Illustration of the two political parties in America.
What does it mean to be progressive in a two party system? (Illustration by Sophia Clendenen, University of the Arts)

The Democratic Party Is No More Than a Republican Opposition

Despite the posturing of last year’s primaries, legitimately progressive policy is hard to come by in a system that favors the political right.

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Illustration of the two political parties in America.

Despite the posturing of last year’s primaries, legitimately progressive policy is hard to come by in a system that favors the political right.

Time and time again the Democratic Party demonstrates to the American people an inability to propose or enact significant progressive change. Despite the passage of landmark legislation such as the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007, which allowed federal authorities to investigate hate crimes, significant changes to the economy that could provide true equity for minorities and low-income communities regularly fail to pass. Understanding the Democratic Party as nothing more than a Republican opposition is a potential explanation for why progress is rarely made.

$15 Minimum Wage

During the Senate’s passage of Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill, eight Democrats voted against the addition of a $15 minimum wage to the bill. The $15 minimum wage has been a position of the Democratic Party for quite some time now, especially during the 2020 election. As of Jan. 8, 2020, 21 of the initial 27 Democratic candidates had declared support for the $15 minimum wage. According to a study by Pew Research, as of late 2019, two-thirds of Americans favor increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and 86% of Democrats do.

The $15 minimum wage is not an incredibly radical idea, especially when one acknowledges the rise in productivity compared to relatively stagnant wages. One of the fundamental ideas of capitalism is that as the economy expands and productivity increases, workers are supposed to prosper more as well. This concept arguably reflected reality until around the 1980s, when the correlation between wages and productivity began to diverge. The Economic Policy Institute’s “The Productivity-Pay Gap,” explains that since 1979, net productivity rose 69.9% and pay rose only 11.6% after adjusting for inflation. If workers were truly receiving fair compensation for their work, the minimum wage would be significantly higher than $15, and many Americans work for half of that.

Merely an Opposition?

The idea that the Democratic Party exists as a false opposition to the Republican Party sounds radical and pessimistic — and maybe it is — but when examining the “progress” that Democrats have made in the past few years, it’s definitely plausible. Democrats have long voted for presidents and representatives that have not fulfilled their progressive promises. Many of the promises that these leaders fail to fulfill conveniently benefit the wealthy and uphold capitalism at the expense of low-income Americans.

The concept of the Democratic “opposition” is not a conspiracy theory meant to sow distrust in the government, but an attempt to hold the Democratic Party accountable for the change it is supposed to create. One of the fundamental problems with the Democratic Party is that it is unable to offer anything to its voters. Many of the policies that Democrats vote in favor of are simply opposition to Republican policies, rather than true policies of their own.

Left-wing politics in many countries offer policies that are beneficial to those voting for the party. More than 20 countries in Europe with governmental systems similar to the United States have implemented universal health care. In the United States, 88% of those who lean left or identify as Democrats believe that it is the government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health coverage, and 63% of Americans overall believe the same. Despite these statistics, voters have not seen significant strides toward a health care system that works for all, and Americans continue to die daily due to a lack of access to health care. The U.S. National Library of Medicine finds that more than 26,000 Americans die annually because of a lack of health insurance, which is more than twice the number of Americans that are murdered annually.

Party Systems Under Capitalistic Democracies

One of the fundamental problems with capitalism is that it is detrimental to democratic systems. Capitalism can be beneficial to democracies in that it provides voters with a form of leverage and empowerment: their jobs, wages and property. It is detrimental when it comes to the two-party system. One major problem with politics in the United States is that both the left and the right lean right, meaning that the traditional Republican and Democratic parties both fall on the right side of the political spectrum — the one that upholds capitalism. A true two-party system would include the traditional Republican Party and a progressive party that pushes for policies such as those of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The current Democratic Party is simply an opposition to the Republican Party because although it opposes some of the Republican policy agendas, the two parties share one goal: to uphold democratic capitalism. Making socialist ideas more mainstream would not be detrimental to democracy, as it would provide a legitimate choice to voters, but it could greatly hurt capitalism. The question voters need to ask themselves is: Is hurting capitalism necessarily a bad thing when the United States’ idea of capitalism is making wealthy people wealthier at the expense of low-income Americans? In a country where capitalism is so profitable for the wealthy that business owners have amassed billions of dollars, why is it radical for workers to want things as simple as a livable minimum wage or access to health care?

Demonization of Socialism

While “pure” socialism will probably never be seen in the United States, using parts of the socialist ideology to work toward democratic socialism could lead to more equality. It is quite telling that the Democratic Party has begun to demonize progressive leaders such as Bernie Sanders shortly after Biden won the election. AOC went as far as to say that she almost didn’t run for re-election due to the lack of support for progressive ideas within the Democratic Party — just hours after Biden’s election victory. She argued, “Externally, there’s been a ton of support, but internally, it’s been extremely hostile to anything that even smells progressive.” As progressive policy has become more mainstream and young Americans have started to advocate for themselves, the Democratic Party has begun to turn against progressives in an attempt to uphold the capitalistic democracy that both Republicans and Democrats have long worked together to defend.

Writer Profile

Michael Boland

DePaul University
Political Science, Journalism

Hello! My name is Michael Boland and I am a double major in political science and journalism at DePaul University. I am passionate about all things politics and just recently moved to Chicago!

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