Too much, too soon
Amazon’s announcement that it will not put one of its new North America headquarters in New York City is the latest in a bad run of events raising the possibility that progressives have overplayed their hand.
While progressives may be newly energized after electoral success in November’s elections, they don’t have the electoral mandate they believe they do, and still have to answer how they intend to implement their ambitious agenda with little to show for themselves to date.
This negative news cycle began last week when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) unveiled her Green New Deal proposal, with confusion about what was actually introduced. Wildly ambitious in scope, seeking to shift entirely to zero-emission energy within a decade and provide good-paying jobs to all, it was confusing in part because of the publication of an early draft of an FAQ that didn’t represent what was in the proposal. This fueled opponents’ attacks on the program and left lawmakers and the media trying to figure out what had actually been proposed.
In the wake of the botched Green New Deal proposal was California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, announcing that the state no longer intends to complete high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The project had become too costly to justify.
Opponents of New York’s deal with Amazon are surely cheering Thursday’s news, but they’re on shaky ground politically, given that the arrival of Amazon has consistently polled well with voters.
All these news stories cast a shadow over the Democratic presidential primary, where most major declared candidates to date have raced to embrace policy proposals like Medicare for all and the Green New Deal. It’s debatable whether this will end up being a winning strategy.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, considered a moderate rather than a progressive in today’s Democratic Party, continues to lead all early polling. While skeptics think that’s based on name recognition more than anything else, at a similar early stage of the 2016 Republican presidential primaries Jeb Bush never polled higher than the teens. While it remains to be seen whether Biden’s strong polling will hold up if he enters the race, Democratic voters are saying for now that they’re open to the candidacy of an older moderate white man and aren’t necessarily looking for a strong progressive.
It’s possible that one day the Democratic Party will be the party of people like Ocasio-Cortez. But a little historical perspective may be in order. Newt Gingrich was first elected to Congress in 1978 and didn’t become Speaker of the House until 16 years later. It was a similar story for Paul Ryan, who was first elected to Congress in 1998. Political revolutions take time, and even if progressives are convinced they’ll win in the end, in 2019 they’re overplaying their hand.