The Democrats talked for four hours and left two messages. One is for Joe Biden. Stop expecting the deference to which you’ve grown accustomed while holding high office. They may still call you “Vice President”, but you are an unemployed politician drinking in Last Chance Saloon. So stop expecting hostile left-wing moderators to give you the floor when you request recognition by holding up a timid finger while others shout carefully prepared denunciations of your life’s work.
The second is for all those who believe in sensibly regulated market capitalism. Get your house in order or the system you love, one that has withstood challenges from red-in-tooth-and-claw Communism while producing enormous wealth. Mussolini’s Fascism, Hitler’s National Socialism, and various Third Ways will be tossed on the scrapheap of history. These Democrats mean to replace markets with ministers, prices with programmed allocation of resources. Solve the problems of inequality, of a trading system that imposes costs on those least able to bear them, health care and educational systems that produce neither affordable health care nor 21st Century educations, because there are newly far-leftish Democrats ready, willing but not really able to do it for you.
So many Democrats are vying for their party’s presidential nomination that it had to divide them into two groups of ten, and limit participation in last week’s pair of debates to those who could show significant support in the polls and from donors. The debates treated America to a full-blown description of just how far left the party has come since socialist Bernie Sanders laid out his vision in 2016, a vision most candidates now share.
Unless one of the few moderates wins the nomination, the winner will have to sell his or her radical vision of what America is, what it must become to be great again, and what we must do to get there. With one or two exceptions, the candidates are calling for a complete restructuring of our government and our economy. Not gradually. No half-measures allowed. The moderate centrists were the outliers; the Sandersistas have become the mainstream of the party, although it remains to be seen whether they are to the taste of the entire electorate.
The America these Democrats see is an ugly place indeed. It has insulted its allies. It is run by giant corporations who care only about profits; big pharmaceutical and insurance companies siphon billions out of the health care system to distribute to shareholders and executives; arms merchants kill gun-control legislation that would take assault weapons off the streets; lobbyists prowl the halls of congress corrupting the political process; women’s reproductive rights are under threat; children brought to America illegally are separated from their parents and held in “cages” with no mattresses or fresh diapers. Perhaps most important, policy is made by the one-tenth of one percent who have appropriated all the benefits of the growing economy to themselves.
Dismissing the nation’s robust growth rate and record low unemployment, Senator Elizabeth Warren, the candidate with the highest poll rating of those on the first evening’s platform, spoke for most of her colleagues when she declared that “America is great for those with money”. To which California senator Kamala Harris added on the second night that many workers must hold two or three jobs to put food on their tables, despite having been told by Washington Post fact checkers that only 5% of American workers hold more than one job. Various candidates propose monthly grants of between $500 and $1,000 per person to all Americans.
What America needs is a President who will work for all the people and persuade congress to make America great again, although the Democrats’ definition of greatness is not quite the same as Donald Trump’s. First step is to cut the wealthy down to size. The marginal tax rate on individuals should be raised from a nominal of 39.6% (effectively 26.9% after deductions) to 70%, and a wealth tax introduced. It is obscene for the CEO of McDonald’s to earn thousands of times what the people “slinging hash” take home. Trade unions must be strengthened to give workers more bargaining power. Big corporations must be broken up. There’s more but you get the drift.
Then the health care system must be fixed by making Medicare available to all. Pressed, Sanders admitted that taxes on the middle class would have to be raised to cover the $32.6 trillion cost of his plan over its first ten years, but argued that the savings on insurance premiums would more than offset the tax increase. That, of course, is true only if current, loss-making Medicare reimbursement rates are frozen. Without the higher rates earned from private insurers gone with insurance industry, many hospitals would be forced to close or reduce the quality of the services they provide unless Medicare rates are raised. Or taxes go up to subsidize hospitals. Sanders is already talking of s a tax on financial transactions to cover the losses, and a Canadian-style VAT.
