Some Thoughts on Some of the Democrats Still Running for President
The American people have already made the decision that they do not want Donald Trump as their President; however the Democrats need to nominate an individual who the American people strongly do want as their next President. Ideally, this is a man or woman on a white steed or in an electric car coming into clean up and restore civic American virtues after the bullying, lying, incoherent caricature of a fat cat that Trump has morphed into as our nation’s President. They will need to deliver a clear and strong message on building shared economic prosperity and growth, and restoration of civic virtues and civility in our democracy.
Joe Biden has a long history of fumble mouthed moments, but his policy proposals have been in my mind pitch perfect to amass a large majority vote throughout the nation next November. Donald Trump has just made Joe Biden a potential star. Joe Biden should be the fearless Spartan leader holding the pass at Thermopylae. He needs to forcibly stand up to Trump’s abuse of his constitutional roles and responsibilities in trying to persuade the Ukrainians and Chinese and who knows whom else to dig up dirt and prosecute the Bidens and conceivably others. This is his chance to stand up as the hero. It is not easy, as he needs to avoid looking like the self-interested victim, but rather the stalwart, principled defender of his family and his nation.
Trump’s cut and run in Syria abandoning the Kurds is yet another chance to showcase Biden’s deep knowledge, his statesmanship, his seasoned judgment in foreign affairs and his diplomacy. These are the moments that can define his candidacy for the Presidency, and they do require fast, well thought out responses to the events of the moment. He has not yet risen as effectively as I’d prefer to these opportunity moments that Trump has handed him.
Bernie Sanders has had a heart attack, and he’s 78. He will be back in campaign mode soon, but on a more limited basis for the time being. He should take this occasion to graciously pass his well-earned mantle as inspirational progressive leader to Elizabeth Warren, who has been rising in the polls while he has been falling for many months.
Elizabeth Warren has been steadily rising in popular esteem due to both persona and policy. She has had well thought out proposals; she knows and explains and defends them well and presents in a kind and thoughtful manner that makes them attractive. Her willingness to engage with prospective voters is terrific. She for the most part has advanced her ideas without excessive personalized conflicts with her rivals who may disagree with them. There may be too many different Warren plans such that her campaign is lacking a simple connected theme of building the American future out of this Trumpian nightmare.
Two of her most prominent and popular proposals may pose political and financing problems in a general election. Medicare for All is extremely expensive to finance since you need to increase taxes to replace all the private insurance expenses of employers, employees and individuals as well as all the copays, coinsurance and deductibles that individuals pay out of pocket. While the public taxes replacing private spending are revenue neutral in the aggregate, there is a national aversion to taxes in general, and in specific already well-insured unionized workers, e.g. GM auto workers, may be less than enthusiastic. It is unclear how much those with employment-based private insurance or with Medicare or Medicaid would welcome this change; it is certainly popular with many health policy advocates and academics looking to see a full-scale change to a coherent and far more effective health system. Insurers, hospitals, doctors, and employers are fiercely opposed to this change, making it very difficult to pass even in a hypothetical Democratic Congress. Its constraints on the ever-spiraling growth in health costs are urgently needed, its heavy reliance on federal rate setting in a fee for service system is not my favorite solution, I would prefer the right mixture of market and regulatory incentives in well-organized and more accountable delivery systems.
I really like it conceptually, and it has a great deal of political appeal, but her proposed wealth tax of 2% does have both constitutional challenges and administrative challenges. For example, how do you gather information on and measure the current values of billionaires’ art collections or fleets of antique cars or multiple homes located around the world? In terms of constitutional challenges, in the Pollock v. Farmer’s Loan and Trust case of 1896 the Supreme Court ruling declared “direct” federal taxes are unconstitutional unless they are apportioned by state’s population, in other words if Calif0rnia is 12% of the nation’s population, its citizens must pay 12% of the new federal wealth tax. That was over-ruled by the 16th Amendment as applied to income taxes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution The constitutional question about a wealth tax for a conservative Roberts court is whether it’s a property tax, not an income tax protected by the 16th Amendment, and thus valid only if it is apportioned by a state’s share of the nation’s enumerated population. See Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4 of the US Constitution. Representative Delaney was right in pointing out that there may be better ways to address the tax codes’ favoritism for the wealthy, such as taxing capital gains as ordinary income, capping the amount of tax deductions and increasing the marginal rates at the top.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been steadily rising and is now in 4th place, but he is only in the mid to high single digits. His plans, like Biden’s, are pitch perfect for a general election next November. His health plan like Biden’s builds on and improves the ACA (Affordable Care Act); he has a nice way of encapsulating it – “Medicare for All Who Want It”. It does not end employment-based coverage, or Medicare, or Medicaid; it improves and extends greater assistance paying premiums to those in the middle class and reduces copays and deductibles. He has great natural fluidity in explaining his plans and himself in ways that people can grasp, really like and appreciate. Furthermore he comes from and deeply understands the Midwest, its economic challenges and its civic virtues. If he were 10 years older with all the experience and judgment that develops over another decade of public service, I think he would be running away with this race. He points out that Kennedy, Clinton, Carter and Obama were all young when they first won their presidencies and that this is a time for generational change to face the challenges of today in contrast to an incumbent Republican President pining gauzily for the 1950’s America of his distant youth and carrying on like he’s drunk on power. He is one of the candidates best positioned to pick up the pieces if Biden’s support or Warren’s momentum falters.
