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To The Left! Off The Cliff!

Prof. Dewey Crumpler defends the George Washington High School murals (GWHS Alumni Association)

Jonathan Chait has a good piece on how the Democrats are losing their minds by trying to be centrist on things nobody really cares about, but rushing to the far left over things that would actually move votes. For example, nobody is going to vote for the Democrats because they want to return to the pre-Mitch McConnell standards for approving federal judges. But:

A new poll by NPR tests most of the ideas Democrats have debated so far. The party has a wide array of proposals that enjoy public support — a Medicare option for everybody, a $15 minimum wage, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally, a wealth tax, and other things. But several of the issues Democrats are running on poll badly. In particular, decriminalizing immigration laws, giving health-care subsidies to undocumented immigrants, and replacing private insurance with Medicare are ideas that sound bad to most Americans.

Progressives have waved away such objections by insisting people who have private insurance don’t like it and would be glad to be moved onto a public plan. “I was at a town hall and I said, ‘Who here loves their Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance?’ And not a single person raised their hand,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggests. “People like their health care, they like their doctor, but I’d be interested in what the public polling on Aetna would look like.”

Well, we do have polling on this. NPR’s data shows that letting people “choose between a national health insurance program or their own private health insurance” is a 70 percent issue, while a Medicare expansion “that replaces private health insurance” is a 41 percent issue. And that is without accounting either for the large tax increases that would be needed to finance it or the effect of a massive countermobilization by insurers and the entire medical industry. These risks are all the more difficult to fathom given the much safer alternative available to candidates: a Medicare expansion planthat could be financed exclusively by taxing the rich and which would leave employer insurance in place.

Despite these grim numbers, activists have pressured leading Democratic candidates to put themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. Just 27 percent of the public supports decriminalization of the border, and 33 percent favors the extension of health-insurance benefits to undocumented immigrants, yet during the second Democratic debate, the latter position was endorsed by every candidate onstage.

Read it all. Chait’s conclusion is that Democratic candidates would not be taking these broadly unpopular positions if they weren’t afraid of progressive activists’ influence in the primaries.

The situation going on in San Francisco with that George Washington mural painted by an actual Communist illustrates the problem within the Democratic Party. Politico reports that some Democrats (rightly) recognize that it’s crazy to paint over a New Deal-era work of art, in particular one that reflects a normative progressive talking point about US history, because its existence triggers progressive activists. More:

Democratic strategist Mike Semler — who has advised Senator Dianne Feinstein and who has taught public policy at Cal State University Sacramento — this weekend sent out an emergency email alert seeking support for an effort to back a ballot measure to save the mural. He said the effort, dubbed the Coalition to Protect Public Art, aims to solicit funds to initiate a ballot measure designed to protect this art, “and perhaps other New Deal art in San Francisco’’ which may also be targeted.

With their move, the school board is “saying we’re all going to jump in this ship together and paddle left,’’ says Semler. “This is Nancy Pelosi’s district. This is where Kamala Harris is from. Clearly, this is not San Francisco values.”

The presidential campaign of Senator Harris, and the Speaker‘s press office, did not respond to requests for comment Sunday.

The school board vote in June has set off a growing chorus of protest from Democrats — many in the political establishment — who say that the move to erase history is not only expensive folly, but could hand Trump fodder to suggest Democrats are out of touch with the mainstream headed toward 2020.

Of course they will! They are going to put Donald Trump in the position of defending an actual commie work of art (as I hope he will) from iconoclastic progressives. It’s telling that neither Kamala Harris nor Nancy Pelosi have spoken out on this. Sure, you don’t normally expect a state’s US Senator or a district’s member of Congress to take a position on a local school policy issue, but this, of course, is not merely a local school policy issue. This has huge symbolic resonance. Few voters are likely to care about the substance of the mural; many voters are going to hear, “The loony left wants to spend $600,000 to paint over a mural of George Washington!” — and they will be right.

I can remember being a smart-guy liberal college student back in the campaign of 1988, thinking, “That idiot Bush, going to a flag factory. Everybody’s going to see through that! My man Mike Dukakis has a twelve-point plan that blows that kind of cheap demagoguery away.” I was the idiot then. Symbols matter. One of the smartest guys in Ronald Reagan’s inner circle, image maker Michael Deaver, always used to make sure Reagan gave speeches in front of a backdrop of flags, when possible. His rationale was that when the speech was covered on the evening news, nobody would remember what the reporters said, but the image of the president in front of the flags would remain in their minds.

Something similar is going to happen next fall. Pete Buttigieg said the other day that Trump is going to call the Democrat nominee a “socialist” no matter who it is, and what the nominee proposes, so Dems ought to just stand for what they believe in. I see his point, but when Democrats really do endorse things that are unpopular, and upset people — like the militant left-wing iconoclasm on public monuments, which has now gone way beyond Confederate generals — they give center-right voters who are sick of Trump a reason to stick with him. He’s the devil they know.

An actual center-left Democrat could wipe the floor with Trump in 2020, but you watch: the party activists won’t allow it. And none of these candidates has the courage, or the convictions, to pull a Sister Souljah on the militant left within their ranks.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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