Canada, if you haven’t heard, will soon have a new prime minister.
His name is Justin Trudeau, he’s 43-years-old, and his Liberal Party came out on top in Monday’s national elections, ending the Conservative Party’s nine-year-long stranglehold over Canadian politics.
No one saw this coming.
Back in August when current Prime Minister Stephen Harper first called for early elections, the Liberals were getting trounced in the polls by the historically much more left-wing New Democratic Party, or NDP.
At that time it really looked like the Liberals – Canada’s so-called “natural governing party” – were on the cusp of losing yet another election.
But then something weird happened.
As summer turned to fall, the NDP abandoned its progressive values and started moving to the right.
The most obvious policy shift involved the budget.
Even though everyone in Canada was sick and tired of the Conservative government’s austerity policies, the NDP made balancing the budget – AKA more austerity – a big part of its campaign platform.
The idea was to hit back against the right-wing smear that the NDP is bad with money, but as Joshua Ostroff points out in a piece for The Huffington Post, “After years of austerity measures, that rightward turn… felt to many like a betrayal of party values in search of a few votes.”
Meanwhile, as the NDP moved right, the historically “centrist” Liberals moved to the left. They started calling for more economic stimulus, higher taxes on the rich, and, you guessed it, legal marijuana.
Since Canada is a center-left nation, the pitch worked. On Election Day, the Liberals won 150 seats and a majority in parliament.
Obviously, the US is not Canada.
Although we share a a common language and a common colonizer, we are two very different countries with two very different political systems.
But even so, there is a lesson here for US liberals if they care to listen.
And that’s the fact that they should never, ever, ever, tack to the right to win elections.
Doing so is a surefire way to actually lose elections, as Canada’s NDP found out the hard way on Monday.
US Democrats should know the feeling.
In last year’s midterms a good number of Democrats ran away from President Obama and his accomplishments and tried to pass themselves off as “Republican-lite.” Remember Allison Lundergan Grimes running ads on TV saying that she disagreed with Obama?
And what happened? They lost their elections and Republicans took over the Senate.
The frustrating part of all this was that when Democrats did run as Democrats last fall, they won. Senators Al Franken of Minnesota, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Gary Peters of Michigan, for example, all ran as tried-and-true progressives and handily beat their Republican challengers.
This shouldn’t be that hard that to understand: Democrats win elections when they run as progressives.
Unfortunately, a lot of establishment Democrats still buy into the right-wing myth that the US is a “center-right nation” when it’s anything but a center-right nation.
Like Canada, the US is a center-left nation.
In fact, a recent poll by the Progressive Change Institute, shows that Americans overwhelmingly agree with progressives like Bernie Sanders on key issues from education and healthcare to the economy.
- Like Bernie, 75 percent of Americans support fair trade that “protects workers, the environment and jobs.”
- 71 percent support giving all students access to a debt-free college education.
- 71 percent support a massive infrastructure spending program aimed at rebuilding our broken roads and bridges, and putting people back to work.
- 70 percent support expanding Social Security.
- 59 percent support raising taxes on the wealthy so that millionaires pay the same amount in taxes as they did during the Reagan administration.
- 58 percent support breaking up the big banks.
- 55 percent support a financial transaction or Robin Hood tax.
- 51 percent support single payer healthcare, and so and so on.
Get the idea?
If Democrats were smart, they’d run on these policies.
But don’t hold your breath.
With triangulator-in-chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz still in charge of the DNC, Democrats are probably going to spend a few more election cycles running away from their own core values.
But if the rise of Bernie Sanders is any indication, the Democratic base is more than ready to take on the party elites for failing to stand up for real progressive values.
So let’s hope the Democratic Party wakes up and starts, you know, acting Democratic before it pulls an NDP-type unforced error and throws away another election.