Blame the Democrats, Not Socialism

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

It’s no surprise a CIA officer blamed “socialism” for all the problems of a complex political situation, sowing discord and chaos amongst a putatively unified group with supposedly similar goals.

In the wake of disappointing Democratic down-ballot losses in both the House and the Senate last Thursday, ex-CIA spy and current Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger unloaded on the progressive wing of the party, pitting the loss of the House supermajority squarely on them and their constituents.

“We need to not ever use the words ‘socialist’ or ‘socialism’ ever again,” Spanberger screamed on a caucus call. “Because while people think it doesn’t matter, it does matter. And we lost good members because of it.”

According to Spanberger, who cited no empirical evidence, slogans like “defund the police” and scare words like “socialism” caused a historic backlash that saw the Democrats lose their House supermajority and—barring a miracle in two Georgia run-off elections—the Senate to boot.

Let’s pretend that Spanberger’s wholly unverified (and most likely incorrect) take is indeed the right one. We’ll even set aside the fact that she herself *increased* her raw vote total in this election from the one she ran in 2018 despite blaming the current climate on her almost-loss. Could her theory of poor progressive Democratic messaging have been overcome with even a modicum of competency? Let’s take a look under the hood of how big an advantage the party really had in this election cycle.

Facing a historically unpopular president who bungled the response to a pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of people and plunged the country into a historic depression, Democrats still oversaw embarrassing losses in both chambers of Congress. But that’s not the worst part: they did so while outraising Republicans at jaw-dropping levels.

Party fundraising site ActBlue processed $1.5 BILLION in donations from July to September alone, as racial justice protests with chants of “defund the police” spread across the nation. The 15 Senate Democrats in competitive races outraised their Republican opponents by more than $200 million before mostly being swept aside in losses.

You’re telling me more than one billion dollars, a professional campaign apparatus spanning the country, and a “dream” moderate presidential candidate all failed to combat the sloganeering of some grassroots activists out in the street?

If that’s the case, this is an even bigger failure than we already know.

In fact, it’s not clear the Democrats would have even been able to push the golden mean fallacy moderate Joe Biden into the presidency if not for its progressive base, which turned out en masse to repudiate Donald Trump. As the Black Lives Matter protests this summer hit a zenith, Democratic registration soared to over 1 million, easily dwarfing that of Republicans during the same time period. Progressive door-knocking helped smash turnout records on the Democratic side in key swing states like Michigan, while further down the ballot, all six swing state Democrats who support the “radical” idea of guaranteeing health care so that you don’t go bankrupt for getting cancer won re-election. Every single co-sponsor of Medicare For All who ran in this election cycle won their race. That’s right—every single one. The same can be said of 97 of the 98 co-sponsors of the Green New Deal.

That alone should be enough to refute the baseless narratives perpetuating amongst the centrist flamethrowers.

But all across America in this election cycle, leftist policy proposals also won and won big. Every single bill offering recreational or medicinal marijuana legalization passed, including in deeply red Montana and Mississippi. Floridians overwhelmingly voted to increase the minimum wage to $15, while Biden—who rarely if ever mentioned his support for it—lost the state. Arizona passed a wealth tax increase on its richest residents to boost school funding, while Nebraskans overwhelmingly approved a cap on the predatory payday loan interest rates that bury so many poor and working class families in debt.

Unsurprisingly, though, the type of thinking expressed by many of these Democrats has also become conventional wisdom among corporate media pundits and cynical Republican strategists who believe the “socialism sucks” label can easily derail even the most promising moderate Democratic campaigns. The problem, however, is that this calculation is either entirely wrong, barring any sort of actual proof, or one that could be overcome if not for the monumental and record-setting incompetency of a party perpetually stuck in the mindset of the mid-1980s.

It seems like this is all just yet another attempt by Democratic leadership to absolve itself of any real responsibility or consequence. Do we really believe that, if the party had seen a wave of wins instead, that it would not have been attributed to all the moderates who ran, from Biden to Spanberger and everyone in-between?

Progressives continue to play a coinflip game with Democrats, one that consistently says “Heads I win, tails you lose.” And now once again, as the dust settles and the autopsy begins, Democrats bring to the public only what they stand against and not what they stand for.

The reality after this election is pretty clear: either Democrats can continue to lose, or they can embrace the base and push a message of economic justice that brings material benefits to the American people.

Playing the “socialism” card won’t save you.

But maybe implementing some of the extremely popular policy proposals associated with it will.

Cory Gunkel is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.