Crocodile tears about ‘extremism’ from progressives

Crocodile tears about ‘extremism’ from progressives

The people who wail loudest about the GOP’s supposed “extremism” are the very people who vote against moderates at every opportunity — against moderate Republicans in general elections, and against moderate Democrats in Democratic Primaries.

In the 2006 election, the one-time socialist singer John Hall, running on the Democratic ticket, ousted the moderate New York Republican Congresswoman Sue Kelly. My brother, who lived in the district, was greeted by a volunteer for the Hall campaign who told him she was opposing Kelly because of the GOP’s supposed “extremism.”

Never mind that Kelly was about as close to the political center as a member of Congress could possibly be, unlike the staunchly left-wing Hall. Kelly voted with House Democrats about as often as she did with House Republicans, and her legislative score from the American Conservative Union was similar to her score from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. Kelly was much more fiscally conservative than John Hall. But like Hall, she was liberal on social issues: she was pro-choice on abortion, and as Wikipedia notes, “Kelly was endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group.” In short, she was not a right-wing extremist. And even the GOP as a whole was not extreme in 2006 by historical standards — indeed, it accepted government programs (such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit) that earlier generations of Republicans had opposed as too liberal.

In Tuesday’s special election for a GOP state senate seat, people wailing about supposed GOP “extremism” once again voted to defeat a moderate. Former GOP delegate Joe May lost to Democrat Jennifer Boysko by nearly 40 percentage points. May was someone even the liberal media described as a moderate, and closer to the center than his Democratic rival.

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As the Washington Post put it, “moderate Republican Joe May” ran against “progressive Democrat Jennifer Boysko.” May was attempting a political comeback: May lost his seat in the House of Delegates in 2013 in a Republican primary “after conservative Republicans accused him of being out of step with their agenda.” May is a “moderate who served 20 years in the House of Delegates but lost his Loudoun County seat in 2013 after conservative Republicans said the $3.5 billion transportation funding law he wrote was out of step with their agenda” for raising taxes. As The Post, which has not endorsed a Republican for President since 1952, noted, May attempted to appeal to center-left voters: He stated that “he would support Virginia’s ratification of a federal Equal Rights Amendment, lauded the state’s Medicaid expansion law and called for more background checks for gun owners.”

Comments in response to these articles are full of statements that they voted for Boysko because they were fed up with the GOP’s supposed “extremism.” Nonsense: obviously, May was not a right-wing extremist. And his loss will reduce moderate influence on the state legislature, too. If he had won, that probably would not have changed the fact that the State Senate will fall into Democratic hands in the 2019 election: Observers give the Democrats a 90% chance of taking the State Senate in 2019, and they could end up with as many as 24 seats out of 40 after the upcoming election. May’s loss does increase the odds that the Democrats will control the State Senate by more than a razor-thin margin.

By increasing the Democrats’ margin of control, May’s loss may give progressive Democrats the ability to pass costly legislation even if the legislature’s handful of moderate Democrats oppose it. That could include left-wing measures such as the abolition of Virginia’s right-to-work law, a pro-business policy that has attracted countless businesses to the state, and tax hikes on middle and upper-income households. Past moderate Democratic governors such as Doug Wilder had affirmatively supported the right-to-work law, in order to bring jobs to the state. But the more liberal current governor, Ralph Northam (D), merely says that he will not actively seek to repeal it, suggesting he might not veto a repeal of the right-to-work law by a progressive state legislature.

Northam also campaigned on raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, even though this would close many small businesses in rural areas of the state, which cannot afford to pay their employees this much — as the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted, the average wage in places like Amelia is around $15 per hour, so a $15 minimum wage would require employers to pay unskilled new hires as much as they currently pay skilled long-time employees. Employers simply could not do that, especially in low-living-cost, low-wage areas that are not wealthy. So increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour would wipe out countless jobs. A couple each making $12 per hour can support a family in low-living-cost rural areas of Virginia, so it is hard to justify forcing employers to pay newly-hired employees more, even putting aside the massive job losses a $15 minimum wage would entail.

