Every presidential candidate of the past 50 years has argued that theirs is the most significant election in the history of America. They claim to offer new ideas and bold solutions to modern problems.
Every candidate, it seems, except for those running for the Democrat Party nomination in 2020, who made the unprecedented decision of running against problems from 100 years ago and offering century-old socialist solutions.
In his new book, Red November, my colleague Joel Pollak profiles the 2020 Democratic contenders as hardline socialists who spent much of 2019 pushing the ultimate victor among them, former Vice President Joe Biden, into running the furthest-left major party campaign in modern history.
Pollak retells the primary we just lived through with colorful personal anecdotes on the campaign trail – Pollak invested hours into mingling with voters at town halls, diner visits, and other traditional campaign venues for every major candidate – and dynamic blow-by-blow accounts of the many Democrat debates the nation suffered through together. As fun as it is to read today, Red November‘s true value will come into play generations from now, when the kids too young to follow the 2020 race grow curious about what actually happened.
Pollak concludes that November’s ballot is about more than individual policies, but a referendum on America’s national character. He jokes that the Democratic candidates “looked like a casting call for a Politburo pantomime” and credits socialist Bernie Sanders (I-VT) – who isn’t even a Democrat – with forcing Biden to “accept most of his agenda.”
Illustrating how fringe the Democratic Party platform had become may make it sound like Pollak depicts a movement that is innovative, dynamic, and fun, but nothing could be further than the truth. More than anything, the Democrat Party of Red November is stale.
Septuagenarians quibbling over the merits of the Cuban Revolution (61 years ago), debate time sucked up by Jim Crow-era busing policies, way too many references to the true star of Red November, Eugene V. Debs (whose presidential prospects peaked in 1912): this is not the party of “Change You Can Believe In.”
This isn’t even the party of “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” James Carville is younger than both primary frontrunners, Biden and Sanders.
This is the party of “the only reason that all working men are not socialists is that they do not know what it means” – at the core of Debs’ philosophy.
Debs ran for president five times as an avowed socialist, perhaps the most influential socialist in American history. He peaked at six percent support in 1912, the furthest-left race since today’s, won by progressive eugenicist Woodrow Wilson. Six percent may not seem like much, but it was enough for “young, bearded, and boisterous” Bernie bros, as Pollak described them, to bring up Debs independently in conversation.
“This isn’t Soviet communism, this is policies that meet human needs, like ‘Medicare for All,’” Pollak quotes one supporter as saying. “[H[e’ll use the presidency to build a movement of ordinary people to change things for themselves, right — just like Eugene Debs did at the turn of the century.”
When not heralding Debs as the new coolest thing in politics, Sanders supporters were busy defending their leaders’ dorm-quality debate over the merits of the Cuban Revolution. Sanders had chosen this hill to die on: that not all of Fidel Castro’s murderous policies were bad. What effect Fidel Castro’s policies have on most Americans that this needed to be litigated at a national debate, we’ll never know, because moderators did not bother to ask.
Inexplicably, Sanders wasn’t alone: widely hated New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, laughed out of the primary early on in the campaign, had quoted racist mass murderer Ernesto “Che” Guevara during one of his last presidential campaign spots, outraging Cuban-Americans and baffling Democrats who actually want to beat Donald Trump.
There is simply no analog to this nostalgia in the Republican Party. No one in the 2016 Republican Primary made it a core tenet of their campaign to defend Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet or the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo. References to Reagan happened, but certainly not to Charles Evan Hughes, the Republican Wilson crushed in 1916.
As for Biden, who the Democrats appear reluctantly stuck with, he continues to face criticism for having, as Pollak noted, “built alliances with old segregationists and … a record of offensive racial rhetoric.” Busing, a hot topic while Fidel Castro was hiding from the true fight against Batista in the Sierra Maesta, also found its way on the Democrat debate menu.
Where that leaves the Party on foreign policy issues that matter in the 21st century is anyone’s guess. As Pollak notes, the few times the Democrats failed to avoid talking about foreign policy – one of the few areas in which the president actually has power to act, constitutionally – they criticized actions by President Trump that were largely successful. On other occasions – notably, the war in Afghanistan – they insisted that Trump was wrong while proposing an “alternative” policy that sounded exactly like Trump’s.
Even when trying to attract conservative voters, the Democrats offered stale fearmongering about Russia – a country that has been laughably unable to influence geopolitics for 30 years. Even the president of Ukraine, one of the few countries Russia has enough power to harass, seemed baffled by what was coming out of Congressional Democrats.
In an election year where it often feels like President Trump is doing everything in his power to make voters forget, Red November is a stark reminder that, for all its attempts at modern “wokeness,” the Democrat Party is a creature with its feet firmly cemented into the 20th century, archaic and ill-prepared for the challenges of our time.