Mentioning Canada might not have helped Sanders’ case. In the movie Casablanca, in an effort to persuade Rick (Humphrey Bogart), to give her the necessary exit visas, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) asks him to recall their love affair in Paris, where he believes she deserted him. Rick advises her, “I wouldn’t bring up Paris if I were you. It’s poor salesmanship.” Bringing up Canada was poor salesmanship on Sanders’ part. The median waiting time for knee replacement after the operation had been planned was three weeks in the United States and eight weeks in Canada. Any resident of Scottsdale Arizona knows that Canadians that can afford it come to the Mayo Clinic to avoid long waits for treatment in their country’s government run system. And Kaleida Health system, a hospital chain in upstate New York, advertises, “Kaleida Health Welcomes Our Canadian Neighbors”.
New York mayor Bill de Blasio had a simpler (in more ways than one) response to those annoying bean-counters who worry about the cost of the Democrats’ proposals, “There’s plenty of money in this world, there’s plenty of money in this country; it’s just in the wrong hands.” Better to snatch it from those who earned it and turn it over to de Blasio, famed for his prudent handling of New York City’s finances.
Warren and Harris support Sanders’ plan to eliminate the private insurance industry, whether the 245 million who have and are mostly satisfied with their employer-based or other insurance coverage like it or not. That was a step too far to the left for the majority of candidates, who proposed preserving the private option, at least during a transition period during which voters will come to realize the virtue of a government-run health care system. Joe Biden, the front-runner, was having none of it, proposing instead to fix Obamacare.
Which sent the clear winner of the debates, California senator Kamala Harris, into attack mode since Obamacare did not include coverage of illegal aliens, she and all the other Dems on the stage favor. To Trump’s delight. “All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited healthcare,” he tweeted. “How about taking care of American Citizens first!? That’s the end of that race!”
Harris, repeatedly allowed by the moderators to go over her time, continued to use Biden as a piñata, accusing him of racism, among other evils, drawing on her victimization from childhood to fuel her anger and add emotional fire to her assault. “Harris shines, Biden shaky”, wrote one analyst. “If Kamala Harris becomes president, it will be because of this moment,” wrote Frank Lutz, Republican pollster and consultant. “She proved that she can go after a male opponent without suffering the gender stereotype of appearing overly aggressive or overly ambitious. She looked like a winner, plain & simple,” added Patti Solis Doyle, adviser to the 2008 Obama campaign. But John Podhoretz, writing in The New York Post doubts that Biden is seriously wounded. “Maybe millennial Democrats who believe every white person over 30 is a racist are happy to accept this [Harris’] implicit charge, but will the vast majority of Democratic voters accept such a portrait of Barack Obama’s vice president?” Certainly the black trade unionists Biden addressed in Chicago on the day after the debate won’t. He reminded them of his long work on their behalf, hobnobbed with old friend the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and called in some old IOUs.
From health care the debate moved on to immigration policy. The consensus favored what can only be called open borders, but was presented under the more benign title of de-criminalization. Families would remain intact, those with children would be released within the mandatory twenty days, to return at some future date for adjudication of their asylum claims; most don’t. Such generosity is what American values are all about. Oh yes, America should rebuild the home countries of the immigrants so that fewer will make the trek through Mexico to the U.S. border.
All professed a willingness to battle climate change, with most calling it an existential threat to America. All support some form of free college education and relief for indebted students (cost: $1.6 trillion), with the more prudent confining these benefits to families with incomes of less than $100,000 per year.
There will be another pair of debates in late July, after which the survivors will try to persuade party members that he is the man or she the woman to slay the Trump dragon, defender of the rich and oppressor of the middle class, destroyer of desperate immigrants, denier of women’s reproductive rights, discriminator against people of color and enemy of LGBTQ rights, and a man who has taken us to the brink of war with Iran and refuses to end our involvement in Afghanistan, a step which almost all candidates favor.
Six of the Democratic wannabes lead Trump in the polls, Biden and Sanders prominent among them. But that was before Sanders revealed his uncompromising attitude towards his proposed “revolution” and the cost of some of its components. And before Biden ran into the Harris buzz-saw, and when asked what he would do on his first day as President if he were elected, responded, “Make sure we defeat Donald Trump. Period.” Note, too, that at this time in the 2016 election cycle, Hillary Clinton led Trump by 25 percentage points. To borrow from Frank Sinatra, it’s a long, long while from June 2019 to November 2020.