My Oh My! So much drama—even attacks on No Drama Obama!
Let me state at the outset that I had never intended to become so overtly partisan in this blog. I even wrote a post a while back explaining why I wouldn’t discuss the elephant in the room (President Trump) because so much stuff was appearing elsewhere, and I wanted to focus on finding our common ground.
My overarching goal remains, and in my own way, I’m still trying to do that.
When the President is an incumbent, it’s assumed the election is a referendum on him. But now that this President has made blatantly racist attacks on people of color a feature of his daily rants, I believe the 2020 election is a referendum on us.
Who are we as Americans? What kind of country do we look forward to, and how devoted are we to working toward a more perfect union?
Will we give our seal of approval to this man for another four years? I know some of you reading this post are Republicans with varying degrees of support for Trump. I’m not attacking you personally or trying to change your minds.
Rather, I’m assuming that most American voters—Democrats, Independents, and growing numbers of “Never Trump” Republicans—are seeking a reasonable alternative to Trump and want to see Washington functioning again to pass common-sense legislation in their behalf.
I believe/hope that people are eager to denounce him at the ballot box, proving that he doesn’t represent the vast majority, and that we are seeking leadership that unites us in hope and common purpose, rather than divides us in hatred and fear.
In that spirit, I offer you my thoughts after viewing the second round of debates—and I’ll explain why I found them sorely lacking.
It’s still early, but I saw little inspiration among the 20 candidates on the stage in Detroit. Part of the problem, I believe, was CNN’s approach.
It was clear that CNN wanted a food fight: the questions were designed to encourage candidates to attack one another. I didn’t think that was good TV. I also thought it was poor broadcast journalism and unhelpful for educating the public.
Admittedly, it’s tough to stage interesting debates among 10 candidates, and I felt bad about how little time each person had to make her/his points.
But the questions were also unrevealing in eliciting what kind of Presidents they would be.
Healthcare is a critical issue; it was largely responsible for the Democrats’ winning the House in 2018. Americans want to know they will have decent health care that covers preexisting conditions, is within their means, and is dependable, regardless of their circumstances.
The discussions were sometimes too wonky and confusing for viewers and at the same time often inadequate, leaving out important issues, such as cost to taxpayers.
I wish each candidate had given this answer: “We’ll bring the best minds together to come up with the most realistic affordable plan that covers the most people possible.”
In other words, we’ll progress beyond Obamacare without gutting it, adding the public option that was originally intended, and regulating both the insurance companies and Big Pharma.
Many other countries have private insurance companies as part of their healthcare mix; they simply regulate them more aggressively than we do.
Medicare for all vs “Anything less lets insurance companies ruin America” is to me an unnecessarily divisive issue.
I think improving Obamacare would satisfy most Americans—without frightening them.
And how quickly people have forgotten how hard that battle was—that passing the legislation was a “big f—–g deal,” in former VP Joe Biden’s memorable words. More about all-important processes appears below.
If the public option works as intended, we’ll get to Medicare for all but won’t immediately send our economy into a tailspin.
Healthcare is now about 18% of our GDP. We need a smooth transition to the next stage. I haven’t heard any Medicare for all candidate discuss this point.
But most importantly, the emphasis should be on the fact that every Democratic candidate believes that healthcare is a right and supports expanded coverage, while Trump and the Republicans have been decimating Obamacare and, in all the years they claimed to find an alternative, have not done so.
It is simply not an article of faith in the Republican Party as it is among Democrats. Quite the contrary.
As the terrible mass shootings mount up, I can’t write this post today without including sensible gun legislation. This is another issue where the majority of the public agrees, and so do all the Democratic candidates.
Not so the Republicans in Congress and the President. And despite his palliative words after the most recent shootings, since Trump took office, we’ve had a substantial uptick in domestic terrorism. We know white nationalists claim him as one of their own. If he cared to change that image (and possibly reduce the carnage), he would change his rhetoric.
With gun safety legislation, again, process is critical, as we’ll discuss below.
Foreign policy, which is probably the most important aspect of a President’s efforts, and is currently fraught with dangers that Trump both inherited and has created, took up a mere five minutes of the 2-1/2 hour debate.
I am puzzled why, just shortly after the Mueller testimony, CNN felt that discussing the role of Russia was barely worth mentioning. And there were no discussions of Iran, North Korea, Syria, and other potential hot spots.
Since a number of the candidates have had little or no direct involvement in this essential component of being President, it behooves the next debate organizers to build in adequate time and questions that reveal the candidates’ world views and thought processes.
I was impressed, for example, with Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s stating that he voted against entering the war in Iraq when he was a member of Congress. (He took Vice President Biden to task for voting for it.)
Inslee said the arguments for war were unconvincing. In an interview after the debate, when he was asked why so many Democrats voted to go to war, he explained that in the post-9/11 environment, the drumbeats for war were very difficult to withstand. But he did withstand them—a fact that to me says a lot about the man.
Speaking of Inslee brings us to climate change, which he has made the focus of his campaign —though not as a single issue: he has tied it to economics, undue burdens on poor and minority communities, and other important topics.
He has thought and studied the issue extensively and is clearly the candidate most deeply committed to quick concrete actions to confront climate change.
And while it’s good that every Democratic candidate accepts the scientists’ warnings and promises to act, I find his commitment especially comforting.
