oregon 7 years 17 weeks ago

Spot On Thom ! ! !

Great Article ! ... Yes, Centrists or Moderates do throw a Bone out to us Progressives once in awhile but over all, I've been Very Frustrated with the Oboma Presidency because he would Fold in compromise, like the ACA, which should've been a Medicare for all Bill.... and there are many more examples of Lousy compromises.

I'm SOoooooo Sick of Moderates & Centrists ! It has done the Party Harm to Embrace such a Philosophy !

Thanks Buddy!

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 7 years 17 weeks ago

Clinton #1, Baby Bush Obama, and now Clinton #2?!! That translates to: Republican Lite, Hard-Core Republican, then Republican Lite Again... now MORE Republican Lite?! HELL no.

John_mulkins123's picture
John_mulkins123 7 years 17 weeks ago



Our political system was written by 18th-century plutocrats, who feared democracy. That is why we need to change our political system. A discussion on the "hot topic" of the day is pointless. It's just a broken system you are talking about and trying to make sense of.

Modernize OUR constitution now.


OrgDevGuy's picture
OrgDevGuy 7 years 17 weeks ago

Hillary is "moderate" only if you're being charitable. I would call her center right, at best.

She & The Big Bubba have a history of being nearly as corporatist as the Repugnicans. If she's the nominee, considering the altrenative, I'll hold my nose & vote for her. But I would certainly prefer that she not win the nomination.

bollivar 7 years 17 weeks ago

Du Hillary is not a moderate!!!!! You are all wrong. Du Hillary is for Du Hillary. Get over it!!! Moderate? Progressive? She will say anything to get power and money!!!! If she says she is a progressive, then she wants progressive support. But then she has many Wall Street and corporate support and ties. She is as phony as our current, brave leader. I have lived through many presidents and have watched the Clintons very close. You all are not paying attention to what is infront of you.

pbarnrob's picture
pbarnrob 7 years 17 weeks ago

Bernie should be really nervous with H as a VP, even more than JFK with LBJ at his back.

In fact, after the NH primary, I sure hope Bernie has some real and serious Secret Service protection, or his own loyal security in place.

Suspect he's worrying the rest of the field enough already.

Really needs someone watching his six!

Old_Curmudgeon 7 years 17 weeks ago

re Hillary-vs-Bernie


[Bernie-ism the better choice] -

Were I still a poli-sci prof, perhaps I’d teach that the Right has destroyed the good-for-America things which scholars found applicable-in-the-USA back when I undergradded in the 1950s: Charles Lindblom’s “incrementalism” in the context of Robert Dahl’s description of back-then’s “pluralism”. {Google-izate these names and terms to clarify what I’m talking about here.} … Today’s “centrism” {eg Hillary-ism} romanticizes-as-still-operable the now-gone days when a “pluralistic” society under “incrementalism” was able to achieve viable governmental policy. These concepts’ advantages are no longer available because they’re stymied by Corporate politics {including the WallStreetism of the Clintonesque faction among Democrats}, and because of the disabling distractions which boil in the Republicans’ nitwit Right. In short: America-as-well-functioning has been destroyed by the Right’s rich-and-nitwit factions. … Methinks Bernie-ism’s systemic-revolution-ism might be a Realistic path toward improving things.

. . . .

I was purty-durn’ handy at academic-writing, folks said, … but I found it tedious to compose and to read. Meticulous re just-right adjectives and re other stuff of scholarship. ’Tis MUCH more fun to write sketchily-informally as I do in this “comment”. {AND it’s even More fun to issue silly rhymes.}

Brogs 71's picture
Brogs 71 7 years 17 weeks ago

Over here in the UK I voted in 97 for Labour led by Tony Blair, I remember my late Brother phoning me and saying " it was a great day" and he was right , the relief the Country felt after the dark years of Thatcher was palpable, how wrong we were, Blair was a Centrist and we finished up with a Government no different in essence to what we have now with Cameron, So thank heavens for Jeremy Corbyn a real Socialist and hope for the Left in this Country, and he was elected mainly by the young members of the Labour Party, much to the chagrin of the remaining Centrist MPs in the Party, I see parallells with Bernie Sanders and his support among the Millennials in the US , the young are our hope for the Future , they can see through the bullshit and have had enough, you have a movement going in the US that terrifies the Establishment and the Corporations and long may it continue. Maybe we can finally get rid of all the selfserving money worshipping ,snake oil salesmen , that pass for Politicians in both our Countries.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 7 years 17 weeks ago

Well said, Brogs!

adfecteau's picture
adfecteau 7 years 17 weeks ago

Bollivar is right. On that note, Hillary is the only moderately sane republican running this year, and there is only one Progressive, Bernie. Hillary may be socially "liberal" when it suits her to get votes, but don't ever mistake her for a Progressive. You all know the flip flops on gay marriage, TPP - which she'll approve the week she were to get in office, and on and on, as well as the republican war-mongering to send other people's children to die, and to kill those overseas. She is not even the most moderate republican, but she is a moderately sane one.

