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Centrist Democrats Want You to Think They’re the Big Boys on the Stage

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The energy of the Democratic party is clearly with its progressive flank. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are proposing big policies that are energizing a progressive base that is fresh out of patience for warmed-over Republican talking points dressed up in appeals to the “white working class.” Warren has potentially overtaken former Vice President Joe Biden, whose raison d’être is to be a reliable drum major, someone progressives can mark time with while they wait out the rolling horror that is Donald Trump’s presidency.

If Joe Biden is having trouble convincing progressive to choose safety over ideology, you can imagine how it’s working for the other moderates in the race. Pete Buttigieg raises money but attracts fewer black and brown voters than Macklemore. Kamala Harris’s and Cory Booker’s attempts to split the difference by offering a “safer” alternative to Warren/Sanders, while not being walking anachronisms like Biden, are having trouble getting traction. Amy Klobuchar, running in the “what if Joe Biden didn’t exist” lane, is having trouble staying on the debate stage. What are these candidates supposed to do to tap into the progressive energy when they can’t actually out-progressive the progressives? 

This week’s Democratic primary debate in Ohio saw the unveiling of their new, and for some of them last, strategy. I’m calling it “But Now-ism.” Instead of making their plans bigger, the moderate wing is trying to sell their plans as more achievable, right now. Sure, Medicare for All sounds great, but people need healthcare “right now.” Addressing massive income inequality would be cool, “but now” American workers need a raise. Breaking up Facebook makes perfect sense eventually, “but right now” Trump is on Twitter functionally threatening lives. Moderates seem to agree that we need bold, aggressive action to fix what ails our country—at some point. In the future. Maybe. But now, we should just be satisfied with whatever small-bore solution we can get because we have a deranged narcissist in the White House right now

We saw Pete Buttigieg play the “But Now” game when he jousted with O’Rourke over O’Rourke’s (admirable but constitutionally questionable) mandatory gun buy-back idea:

“We can’t wait for universal background checks that we finally have a shot to actually get through. We can’t wait to ban the sale of new weapons and high-capacity magazines so we don’t wind up with millions more of these things on the street. We can’t wait for red-flag laws that are going to disarm domestic abusers and prevent suicides, which are not being talked about nearly enough as a huge part of the gun violence epidemic in this country. We cannot wait for purity tests. We have to just get something done.”

We saw it from Amy Klobuchar, who decided to set herself in opposition to nearly everything coming out of Elizabeth Warren’s mouth. 

“I appreciate Elizabeth’s work. But, again, the difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done. And we can get this public option done. And we can take on the pharmaceutical companies and bring down the prices.”

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