When CNN called Pennsylvania for Joe Biden, clinching his presidential seat, Fox News had already begun reporting that the reason there was no “blue wave” in the Senate and House elections, like the Democrats had projected, was due to the progressives in the Democratic Party, such as the Squad.
Soon, Fox News wasn’t the only news source trying to figure out why there was no “blue wave.” A source that was highlighted in most of these conversations was a phone call in which Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger reportedly said, “If we want to talk about funding social services and ensuring good engagement and community policing, let’s talk about what we are for. And we need to not ever use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again.”
Rep. Spanberger said a big concern for her constituents was defunding the police, which they did not support. She said, “We’re in Congress. We are professionals. We are supposed to talk about things in the way where we mean what we’re talking about. If we don’t mean we should defund the police, we shouldn’t say that.”
President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris had a run-in with a similar issue regarding fracking in both of the debates. Joe Biden said he had “never said [he] opposed fracking.” In the vice presidential debate, Harris made this stance clear: “I will repeat, and the American people know, that Joe Biden will not ban fracking. That is a fact.”
However, in July 2019 Biden was asked, “Would there be any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration?” Biden responded “No, we would – we would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those, either – any fossil fuel.”
Rep. Spanberger is right to argue that if a politician doesn’t support something, they should say that. Yet, she blames the narrow margin of her win on progressives. Rep. Spanberger is the congresswoman from the 7th congressional district of Virginia. Her district has been predominantly red for years; from 1996 to present, the district has only voted for a Democratic president once (this year), a Democratic senator twice, and a Democratic lieutenant governor once. This district had been led by a Republican since 1971 and had not been led by a woman until Rep. Spanberger. In 2018 she defeated the Republican incumbent by just over 6,600 votes, a narrow margin. This year she won the district by a little over 5,400 votes.
Rep. Spanberger’s statement led progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to respond. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “There are swing seat Dem incumbents who cosponsored the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, etc and if I’m not mistaken every single one won re-election. So the whole ‘progressivism is bad’ argument just doesn’t have any compelling evidence that I’ve seen.”
Progressivism in American politics isn’t new. A national Progressive Party has tried to form three times in American history. In 1912, one was formed to elect Theodore Roosevelt. In 1924, Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette ran for president with the Progressive Party, and in 1948, the Progressive Party emerged again in response to the Cold War. This Progressive Party was also quickly demolished.
Though Democrats lost House seats in this year’s election, progressive Democrats have thrived largely in local government positions. This year posted historic firsts for LGBTQ+ people elected to government, including the first openly transgender state Senator in Delaware, Sarah McBride, the highest office an openly transgender person has held.
In Florida, where a few Democrats in the House lost their seats, the state voted to increase the minimum wage to $15, a measure that progressives such as Bernie Sanders have been pushing for years. It is true that most of the progressive elected officials occurred in predominantly blue districts or safe blue states, but Rep. Spanberger still kept her seat in a district that was predominantly red, and the House still has a Democratic majority.
Rep. Spanberger’s point that Democrats should never say socialism again raises the question: should progressives try to rebrand socialism as something else? I don’t think so, but I know others disagree. When we start renaming things, I think that’s when ideas and original meanings get lost. Though progressivism is thought to be too extreme for some Democrats such as Rep. Spanberger, as well as Republicans in office, progressive actions are also used as evidence for people who deny that sexism and racism exists today. They look to the suffragists of the 1920s and the civil rights activists of the 1960s as a gauge to see how far America has come, as those movements were all progressive ideas at one point.
We now wonder at some moderate Democrats of the time and say “how could they not be for that.” For example, Kamala Harris pointed out in an early presidential primary debate that Joe Biden had disagreed with busing, which was used to help desegregate schools in the 1970s. Joe Biden’s response was, “I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education.”
All of this isn’t to say that the Democratic Party should be abolished and that the two parties should be the Republicans and the Progressives or that moderate Democrats haven’t done anything positive for the country. I can’t speak too much about party systems or the intricacies of party lines since I’m not a politics major and have not studied this in depth; however, I do know that a plethora of ideas and viewpoints, as long as they don’t deny someone’s basic human rights or deny someone’s lived experiences, allow for new plans and ideas to spring forth.
Thus, blaming the lack of “blue wave” on progressives sends a message to newly elected progressives, such as Rep. Cori Bush who defeated an incumbent moderate Democrat in the primaries, that the moderate Democrats aren’t going to listen. This blame game signals that progressives won’t be welcome in their own party and that the programs and initiatives constituents voted for might not be implemented.