Kamala Harris is in 5th place, and her campaign seems to have faltered after her break-through moment of the first debate where she also showed a great sense of humor and timing. I don’t understand why. Certainly Tulsi Gabbard highlighted some of the weaknesses in her criminal justice background and positions as District Attorney and Attorney General in the subsequent debate, but that critique of her being “too tough on crime” does not explain her reverse momentum. Her revised health care plan is in my opinion much better than the Sanders/Warren plan in that it allows individual choice, and it may give the health system much greater flexibility to evolve in dynamic ways but within a budget and without the high copays and deductibles of too many private insurance plans. It allows those who like the private insurance model like Medicare Advantage, so popular with California seniors, to keep it. She has the same challenges financing her new plan with new taxes as do Sanders and Warren, but chose to exempt middle class tax payers from any role in financing it. She has not been very effective in explaining her transition to what I think is an improved proposal.
Andrew Yang has been steadily rising in the polls. He has no political experience, but an easy to understand basic guaranteed income plan to provide an income floor under all Americans. At a time when automation is replacing ever more American jobs and is on trajectory to replace ever more, his proposal is timely and appropriate to the economic insecurities of the moment. He has had the single best idea of the campaign in that it is readily understandable and responds to the anxieties about the nation’s future economic development. He handles his campaign with great humor and appealing passion and is not overly serious and campaign managed.
Cory Booker has not caught fire yet. I don’t understand why; he is extremely charismatic in person, has great experience as mayor and Senator and just gets important things done. He’s one of my favorites. He is the best of the candidates on public schools’ education policy and on urban economic development. He has a bi-partisan criminal justice reform to his credit.
Amy Klobuchar is another of my favorite candidates who has not yet caught fire. She is experienced, very solid on policy, gets the Midwest, industrial and farm policy in her bones. She works well across the aisle. Maybe she lacks the requisite charisma that Booker seems to project, but neither has taken off. If Biden falters, she could be the potential inheritor of his supporters. She is less progressive than the Warren/Sanders wing of the party in that she would, for example, be much more targeted in helping college students from middle, moderate and low income families with tuition rather than assisting upper income voters’ children with their college tuition or forgiving their college debts. She’d be very appealing to many independents and even Republican moderates in the general election.
Beto O’Rourke had his breakthrough moments on immigration policy at the border and on white supremacist gun violence in his hometown. In the moment, he stood tall and distinguished himself, then to my mind, he overplayed what had been a strong moment, by saying “hell yes, we’re coming for your A47’s”. I agree with him that assault weapons belong on the battlefield, not our nation’s cities and farms. Other candidates like Mayor Pete understand the issue from their deep wartime experiences and have a far better way to express the need to begin to get weapons of war off the streets and back in the well-trained, disciplined hands of the military. These are not weapons for deer hunting; they are weapons of war and really have no more rightful place in American home arsenals than does a machine gun or a hand grenade.
Julian Castro is the embodiment and antithesis of all that is so deeply wrong with Donald Trump’s obsession with immigrants, an accomplished mayor and cabinet member whose forebears crossed the border and into the US in the 1920’s. He is as intimately familiar with urban policy as Senator Booker and as conversant with US border and immigration issues as Beto O’Rourke or more so. I thought he made his breakthrough moment with a big unforced error – challenging O’Rourke to decriminalize border crossing. It’s not a strong issue for a campaign either in the general or the primaries, and there is simply no foundational background to understand the merits or demerits of the differences in their positions on what is a relatively minor issue on immigration policy as compared to the big and salient issues of family separation, protection of the Dreamers and a path to legal residency and citizenship. Biden and O’Rourke both had the instincts and good sense to disagree with Castro in the moment. He followed it up with a second unforced error challenging Biden on his age, a challenge that backfired badly on him. He is seeking to distinguish himself from his rivals, but he is not picking great issues on which to do so. He has run a great campaign without picking these types of fights, but like Booker and Klobuchar, he has yet to catch fire with those expressing opinions to the pollsters. I wish Castro and/or O’Rourke would run for Texas Governor and/or Senator first and win, giving themselves and the party a stronger base.
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin