- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Democrats emerged from Tuesday’s election having been pulled further to the left than at any other time in modern political history, and analysts said the party could struggle to govern unless it is willing to forgo some of its more ambitious goals.

Six years after the tea party pushed the Republican Party to the right, Sens. Bernard Sanders and Elizabeth Warren exposed a similar rift within the Democratic Party this year by marginalizing the moderates.

While some prominent progressive activists reject the notion that the party will be “allergic to compromise” like the tea party, analysts say Democrats are at risk of becoming just as hard-lined as their rivals on the right.

“Both wings of each party believe that they’re in the right, and when you believe you are ideologically righteous or justified, then there is no compromise,” said Lara Brown, an associate professor of political management at George Washington University who studies the evolution of political parties.

“Do I think some of the progressives would say we’d rather not have a deal than a deal that undermines all that we believe? Yes,” she said. “The idea that Democrats would be better partners than Republicans, I think, misses much of the polarization that exists in our country and among various factions.”

Ms. Brown and other analysts say the way forward for Democrats is for “workhorses” in Congress to find consensus with moderate Republicans, perhaps finding common ground on criminal justice reform, an overhaul of the nation’s tax code and federal spending on infrastructure.

But it’s unclear how willing many rank-and-file Democrats — the ones who supported Mr. Sanders during the party primary race — will be to seek compromise.

For the past year, they have been energized by proposals such as free public college for all Americans, a universal health care system, a massive crackdown on Wall Street, the complete rejection of all fossil fuels and other goals that seem unrealistic at best in today’s political climate.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who is likely to be the next Democratic leader in the chamber, has embraced some of those goals.

He told progressives in a fundraising email this week that he will fight for debt-free college. The veteran lawmaker also gave a nod to the more liberal direction of his party, saying Democrats must embrace their more ambitious ideas.

“We have a moral obligation to move America forward,” the senator said on a conference call Tuesday hosted by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a leading liberal organization that has long tried to push the party to the left.

“Things we want to do make college affordable, raise the minimum wage, have a large transportation infrastructure bill,” said Mr. Schumer, also ticking off criminal justice reform and immigration reform as top goals in the next congressional session.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sanders, the godfather of such proposals and the figure most responsible for the Democrats’ shift to the left, also said the left has an obligation next year: to push the next president in a more progressive direction.

“It’s not good enough for me, or anybody, to say, ‘Well look, Republicans control the House. From Day One, we’re going to have to compromise,’” the senator from Vermont, an acknowledged socialist, recently told The Washington Post. “The Democratic Party, before they start compromising, has got to rally the American people around our ideas and make it clear that if Republicans do not go along with reasonable ideas to benefit the middle class and the working class, they are going to pay a very heavy political price.”

Progressive leaders say they will heed Mr. Sanders‘ call and push the next president and congressional leaders to pursue the most liberal set of policies in decades. But they are also eager to show the American people that gridlock will not be their first order of business, and they argue that there is a way to honor the grass-roots liberal movement in the Democratic Party while making tangible progress.

“Unlike the tea party, the progressive left isn’t allergic to compromise,” said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for the liberal PAC Democracy for America, founded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the first champion of the liberal Netroots when he ran for president in 2004.

“But we think you can compromise without compromising your values,” Mr. Sroka said. “For instance, there does seem to be a large bipartisan consensus on this idea of criminal justice reform. That seems like a place where Secretary Clinton has a mandate from the grass roots of her party that they want a change.”

Beneath Mr. Sroka’s comments and the words of other progressive leaders seemingly is an acknowledgment that some, if not all, of the more ambitious ideas brought to prominence by Mr. Sanders are unlikely to become reality, despite the efforts or Mr. Schumer, Ms. Warren and Democratic leaders in the Senate.

Republicans and even some moderate Democrats are unlikely to back expensive socialist proposals on higher education or health care, meaning the Sanders-Warren wing of the party may need to look at criminal justice or tax reform if they wish to enact change.

“Politics is about the art of the possible, and what will be possible is not anything that is far-left progressive,” Ms. Brown said.

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