I found the first two series of Democratic presidential debates painful to watch, and I don’t think it was simply the result of the format or of the questions asked. It was because in their preoccupations, I don’t think the Democratic candidates have developed the message and the language that can win the White House for the party.I agree wholeheartedly.
Numerous commentators have already made the point that in pressing for Medicare for All, the Democrats are courting disaster, so I’ll be brief on this point. Healthcare issues helped Democrats win the White House in 1992 and 2008, but elaborate healthcare plans that were politically flawed helped the Republicans win back the Congress in 1994 and 2010. Medicare for All has all the problems of past plans: it threatens higher taxes; and it comes across as another welfare program in which the middle class will have to subsidize the non-working poor. I am surprised that none of the Colorado candidates brought up the 80-20 percent defeat of the single-payer initiative in their state in 2016. What makes sense – and Paul Starr and others have made this point – is attacking the Republicans and Trump for attempting to do away with the insurance we have, while proposing something like a public option or Medicare for Anyone that would put America on the road to Medicare for All.
Trump’s nativist attacks against immigrants from South of the Border and his administration’s inhumane treatment of asylum seekers has had the perverse effect of pushing the Democrats toward a virtual endorsement of open borders. Former Vice President Joe Biden actually showed a superior grasp of this issue, reminding his rivals that seeking asylum was not a crime in the first place (and couldn’t be “decriminalized”) but illegal entry was and has been and that by “decriminalizing” it (while ostensibly attack Trump’s refugee policies), they were inviting an increase in illegal entry.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and several candidates, while bemoaning growing economic inequality, called for increases in legal immigration based on family reunification, which in the past has brought millions of unskilled workers into the labor market who compete for jobs with unskilled native-born and first-generation Americans. Oh and lastly, I am surprised no one has asked Senator Bernie Sanders what would happen in his model country to the north, if someone who did not have legal residence came into a doctor’s office demanding free care. Canada, like the US, does provide free emergency care, but you can’t get into their national health care system without establishing legal residence. . . .
I also fear they think that in reiterating these terms – or in promoting reparations – the Democrats think they are courting black voters. In my experience – and I hope this won’t seem like some kind of weird racism – black adult voters are among the most sophisticated in the electorate. You could see it in Virginia after the various Democratic presidential candidates fell over each other to call for Governor Ralph Northam’s resignation for a 36 year old yearbook photo of questionable origin that had been publicized by a rightwing website angry about the governor’s stand on abortion. Virginia’s black Democrats, cognizant that Northam had not run a racist administration, or had a record of racism as a legislator, continued to back him. You see it in the continued African-American support for former Vice President Joe Biden in spite of Senator Kamala Harris’s attack against him for his decades-old stances on busing. Biden’s support might disappear, but again I think it is based currently on a reasoned assessment of who among the candidates is best equipped to get rid of Trump.
The problem the Democrats face is that the party's energy comes from left-wing activists who think the country needs radical change. The voters in the center who will decide the election do not agree, and in fact are put off by radicalism. I am already getting internet ads showing all the candidates raising their hands to support free health care for illegal immigrants, and I think that message, pounded home again and again – these people are radicals who care more about asylum seekers than about real Americans – will get Trump a second term.
I also agree with this from David Brooks:
If only Donald Trump were not president, we could have an interesting debate over whether private health insurance should be illegal. If only Trump were not president, we could have an interesting debate over who was softest on crime in the 1990s. If only Trump were not president, we could have a nice argument about the pros and cons of NAFTA.Any Democrat who runs on Medicare for All, reparations, and open borders for asylum seekers is going to get clobbered. And that, I think, would be a disaster for America.
But Trump is president, and this election is not about those things. This election is about who we are as a people, our national character. This election is about the moral atmosphere in which we raise our children.
It is not true that if not for Trump we would be having all these wonderful conversations. That just sounds like blaming him because it's easy to do so. And this election, like all others, will not be about any of those high-minded things Brooks mentions. This election will be about what all elections are about, a better life and better opportunities -- economics and security.
A problem is that a lot of the progressive left is too self-righteous and moralistic to compromise, and is thus likely to sit out the election (or effectively sit it out by voting for a third party) rather than vote for a moderate in order to do what's most important and beat Trump. In absolute terms, the numbers of such people can be small, but they can throw an election to the Republicans, as we saw in 2000 and 2016.
A Bernie-style Democrat will almost certainly lose, as Judis and John are saying. The question would be whether a moderate Democrat could pull in enough "responsible" center-right voters to cancel the effect of abandonment by the left. That's possible, but not certain. The Dems' internal divisions may sink them, no matter which way they turn.
Part of the problem is they lack a dynamic moderate in the Bill Clinton and Obama mold. Biden may secure the nomination, but I'm not sure he's got enough energy to really unite the party or bring out enough center-righters to win the election. I wish Harris would wise up and realize she could fill that Clinton-Obama role, and run as a moderate. If she won the nomination as a moderate, I think enough leftists might hold their noses and go along for her to win the election. I don't get the sense she's a dedicated leftist, and I suspect right now she's mainly being badly advised.
Biden's biggest problem is his age. He lacks the energy of a Trump and a Sanders (and a Warren), stoops at times, and wears that damn fake tan that reminds me of a corpse lying at rest. I like Biden, and I don't want to be mean, but damn sometimes he looks like he's been groomed by an undertaker. What's he going to be like in another 3 years? How about another year?
I thought Warren was the best chance: enthusiasm, authenticity, passion, and the ability to articulate her policy choices. But lately she's been adding some programs to her list of to-dos that I wonder aren't showstoppers. I think Harris is a media creation.
And while I'm at it, all this talk about going left (or right) in the primaries and then tilting back in the general made me wonder when the last time such a strategy was successful? Trump didn't. I don't recall Obama or W. doing it. Was it Bill Clinton? Meanwhile Hilary did it -- lost. Mitt did it and lost. Didn't McCain do it too? Kerry?
Does it work anymore?
It bothers me that they seem to be throwing Gabbard under the bus. I'm not a Democrat-- more of a live-and-let-live conservative-- and she's the only contender on that side of the aisle that I found remotely credible or interesting. I think she has the potential to appeal to a fairly broad range of voters, and she's the only one who seems willing to take up the antiwar mantle that traditionally belongs to Democrats. A lot of people who voted for, or who tacitly support Trump, do it not because they like the man, but because he was offering to pull troops out of our current boondoggles (and doesn't seem determined to get into new ones), while Hillary was agitating for war with Russia.
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