On January 26, the official Twitter feed for The Economist tweeted a link to a story titled “Could it be Bernie?” The tweet read: “The Vermont senator’s campaign slogan used to be ‘A future to believe in’; now it is just: ‘Bernie’.” The piece, accompanied by a drawing of Bernie Sanders that borders on the anti-Semitic, characterizes his campaign as that of a cult of personality and attributes his success to the weakness of the rest of the field.
Objectionable as Sanders supporters would find these sentiments and as reprehensible as even objective observers might find his cartoon depiction, what really infuriated myself and others was this business about the slogan. Because it isn’t true.
Though writers at The Economist may clutch their pearls at the sight of Bernie’s fanatical following, lamenting the “BERNIE” signs observed at rallies for their chosen candidate, Bernie’s real 2020 slogan is “Not Me. Us.”
This isn’t a trivial matter either. It’s not just an aw-shucks aphorism designed to sell T-shirts. If you want to understand why Bernie is so popular with people like me and why he is surging in the polls, comprehending the meaning of this slogan is a good, if not essential, place to start. When you think about it, “Not Me. Us.” is a rather remarkable statement in the world of politics.
It certainly contrasts, for one, with Hillary Clinton’s all-eyes-on-me slogan from the 2016 campaign season: “I’m with her.” Even in a crowded primary field in 2020, this notion of togetherness stands out. Though not official slogans, the taglines “I have a plan for that” and “All in for Warren” which Elizabeth Warren’s supporters have embraced and, to some degree, that her campaign has too don’t convey quite the same sense of empowerment to the individual. Nor does Pete Buttigieg’s insistence on a “new generation of American leadership” or the need to “win the era,” whatever that means. And don’t get me started on Joe Biden’s promise of “no malarkey.” I thought this was the 2020 election, not the 1924 election.
Truly, no candidate emphasizes and embodies the spirit of grassroots fundraising and organizing like Bernie in this race. Though by now the concept of the $27 average contribution is ripe for parody (and in fact that per-contribution number may be even lower this time around), it isn’t simply a point of pride to be dismissed as an ineffective matter of principle. Bernie is consistently among the top fundraisers in the Democratic Party field, if not the highest. This reality flies in the face of the insistence you need big-ticket fundraisers and wealthy donors to power a presidential run. Looking at you, Mayor Pete, and your wine cave attendees.
Contrary to what Mr. Boot-Edge-Edge might aver, this is not some purity test by which to judge individuals’ personal wealth. These are values, plain and simple. If we are to believe that how someone runs their campaign is indicative of how they will govern, then every fear that someone like him or Biden will be compromised by their fealty to the rich and/or corporate interests is more than valid. So Bernie is a millionaire. So what. He’s certainly not sucking up to the billionaires the way his centrist political rivals are.
It’s more than just small individual contributions, though. In so much of his speech, Bernie stresses the importance of a movement to reclaim our democracy from moneyed interests and consolidation of power among the nation’s top earners and biggest companies. In this regard, he is keen to repeat the idea that real change happens not from the top down, but from the bottom up.
It’s a concept critical to Our Revolution, a political action organization inspired by Bernie’s stated values and 2016 campaign that has seen local and state activist groups spring up and work to effect real change in their communities and the political leadership that represents them. In a short time, OR’s influence has increased dramatically from its inception. Hopefully, long after Bernie Sanders and 2020, its members’ commitment to progressive values will continue to make a positive impact and help prepare individuals to be the kind of leaders our society needs. It’s why I’m not particularly worried about Bernie’s physical health even after a minor scare. The fundamental beliefs driving his campaign and his supporters matter more than any one person.
As such, for all the blather about Bernie’s political “revolution” as an ego-driven vehicle or a vanity project from his critics, his detractors have him dead wrong. Though he may not possess a bubbly personality and some may bristle at his constant yelling and finger-wagging to make his point (to be fair, he is a Brooklyn Jew and this should be, on some level, expected), Bernie is probably the least egocentric person in this race and certainly is the most authentic—take it or leave it.
