Despite an intensifying earthquake of historic left-wing agitation during the Obama years—Occupy Wall Street, the campus Jacobins, Black Lives Matter, #FightFor15, the Sanders revolution—the Democratic Party will congregate in the City of Brotherly Love this week to nominate a ticket that is, when all is said and done, less left-wing than its last one.
Because whatever stances she took in the primary to fend off her braying socialist rival, few observers doubt that Hillary Clinton—Iraq hawk, friend of Wall Street, welfare reformer, and (former) immigration moderate—stands at least somewhat to the right of the current president, in her heart of hearts, on many of the most important issues. And as Matt Yglesias has pointed out, Tim Kaine, the Virginia Senator rounding out the ticket won his seat in 2005 as pro-gun and (personally) pro-life, belongs squarely in the Democratic Party’s vanishing conservative wing.
Does this mean that the Democrats aren’t moving left—that polarization is just a Republican phenomenon, as some center-left Democrats still self-righteously proclaim? Not at all. The left-wing lurch—on economics, on LGBT, on immigration, on criminal justice, on taxes and welfare—has been real. The party’s 1992 platform would be unrecognizable today. But the Democratic Party, unlike the diseased and dilapidated GOP, still possesses an institutional apparatus—albeit a weak and corrupt one—capable of steering the ship and tempering its voters’ more radical tendencies.
As Sandernistas protest and taunt their soon-to-be-nominee outside of the Philadelphia convention center, however, it’s hard not to wonder whether the pair of centrists who will take the stage this week and face off against Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the fall don’t represent the last gasp of an Old Democratic Party—just as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, in what seems like a lifetime ago, took the stage in Tampa to accept the nomination of Republican Party that has since disappeared.