You can argue that the major goals of social democracy — universal health care and other social provisions — were achieved long ago in Europe. But they aren’t so fully realized, and are thus potentially popular, in America, never mind our own robust welfare state.
But that misses the deeper point. Today’s social democracy falls apart on the contradiction between advocating nearly unlimited government largess and nearly unlimited immigration. “Abolish ICE” is a proper rallying cry for hard-core libertarians and Davos globalists, not democratic socialists or social democrats. A federal job guarantee is an intriguing idea — assuming the jobs are for some defined “us” that doesn’t include every immigrant, asylum-seeker or undocumented worker.
Trump gets this, as does the far right in Europe, which is why they attract such powerful working-class support. Want to preserve the welfare state? Build a wall — or, in Europe’s case, reinstate border controls. Want more immigrants and amnesty? Lower the minimum wage and abolish the closed shop.
But please choose. It’s one or the other.
It’s possible Democrats will surrender to the illusion that they can have both, puffing the sails of Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow travelers. But a Democratic Party seriously interested in defeating congressional Republicans in the fall and Trump in 2020 isn’t going to win by turning itself into a right-wing caricature of the left, complete with a smug embrace of whatever it conceives to be “socialism.”
If Trump is the new Nixon, the right way to oppose him isn’t to summon the ghost of George McGovern. Try some version of Bill Clinton (minus the grossness) for a change: working-class affect, middle-class politics, upper-class aspirations.
I’ve written elsewhere that a chief danger to democracy is a politics in which the center bends toward the fringe instead of the fringe bending toward the center. It’s the way Trump became president. But the antidote to one extreme isn’t another, and Democrats will only win once they reclaim the vital center of American politics.
The center is Dayton and Denver, not Berkeley and Burlington. The center is Harry Truman and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, not Eugene Debs and Michael Harrington. Democrats who want to win should know this. ☐