Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

The Democratic Party Is Radicalizing

The GOP is hardly the only party that is undergoing some alarming tectonic shifts, Peter Wehner argued recently: “On every front, the Democratic Party is moving left.” To understand this radicalization, he wrote, look to the ascent of Bernie Sanders—“a self-proclaimed socialist”—and the ideas being embraced by leading members of the party, such as Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, and tuition-free and debt-free college—“ideas that together would be fiscally ruinous, invest massive and unwarranted trust in central planners, and weaken America’s security.”

“Progressivism is wrecking the Democratic Party even as crude populism and ethnic nationalism have (for now) wrecked the Republican Party,” Wehner concluded. “Both are salvageable and both are worth saving, but that will require individuals who have identified with each party to fight to reclaim them; to show wisdom, decency, and courage in an age of extremism and intemperance.”


The policy proposals of progressive politicians meet the American people at the center of current political sentiment. These ideas are not extreme; rather, they are representative of the will of the people. In other words, they are not far left; they are dead center.

Polling suggests the following across party lines: The majority of Americans support taxing the wealthy at a higher rate, implementing a Medicare for all health-care system, legalizing marijuana, reforming our criminal-justice system, implementing gun-control laws and innovative solutions to address climate change, making college and university tuition-free, and limiting corporate money in politics and campaigns.

As it stands, our current political culture is reprehensible. Americans are awakening to this reality. Progressivism is the future not only of the Democratic Party, but also of American politics as we know it. These “radical” and “extreme” ideas would raise the quality of life for millions of Americans.

Jared Winston
New York, N.Y.


Peter Wehner depicts Bernie Sanders as a wild-eyed radical. Actually, Bernie is just an old-fashioned New Deal Democrat, totally in line with what the Democrats were from Roosevelt’s election in 1932 to the 1980s. What is radical is the neoliberalism that has infected today’s Democratic Party.

Larry Gates
Pawleys Island, S.C.


“The Democratic Party Is Radicalizing” was well argued and captures the feelings of many of us who are lifelong liberals; it’s a viewpoint not often published in liberal media, and so important as we face the possible fracturing of the Democratic Party at the worst time possible.

Carrie Braver
El Dorado Hills, Calif.


Mr. Wehner appears to draw parallels between the “radicalization” of the Republican and Democratic Parties, which is absurd. One radicalization has resulted in a rabid nationalist fervor that has quickly spread around the world. The other “radical” movement involves new ideas that attempt to remedy the broken system. Granted, not all these ideas are good. But they do not consist of human-rights violations, racist rhetoric, and a concerning lack of empathy for others.

Maya Stibbards-Lyle
Kingston, Ontario, Canada


Peter Wehner is correct when he says that the Democratic Party is changing. He couldn’t be more wrong when he compares that to Republicans’ turn to the nationalist right.   

His anxiety that America might not always have hard-right conservatives at the helm shows how successfully Republicans have controlled political narratives. What they’ve called “liberalism” has mostly been Rockefeller Republicanism—the kind that deregulates airlines, ends welfare as we know it, and borrows its health-care plan from the Heritage Foundation. It’s noteworthy that Wehner has to reach back 40 years for a proposal meeting the definition of socialism.

Today’s Democrats have spent much of their lives watching conservative policies expand deficits, redistribute income upward, and mire us in unwinnable wars, without benefiting nonmillionaires in the least. Changes in marginal tax rates only sound radical compared to conservatives’ de facto policy that rich people shouldn’t have to pay anything at all. The “revolution” that Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offer now is Ronald Reagan’s kind—a choice, not an echo.

Jonathan Miller
Columbus, Ohio

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.