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For your own good



So Benny what do you think of this Dixie Chicks song? You and Natalie share a hometown



The 27-year-old progressive activist Sean McElwee made the POLITICO 50 list of influential thinkers in 2017 for “Abolish ICE,” a pithy slogan that more liberal Democrats adapted into a quixotic campaign to dismantle the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

It didn’t succeed, of course, and President Donald Trump gleefully elevated it into a symbol of out-of-touch Democratic extremism. But it stretched the limits of the immigration debate—and it became a rallying cry for young lefty insurgents like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Latina bartender from the Bronx who embraced it on the way to her out-of-nowhere upset of an establishment Democratic congressman.

McElwee, the founder of the polling and policy group Data for Progress, is one of those young lefty insurgents, a proud limit-stretcher from the AOC-Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party. But he’s a data guy as well as a progress guy, and he has some thoughts about why Sanders lost so handily to Joe Biden, an avatar of the old-school centrist Democratic thinking that McElwee yearns to disrupt.

The American left is at a crossroads, with some leading activists defiantly refusing to support Biden. McElwee thinks that’s a huge strategic mistake, and he doesn’t expect many progressives to make it in November; this week, Sanders and fellow liberal icon Elizabeth Warren endorsed Biden, and AOC also called for a united front against Trump. McElwee may be an ideologue, but he’s a pragmatic big-tent ideologue who believes the left can best advance its agenda from inside the Democratic Party—and can eventually come to control it.

First, though, McElwee believes the left needs to stop making other huge strategic mistakes. He’s a millennial with some surprisingly old-school ideas about politics, and he worries that his fellow young lefties will marginalize their movement if they think they can change the world without realistic compromise, serious policy work, transactional coalition-building and the kind of public opinion research that by one measure made Data for Progress the most accurate pollster of the 2020 primary.

He obviously grasps the allure of a slogan like Abolish ICE, but he also grasps the dangers of purism; he quips that he always advises politicians, like the patients in prescription drug ads, to ask their campaign managers if Abolish ICE is right for their districts. McElwee is big on metrics and policy details, and he wishes the rest of the left was, too.

In this conversation with POLITICO Magazine’s Michael Grunwald, McElwee shared his critical thoughts about the future of the left, its recent defeats at the polls, its reliance on mobilization rather than persuasion, its relationship with Biden and the Democratic Party, and why its politicians need to care about cheese as well as health care.


sadz. Don’t forget to cancel your recurring donation.


I should add that the campaign may have already canceled them. I couldn’t really tell. I just had to go look at mine which had canceled early because I lost my credit card and I forgot to update it.


I got an email from Faiz today asking for money to help Bernie carry his ideas forward. Why? He gets paid to be a Senator, to do his job. I already cancelled my recurring donations, and cancelled further emails from Faiz, too. I wasn’t real nice in the little box about why. Are they surreptitiously fund-raising for Biden? I asked the campaign for my money back, too. I said I wanted to send it to other candidates who were fighting all the way.