Instant-RunOff-... 7 years 17 weeks ago

Ten Ways Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush Are Basically the Same Presidential Candidate:


15 Ways Bill Clinton’s White House Failed America and the World. Many Americans do not associate Clinton with his dark legacy:


The Dark Side Of Hillary Clinton Section 1 - Lies & Political Convenience:






Kpax's picture
Kpax 7 years 17 weeks ago

I don't want a moderate! I especially don't want a centrist! I want a human leader that is working for the best interest of us and the environment. It's very simple and plain. Have the integrity, guts and convictions to make a real difference and SCREW the status quo!

Viva la revolution! Bernie Sanders 2016!

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 7 years 17 weeks ago

Being a moderate these days equals what was extreme right just a few decades ago, but more importantly anyone self identifying with being moderate or to the right are all victims of their own apathy, they're not paying attention to economic and social reality. They've allowed Fox News and the rest of the corp propaganda machine to do their thinking for them. This is no accident, the mass media weapon is how the Fascists have slowly and consistently seized power since the 80's. Fascism is here, they now own our government, Obama's support for the TPP is the final proof that big money is in full control.

Being moderate or to the right is nothing short of fervent allegiance to continued extreme concentration of wealth, which will ultimately take us back to a "Grapes of Wrath" Feudal State.

What the Fascist owned corpse media now defines/considers as far to the left is simply what the vast majority really want from government, and the polls all verify this....things like single payer, living wage, expanded social security, fix our crumbling infrastructure, green energy, tax the extremely rich, end Citizens United, end gerrymandering, allow Medicare to negotiate drug pricing, reinstate voting rights...etc. ...all things Bernie is for.

In my mind this makes Bernie the true representative of the vast majority regardless of left, moderate, or right, media concocted hogwash.

DHBranski's picture
DHBranski 7 years 17 weeks ago

The Clintons are considered "centrists" by today's young adults? As in, the president who took an ax to the Great Society and still had time to begin similarly "reforming" the New Deal? And his partner, who dedicated years of work to NAFTA and the TPP? These would have been considered hard right-wingers by previous generations.

I'm not aware of any sizable political progressive presence in the US today. There's nothing new about progressivism. Political progressive ideology is centered on economic policies. The only way to build (or rebuild) an economy is from the bottom up, much like building a house. All we've had since the 1990s is an utterly meaningless pep rally for the better-off, whatever still remains of the middle class. As a result of the very agenda supported by the middle class, they are being phased out, and are now less than 50% of the population.

Consider the message of Democrats and liberals today. They so strongly believe in the success of our deregulated capitalism that they think everyone is able to work, there are jobs for all, therefore no need for poverty relief. That is regressive, not progressive.

DHBranski's picture
DHBranski 7 years 17 weeks ago

It depends on how one defines "the vast majority," I guess. Sen. Sanders used to speak out powerfully about US poverty and the need for legitimate poverty relief programs. Through this campaign, he has explicitely stated that he stands with the middle class. The middle class has fallen to less than 50% of the population, so representing them today is a matter of representing a minority of the population. The middle class and poor, of course, have profoundly different perspectives and priorities, and are they are deeply pitted against each other.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 7 years 17 weeks ago

Branski, Bernie represents ALL working people, not just the middle class.

What I keep trying to explain, that you keep ignoring, is the whole point behind Bernie’s emphasis on the middle class. His point is that the middle class is DISAPPEARING. When the middle class disappears, guess what! You’ve got more people in poverty, stuck among the ranks of the working poor. Bernie doesn’t think anyone working fulltime should be poor. He’s trying to expand the middle class so that more of us have an escape hatch out of poverty and can JOIN the middle class. What in the hell’s wrong with that?! It you are gonna characterize that as a “pep rally for the better-off”, you are completely missing the point.

You keep emphasizing this ideological conflct between the middle class and the poor as if you wanted to keep it that way. In light of how many formerly middle class people have been thrust into poverty, that ideological divide you keep referring to could be outdated. Nothing changes one’s persepctive faster or more radically than being impoverished by circumstances beyond one’s control.

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