It is hard to understand the claim by many commenters that Virginia’s state GOP is “extreme.” In the last legislative session, the GOP-controlled legislature approved a Medicaid expansion championed by the state’s Democratic governor, something conservatives would have found unthinkable in the past. Both GOP and Democratic legislators have voted to approve tax increases to pay for transportation in recent years. GOP leaders in the state distanced themselves from (indeed, virtually disowned) the right-wing U.S. Senate candidate who won a plurality of the vote in the 2018 GOP Senate primary (he did not win a majority in the primary race, but won the primary because there were more than two candidates) but then went on to defeat in the 2018 general election.

It is not the GOP that has become extreme, but the Democrats. As we noted earlier, the Democrats have lurched so far to the Left that Democratic elder statesmen such as former President Jimmy Carter have warned against their ideological shift. But today’s Democrats are ignoring his warnings. According to a Gallup survey, 57% of Democrats have a positive view of socialism, unlike capitalism. Democratic primary voters replaced several veteran legislators with avowed socialists in some safe Democratic seats in 2018. And voters in Virginia’s Prince William County elected self-professed “Democratic Socialist” Lee Carter to the state House of Delegates in 2017, ousting veteran GOP Delegate Jackson Miller.

Democrats now support costly measures even when they know those measures will wipe out jobs and harm the economy. That is illustrated by a recent poll of California’s Democratic-leaning electorate. The liberal Los Angeles Times reports that “Californians strongly back the state’s minimum wage increase to $15,” even “though they believe the wage hike will hurt their pocketbooks and the state’s economy,” and “high percentages of those surveyed expected negative consequences, including layoffs and business relocations to states with lower minimum wages. Almost 90% of respondents believed that prices for consumers would rise because of the wage hike.”

Most economists say that a $15 minimum wage is a bad idea, one that will increase unemployment, especially among young people, and harm businesses, especially small businesses (even labor economists who are liberal on social issues and reliably vote for Democrats tend to think it is a bad idea). An economist at Moody’s calculated that up to 160,000 jobs will be lost in California’s manufacturing sector alone from the increase to $15.

A sharp increase in the minimum wage in left-leaning Venezuela recently caused 40% of that nation’s stores to close, costing workers their jobs. In 2016, the Democratic Party platform proposed increasing the minimum wage to $15 — even though such an increase would wipe out many jobs, as Hillary Clinton once admitted. As left-leaning Vox put it, “Hillary Clinton knows a national $15 minimum wage is a bad idea. She endorsed it anyway.”

A few left-wing academics falsely claim that local minimum wage hikes are local “stimulus packages.” The opposite is the case since a minimum wage hike not only imposes costs on businesses (in the form of higher wages) and consumers (in the form of higher prices) but also on the local economy (due to reduced federal transfer payments). When a minimum wage worker’s wage increases, she often receives fewer refundable tax credits from the federal government. As one writer observed in the Wall Street Journal, “the tax implications of going from a $10- to a $15-an-hour minimum wage” can wipe out much of the benefit of any increase to affected workers. “For a family of four with both spouses making the minimum wage, their federal tax will increase from $4,106 to $7,219, payroll tax will increase from $2,579 to $3,869, their earned-income tax credit (EITC) will be reduced from $596 to zero … and the $2,400 food-stamp credit will be lost.”

Thus, a minimum wage increase for individual workers ends up being a cut in after-tax income for the region. State minimum wage increases can result in large dead-weight economic losses for low-living-cost, low-wage areas, resulting in far less total income for the area than it had prior to the minimum wage increase. The increase wipes out tax credits that currently operate as economic stabilizers for economically-depressed areas, preventing the collapse of their housing and retail markets. A large minimum wage increase can knock out a pillar of their economy.

The effect of large minimum wage increases is thus to depopulate some small towns. In other small towns, residents will be left jobless, and have difficulty affording a move to a different area, due to the fact that their home values have collapsed (few people will move to a town and buy a home there, if there are no jobs there).

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at


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