Real Talk Q&A: Are Our Democratic Leaders Progressive Enough?
We explore just how Liberal Dems must be in 2012 to beat back Conservative Republicans.
With a 25-seat deficit, House Democrats have a major task ahead of them this fall, as they battle to regain the majority in Congress. But can a party that lost 63 seats in the midterm election (the most since 1938) adapt enough to provide a solid counterpoint to Conservative Tea Party folks on the other side of the aisle? And will President Obama be able to maintain enough of his base to be reelected? In 2008, a Gallup poll showed that the more liberal a Dem was, the more likely they were to support President Obama, and more Dems describe themselves as “Liberal” this year, as compared to ’08. Will that trend continue in 2012? Does the president need to take a more progressive stance to retain his position as the leader of the free world? We turned to Jamal Simmons, Principal at The Raben Group and political analyst, for his take on what Dems need to do to win big during this election cycle.
Loop21: I know you worked with President Clinton, who is famously known as a New (Moderate) Democrat. Would it be accurate to say that you are a Moderate Democrat?
Jamal Simmons: I call myself a pragmatic Democrat. Like most people, I’m not uniformly Liberal or Conservative. On some issues, I believe we need the government to do more, like ensuring that people have equal access to all of the benefits America has to offer. Other times, I think we need individuals to do more, like when it comes to raising children with strong values of work and responsibility. I also think we need a strong military to defend United States’ interests and citizens abroad, but we also need strong, enforced regulations that set the rules of the road for business. We need to be more creative when it comes to education policy to make sure that parents have good choices to pick from for the kids’ educations. When it comes to privacy, I am particularly suspicious of big government monitoring citizens’ behavior, and I’m suspicious of big business, too. I don’t know if that is Progressive or Conservative, but I bet most people think it makes sense.
Loop21: How would you define a “Progressive Democrat”?
Simmons: I think a Progressive Democrat is someone who tends to see government as the first option in solving a problem, more than the private sector or non-profits when it comes to domestic policy, and they may be suspicious of our reliance on the US military when it comes to foreign policy.
Loop21: How would you define a “Moderate Democrat”?
Simmons: Moderate Democrats are people who have a blended approach on the role of government and the private sector.
Loop21: How would you define a “Conservative Democrat”?
Simmons: Conservative Democrats tend be very suspicious of government and very pro-military. Many of them are from the south or rural suburbs, but they are mostly an endangered species, because there aren’t too many of them left!
Loop21: So far in his presidency, do you think President Obama has generally leaned more toward the Progressive or Conservative end of the Democratic spectrum? Why?
Simmons: I think the president is pragmatic, too. I think he is looking for policies that work. Most of what has to be done in the country is not philosophical. There are just things that have to happen. The auto industry is about to collapse and the credit markets are locked up, so the only lender available is the government. President Obama didn’t set out to loan that money to the auto companies, he just had to do it, so he did it. Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan and the government wasn’t going to give him up for trial. Either we go get him or we let him go. The president sent troops to go get him. It just seems pragmatic to me.
Loop21: How do you think that has influenced the efficacy of his presidency?
Simmons: I find Barack Obama to be one of the most effective presidents we have ever had.
Loop21: In his State of the Union speech, President Obama outlined his goals for the remainder of his presidency (and the message of his reelection campaign). Did it strike you as a Progressive Democratic agenda, Moderate Democratic agenda, or a Conservative Democratic agenda? Why?
Simmons: I found it to be pragmatic. He wants to help get the country out of the mess it is in and focusing on a tax agenda that will put everybody in the pot to pay their fair share is important; coming up with a housing plan that gives homeowners a break to refinance is pragmatic; working together like our military is pragmatic.
Loop21: In your opinion, how should President Obama how position himself? Why?
Simmons: President Obama should keep doing what he is doing and communicate his agenda as clearly as possible.
Loop21: As Democrats seek to regain the majority in Congress, would they be better served by adopting a Progressive, Moderate or Conservative stance? Why?
Simmons: Democrats running for office should run the best campaign they can to represent the concerns of their districts and states. Sometimes the only choice available is to have a Conservative Republican or a Conservative Democrat. If that is the case, having a Democrat who will vote for a Democratic speaker is important for accomplishing the Democratic agenda.
Loop21: Is there anything else our readers need to know as we head into this general election cycle?
Simmons: People need to ask questions, determine the candidates that they agree with more, regardless of their label, and work and vote for them. That is our profound privilege as Americans.
Do you think President Obama and the Congressional Dems need to be more unabashedly Progressive to win it all this fall? Or is Conservative the way to go? Tell us in the comments.