To be sure, these views are not embraced by all Democrats—but they are ideas that are gaining adherents, including among several presidential candidates, and are fundamentally reshaping and radicalizing the Democratic Party. On every front, the Democratic Party is moving left, and the power of the left can be seen in the fact that even Democrats who oppose some of these policies are wary of attacking them. When it comes to challenging the progressive wing, Democratic candidates act as if they are walking on eggshells. (There will be no Bill Clinton–style Sister Souljah moment in the Democratic Party in 2020.)
If former Vice President Joe Biden enters the race, he will likely spend a fair amount of time apologizing for positions he embraced, like his tough-on-crime stance, his view that the Supreme Court went “too far” on abortion rights, and how he handled the Anita Hill accusations against Clarence Thomas when he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Biden has already said, “I’m told I get criticized by the new left. I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the—anybody who would run. Of anybody who would run.”
This embrace of radical progressivism and its colossal price tag is almost certainly going to hurt Democrats politically—most of their gains in 2018 were in suburban districts, among voters who tend to recoil at radicalism of any kind—and it could be politically disastrous. (Ocasio-Cortez enthusiastically embraced the label radical, saying, “It only has ever been radicals that have changed this country.”)
But beyond the electoral ramifications of the radicalization of the Democratic Party is what conservatives like myself consider to be its destructive animating philosophy. The trend is toward growing hostility to free markets and capitalism, in many cases to the point of barely contained contempt for it and for the wealthy. (When former Governor John Hickenlooper, a successful businessman and one of the more moderate candidates in the Democratic field, was asked by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough if he would say he’s a capitalist, he repeatedly ducked the question. Beto O’Rourke, while declaring himself a capitalist, added, “Having said that, it is clearly an imperfect, unfair, unjust, and racist capitalist economy.”)
Many progressives champion the centralization of government power and collectivism, extreme egalitarianism, and a secularism that can bleed into intolerance toward people and institutions who hold traditional religious views on sexual morality.
The Democratic Party is embracing a form of identity politics in which gender, race, and ethnicity become definitional, and a belief in a common culture, unifying ideals, and the need for assimilation is weakened or shattered. (“I acknowledge the truth of the criticism that I have enjoyed white privilege,” O’Rourke recently said.) The Democratic Party is more and more unable to stand up to anti-Semitism. And it seeks “the elevation of human autonomy above other humane values,” as Michael Gerson has argued. The roots of this ideology are not in the labor movement so much as in the postmodern academy. The mood of many progressive Democrats these days is uncompromising and unforgiving.