Progressive Ideology Within the Democratic Party

By: Nikita Vandrangi — Political Editor

The progressive ideology has been on the rise within the Democratic Party in the past few years. Advocating for their infamous policies such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and most recently defunding the police, progressives hope to see radical and bold change within the system. They are led by the well-known Democratic politicians, Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with the recently formed progressive “squad” within Congress: Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Cori Bush, and Rep. Jamaal Bowman. 

Progressives often push back against traditional Democratic values and advocate against the incrementalist way of inciting change. Several questions have been raised regarding the efficacy of the ideology, the potential damage it may be doing to the progress of the party, and its compatibility with the new Biden Harris Administration. 

Sharon Selectwoman Hanna Switlekowski believes progressivism builds on existing Democratic values and modernizes them. “I believe progressivism is not counterintuitive to the growth of the Democratic Party…It could be seen almost as a branch of the Democratic Party, the same way that the Republican Party has had the Tea Party or different subgroups within the same party,” said Switlekowski.

Former MA-04 candidate and politician Jesse Mermell has a similar take. “Progressivism is essential to the growth of the Democratic Party, both morally and strategically. Morally, Democrats must be standard bearers for core progressive values such as justice and equity. Strategically, the most reliable Democratic voters traditionally support strong progressive policies and the candidates who advocate for them, and polling shows that Americans support progressive stances on issues,” said Mermell.

Mermell says that the progressive wing has to actively work to expand its electorate. “ [It] will require authentic and consistent community engagement – especially in black and brown communities – and an ongoing dismantling of both new and long standing voter suppression practices,” said Mermell.

Massachusetts State Rep. Ted Philips of the Norfolk 8th district believes that the Democratic Party is strongest when a broad spectrum of ideas are represented. “[Progressivism] only divides when progressives deal in absolutes, attempting to push forward aggressive policy changes and accepting nothing less at the expense of real, achievable changes,” added Philips.

Philips himself ran in a competitive race against a more progressive candidate. “Though I consider myself to be fairly progressive, being viewed as the more moderate candidate likely appealed to the independent (unenrolled) voters in the district who pulled a Democratic ballot. Governor Baker’s PAC also wound up running some ads in my race because they viewed me as someone that they could actually work with to craft policy for the residents of Massachusetts,” said Philips.

On the achievability of progressive goals, Mermell says that it is both realistic and a moral imperative. Citing an example of climate change she says, “Addressing climate change aggressively now is both rooted in justice and is more realistic than losing our planet to natural disasters and dramatically altered conditions that make sustaining society and industry near impossible.” 

“I think that the country would be far better off with more progressive policies in place but I’m realistic about what can be accomplished in a deeply divided country. If that makes me a moderate, so be it. I don’t think that progressive goals are unrealistic, but so often, we let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You have to chip away at these problems over time,” said Philips. 

Switlekowski says that strong progressive reform is necessary to get the country back on track after the last four years, which is more doable now that Democratic party is in the majority. “I do think that from an economic standpoint, the progressive goals won’t all be met as aggressively. There is a desire to work in a bipartisan fashion, which may upset some progressives,” she said.

Taking an example of student loan debt, Switlekowski says “I think from the progressive viewpoint, they would also want it all wiped away and done with, but given the current economy and the political climate, there needs to be incremental steps to tackle this issue. There needs to be strategy, thought, and patience as with any major reform measure Congress takes up. I do hope progressives are willing to hear all opinions and collaborate throughout these next four years.”  

Mermell hopes that the progressive wing will work productively and collaboratively with the Biden Harris administration, praising it when due but also pushing it to the left when needed. “Progressives will hold the new administration accountable to aggressively and systemically address the racial and social inequities that plague our country,” said Mermell.

“I do believe the [Biden Harris] administration will be cautious though, especially over this next year as they work on unification of the country and it may upset the progressive wing that the administration is being more bipartisan and working across the aisle,” said Switlekowski. 

Former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Democratic Presidential Nominee Michael Dukakis says “the differences between ‘moderates’ and ‘progressives’ are wildly exaggerated. Biden’s program is the most progressive we have had in years.”

Dukakis says “time will tell” if the policies will actually go through Congress. “But the problems facing the country require bold solutions, and they are progressive in the best sense of the word.  Moreover, [Biden’s cabinet] appointments so far have been very progressive, and that will make a big difference, with or without new legislation,” said Dukakis.

“It is hard to exaggerate the incompetence of the Trump administration and Trump himself. That is one of the reasons 400,000 people have already died as a result of the virus. I expect that to change dramatically as soon as Biden takes over,” added Dukakis.

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