Politico recently published a story detailing the Democratic Party’s reaction to Bernie Sanders’ supposed “medicare-for-all litmus test.” Many Democrats feel it an unnecessary shift to the left that could have disastrous electoral consequences. Some say it’s laughable that a man willing to forget purity tests when it comes to abortion rights is trying to set one up for medicare-for-all.

There are many crying afoul for various reasons, despite the various merits of those critiques, the litmus test Sanders supports is much deeper than one person or one policy. It’s about winning back the historic legacy of the Democratic Party among the working poor, particularly the white working poor. And specifically when it comes to healthcare the Democrats need to look to the long history of their party and not the dying breaths of the Clintonite wing of the party. Which is exactly what makes medicare-for-all the perfect litmus test.

Medicare-for-all isn’t a radical policy, it’s one Democrats can support pragmatically and reasonably. It’s a policy that can be enacted slowly over time or more quickly depending on the needs of the day. It’s not necessarily a Most importantly though, it’s a policy reminiscent of those pushed by FDR or Harry Truman, during the heyday of the Democrats as a populist party pushing policy for working people.

Many a smug liberal will retort that the Democrats are quite obviously still the party of working people and any working person who feels otherwise is clearly voting against their self interest. While there are definitely arguments to be made that Democrats push a set of economic policies that benefit the average American, especially when compared to the Republican Party. Unfortunately though new deal or greater society style programs have largely taken a backseat to social and cultural issues. A medicare-for-all litmus test is a great way to bring those programs back into focus without necessarily pushing important social or cultural issues out of the picture.

Democrats have benefited from a radical shift to the right from the Republican Party in the sense that they were the de facto party for most minority voters and people who want to create a multicultural society that is safe and productive for all of its members. Despite there being no real alternative for voters bent on embracing diversity, the Democrats continue to champion that message with gusto at the expense of their populist roots. Focusing on issues of culture, race, and sexism, among other things, is great, largely because it’s pretty obviously the right thing to do. Politically speaking though that focus has seemed to suck the air out of other projects that used to be the party’s bread and butter.

Again, focusing on diversity, racial justice, sexism, and other cultural and social issues is a very important and indispensable piece of the Democratic Party’s message. It just can’t come at the expense and air time of a genuine economic populism and policy that can lift up all Americans, or at least leave all Americans feeling that it can.

To some extent Democrats already offer a set of policies most party members feel would genuinely lift millions of Americans, but in a time when messaging has focused on immigration, globalization, issues of gender and sexual orientation, or other ethnic or religious divides, Democrats have banked far too much on their historical legacy as “the party of working people” to do their work for them.” Whether Democrats want to believe it or not a large segment of the working people in this country no longer feel that way and that is largely because Democrats took their history for granted and quit championing the big social projects which landed them that spot in the first place. Say what you will about Donald Trump and the morality (or lack thereof) of his plans, he definitely campaigned on big ideas.

Historic legacies don’t mean much when people don’t read history and allowing the Republicans to steal the white working class didn’t happen on accident. It happened because instead of pushing transformative policy like a government health care system, reminiscent of previous pushes by Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, and even Richard Nixon, the Democrats pushed for watered down Heritage Foundation ideas like the Affordable Care Act.

Progress no matter how slight is a good thing, but it’s hard to inspire passion when pragmatic policy appears to trump the urgency many millions of people around the country feel. That’s especially true in a time when Republicans will shamelessly lie about their policy goals simply to feed the emotions of the electorate.

Democrats have not successfully countered Republican inroads into what was previously an important part of their base, the white working class. Medicare-for-all as a litmus test is one good way to reverse that trend. Democrats also haven’t proved they can effectively mobilize minority voters or millennials without the cult of personality that helped fuel Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Economic populism is the answer to those questions. It answered the Democratic Party’s questions when the Dixiecrats splintered in 1948, it was the answer when Barack Obama campaigned for hope and change 60 years later.

If the standard Democratic coalition and policy platform going forward looks more like Obama in 2012 or Hillary Clinton in 2016, than Obama in 2008, the Democrats are in real trouble. The status quo will not work, even the Obama created status quo. People’s appetite for change hast not been satisfied and the Democrats need to responsibly and adequately feed that appetite. There was a time when Democrats were universally lauded the class of the downtrodden and almost all of those downtrodden believed it.

That is not true today and unfortunately without drastic changes that doesn’t seem like it will change anytime soon.

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