Born Left, Data for Progress Matures in Biden’s Washington
Of course, for many political activists, strategists, and officials, leveraging approval ratings to move an agenda forward is a fairly basic political strategy. But in a world of young progressive activists who often argue that a central goal is to bring left-wing ideas from the margins into the mainstream, the Data for Progress approach can be controversial, criticized in some quarters as lowering expectations and selling a more daring approach. vision of racial justice and economic equality to appeal to the wealthiest and most moderate voters.
“Imagine Sean McElwee giving a speech at the Walmart Center for Racial Equity – forever,” wrote Matt Karp, professor of history at Princeton and contributor to Liberal Jacobin magazine, warning against a left giving too much of its agenda to one. âCorporate Democratic Partyâ.
Mr McElwee and his organization, which now employs nearly two dozen data scientists, policy experts and communications aides, say spending their political capital now that Democrats are in control of Washington is sort of the point.
âThe purpose of being a progressive and getting involved in politics is to get things done,â said NoiseCat, an activist and author who was the first employee of Data for Progress. âAt some point, progress should mean we’ve accomplished x and y things that have improved people’s lives. I think it’s a little ironic that a lot of progressives forget that the bottom line is that we are supposed to be making progress. “
Over the past three years, Mr. McElwee has moved from the self-proclaimed âOverton Window moverâ to a more pragmatic approach, embracing Mr. Biden – âI don’t like him very much,â he said in 2019 . before meeting his campaign less than a year later – and walking away from calls for #AbolishICE, a slogan he helped popularize that became a rallying call for the left in 2018. (Only about a quarter of voters supported the idea of ââeliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to polls at the time.)
Today his group is championing what McElwee has called a “normative progressive theory of change,” supporting liberal candidates who can form broad coalitions around popular politics. Think of lawmakers like Rep. Lauren Underwood, who overthrew her suburban Illinois district, rather than more fiery progressive leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Politically, they have come to embrace what they believe are the most popular parts of a Liberal platform as a way to persuade voters who might be skeptical of bolder rhetoric. Focus on a clean electricity standard, instead of a carbon tax, for example. Or focus on embracing Mr. Biden’s agenda through reconciliation rather than fighting to abolish filibuster, a proposal that currently lacks sufficient support among Senate Democrats.