I admire the reporters I know. They have hard jobs and are attacked constantly by the president for just reporting the news honestly. The great investigative journalists are some of my favorite people ever, in history and in current times.
But there are certain narratives establishment reporters and pundits on the cable news talk shows love to repeat which don’t hold up to any scrutiny at all. One of those narratives is that the Democrats have to make a choice between targeting progressives and targeting the middle. That narrative has always been wrong, but is even more wrong in 2020, and the Biden campaign is proving the case. They are winning big precisely because they are campaigning on issues embraced by both progressives and swing voters.
The thing that prompted me to write this column was this classic article in the Washington Post this week by Sean Sullivan, who argues that the Biden campaign in the endgame is mainly targeting moderate voters:
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is making an increasingly aggressive pitch to moderate voters, seeking to capitalize on anger at President Trump and cement a broad base of support anchored in the center of the political spectrum.
The former vice president’s strategy was apparent on Tuesday in Florida, where he delivered a speech aimed directly at seniors, and on Monday in Ohio, where he tried to appeal to White working-class voters who propelled Trump to a decisive win there four years ago. In the last few weeks of the campaign, Biden is trying to convince these swing voters that Trump let them down amid signs that the president’s support has eroded.
Biden’s emphasis on moderation, a hallmark of his decades-long political career, comes after a spring and summer in which he made concessions to his party’s liberal wing as he aimed to consolidate its support.
This either/or narrative is actively promoted in the press by some DC Democrats for their own reasons. For those Democrats who have been corporate lobbyists or PR people, or who work for think tanks getting huge amounts of money from corporate special interests, getting the media focused on this either/or narrative can be very advantageous, because they want to divide progressive movement forces from Democratic Party leadership. But here’s the deal, as Joe Biden would say: when you look at the strategies, tactics, and specific ads, there is no real evidence to support this narrative.
Look at the ads the Biden campaign has been running the last few weeks. Right now, they are running a touching ad from George Floyd’s sister about Biden’s empathy and racial justice. They are running an ad on the urgent importance of preserving and protecting Social Security. They have run ads on how Biden is going to pay for health care and climate change investments by taxing the “super wealthy” (that is the term they are using), and other ads denouncing Trump’s tax cuts for the rich. They are running an ad about a farm family worried about climate change hurting their crops. There’s a great ad that’s been heavily in rotation on the values of Scranton vs Wall Street. Many of these ads, by the way, feature people wearing union t-shirts.
Same with Biden’s speeches. He was in Ohio for two appearances the other day, made a stop by a UAW hall, and talked about making investments in working people. He was in Florida talking to seniors about Social Security, health care, and prescription drug prices.
Last time I checked, all of the above are progressive causes, themes, and issues. I am a long-time progressive, and was a supporter of Elizabeth Warren in the primary. If I were running the Biden campaign, these are the same kinds of ads I would be running and speeches I would be writing.
Sullivan cites Biden’s language as wanting to be a president for all the people, not just Democrats, as being more evidence that Biden is focusing on the center. The irony there is that one of the things that progressives have found most offensive about Trump is that he only cares about the states and people that voted for him, not the broad American public.
This either/or choice thing is wrong at its core. Democrats are successful when they appeal to both progressive voters and swing voters at the same time. It works when they focus on progressive populist themes and issues. That is exactly what the Biden campaign has been doing at the end of this campaign.
After the primary, the Biden campaign did exactly what they needed to do with progressive voters: they reached out on the issues, negotiated in good faith, and consolidated those votes into their camp. The progressive community is now overwhelmingly and enthusiastically supporting Joe Biden and Kamala Harris -- partly because Trump is so awful, but partly because of the kind of campaign they are running. It is heartening to see how this is playing out, and I believe it will mean a big Democratic victory in November.