Who said: “Socialism is a scare word (the corporate special-interest lobbies) have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years. Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called social security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for anything that helps all the people…”?
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders?
Who said: “We are rightly proud of the high standards of medical care we know how to provide in the US. The fact is, however, that most of our people cannot afford to pay for the care they need. I have often and strongly urged that this condition demands a national health program. The heart of the program must be a national system of payment for medical care based on well-tried insurance principles. This great nation cannot afford to allow its citizens to suffer needlessly from the lack of proper medical care”?
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren?
Who said: “The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign…”?
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg?
No, no, and no.
These are all quotes from then–President Harry Truman, who today is generally imagined as the embodiment of a traditional mainstream Democrat.
When he spoke to the 1952 national convention of Americans for Democratic Action, he had some advice to those who shared his partisanship: “The first rule in my book is that we have to stick by the liberal principles of the Democratic Party. We are not going to get anywhere by trimming or appeasing. And we don’t need to try it.”
So don’t let anyone tell you that the back-of-the-polls Democrats who are trying to distinguish themselves by calling for a more tepid approach to the 2020 presidential race are calling the party back to its roots. They are proposing a strategy that Truman correctly identified as a recipe for defeat.
At last weekend’s California Democratic Party state convention, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper tried to suggest that it was “pragmatic” to echo President Trump’s use of “socialism” as a scare word, claiming that “If we want to beat Donald Trump and achieve big, progressive goals, socialism is not the answer.” Hickenlooper kept prattling on about “pragmatism,” with arguments for abandoning the “Medicare for All” agenda and tempering the promise of a Green New Deal.
Those lines earned the Coloradan a chorus of boos from the crowd of 4,500 grassroots Democrats who gathered in San Francisco. It also set up one of the best applause lines of the weekend, when Washington Governor Jay Inslee followed Hickenlooper’s rant by announcing that “I am a governor who doesn’t think we should be ashamed of our progressive values.”
Hickenlooper was joined in counseling caution by former Maryland congressman John Delaney, who told the California crowd, “Medicare for All may sound good but it’s actually not good policy nor is it good politics.” That brought more boos in California and a rebuke from US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who noted that “This awful, untrue line got booed for a full minute.” The New York congresswoman, who is one of many Democratic advocates for single-payer health-care reform, suggested that the former congressman exit the presidential race—with the line: “John Delaney, thank you, but please sashay away.”
Serious contenders for the presidency showed up at the California convention with progressive messages that recognized the need to aggressively challenge Trump. “Some say if we all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses, but our country is in a time of crisis,” said Warren. “The time for small ideas is over.”
Buttigieg warned delegates and observers at the convention that “Though he is deservedly unpopular, this president really could win again. He wins if we look like defenders of the system. He wins if we look like more of the same. He wins if we look like Washington. And so the riskiest thing we could do is try too hard to play it safe.”
“There is no back to normal. A president like this doesn’t even come within cheating distance of the Oval Office unless there is something deeply wrong with the old normal,” counseled Buttigieg. “In these times Democrats can no more keep a promise to take us back to the 2000s and the 1990s, than conservatives can keep a promise to take us back to the 1950s. We can only look forward.”
Sanders was the bluntest in his rejection of a compromised message—and talk from former vice president Joe Biden, a California no-show, about “generating consensus” with the Republicans on issues such as climate change.
“As you all know, there is a debate among presidential candidates who have spoken to you here in this room and those who have chosen for whatever reason not to be in this room about the best way forward,” noted Sanders, who told the cheering crowd:
We have got to make it clear that when the future of the planet is at stake, there is no middle ground. We will take on the fossil fuel industry and transform our energy system. We have got to make it clear that when this country drifts toward oligarchy, there is no middle ground. Large profitable corporations like Amazon will pay their fair share of taxes. When it comes to health care, there is no middle ground. Health care is a human right, not a privilege. And we will guarantee health care to all of our people through a Medicare-for-all single-payer system.
When it comes to abortion, there is no middle ground. A woman has the right to control her own life, not the government. When it comes to prescription drugs, no middle ground. We’re going to take on the pharmaceutical industry, cut prescription drug prices in half. And when it comes to mass shootings and the fact that 40,000 people were killed last year with guns, no middle ground, we will take on the NRA. And when it comes to criminal justice reform and immigration reform, no middle ground. We will take on the prison-industrial complex. We will take on racism at the border. And when it comes to foreign policy, no middle ground. We will finally put an end to a bloated military budget and end endless wars.
That was a combative message. Almost as combative as Harry Truman’s, when he advised Democrats challenging Republicans to “Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive and don’t ever apologize for anything.”