Question: Why Do Some Progressives Become Centrists On Social Issues?

I wrote this comment the other day, although I have written various forms of it since 2016.

“I keep hearing that Dems need to act like Dems, that they must have a progressive agenda, that they must move left – so why are these same people having a problem with Dems fighting for ERA and other social issues?”

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this. Why do some Progressives become centrists on social issues?

I have my theories. Those who cast social issues as a losing strategy tend to belong to a certain demographic – a demographic not really impacted by social issues. So I do understand where they are coming from. I just find the strategy inconsistent with progressive values.


28 comments on “Question: Why Do Some Progressives Become Centrists On Social Issues?

  1. Jack Polidori

    When Democrats are recognized by voters as the party of economic opportunity, we win.
    When Democrats are recognized by voters as the party of ‘right’s for certain groups, we lose.
    There has been a great deal written about this. And it is not about movement left or right. It is about core values. To be for the ‘rights’ of certain groups also is a core value but many elements of the historical FDR majority coalition have a ‘stutter step’ when they are presented first and repeatedly with ‘rights’ arguments for certain groups as opposed to economic rescue/opportunity.
    I have never been a huge fan of Bill Clinton, but he and his folks (e.g., Stan Greenberg, his pollster) really understood this. Greenberg’s great book, “Middle Class Dreams”, which was all about the Macomb County, MI voters that Clinton ultimately won (after Democrats lost them to Reagan), discusses this thoroughly. Robbie Mook and all of the people who ran Hilary, Inc. banned the book during the campaign. By the way, Trump rolled with those Macomb County folks in 2016 on his way to a Michigan victory…and the Presidency.

    • Clinton won the hick vote be acting like a closet racist (tough on crime, welfare “reform).

      Obama, btw, didn’t need that vote to win. He ran on a platform of economic and (mostly) social equality and optimism.

    • Mary-Lee

      White folks somehow think that a win for a certain group is a loss for themselves. That’s a shame because a lot of white folks belong to the groups they are working against (e.g. gays, the poor, food stamp recipients, etc.). Democrats need to convince them that a win for one is a win for all.

      • cassandram

        And the GOP specifically works that bit of resentment. There are people who deserve rights and help and then there’s everyone else. It is how Michigan can propose Medicaid rules that largely exempt rural (white) counties from work requirements, but impose them on more urban counties. It ignores the good of Medicaid to dole it out to the ones more worthy.

  2. The same reason some progressives become centrists on economic issues. If you’re “wealthy but woke” you’ll buy the garbage lie that you have to throw poor people under the bus in order to “win on social issues”.

    We can do both, but every time some Bernout blames Clinton’s loss on protecting women’s rights, or some party-uber-alles Dem forgets that TRUE economic equality literally means fair compensation for all, 45’s chances of 8 years increases.

    Democrats CAN be the party of people like Kerri Harris. But the party leadership CHOOSES to be the party of Joe Kennedy and Chris Coons … both of whom are from BOTH demographics who aren’t affected by any of the problems they claim to be fighting against. .

    • pandora

      We can do both! We should do both.

      Social issues are economic issues. Discrimination in hiring/pay is an economic issue. Being forced to have another child is an economic issue.

      But what I keep hearing is how social issues need to be tabled – and in some instances need to go away – in order to win a voter that has never been our base and isn’t reliable.

      • yeah, that’s a bunch of shit. It’s also always white people who are ready to make the compromise.. men, if the compromise involves women’s right.
        Tabled is the wrong way to go about it. “Not fighting old and settled fights in favor of focusing on the future” IS the way to frame it.
        OF COURSE go to the mat when rights are under assault, but don’t let the shit-wing make it a fight in the first place. Flat out refuse to even discuss it, if the discussions about whether the right should continue to exist.

        I 100% believe it IS a GOP tactic to use social issues to get economic compromises. Dems (elected, party leaders, party hacks) play along every time… I think some dems love it, because they can appear to care about their base while continuing to screw them.
        There’s no better example of this then Delaware’s senators. Sure, Carper turned up to be on camera with Congresswoman Blunt-Rochester at the protest at the PHL after the first Muslim ban… but he also makes sure money goes to pig pharma and big banks…. the easily spinable image is him fighting for “refugee terrorists” while “good hard working americans get taken advantage of by drug companies”. YOU know that’s now how it really works, I KNOW that, but people are fucking dumb and the dems don’t plat well to dumb people… Wishy washy Castle republicans taking up space in the caucus dont help.

      • No, we can’t do both. The General Assembly meets for a limited time each year. In theory it could do lots of things, but in practice time runs out on many of those things every year.

        The ERA is a show bill. It’s a chance for everyone to pander to his or her constituency, while it accomplishes little beyond its symbolic value. It’s guaranteed to split everyone into two teams, though, which is the point.

        To a large extent, banning bump stocks falls into the same category. As much as I oppose these weapons, the state level isn’t the right place to address them.

        It has nothing to do with pandering to voters who “aren’t our base.” It has to do with using government to solve problems rather than make values statements.

        The ERA doesn’t matter to me either way. If it would pass easily, fine. But it didn’t. It turned into a loss for Democrats. You want evidence social issues are losers? Look at this vote in the General Assembly.

        The Democrats gave themselves a black eye trying to grandstand. And still nobody has identified a single practical benefit of this Constitutional amendment.

        • Things HAVE to happen on a state level for them to happen on a national level.

