California Democrats’ political dance routine consists of just one move: shuffle to the left.
That’s the narrative we’ve all been made to believe. And it’s accurate for the most part.
Democrats in the Golden State have done everything from refusing to work with federal immigration officials to report undocumented immigrants, negotiating climate change policies with China when the federal government refused to and authoring bills to enforce net neutrality within the state in light of the Federal Communications Commission’s attempts to repeal the policy.
So it only seems natural that the state’s Democratic party, driven by a progressive wing of delegates, would forego endorsing Dianne Feinstein, a fourth-term U.S. Senator representing California and one of the highest ranking members of the national Democratic party, and back Kevin de León , the state senator running for Feinstein’s seat. De León touts himself as someone who doesn’t play by the “Washington playbook” and has vowed to challenge President Donald Trump’s agenda.
But de León’s endorsement isn’t just another case of a #ResistTrump poster child catapulting to the national political stage to spite an establishment-laden Washington D.C. His endorsement is instead indicative of the antiquity of the national Congressional body.
Seemingly Democratic outsiders like de León aren’t being backed by voodoo-controlled hyper-progressives but by a constituency the party seems to have forgotten: younger people. And the fact that these candidates have been gaining traction is a sign congressional representatives need to get with the times – or step aside.
That’s not to say students’ political advocacy isn’t synonymous with progressivism; to a large degree, it is. Talking points such as a single-payer health care system have rung well with younger people. The Pew Research Center, for example, found in 2017 that 67 percent of people below the age of 30 believe the government has a responsibility to provide health care coverage for all, and 45 percent said the coverage should be provided through a single national program.
Progressive candidates have capitalized on these catalytic points. Bernie Sanders, U.S. Senator for Vermont, centered his 2016 presidential campaign on issues such as income disparity and inaccessible healthcare, garnering more youth votes than President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton combined. More recently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old woman of color, unseated Joe Crowley, a 10-term House Democrat, after rallying younger people – and many others – with a Sanders-like, progressive agenda.
As such, it’s easy to typecast de León’s endorsement as just another progressive rebuke of establishment figures like Feinstein – reporters at publications such as the Los Angeles Times and Mercury News already have. But that assessment fails to take into account the extents to which de León and Feinstein have embraced the increasingly pronounced needs of up-and-coming Americans.
De León has centered his Senate campaign on issues that resonate with students. The state senator told the Daily Bruin Editorial Board in May that he would sit on Senate committees pertaining to appropriations and environmental policy, focusing on, among other things, introducing regulated clean energy efforts that would provide economic opportunity for the country. He spoke about reducing U.S. defense spending to increase educational spending at the federal level, and voiced support for a “Medicare for All” system that could be achieved through incremental expansions of the Medicare program. And he has emphasized the need to challenge the Immigration and Customs Enforcement department.
De León also has experience dealing with the realities of today’s internet-driven economy. Under his watch as California Senate president pro tempore, state lawmakers have had to wrap their heads around how to regulate rental services such as Airbnb, ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, and even internet service providers.
On the other hand, Feinstein’s priorities have remained rather outdated. Her tenure has been characterized by her focus on national security and intelligence, be that sitting on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, voting in support of entering the Iraq War or slapping sanctions on foreign powers. She has also focused on reducing gun violence, but her efforts to date have been little beyond authoring a now-expired assault weapons ban, negotiating with congressional Republicans and urging young people go out and demonstrate – the latter of which she did in a May interview with The Bruin’s Editorial Board.
It’s no surprise, then, that de León would score big in the California Democratic Party’s books. Not only are his ideas more relevant to California, but younger people have a greater stake in what he stands for than in what Feinstein does – even if he doesn’t have a big chance of beating the incumbent senator.
Certainly, the California constituency, and the nation’s population, for that matter, doesn’t just consist of sleep-deprived college students. But the reality is that the world Feinstein and her staunch supporters have grown up in is far different than the world students and younger Americans live in.
Americans largely believe it is harder for younger people now to start their careers than it was a generation ago. Factor in soaring student debt, bloated rent, sky-high health care costs and global warming-induced climate disasters, and it’s no wonder young people aren’t fired up about a politician who tends to focus on what’s happening overseas and has wavered in her commitment to immigration reform and accessible health care.
Call it progressivism or a growing schism in the blue camp, but up-and-coming Americans are increasingly disconnecting from the Democratic Party, and lawmakers will need to update their priorities to match the needs of the next generation.
Otherwise, young people will only continue to do what they’ve already done: look to the left.