Last week, I wrote that Democrats should embrace moderation. I got a lot of pushback and several people asked what I meant by moderation. I’ve outlined it before but here goes. 

I believe that the left is articulating its vision for the Democratic Party better than the centrists even though centrists make up a larger share of the party. They’ve embraced the term socialism and called for guaranteed jobs, free health care and free college. Calling stuff “free” may appeal to a few people on the left but it scares more people in the middle. Not many people believe anything is free in this world. It sounds more like snake oil than any sort of solution. 

For people of my generation, the word socialism comes with a lot of baggage. In the late 1980s, we watched a 70 year experiment in socialism that included half of Europe, much of Asia and countries on every continent fail spectacularly. Folks over 50 years old, those who will make up a majority of voters in 2020, are turned off by this new call for socialism heralded by the likes of Bernie Sanders and AOC.

Instead of socialism, Democrats should embrace capitalism. Sure, capitalism has its problems. Unchecked it leads to concentrations of wealth, human rights abuses and environmental destruction as well as other problems. That’s why we need a strong government to curb the excesses of the system and ensure broader prosperity, not narrower. It may not be perfect but to paraphrase what Winston Churchill said about democracy, capitalism is the worst economic system except for all of the rest. The job of Democrats is to make sure that it works better and fairer.

Government shouldn’t ensure everyone a job but it should ensure that nobody falls too far into poverty. And for those born into poverty, it should offer the tools to climb out. Democrats should support a strong social safety net, one more expansive than we have today, and access to the education necessary to find good jobs and build productive lives. Nobody should leave school with crippling debt that prevents them from bettering themselves.   

Democrats also need a bigger tent. The party’s base is increasingly concentrated in urban centers. Any map of the last presidential election shows patches of blue in high population areas surrounded by broad swaths of red. Democrats may never become dominant in these more rural and suburban areas, but they need to be more competitive if they hope to control both houses of Congress nationally, or either house of the legislature in North Carolina.  Study after study has shown that ending gerrymandering will help Democrats some, but not on the scale too many activists believe. 

Democrats need to become more tolerant of more socially conservative candidates who still support progressive ideals like a stronger safety net. Democrats should accept as members people who don’t believe the government should force a baker to make a wedding cake for a gay couple as long as they believe that couple firmly has the right to marry. A handful of pro-life Members of Congress, won’t change the overall pro-choice position of the party, but it might allow Democrats to pick up a few districts that today are out of reach. 

The moderation Democrats need is as much in tone as it is in substance. They might be able to compete for votes from voters without a college degree if they’re talking about raising the minimum wage and expanding access to health care instead of embracing the term socialism.  They should become the party of access, opportunity, and security, not a party that wants to give away stuff for free. 

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