One extremely critical issue hasn’t come up in either debate: the judiciary.
I am quoting extensively here from two articles. One, by Dahlia Lithwick, is titled “Democrats Still Haven’t Learned Their Lesson About the Courts.”
The other, which she cites, written by Ezra Klein, is “Pete Buttigieg had the most important answer at the Democratic debate.”
I find them both important in terms of those critical process matters I referred to earlier, and I hope you’ll read them in their entirety.
Let’s start with Klein’s article in Vox. Here’s where reality lies—beyond fine policy ideas and whether they’re progressive enough.
“South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg gave the single most important answer at Tuesday’s Democratic debate.
“It came after a lengthy section in which the assembled candidates debated different health care plans that have no chance of passing given the composition of the US Senate and then debated decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings, which they also don’t have the votes to do, and then debated a series of gun control ideas that would swiftly fall to a filibuster and, even if they didn’t, would plausibly be overturned by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
“That’s when Buttigieg spoke up:
‘[This is] the conversation that we have been having for the last 20 years. Of course, we need to get money out of politics, but when I propose the actual structural democratic reforms that might make a difference — end the Electoral College, amend the Constitution if necessary to clear up Citizens United, have DC actually be a state, and depoliticize the Supreme Court with structural reform — people look at me funny, as if this country was incapable of structural reform.
‘This is a country that once changed its Constitution so you couldn’t drink and changed it back because we changed our minds, and you’re telling me we can’t reform our democracy in our time. We have to or we will be having the same argument 20 years from now.’”
“So far, I’ve found Buttigieg’s campaign underwhelming on policy. But where he’s clearly leading the field is his emphasis on structural reform. Buttigieg isn’t the only candidate with good ideas on this score — Elizabeth Warren and Jay Inslee have been strong on this too — but he’s the only candidate who consistently prioritizes the issue.
“The reality is Democrats are debating ever more ambitious policy in a political system ever less capable of passing ambitious policy — and ever more stacked against their policies, in particular.
Their geographic disadvantage in Congress is only getting worse, Republicans control the White House and the Senate despite receiving fewer votes for either, and an activist conservative Supreme Court just gutted public sector unions and green-lit partisan gerrymandering.
“Policy isn’t Democrats’ problem. They’ve got plenty of plans. Some of them are even popular. What they don’t have is a political system in which they can pass and implement those plans.
“Buttigieg, to his credit, has a clear theory on this. When I interviewed him in April, he argued that ‘any decisions that are based on an assumption of good faith by Republicans in the Senate will be defeated.’
“The hope that you can pass laws through bipartisan compromise is dead. And that means governance is consistently, reliably failing to solve people’s problems, which is in turn radicalizing them against government itself.”
Now let’s briefly look at Lithwick’s article in Slate:
“We now know that a single Trump judge can gut the Affordable Care Act, or permit a wall to be built on the Southern border, or try to end Roe v. Wade.
This isn’t a thing to contemplate after a Democrat wins the presidential election. It is, with every passing day, the reason to doubt whether any Democrat can win the presidential election ever again. And the same is true for the Senate, and for the House. Which is why it has to be a first-order discussion, not last.
“As Klein wrote: ‘This is what Buttigieg gets: To make policy, you have to fix the policymaking process. Some of the other candidates pay that idea lip service, when they get pushed on it. But he’s the one who places that project at the center of his candidacy.’
“The Democrats on the debate stage are embarrassed to be caught out without answers to questions about battles that their constituents cannot afford for them to continue to lose. Democratic voters showed up in 2018 in part because of their horror at losing the Supreme Court.
Sure, it’s embarrassing that Democrats have been badly outplayed by Mitch McConnell, who follows no norm or judicial ideal beyond ruthless pursuit of power.
“But it should be more embarrassing that reforming the courts has been deemed too hard to warrant a single debate question. By all means let’s talk about Trump and impeachment and ‘kitchen table issues’ and the environment; they all matter.
But the fact that the machinery of justice has been captured by a monied minority means that democracy itself is on the ballot. That should matter enough to warrant a question.”
All this is why I found the debates so disappointing. While the candidates were attacking each other—and President Obama, through Joe Biden—and discussing their plans for what they’ll accomplish once they become the President, for the most part they didn’t talk about these huge, powerful forces at all.
And this is where their energy—and ours—is essential.
I intend to vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination, hoping that person is sufficiently inspiring to energize a broad swath of diverse constituents.
I think the divisions between moderates and progressives figure less in most voters’ minds than does their sense of the decency, competence, integrity, and leadership skills of the individual they’d like to see in the White House—especially now.
Thus, I believe it is essential that we try to defeat Trump with the largest possible mandate, demonstrating total rejection of his racism—as well as his corruption, incompetence, divisiveness, and unwillingness to protect the US from those who have directly threatened our elections and are continuing to do so.
But clearly that’s not enough. It is so important that we educate ourselves and make our voices heard about these structural issues that are making it difficult, if not impossible, to get anything substantive done in Washington.
Democrats need to take the Presidency, House, and Senate, and then focus on the critical changes needed—before a minority party eliminates any chance of the majority’s will being enacted.
These are large challenges, but while some of the candidates talk about the need for “Big Ideas,” we need to let them all know what those big ideas must include. We made it to the moon 50 years ago, you’ll recall. We can do this.
And we must.