Recently, former President Jimmy Carter used his platform to ask his party to embrace centrism as a means of courting “moderates.” There’s no better way to lose an election.
Jimmy Carter, to his credit, is an outspoken progressive, telling NBC News that both he and his wife voted for Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Carter has also been one of Donald Trump’s most persistent critics, suggesting the president was a serial liar in an interview with CBS last month.
However, the former president seems to forget that the Congress America has now is not the one he had in 1976, when both parties were more inclined to work together to pass legislation that benefited the country regardless of who was in power. It was easier to be a centrist back then, as it was decades before the intense polarization took hold that’s deadlocked Congress.
Data from senate.gov shows that between 1977 and 1980 — when Jimmy Carter was in the White House — there were only 53 cloture motions filed, which is the 60-vote requirement needed to break a filibuster. To contrast, there were 632 motions for cloture filed during former President Barack Obama’s presidency. This is likely due to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) — the most powerful Senate Republican — admitting early on in Obama’s first term that his chief goal was not to, say, help the American economy recover or create jobs, but to make Obama a one-term president.
While Obama won two terms, Democrats as a whole lost a tremendous amount of power across the board. A Washington Post article published shortly after Donald Trump was elected analyzed data from state and federal elections in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, and found that the number of Democrats decreased by 10.2 percent in the senate, 19.3 percent in the house, 20.3 percent in state legislatures, and 35.7 percent in governor’s mansions in the eight years Obama occupied the White House.
These staggering losses weren’t due to a Democratic president pursuing rabid left-wing policies. Obama repeatedly made concessions to Republicans throughout his presidency, most notably by refusing to even fight for a public option during the Affordable Care Act debate, making a large portion of his stimulus bill a tax cut in a fruitless effort to gain Republican support (instead of money that would have actually helped state budgets stay out of the red during the recession), or toying with the idea of a “grand bargain” that would have gutted Social Security and Medicare in order to appease Republicans bemoaning the federal deficit.
Obama’s decision to nominate centrist judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court seat vacated after arch-conservative Antonin Scalia died also failed to gain Republican support. New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz opined that nominating Garland — who never even got an initial confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee — was a strategic error, as it left Obama zero room to negotiate. Now, the man who replaced Obama in the White House has nominated a staunch conservative judge who won’t even say whether or not he thinks the right of interracial and LGBT couples to marry, or even the right to vote, is constitutionally protected.
Given the abundance of Democratic losses and failures during a centrist administration, the idea that doubling down on centrism will help Democrats maintain their power is laughable. Rather, Democrats have proven that embracing a bold vision to help the American working class is a winning strategy. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory over the fourth-ranking House Democrat in New York, Andrew Gillum’s primary win over Gwen Graham in Florida, Jahana Hayes’ 25-point trouncing of a well-heeled centrist with significant establishment support in Connecticut, and Ayanna Pressley’s come-from-behind win over a ten-term moderate incumbent in Massachusetts are all proof of this.
Even though Jimmy Carter says universal healthcare is “a very liberal program,” a recent Reuters poll found that Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill is popular with 70 percent of Americans — including a majority of Republicans. 60 percent of Americans also approved of Sanders’ proposal to make public colleges tuition-free. A separate study conducted by a group funded by the Koch Brothers — two billionaires who fund a slew of pro-Republican politicians and nonprofits — found that a majority of those polled said “a government-run health system” was either a very effective or somewhat effective solution to curbing the high costs of healthcare.
Jimmy Carter believing more independent voters would vote for centrist Democrats is also not based in reality. Exit polling data conducted during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries found that Bernie Sanders was the far-and-away favorite candidate for independents. In New Hampshire, Sanders won the Democratic vote over Hillary Clinton by just four points, but won independents by almost 50 points. For example, Sanders’ narrow win in the Michigan primary — which Clinton had a 99 percent chance of winning — was likely due to him winning 71 percent of votes from independents.
The Democratic Party has been a centrist party since at least Bill Clinton’s presidency. This year’s elections are proving that voters are hungry for progressive candidates with unabashedly bold agendas. Jimmy Carter’s service to his country and his community is appreciated, but it’s time for him to allow the next generation of leaders to govern.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.
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