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How to Spot the Moderate
COMMENTARY

February 20, 2021by Kate deGruyter, Deputy Communications Director, Third Way

Can you spot the moderate?

Ok, not Joe Manchin. That’s too easy. Spot the other one.

You found her! Rep. Sharice Davids, the first congressional Democrat from Kansas in a decade was recently re-elected to her second term. A former mixed martial artist and lawyer, she is one of the first Native American women elected to Congress and the first who was openly LGBT.

Oh, you mean Rep. Stephanie Murphy? The Vietnamese-American congresswoman came to the US as a refugee and currently heads the House Blue Dogs. She’s an avowed moderate and influential voice in the House.

Wait no, you chose Secretary Pete Buttigieg! A talented New Deal Leader, military veteran, slayer of falsehoods on Fox News, and the first openly gay cabinet secretary, he was recently confirmed to head the Department of Transportation and the urgent task of modernizing our infrastructure as part of the Biden Administration’s climate agenda.

Nah, clearly you mean, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, whose win in a close Arizona senate race was the first ripple of the blue tide that has been washing over the state. She is a pivotal swing vote and positioned to be a power center in a divided Senate.

You get that this was a trick question, right? They’re all moderates. And they are just a handful of the new generation of pragmatic Democrats in power across the Biden Administration and Congress. That’s the fascinating and untold story that’s been playing out over some time. Because today’s moderates reveal how significantly the Democratic center has moved on some of the most pivotal issues of our time.

It’s not your grandfather’s centrism anymore

Sure, back in the 1990s, when the US economy was booming, America was the sole global superpower, and Republicans in Congress were still looking to govern, Democratic moderates were thinking rather small. But that Democratic centrism is long gone.

Bipartisan deals on infrastructure, immigration, and a host of policies have been blocked not from a scarcity of Democratic deal makers, but by the absence of Republicans who could credibly negotiate on behalf of their increasingly extreme caucus. As the pull to repeal everything and replace nothing grabbed hold of the GOP, the urgency of the problems piling up shifted the center to favor action. The cascading series of crises that we face in the aftermath of the catastrophic Trump term mean that no moderates, from Joe Biden to Joe Manchin, think that tinkering will suffice. We need big, bold ideas. But we need ideas that will work.

Restoring faith in governance and our democracy requires solutions that are big and noticeable t0 the American public, and backed by science, data, and research to ensure they actually work.

That’s the distinguishing feature of today’s moderate wing—workable solutions to kitchen table problems, and a broader view of what strains families. At the core is a recognition that ladders of opportunity have been closed off to too many people, in too many places. Moderates are ready and willing to re-imagine policies and even systems, but unproven, pie-in-the-sky ideas fail the tests of practicality and urgency. Restoring faith in governance and our democracy requires solutions that are big and noticeable t0 the American public, and backed by science, data, and research to ensure they actually work.

The Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress rightly agree the top priority is relief for the economic shock hurting millions of Americans from COVID. While the Democratic center wants to ensure stimulus reaches those most in need, centrist leaders are also telling policymakers that when it comes to economic relief, they should err on the side of going too big rather than too small. That’s new. And while all Democrats agree that health care must be available to everyone, the backdrop of a pandemic places new urgency on making care affordable. Families facing a high deductible to get cancer care or dealing with a chronic illness without any coverage need help right now, and there are ideas with majority support to cap the cost of health care. We can make progress on capping Americans’ costs this year with support from all Democrats. President Biden campaigned on that and his health care actions in office reflect the political center.

Meanwhile, the compounding threats to families and farmers from the climate crisis make bold climate action a unifying policy for millions of Americans. Overdue investments in innovation and infrastructure can position America as the leader in clean energy technologies, repair and modernize our transportation networks, and provide a source of good-paying union jobs. That means rejecting litmus test notions like renewables-only, which could prevent us from reaching our climate goals. And we’ve got to work so all communities and workers can benefit from the transition to the clean economy of the future.

Biden’s whole-of-government approach to climate capitalizes on pent-up frustration in Washington. Under Trump, infrastructure was a joke. But under Biden, the center sees stimulus, union jobs, critical infrastructure for a green economy, and a way to finally address the depressing scorecards of at-risk bridges and roads across every congressional district in the nation. It is perhaps the most tempting opportunity for bipartisan support, but a clear benefit to communities whether Republicans come to the table or not.

This is the new center: pragmatic, diverse, active, and focused on solving urgent problems with bold solutions. So, when you look for a moderate Democrat, look for the pragmatist who is thinking big.


Kate deGruyter is the Deputy Communications Director at Third Way, a national left of center think tank advancing future-oriented, pragmatic solutions to the urgent problems facing Americans. She served for nearly six years on staff for the U.S. House of Representatives and two years at the Minnesota State Senate.

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