Debates

Not sure the current debate format gives the candidates fair or proper exposure. The lack of any depth is concerning. Sound bites and quips prevail over thoughtful reasoned answers. With a dozen contenders and pretenders on the stage, no one person gets a chance to catch their breath and elaborate. The benefit for the voter is thus limited.

A case in point is the posturing over the cost – to the middle class – of “Medicare for All”. Elizabeth Warren repeatedly stated (accurately) that her plan would reduce overall costs for health care. Bernie Sanders admitted that his plan (essentially the same plan) would raise taxes. Both were right. The plans would be funded by increased taxes – mostly on the wealthy. But patients would be spared premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, so that the overall bill paid would be less. Regrettably, the time it would take to recite this explanatory paragraph is time the participants did not have and were not given.

Kudos to Cory Booker for chiding others – notably Klubuchar and Buttigieg – who attacked Warren and created “Republican talking points”. As Beto O’Rourke demonstrated, it is possible to disagree on policy without being nasty and confrontational. Beto was the victim of a rather petty dispute over gun buy-back programs, which have been highly successful in places like Australia. The distinction between “mandatory” and “voluntary” programs is misleading. The usual model would ban purchase or sale of a weapon, say a military assault rifle, and give current owners a chance to sell their weapons, before they become illegal to hold at some point in the future.

This is not the election cycle for appealing to bipartisanship. That dog won’t hunt. Democratic voters recall how Obama genuinely pursued a “third way” in 2008, only to be eviscerated by the Senate Republicans. When McConnell won’t even allow a vote on a moderate judicial nominee like Neil Gorsuch (a clear violation of the Constitution), there is no middle ground. This is a war, forced by the opposition, make no mistake, and the public wants warriors. That is why Warren is surging in the polls, Sanders is holding his own, and Joe Biden – a fine man – is fading.

The fundamental lesson from 2016 is that the “middle” in American politics is vanishingly small. A campaign intended to combat extremism with moderation is doomed to fail as weak and lackluster. The tacking to the middle that served Bill Clinton so well in 1992 and 1996 was of no use to Hillary in 2016. That and a condescending, inept campaign leadership turned a sure win into too close a contest. Combined with Republican vote suppression and Russian manipulation of social media, and millions of alienated Sanders supporters (largely stonewalled by the Clinton campaign), allowed a failed developer disapproved by a majority of Americans to steal an election, despite trailing by nearly 3,000,000 votes.

The way to avoid that sorry result is to nominate a strong candidate who stands for something. Voters in distress don’t waste much time on labels like “progressive” or “liberal” or “conservative”. They want solutions to problems like low wages, high health costs, underfunded public schools, and climate change. Polls show they embrace approaches like the Green New Deal and Social Security for all, because they are bold strokes that really confront critical problems and leapfrog over gridlock.

So, the antidote for Trump is not a return to normalcy but a clean departure that deals with problems, rejects greed and misogyny and racism, and delivers results. The lesson from the Obama years is that a bold stroke like the Affordable Care Act, so controversial when narrowly adopted (God bless John McCain), becomes a popular policy when given a chance to work, even stripped of some of its components. The argument now is not about abandoning it, but how to extend its benefits to more people.

This is not a time for moderates like Klubuchar or Buttigieg or Booker, however pragmatic and even-tempered they may be. The public senses – correctly – that plodding along and seeking incremental changes is moving deck chairs on the Titanic, when dealing with greenhouse gases and inequality and soaring healthcare costs. Trump, who pretends to deal in bold strokes, captivated those who were down on their luck and desperate for solutions. But life is not a reality show. What those folks really need, and should want, are Warrens’s many plans for action, Medicare for all, and he Green New Deal and the economic spurt that it would spur.

Whoever becomes the nominee, he or she would have a wealth of talent to draw from on threat stage. Kamala Harris would make a dynamic Attorney General. I would create a cabinet-level position to deal with climate change, with Tom Steyer in charge. Bernie or Warren as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Tulsi Gabbard or Mayor Pete as Secretary of Defense. Andrew Yang as Secretary of Commerce. Joe Biden, finally, as Secretary of State. Cory Booker at HUD. Klubuchar as Majority Leader. And so on. We are going to need the first team.

Those who fear Trump will repeat are ignoring the facts and the polls. One remarkable result is that Trump’s approval rating has hovered around 40%, never ever exceeding 50% at any time. His divisive rhetoric and “playing to his base” means he has no path to a majority. Without Russian interference, with all votes counted, he would have lost in 2016. His fabled base, small as it is, has nothing to show for their support. They were suckers to believe that he would help them, the industrial workers, coal miners, opioid victims. Regardless of who the Democrats nominate, they are looking at an overwhelming victory over the least popular incumbent ever to run for re-election.

Impeachment versus ballot box is a false choice. The Constitution mandates both. When the President has subverted foreign policy, protecting an ally from an adversary, to politics, and has obstructed justice, he is subject to impeachment and trial and, based on the admissions and accumulating evidence, conviction and removal from office. It’s not an either/or. Regardless of the outcome of the impeachment, there will be an election in 2020. As several of the candidates said last night, we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

It infuriates me that the same people who worship the Founders can be terrified of the Constitution. It truly is a brilliant document, and the impeachment process, like the process for resolving disputed elections, is pure genius at work. Shame on the Supreme Court for cowering at the thought of letting Congress – as mandated by the Constitution – resolve the designated Florida vote in 2000. At bottom it is a process issue. It was nothing short of cowardly for the Court to interrupt the process and declare a winner, without any basis to do so. Al Gore may have seen himself as statesmanlike for accepting the result, but the clear majority of voters who supported him were silenced. Let’s not make the same mistake, and shy away from the process that was designed for exposure of “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

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