          Marriage equality only became national law because states started taking action and it caused the cascade.
          Of lesser importance, but the same strategy, cannabis legalization is happening state by state, causing a lot of bureaucratic and legal problems that will be resolved with either by shutting off a fucking geyser of money, or by nationwide legalization. \
          Gun laws in one state mean nothing if the neighboring states are like Mad Max, but if it becomes a winning political issue, it spreads.
          The problem is, the steps are too small. the GOP takes HUGES bites out of the pie they want. They make no compromises and they get abortion laws like in Iowa. The Dem party looks for whatever they can get bipartisanship one (dumb as fuck) and STARTS THE NEGOTIATIONS THERE. Of COURSE they are going to get rolled.

          • “if it becomes a winning political issue, it spreads”

            And how about if it becomes a losing political issue? Does that kill it? Because you’ll notice that that’s been the fate of all the issues you cite.

            Meanwhile, education funding, which is specific to this state, and consumes one-third of its state budget and millions in local funds besides, goes unaddressed yet again.

            You don’t get it. They can and do run out the clock, every year. Like clockwork, you might say.

            Their first priority is taking care of problems with Delaware. They avoid doing that with all their might.

            • Juicifer2.0

              Don’t mind incel Ben, he can’t help himself.

        • cassandram

          We can at least see some of the process of how some progressives (@Alby) get to the center on social issues — they tell themselves it just doesn’t matter and then build themselves a strawman around it.

  3. Dems have never won because of Macomb County type voters. True, they may have won with them, but that doesn’t mean that they won because of them. Dems have Never won without true enthusiasm from these “groups seeking rights”, namely black and brown people. Dems win when they motivate the millions of voters in Philly, Cleveland, Miami-Dade County, Detroit and Pittsburgh to show up in droves. Bill Clinton didn’t win because of Macomb County, he won because he campaigned as the candidate for “those people demanding rights”. Bernie lost the primary because he didn’t motivate those voters and Hillary lost PA specifically because 400,000 fewer voters came out of Philly than in 2008. Not because of the Macomb County voters. Until dems realize where their bread is buttered, they will continue to eat dry toast.

    • cassandram

      Yes. It is important to take into account who your voters are and take care of their issues. A thing Dems have not been so good at. Take care of your voters and expand your base from there.

  4. delacrat

    For example….?

  5. I agree with Jack here. I started the Progressive Populist Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party back in 2001. In doing so we researched both Progressivism (emphasis on economic justice without compromising liberalism) and the great Texas populist movement (advocating economic justice/equality in the heartland) to shape our statement of beliefs. It spread like wildfire. We took over the state party as a result; The movement turned our half dozen urban areas solid blue; but the Tea Party populist movement cranked up in about 2004 with major funding and their right-wing populism captured the ex-urban and rural areas to keep Texas red at the state level and in the heartland, with their racism message. Lesson learned there-keep identity politics alive and social justice on a co-equal plain with kitchen table economics. The latter can impact all identity groups, excepting racist/evangelical anglos. Messaging can multi-task.

  6. The reason people are “progressive” on some issues but not on others, economic, social, or otherwise, is because they lack a comprehensive ideological framework for their politics. If all you’re willing to say about your politics is that you’re “progressive” or “liberal,” but you aren’t basing that on any kind of intellectual tradition, then basically all your politics are is the current policy positions you agree or disagree with. Progressive meant something entirely different 10 years ago, and from an actual political science perspective, liberal basically describes everyone currently elected to office in the United States from both parties.

  7. Jason330

    Pandora, I can only speak for myself. But I don’t tend to trumpet my support for things $15.00 min wage, ERA and single payer, because I consider items like that a given among progressive.

    Unlike Mitch, who never tires of telling everyone what a civil rights hero he was (while he now works for Pete’s Dem-publican Party), I tend to gloss over things we all agree on and move on to strategy questions. That’s gets taken as dismissive.

    • Jason330

      commenting from a phone sucks. You ge the idea.

    • pandora

      But they aren’t a given when Progressives cite them as losing issues that need to go away, or at least something we really shouldn’t talk about. It isn’t a given when civil rights, across the board, are under attack. I just have a really hard time reconciling all this talk about The Resistance, Move Left, Dems need to act like Dems with a political strategy that tells vulnerable groups – who are on the front lines – that what they are actually living needs to not be discussed because… they scare certain groups?

      I’m 100% on board with raising the minimum wage, addressing income inequality, medicare for all, etc.. I just don’t understand why some progressives push aside civil rights – why can’t all these issues co-exist? I would think we want everyone motivated to vote. Which means, at least to me, we’ll have to run on a variety of issues.

      • What are you talking about? Where did you get the idea progressives dont embrace and fitght for civil and human rights? The RESIST movement is the movement winning all these races with progressive ideas. Incrementalism, tinker and proclaim job done is what liberals are all about.

    If you do not support this agenda in its entirety Your a liberal not a progressive.

    • cassandram

      Yeah, take your litmus tests outta here. Or, maybe I should repeat my observation that the people who can create coalitions and institutions will go the distance.

    • this is exactly the kind of dumb “progressivism” without any intellectual tradition backing it up that I was talking about. You should be concerned about values, not about a policy agenda from one organization

      • anon, how do you think those values get accomplished? Individuals have absolutely 0 power or ability to spread values. We SHOULD be able to, but thems the breaks, kiddo. Sure, the mission is more important than the team on the mission, but you DO have to build a team…. also, that team has to remember team building is only step one.


    whats the matter Cassandra are you a liberal? A Party girl from the git go.

  10. Smarter people than you Cassandra have come up with the progressive agenda….its took yrs to create it. Your like so many democrats, your willing to compromise and take incremental steps therefore taking years to complete, rather than fight for whole deal.

    • cassandram

      Yada yada yada. The litmus tests get absolutely nothing done. Nothing. Like the 88% loss rate Our Revolution has this year. Our Revolution is essentially a dark money PAC — they don’t have much in the way of transparency, either. You aren’t fighting for the whole deal, you are just in this to fight Democrats.

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