America Does Not Have a Liberal Party

Miles Mann, Sentry Staff Reporter

America’s political system is one that is dependent on the modern interpretation of antiquated political precedent. While many see this as a testament to the tremendous lingering power and universal applicability of the country’s foundational ideals, America is clearly not built to change. Very little serves as a better example of this aversion to reform than the establishment that ensures America’s political divide: the increasingly polarizing two-party system. However, resistance to change does not keep society static. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties have undergone dramatic evolutions of ideology in recent years, reflecting a shift in national mentality.

Contrary to popular belief, the term Democrat, in reference to a member of the supposedly left-wing Democratic Party, is not synonymous with liberal. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, liberals only account for just under half of the party’s voters, with the remaining portion coming from a mixture of moderates and conservatives, making up 38 and 14 percent of the voting base respectively, according to the Pew Research Center. The cardinal difference between the outvoted liberals and their moderate or conservative brethren in the Democratic Party is the political scale they use to measure their leftism.

Within the context of an American election, it is automatically assumed that the Democratic Party will present more liberal ideals than its right-wing counterpart, the Republican Party. Using these standards, the moderate Democrats might well be considered progressive, but when compared to the global definition of liberalism used by the truly left-wing party members, they come nowhere close to it. The lines between American progressivism and global conservatism are blurred, a point of confusion that many recent politicians have attempted to capitalize on, spurred by President Bill Clinton’s success with the strategy.

Clinton’s election, and later reelection, hinged upon the fact that the ideological difference between his party and opponents was so small as to be in many ways negligible. His brand of moderate policy was representative of the entire Democratic Party platform at the time, as ostensibly liberal politicians in all levels of government gained support using conservative ideas and compromises. By implementing this tactic as the capstone of his campaigns, Clinton set the stage for the new brand of Democratic conservatism, and the politicians that came with it.

As the Democratic Party relied more on moderate and conservative voters than liberal ones, the politicians it elected tended to reflect that. Under the Democratic Party of the 1990s, there was little talk of free, universal healthcare, free public college, comprehensive police reform or radical environmental protection measures. Such topics, even when discussed, never made it anywhere close to law books, instead resigned to lobbyist groups and local politicians. With an outnumbered left-leaning population, forced to cede nominations to moderate and conservative voters, the Democratic Party never represented liberal policy with liberal politicians.

The field of Democratic candidates was wider and more liberal in 2020 than ever before, giving many progressives hope of a truly left-wing candidate. However, the nominee chosen in the primaries was unsurprisingly of the same conservative opinions as successful Democratic presidents of the recent past. Vice President Joe Biden trounced his more liberal counterparts to secure his nomination, and in doing so eradicated any hope of a truly liberal president defeating the incumbent Republican, President Donald Trump. 

Biden played to the angle of the “safe” candidate, a nominee sure to appeal to the moderate crowd, and did so to great success, carrying a significant advantage over his nationalist opposition. Playing this role, however, comes at the same cost as it did for Clinton decades ago. Biden’s policies and promises are nowhere near liberal. 

Other presidential candidates promised free and universal healthcare, a policy considered globally to be moderate. Biden, not wanting to be seen as radical, prefers to reference already existing compromises when it comes to healthcare, clearly uncomfortable with alienating the conservatives he regularly courts. Other candidates spoke of brave new police reformation policy, promising to eradicate institutional corruption at the root. Biden prefers to please centrists with talk of reform happening within the existing system, fearing that any promise of revolutionary change will upset moderates. 

The Republican Party has found an incredibly successful tactic in misrepresenting moderate policy as radically liberal, but the irony is difficult to miss when one considers just how radical the traditionally conservative party of America has become. Nationalism and xenophobia intertwine with policy and governance, creating an intoxicating and potent blend. Republicans call socialist policy extreme when it is in actuality moderate; it is only through the warped lens of American political attitudes that it can be seen as radical. 

As both major parties contort themselves and their image to fit into the rapidly evolving conceptions held by the American voter, the illusion of choice withers and dies. The choice America is given is not one of liberal or conservative, it is of conservatism or radical anti-progressivism. As true liberalism becomes a modern fairy tale, the two-party system shows its flaws. Unless America can redefine its political dichotomy and fully represent the entire political spectrum, its democracy will continue to operate in a dystopia.