This primary season, progressives were excited by the candidacies of both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. So it’s been disappointing that both Warren and Sanders had to drop out of the race. But we shouldn’t judge their candidacies solely on their electoral failure. History has shown that progressive candidates can still have a positive influence if they win over the public to progressive ideas that they would’ve beforehand deemed too radical. Both Warren and Sanders have made such ideas as universal health care, universal child care, a national law for paid sick leave, worker representation in corporate boards, much more acceptable to the general public. As they’ve moved the political center of the country to the Left, they made it politically safe for moderates like Joe Biden to hold these ideas.
Other failed progressive presidential campaigns, like Jesse Jackson’s 1988 and 1984 campaign, Ted Kennedy’s 1980 campaign, Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 campaign and Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 campaign, helped push progressive ideas into the mainstream.
Henry Wallace’s 1948 presidential campaign was a progressive light just as the country was falling into the darkness of McCarthyism. Wallace had served as Agriculture Secretary and Vice President during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency. Wallace ran as a third party candidate for the Progressive Party in 1948 because of his worries about the United States growing hostility towards the Soviet Union and the rolling back of the liberal policies of Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Though Wallace lost in 1948, the policies that he advocated in 1948 were championed by later Democratic leaders. The Progressive party platform called for conciliatory policies towards the Soviet Union, desegregation of public schools, the dismantling of Jim Crow in the South, equal pay for women, free trade, a national health insurance program, the expansion of the welfare system, and the nationalization of the energy industry. Wallace pushed Harry Truman towards a more liberal domestic program.
Here is the documentary “Common Man” about the life of Henry Wallace directed by Joan D. Murray and produced by Sandy Cannon-Brown.
Bernie Sanders statement ending his 2020 presidential campaign
Elizabeth Warren’s statement ending her 2020 presidential campaign