No, Moderate Candidates Are Not Worth Our Time

The Review’s Contributing Opinions Editor wrote a piece last week in support of moderate candidates in U.S. politics, titled “Moderate Candidates Are Worth Our Time.” In the article, the author describes the rise of “progressive” and “leftist” ideas among young people and how they lead to a drop in support for moderate Democrats. They cite the upcoming 2022 Ohio Senate race as a time for Oberlin students to put aside their feelings and vote for the moderate politician Tim Ryan. 

I took issue with a number of the author’s points, like whether moderates are more electable than progressives in the first place. However, I would rather examine what voting for moderate Democrats actually means and show why we must not settle for moderates. To find out what the consequences are of electing moderates we must first ask ourselves: What did the “moderate” Democrats do with control over the House, the Senate, and the presidency? 

In short, with this majority, Democrats increased deportations, introduced major fossil fuel infrastructure projects, expanded the military budget, and set student loan payments to restart in February 2022, while the country still deals with a pandemic and economic depression. There was talk during the 2020 Democratic primary debates of policies that could have made major positive impacts on millions of people: halting all deportations, canceling all student loan debt, decriminalizing marijuana, free college, Medicare for All, statehood for D.C., a Green New Deal, and putting Roe v. Wade into law. All these policies were on the table, and the Biden campaign promised to achieve a number of them. 

Yet once Democrats won control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, these ideas were seemingly impossible to implement because of the filibuster, the conservative Supreme Court, the Senate parliamentarian, and other thinly veiled excuses to not push harder for meaningful change. In fact, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress actively worked to kill progressive proposals and maintain horrific Trump-era policies. All of these impediments are solvable. The filibuster could be removed, the Supreme Court could be packed with progressive justices, the parliamentarian could be ignored like they always have been until now. Yet none of these paths were taken by the moderate Democrats. Instead, they threw their hands up and capitulated despite their majority in both houses of Congress and the presidency. After all this, they have the nerve to demand our votes again. 

If moderate Democrats were sore losers in 2016, they are even sorer winners today. Moderates are incapable of doing anything to rock the boat, put their foot down, or actually take on the structures of oppression that are so prevalent in our society and so in need of immediate, radical change. They are incapable of fighting for anything but corporate interests, because that is what secures their positions of power in our political system. When moderate Democrats happily vote to increase the defense budget again but whine about the national debt whenever a meaningful policy proposal comes across their desk, we must understand that this is all they are capable of doing. But we need more. 

Telling people who are unhappy with their political choices to suck it up and vote for complicit politicians demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of reality and how politics should work. The reality is moderate politicians are not actually moderate. It is an extremist position to look at the state of this world — with ecological collapse, white supremacist domination, and countless other oppressive forces — and decide to maintain the status quo against the necessary radical change. This is what liberalism is today: a worn-out ideology that has no answer to the world’s problems except to say, “Stop complaining so much.” It demonstrates extreme privilege to be comfortable in the current system and dismiss demands for radical change as “complaining.” 

Liberal capitalism (which describes both U.S. parties) has been in power in Europe and the U.S. for decades, yet has done little to challenge the oppressive structures in society. In fact, the world is worse off because liberal politics have failed to challenge capitalism’s exploitation of the Earth and its people. Contrasting this, social movements from the so-called “radical” left have pushed society towards freedom: abolition, labor movements, women’s movements, civil rights and Black liberation movements, have all been led by the “radical” left against moderates. We must demand more from our representatives. If they ignore us, we should vote them out and organize for change. Maintaining this status quo, which is what voting “blue no matter who” actually means, is unacceptable and destructive. When Biden says, “nothing will fundamentally change,” we must believe him and demand better.