There is no single gatekeeper for American progressivism.
Such was the idea set forth by Hillary Clinton during a February 2016 Democratic debate against Bernie Sanders. Clinton made the remark in reference to Sanders, who had recently gone on the offensive by proclaiming that Clinton wasn't "progressive enough" to be the standard bearer for the Democratic Party. Clinton's response addressed this charge by saying that progressive heroes such as Paul Wellstone, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama would not be considered progressive enough according to the definition set forth by Sanders. It was a telling moment, one where Clinton put Sanders on the defensive for his black-or-white stance on was an extremely complex matter. As the debates moved forward, Sanders continued to try and paint Clinton as not being progressive enough but for the vast majority of members of the Democratic Party, Sanders had irrevocably shot himself in the foot by giving the impression that Barack Obama had not done enough for the progressive movement.
Flash forward a year and this idea of not being progressive enough to represent the Democratic Party is again rearing its ugly head. It should be no surprise that this idea is being spearheaded by former Bernie Sanders supporters, in particular by the host of The Young Turks, Cenk Uygur. Uygur, in collaboration with fellow TYT host Kyle Kulinski as well as former Sanders campaign staffers Zack Exley and Saikat Chakrabarti, launched a new political movement called the Justice Democrats whose intent is "to seek social justice, economic justice, racial justice and plain old justice, justice." Already, Uygur and his cohort have gone to work by identifying members of the Democratic Party they feel have sold out to corporate interests and have taken nominees to replace these members starting with the 2018 election cycle. According to the Justice Democrats website, Uygur and his team believe it is now "time to rebuild the Democratic Party from scratch to be a party that fights for a clear progressive vision."
And they have anointed themselves as gatekeepers for this vision.
But just like with Bernie Sanders' original accusation, nothing seems to be pure enough for this new "progressive" wing of the Democratic Party. With just a quick glimpse of the Justice Democrats' Twitter feed, one can see a number of progressive Democrats already in the crosshairs of the group including Chuck Schumer, Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Manchin. The group criticized Schumer for his high-dollar fundraising, McCaskill for lamenting about potentially having a primary challenger, and Heitkamp and Manchin for their votes in support of various Donald Trump cabinet confirmations. The Justice Democrats are already actively pursuing a primary challenge against Manchin, in particular as a response to him being the only Democratic senator to vote in favor of Jeff Sessions' nomination as Attorney General. At a crucial time when Democrats need to retake both the House and the Senate, the Justice Democrats seem perfectly content to play purity politics rather than make small compromises for the good of the republic.
Because the Justice Democrats don't understand both history and government. In terms of history, what they simply don't understand is how our country and its constitution was created to avoid the pitfalls that had plagued every nation on Earth up until the 19th century. Our country was designed with its system of checks and balances to ensure that dramatic change didn't happen overnight. This has kept us (thus far) from having any despots who inject their own personal agenda onto the American people. At the same time, progress has been slow and gradual and our country has often lagged behind the rest of the industrialized world. Because of our system of government, the United States has been late to the party with such issues as terminating its slave trade, enacting women's suffrage, ending segregation, and finally achieving marriage equality. This is the blessing and curse of the great American experiment in governance: for every crisis we are able to avert we also have to fight tooth and nail for any significant progress we have been able to achieve.
Along those very same lines, it doesn't do any good to have kneejerk reactions when progress isn't made in a timely fashion. The Justice Democrats need look no further at the 2010 battle over the ACA. Thanks to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership and apt ability to whip her party into shape, 34 Democrats were afforded the opportunity to vote against the ACA. Of those 34 Democrats, 30 of them were out of Congress by 2014, several of whom fell victim to a primary challenge from their own Democratic Party. However, as we all saw, 2010 was the start of the Republican wave in Congress that ended up swinging the House of Representatives over to the Republican Party and thus halted the tremendous progress that the Obama Administration had made up until that point. Because Democrats were unwilling to head to the polls and because they ended up essentially eating their own, Republicans were able to swoop in and take advantage, thereby ending any hope President Barack Obama had of passing any monumental legislation moving forward.
But history doesn't matter to the Justice Democrats. Because the Cenk Uygurs of the world aren't the ones who will be affected. Uygur himself is a political turncoat, a former Republican who suddenly "saw the light" during the George W. Bush years. He spent the last eight years criticizing the Obama Administration in an effort to boost ratings for The Young Turks after having failed as an MSNBC anchor. Despite openly supporting Bernie Sanders and establishing the Justice Democrats to combat big money in politics, Uygur himself was more than happy to accept $4 million from 2012 Republican presidential candidate Buddy Roemer to be used toward his own network. Uygur now has a net worth of over $5 million, comfortably granting him a place in the very same 1% of the population that his organization believes is incapable of truly representing the people.
The truth is that people like Cenk Uygur are intentionally trying to destroy the Democratic Party from within. The entire idea that there is one universal and accepted form of progressivism is downright absurd. Those of us who study political science know that all politics is local. That means that a Democrat in West Virginia will be voting much differently for his or her constituents than a Democrat in California. That does not make the California Democrat "more progressive" than his or her West Virgina colleague; all it means is that he or she has different expectations. Each vote must be taken carefully into consideration based upon that representative's constituents. It's easy for the California representative to vote in favor of legislation that provides more green jobs while it's a lot more difficult for the West Virginia representative to vote for legislation that might potentially take away jobs related to the coal industry.
Despite these differences, these two representatives are both proud members of the Democratic Party and they both deserve our support. To target specific Democratic members of Congress because they don't meet an arbitrary level of "progressivism" is dangerous and disingenuous. It's also absurd that a group like the Justice Democrats continue to vilify candidates for taking corporate money. Until Citizens United is overturned, corporate money will continue to be a driving force in politics. To try and play nice and not accept this corporate money while Republicans gleefully take it with open arms doesn't benefit anyone and intentionally puts the Democratic candidate at a disadvantage. We saw this in 2016 when multiple anti-corporate Democratic candidates supported by Bernie Sanders lost to their more well-funded Republican opponents. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and these candidates' good intentions were pummeled by their more aggressive Republican opponents.
The Justice Democrats don't understand any of this. They see politics as black and white with no shades of gray in between. For them, it is their way or the highway when it comes to the issues. These are the same people who were against the ACA because it wasn't single payer despite the fact that we now have the lowest uninsured rate in our nation's history. It is this zero-sum mindset that is destructive and divisive and has no place in today's politics. The modern Democratic Party is the big tent party of all ideas, genders, races, ethnicities, beliefs, religions, and sexual orientations. What unites the party is a common empathy for our fellow human beings, an empathy that Republicans cease to exhibit. That empathy looks different in different parts of the country but it is there and it drives Democratic politicians to do what is right, both by themselves and by their constituents. To try and imply that certain Democrats don't have this empathy is a shot at the very foundation upon which the Democratic Party was founded.
And it is an implication that Cenk Uygur and his fellow Justice Democrats should be in no position to make.