Come the 2020 Democratic National Convention, it is entirely possible that the party’s presidential nominee will be committed to “Medicare for all,” at least two tuition-free years at a public college or university, a $15 minimum wage, a sharp increase in Social Security benefits, a dramatic expansion of wage subsidies, and a federal jobs guarantee. Bernie Sanders, who came very close to securing the Democratic nomination in 2016, has endorsed all of the above, and though most of the party’s younger presidential aspirants eschew the socialist label, all have been galloping in the same leftward direction. Most striking has been the evolution of Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, both of whom came of age at a time when Democrats felt obligated to present themselves as scrupulously moderate, and who earlier on flirted with various centrist and even conservative commitments, yet who have now reinvented themselves as stalwart progressives.
Whereas Sanders is notably comfortable with taking contrarian stands, having endured marginalization and ridicule for decades, Booker and Gillibrand are best understood as weathervanes: They see which way the wind is blowing among enthusiastic Democratic primary voters and small-dollar donors, and they have no intention of beating up against it. At times, the two junior senators seem to be duking it out to see which of them can one-up the other: Booker proposes a new jobs program, Gillibrand calls for a public option for banking, and so on. Though I doubt either of the two will ever call for, say, raising taxes on their upper-middle-income constituents—that would be dangerously radical—it is a safe bet that we will hear many more inventive ideas from them between now and the New Hampshire primary.