Progressives vs Moderates

By Devyn Shea (TheLorian)

Over the past few years, the Democratic Party has had divisions over policy and ideology. How did those divisions start, and how will they affect the future?

As of right now, there are 97 Democratic members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. 95 are members of the house, while one is a non-voting member, and the other is Senator Bernie Sanders. The largest caucus in the Democratic Party is the New Democrat Coalition, which has 103 members. The difference between these two caucuses are their guiding ideologies and principles. It’s the democratic tale of Progressives vs Moderates. The moderates could even be classified as liberal, depending on who you ask, because there is another caucus dedicated for centrist Democrats, called the Blue Dog Coalition. Recently, however, the New Democrat Coalition has had a more moderate tone as their party has been moving to the left of the political spectrum. Although both are more socially liberal, the New Democrats are fiscally moderate.

The roots of the modern Democratic Progressive movement could range from a variety of places. Progressivism started in the early 1900s with Wisconsin’s Governor and Senator Robert LaFollette calling for more democratic elections, elections where the people would decide, not legislatures or governors. This also started the primary system in 1912, also in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt ran for President under the Progressive Party banner getting in second place. In 1924, Robert LaFollette ran for President earning nearly 17 percent of the national vote and one state, Wisconsin. The third progressive movement in America wasn’t the big wave many expected. FDR’s second vice president ran for president under the Progressive Party in 1948, only getting roughly two percent of the vote.

From 1948 until the 1980s, progressivism wasn’t very big. In the 1980s, Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont. Nationally, although perhaps not thinking of it at the time, Rev. Jesse Jackson was a strong proponent of progressivism. In 1984 and in 1988, Jackson was perhaps one of, if not the most, progressive candidate in those fields. In 1984, Jackson’s message seemed to resonate with many voters, he received 18 percent of the national vote and won two states in the primaries. He ran for President a second time in 1988, and was even the front runner at one point, but he was beat by Michael Dukakis. Jackson had run on a platform that is similar to Sanders, by favoring a reversal of tax cuts of the rich and universal healthcare. In the early 1990s, more progressive members were elected to Congress such as Sanders. It wasn’t until 2000 and 2004 where another progressive in the mold of the Sanders or Jackson ideology ran for president.

In 2000, former New Jersey Senator and basketball star Bill Bradley ran for president against sitting Vice President Al Gore. Bradley had lost the race, but was trying to bring a more liberal alternative to Gore. In 2004, Governor of Vermont Howard Dean ran for president being one of the first candidates to campaign using the internet. Dean ran on a platform of universal healthcare and was the front runner during the fall of 2003. By the time the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary arrived, he had underperformed, and later dropped out. The other progressive candidate in the race was congressman from Ohio Dennis Kucinich, who opposed the war in Iraq and was regarded as a “genuine progressive” by Ralph Nader. He too underperformed and dropped out.

As time has went on, progressives have gotten more traction. More and more are being elected to Congress every year. In 2016, progressive icon Sanders made the ideology more mainstream nationally and came very close to the Democratic Nomination. In 2020, it was the ultimate fight between progressives and moderates. Sanders was at one point the front runner, but many moderate candidates feared a Sander’s presidency, so they dropped out and endorsed Joe Biden. After Democrats lost seats in the house on Nov. 3, many moderates are calling progressives out for causing these losses. As Nancy Pelosi, a leader in the moderate faction, has just announced her candidacy for Speaker of the House in 2021, progressives may bail on her.

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