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When In Doubt, Blame 'Progressives?'

In the wake of the democrats' loss in Virginia's race for governorship, and a very close call in New Jersey, a chorus of voices in the media has risen up, yet again, to blame 'progressives' for the failings of the democratic party at large. Unintentionally, it has underscored quite clearly the extent to which no matter how democrats do, their messaging increasingly seems to be focused on pushing the left away from the party, in favor of a more centrist core.

Before the results were even in (they still aren't official in New Jersey, though Phil Murphy looks to be safely ahead), the knives were out for Bernie Sanders and his 'wing' of the democratic party. The bad night was 'their fault,' even though both candidates up for election, Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, and Phil Murphy in New Jersey were decidedly centrist. They were both also thoroughly distanced from the slogans like 'defund the police' that folks on CNN, for example, were lambasting and blaming for democrats' struggles as results came in.

Even though polls showed that the economy and 'education' (or perhaps racism, vis-a-vis the dog-whistling done on the part of the republican party to attach "CRT" to the current culture war dialectic ) were the top concerns of Virginians, punditry managed to elevate 'defund the police' to the top of their concerns. It's worth noting that President Biden's 'Build Back Better' Agenda, and the huge bill that senators Manchin and Sinema are holding up, would have signaled the democrats' ambitions in terms of alleviating the nation's economic woes. Joe Manchin in particular, just a day before the big election night, quashed rumors that senate democrats were nearing an agreement on the bill's final form, indicating again his intransigence on the matter, and willingness to do nothing at all regarding the bill (Sprunt/NPR).

With all of that as such, the attempts to smear 'progressives' as the problem has put into the spotlight the fact that this seems to be the default no matter what results the democrats garner; If dems win, the quickfire takes typically coalesce around, 'See? Who needs the progressives anyway?' Forgetting perhaps how core a demographic younger voters, who trend toward progressive, actually are. If they lose elections that they should've won, running a centrist candidate, it's the fault of 'progressive messaging.' Even if a centrist loses an election they are expected to lose based on history (Virginia hasn't in modern times elected a governor from the same party as the current president, post-presidential elections), it's still somehow the fault of progressives. That said, if a progressive actually wins a primary but loses in the general election, it's a failure entirely their own; non-party related. Worst of all, if progressives do win, it's considered an anomaly, and often a much vilified one - the DCCC's efforts to prevent challenges to democratic incumbents is now a heavily-backed venture on the part of establishment democrats (Lacy/Intercept), with financial penalties being levied out to anyone who would have the gall to support a primary challenger (read 'progressive').

And if the loss of money doesn't go far enough, one only needs to see how the local democratic party in Buffalo, NY machinated the write-in vote to prevent India Walton from winning a mayorship she'd earned via primary (Wilson/Yahoo).

What seems clear is that those in the center, whether in government, or in media, are making it clear that if they prefer progressives to republicans at all, it's only minimally at best. The popularity of progressives' proposed policies seems to have little bearing on the party's sentiment towards the group as a whole - to illustrate; Joe Biden's agenda, deemed 'too progressive' (by two senators and a large chunk of the mainstream press), has regularly polled well. All of the Build Back Better Plan polls above 50% and much of it around 70% popularity or higher.

So the question remains, what can be done to alleviate this strained relationship? Many seem to think progressives should just shush up and vote for their party's preferred candidate, regardless of ideological fit and discomfort. In an age where the likes of a Donald Trump can come in and endanger democracy at large, there has been a lot of merit to democrats, whatever their ideology, backing whoever it was that would square off against those who'd undermine democracy for their own gain, to just preserve their own power, wealth, and/or status. Anti-Trump sentiment, as such, was a useful cudgel to employ against anyone on the left who sought anything more specific from 'their side' of the aisle.

With Trump still circling the drain, yet to disappear from the political scene, this threat lurks, and as such, the pressure to vote for 'whoever is up against the bad guy' still remains just the same. But the ability for that to serve as a rallying cry seems to be wearing thin - democrats will need an answer to this conundrum soon. President Biden's seeming willingness to work alongside progressives is already under assault, and many on the left always questioned the sincerity of it to begin with. The honeymoon period seems to be coming to a close, and unless democrats want a civil war of their own, a lasting compromise will need to be reached. Dems will have to decide if they are actually the party of everyone on 'the left,' or just that of a narrow slice of the mildly left-leaning middle class.

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