Misleading Words

Yesterday in Florida, the results of their primary election for governor drew national headlines. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum became the first African-American major-party nominee for governor in that state’s history.

Mayor Gillum received over 34% of the Democrats’ votes in a crowded field of opponents that included former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, daughter of former Governor Bob Graham. Mr. Gillum will now be running as the Democratic Party’s candidate against Republican Ron DeSantis, endorsed in the Republican primary by President Trump. (DeSantis is very much a Trump acolyte.)

Like a number of other young, intelligent Democrats in campaigns this year, Gillum is charismatic and articulate. And he has avoided taking on any specific philosophical label. However, his campaign advocates hiking corporate taxes to better fund public education, repealing his state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, getting rid of ICE, and most notably, implementing “Medicare-for-all” single-payer healthcare. — He has received an endorsement from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Many political observers speculate that campaign victories like Gillum’s are a sign Democratic voters may be increasingly inclined toward candidates with more liberal positions than their party’s past contenders. This could be regional, or nationwide. We’ll know a lot more in November.

But such intriguing aspects of yesterday’s Florida contest aren’t what got me into writing this essay. It was a couple of annoying words in the descriptions of the Florida candidates that were my motivation.

In several articles I read, Mr. Gillum’s primary opponent, Gwen Graham, was described as the “moderate” Democrat. To those of us who follow politics, we might ask, “in these times, what does “moderate” Democrat even mean?” — Someone who never strays from his/her party’s positions? Or someone who avoids proposing actions that might rock the congressional boat? Or someone, all too rare these days, that is open to finding bi-partisan compromises? Personally, I don’t know how the “moderate” label applies to Ms. Graham.

Here’s what I do know. “moderate” it is a word loaded against any opponent not carrying that label. If you’re not a moderate, you must be immoderate, a loose cannon, a radical. I imagine that between now and November, and on into 2020, more than a few Democrats who dare to suggest greater government involvement in long overdue public programs are going to be accused of radicalism.

Another article I saw yesterday characterized the upcoming contest between DeSantis and Gillum as a race between the “far right” and the “far left.” I know that tiny three-letter adjective “far” does seem harmless enough. But not when it positions a candidate as being a part of an unhealthy political fringe.

I do understand how the Trump-worshiping candidate DeSantis could legitimately be labeled as a candidate on the far-right. His mentor has rubbed elbows with White Nationalists David Duke, implicitly encouraged the re-emergence of white supremacist organizations (until they get embarrassingly out of control), declared America’s free press an “enemy of the people,” and approved using the separation of children from their parents without due process as a punishment technique. That all sounds pretty “far-right” to me.

On the other hand, characterizing candidate Gillum as “far-left” is way off base. As someone who grew up during the Cold War, I know what “far-left” truly describes, Marxist-Leninist Communism – a system that abhors democracy. If Andrew Gillum is far-left then so are a number of other Democratic candidates now appearing on ballots. These candidates also espouse legislation for improving things like healthcare accessibility, a more livable minimum wages, sane gun laws and a more progressive tax system.

The fact is, those issues describe the priorities that many of us Democrats have always favored. Today, we continue to stand where the majority of Democratic voters stood decades ago, before our party began creeping to the right. Now the pendulum may be swinging back.

Over the years, the right wing’s tactic of characterizing Democratic candidates as “far left” has worked well for them. And today, it’s also allowing “moderate” Republican voters to excuse the increasingly far-right philosophy of their party. After all, those “far-left” Democrats are even more of a threat to our American way of life.

So, what can we do about all this? First, we should completely ignore the negative labels that the Republican Party and their Fox News apologists will inevitably be attaching to Democratic candidates with people-oriented priorities. Then we should encourage and support every candidate whose positions recognize the American people as our nation’s most valuable resource.

If our party’s priorities are aimed at bettering the health, education, opportunities and confidence of every American, then the narrow, selfish vision of the Republican Party will not prevail.

And that is not a radical goal.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973