Why we need to elect a progressive Democrat in 2020: The Stakes

Robert Kuttner has been helping set the progressive agenda for three decades as the cofounder and (current) coeditor of The American Prospect and as a cofounder and board member of the Economic Policy Institute. So, it’s hard to think of anyone better qualified to make the case for electing a progressive Democratic President in 2020. And in The Stakes, Kuttner does just that, thoughtfully and persuasively.

Democratic Presidents have failed to address society’s problems

Kuttner’s argument goes far beyond the Democratic party line that reelecting Donald Trump would be catastrophic for American democracy, although he does a fine job of spelling out the reasons. He argues, further, that the last three Democratic Presidents—centrists one and all—have failed to address the major ills of our society. Trump has already pushed the system close to the breaking point, and a second term could (and probably would) stack the Supreme Court with so many Right-Wingers that systemic change would become all but impossible. Only electing a progressive Democratic President in 2020 will prevent that.

The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy by Robert Kuttner (2019) 295 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)

Why elect a progressive instead of a centrist? Because, if Democrats don’t move forcefully to lessen the economic inequities that are at the root of the dissatisfaction that elected Donald Trump, the reactionary Right will limit Democrats to a single term in the Oval Office, preying on the same economic insecurity (as well as the racism that motivates so many Trump supporters). In fact, citing intensive studies of the turnout in the 2018 midterm election, Kuttner makes the case that 2020 is for Democrats to lose—which, he believes, might happen, if we nominate a moderate. But not only is it essential to elect a progressive Democratic President, but a “Democrat needs not just to win in 2020, but to win a Rooseveltscale mandate the govern.”

The agenda for victory in 2020

Kuttner lays out the agenda for victory in 2020. He argues forcefully that it’s not enough to appeal to voters on the basis of pocketbook issues (the “class” argument). It’s important to mention both race and class. Here’s the essence of the argument he proposes: “To make life better for working people we need to invest in education, create better-paying jobs, and make health care more affordable for white, black, and brown people struggling to make ends meet.” The phrasing is inelegant, but that sentence gets the point across. And it’s the approach now heard on the campaign trail most clearly from Elizabeth Warren.

It seems unlikely anyone other than a political scientist will read The Stakes after November 3, 2020. The book is, pure and simple, a campaign position paper. But it’s a good one and well worth reading for any Democrat who’s inclined to support a centrist, thinking that a progressive would be “unelectable.” Kuttner puts that argument to bed.

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