Democrats only push progressive policies when the public pressures them to do so. Even though Obama had made it a campaign promise, nobody in the White House or the Hill acted on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at the beginning of his administration. It wasn’t until activists chained themselves to the White House and threatened to withhold donations that Obama finally moved on this issue.
The same story has played out with the minimum wage. When Democrats controlled Congress and the White House in 2008, nobody lifted a finger to raise the minimum wage. But when outside groups pressured the White House, the president finally spoke up. Even if you hark back to the pre-Obama years, most Democrats used to be either in favor of (Hillary Clinton) or wimpy about (John Kerry) the Iraq War. But several years of intense protests led to Democrats adopting a more anti-war line and winning the House in 2006. It even gave Obama a way to contrast himself with and beat Hillary Clinton.
Wall Street has hijacked the Democratic agenda. In the most recent CRomnibus bill, Democrats acceded to banks’ pleas to legalize bailing them out again. Democrats have failed to help the victims of Wall Street, including people suffering from foreclosures. As one advocacy group responded to Obama’s lack of initiative: “We rush to give banks tax breaks, but we dawdle to help homeowners who through no fault of their own lost their jobs because of the economic crisis or bought defective loans that caused the economic crisis.” Reminder: A majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate voted for the 2008 Wall Street bailout–including then-senator Obama.
Democrats are too quick to cave in to Republican demands and sell out the American people. For example, even though Democrats gave in to Republican demands to exclude both the public option and single payer insurance from healthcare reform, not a single Republican voted for the bill. On immigration, Obama waited six years to halt deportations for only half of undocumented immigrants to placate Republicans who wouldn’t even take up a bill in the House. Meanwhile, two million people were deported–more than under George W. Bush. Democrats have also run scared on foreign policy. Obama launched a new war in Iraq and Syria and Democrats in Congress disregarded their obligation to even vote to authorize it.
In the end, Democrats will never act as the voice of the people if the people don’t speak up to hold them accountable. CRomnibus should inspire progressives to work together and primary those Democrats who are not heeding the people’s will. While it is expensive to run a campaign in the days of Citizens United, it is not hard to get your name on the ballot. Go ahead, primary a bad Democrat (yes, that includes challenging Hillary). It's time for us to clean house together. That's why I'm supporting Elizabeth Warren for President.
Matt Adler is a multilingual progressive activist who has served as a Obama Campaign staffer, DNC delegate, and Administration official. In addition, he has worked at numerous immigrant rights advocacy organizations.