The Democrats need at least one candidate who is passionate about being a centrist to electrify the primaries for the party.
Attracting voters is more than just about presenting sound policy solutions for problems facing the nation. Candidates need something extra that will draw people to their platform. Moderates, who aren’t always known as the most exciting candidates, can take a lesson from the extreme liberal and extreme conservative candidates who have mastered this strategy and in turn excited voters with their strong platforms and campaigns.
In the case of presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, we have examples of Democratic candidates for president who have been rolling out their very liberal, even socialist, policy proposals that, added up, amount to clear visions for the country. Despite their differences, the two New England senators have extremely bold health care, climate control, criminal justice system reform and tax policies that sharply distinguish them from more centrist candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and certainly from the Republican opponent, President Donald Trump.
Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, moreover, are both vigorous, exciting speakers who draw large crowds. Thus, what you get from these left-wing Democrats is clarity, certainty and passion. You either like or don’t like them, but you are not in the dark about where they stand, even given some back and forth on Medicare-For-All by Ms. Warren.
It is a common misconception to think that centrists must have moderate temperaments. Most are, but there is nothing about the concept of centrism that says moderation cannot include passion. What is preventing a centrist from being excited, passionate, even exuberant about calling for a bold synthesis of Democratic and Republican approaches to Social Security reform? Why can’t a candidate give a booming speech about increasing the monthly payments to the more than 25% of seniors who rely on Social Security for 90% of their retirement financing and also pushing back the age eligibility by two years? The former idea is a Democratic idea,and the latter is a Republican one, but there is nothing about the concept of uniting them that requires a moderate temperament.
Although some features of an exciting centrist view may involve a union of clear policy elements from the two different parties, there are other issues where that isn’t the case. Moderates can take advantage of this. Climate change is a perfect policy area that has created polarization among candidates and voters. Left wing Democrats support the Green New Deal, which has incredibly ambitious goals for eliminating carbon from the atmosphere by 2050 and a long list of incredibly ambitious goals for job creation and even such things as vacation time and paid family leave. Conservative Republicans either see climate change as a hoax or propose private sector solutions that will incentivize corporations to reduce emissions of carbon into the atmosphere. Many voters are uncertain about the best approach and how exactly to find a middle ground that will address the planetary crisis before us.
Why can’t we have a candidate who speaks to this uncertainty that many voters have, someone who openly proposes to unite public and private sector strategies without spelling them out in detail? Why can’t we have a candidate who has the right ideas, the right impulses and the right intelligence to work with Congress but who doesn’t have the white paper solution at this time? Leveraging the uncertainty of the majority of eligible voters, and doing so with passion, in the Democratic primary may be the key to winning the nomination.
Maybe this is what former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick are trying to promote or could end up promoting. There are certainly enough answers being offered by the candidates to the policy questions, but the voters are not showing any clear preference for the liberal or the centrist candidates. Maybe this is because the voters, apart from wanting someone who can defeat Mr. Trump, don’t want a simplistic package of policies and a promise to bring them into law when most never will be brought into law. The voters are too smart. So maybe giving them all the answers is the wrong way to campaign. Validating their uncertainty and doing so with great passion — now that’s a bold approach to winning the nomination. Is there anyone who can do this effectively?
Dave Anderson is editor of the book Leveraging and sought the Democratic nomination in the 2016 Congressional race in Maryland’s 8th District. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.