More Gabbard, Delaney and Williamson, Please
And it’s past time for Beto O’Rourke, Bill de Blasio and Kirsten Gillibrand to get off the stage.
A few points on round two of the Democratic debates in Detroit. The first night was good, full of fight and clarifying. The second was sour, with candidates jumping around with their small strategies.
Parties forget that in such debates an aggregate impression emerges. Here is the less important and perhaps temporary one:
The Democrats are showing little hopefulness; they’re not voicing any expansive sense of faith in their country. I understand it is the job of challengers to lambaste the status quo, to criticize, to say, “This isn’t working.” But the rhetorical atmosphere of the administration has been grim for some time. American carnage, cities are dead and swimming in garbage, violent rats are eating our feet, throw ‘em out, lock 'em up.
So you’d think challengers would quickly follow their critiques with a certain modified strategic confidence. Instead they’re out-grimming the president. We chain and cage women and children, no one here has ever seen a doctor, if you have a heart attack on the street you’ll be lucky if they bother to step over your body, they’ll probably use you as an ashtray, cops are racists who hope you commit crimes so they can beat you, corporations have rape rooms.
It is extreme and weirdly negative. You’d think someone would pop out with, “Jake, let me tell you why America doesn’t constantly make me want to throw up in my mouth.” Or, “Dana, I’ve actually met a few Americans and we’re painting them a little darkly here.”
The more important aggregate policy impression is also extreme. In each debate they are branding themselves that way.
I never minded the phrase “Medicare for All” because I figured it meant this: “We would like Medicare or some other governmental entity to be available to all who need it, and will come up with ways to ease them in and give people in trouble a break. What everyone wants is the plastic card in the wallet that says you’ve got coverage, so the ambulance isn’t turned away and the kids are treated. We can work this out. We’re America.”
America would respond to that. A great nation must take care of its stressed, its incapable, its unlucky.
But I don’t think that the American people understood, at least until the first debates, that Medicare for All means this: “All private insurance is abolished, we’re taking it away, you’re going to be forced into a program we’ll run, we’re going to squish this down on your head, the hospitals will have to conform with our directives whether they bankrupt it or not, and the health-insurance industry and its jobs will be extinguished.”
And on top of that we will all have to pretend the cost of this will come from savings due to reduced paperwork, or a tax on the wealthy.
It’s all so crazy. I heard no one in the debates say, “Guys, you are making a mistake to give the state all the power in this area. The government can rarely make things dramatically better in huge and complicated matters like this, but it is always capable of making it worse.”
I would be very surprised if most people watching didn’t think that’s exactly what they’ll do, make it worse.
I didn’t hear anyone say, “As you revolutionize the entire health sector, you have to be leery of upsetting all the things that make American medicine, for all its flaws, the most advanced and cutting-edge system in the world, with the greatest doctors and scientists.”
Some candidates pointed out that such sweeping plans were impractical, unrealistic, unworkable. I didn’t hear any philosophical or historical reservations.
Only three years ago there was a presidential election in which 129 million people voted for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. The 63 million Trump supporters are probably not going to support, this year, the creation of a huge new national health service, which is what we’re talking about. But there’s no reason to believe most of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters would support it either.
Have we changed so much in three years?
Joe Biden is considered the big moderate and leads in the polls. He is not for Medicare for All but for a fully restored ObamaCare. But he is chipping away at his own moderation every day. On Wednesday night alone he said there will be no fracking or fossil fuels in a Biden administration. Earlier he’d gone back on his longtime support for the Hyde amendment, which forbids federal funding of abortion. I guess he assumes these bows to progressives are politically required, and his moderate base will forgive him or assume he doesn’t mean it. He may be correct, but it is disappointing to those who respect him. Mr. Biden, however, has something I haven’t seen remarked on that sort of buttresses the perception that he is moderate. It is that he bothers to be a gentleman. He pats your arm, he has a kindly way and smiles wryly at his notes as somebody attacks him. I feel warmly toward that old style, which appears to be disappearing because men now fear, or rationalize, that the huge daily effort of being a gentleman will be seen as patronizing, patriarchal or class-based.
Of the lower-tier candidates it can be said after four debates that three should leave and declutter the stage, and three should stay and get louder.
Beto O'Rourke is bringing nothing to the conversation and his candidacy will not succeed. The sense he’s a flake is so broadly held that it was a relief Tuesday night when he didn’t jump on the podium and denounce himself for being a slave owner in a former life. You get the impression that if he admitted to himself that this isn’t working it would become a self-extinguishing event that he could not tolerate. But at some point optimism becomes narcissism. He has reached that point.
Mayor Bill de Blasio similarly adds nothing. Everyone in New York sees right through him. His reputation is one of a lazy gym rat with no sense of responsibility and no moral weight. Recently in some crisis someone started drumming up a “Where’s de Blasio?” campaign to embarrass him for being in Iowa when he was needed back home. It went nowhere because nobody in New York thinks anything would be better if he came back. Why is he on a national stage?
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s candidacy is similarly without meaning or point. The only rationale for her candidacy is that she apparently thinks she invented standing up for women.
All of them keep more-serious people from getting more time.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, on the other hand, has serious, principled foreign-policy views and interesting domestic ones, and continues as an impressive underdog. You get the impression she’s out there on her own. Good for her, she’s got guts.
Former Rep. John Delaney is trying to be a voice for common sense. He’s centrist and knows his financial stuff. More, please, and louder.
Marianne Williamson is bringing an unusual spiritual approach and an arguably eloquent voice on where and who we are. She wants a Department of Peace. I am not being sarcastic when I say it can be hard in life to stay exactly who you are. She has. Onward, Aimee Semple McFearless.
Republished by permission from peggynoonan.com.
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