Besides, it’s kind of hard to feel self-important when members of the press and other political figures are constantly attacking your credibility and reputation. On the latter dimension, Bernie wisely avoided a confrontation with Warren concerning her charge that he once remarked he didn’t think a woman could be elected president, an allegation seemingly rendered unsubstantiated by his record on advocating for women’s rights and for more female candidates (like Warren) to run for office.
He also refused to engage with Hillary Clinton regarding her comments that “no one likes” him and that he has achieved little to nothing in his time as a lawmaker. From someone who treated her stay in Congress like a stepping stone to higher office and who lost a presidential election in 2016 to an unpopular figure in Donald Trump in part due to her own sagging approval ratings, these are rather hollow criticisms. Then again, that’s just “Hill-Dawg” being “Hill-Dawg.”
All this before we even get to Bernie’s leadership on issues like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, stances that have, to a large extent, shaped the Democratic debates and primaries and have led to the support of progressive champions like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. While one might deem it too far to call similar positions by Warren and other candidates as mere imitations of Bernie’s platform, he has been and continues to be the most consistent on these matters, unlike some people in this race (cough, Biden, cough). He also has been the most outspoken on protecting trade unions and seeking to expand union membership, and unlike Warren, voted against the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which critics have derided as “NAFTA on steroids.”
Going back to Donald Trump, meanwhile, and despite what pundits representing cable news outlets or major newspapers might put forth, Bernie may be the best chance of preventing a second term for the orange-faced, thin-skinned, and small-handed incumbent. Forget nebulous concepts like “electability” which lack a firm definition or predictive validity. Bernie consistently beats Trump in polls and fares best among the Democratic Party field on attracting younger voters and independents. Imagine that—a 78-year-old democratic socialist Brooklyn Jew appealing both to millennials and libertarians like Joe Rogan. It’s not because he’s selling something or promising them a pony. It’s because they genuinely believe in him, his ideals, and his vision. Imagine that.
So yes, Bernie is well-liked by voters and by his constituents (stay salty, Hillary), is remarkably consistent in his beliefs, and beats Trump in almost any scenario imaginable. At the end of the day, however, it comes down to his messaging above all else for me. Five years ago, I would’ve told you that politics is best left to the politicians and wouldn’t be as concerned by half as much going on in the world today as I am. Since then, I’ve realized this is absolutely the worst thing you can do re politics, mind you.
On that note, I owe Bernie a debt of gratitude. Maybe it was just that I was finally ready to pick up what someone like him was trying to put down, but when he ran in 2016, it was the first time I felt like someone was trying to talk to me on a personal level rather than simply trying to get my vote. That speaks volumes to me about his character and whose interests he serves. Call me corny, but I believed it then and still believe it now.
Thus spare me your qualms about Bernie Sanders’s age and that he’s just another white male running for office, or your doom-and-gloom prophecies for what a “socialist” (Boo! Hiss!) in the White House will lead to, or that he is the least likely candidate to help someone in need (really, Chris Matthews, really?). When Bernie says “Not Me. Us,” people listen and take it to heart. That may not mean everything, but it matters a great deal.
To everyone scaremongering and expressing existential dread over Bernie’s prospects of capturing the Democratic Party presidential nomination and winning the general election in November, then, I say with relish: Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. A revolution may just be on its way. The question I have for you is: Will you be ready to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work when it comes?
Pete Buttigieg promises “a fresh start for America.” Joe Biden vows, in this new United States, there will be “no malarkey.” Evidently, the best remedy for this country is the equivalent of rebooting one’s computer, or in the case of the former vice president, to reset our abacuses. Or is that abaci? Are both acceptable? But I digress.
In supporting the centrist figures of Buttigieg and Biden, establishment Democrats and party supporters seek a return to how it was under President Barack Obama. In this respect, life under Donald Trump can be considered an aberration. When one of these men is in the White House, all the racists and xenophobes will go back into hiding and Republicans will magically come to their senses, ready to reach across the aisle and work together with their Democratic colleagues.
If this sounds absurd—which it should—we shouldn’t be surprised that these men’s platforms lack substance next to some of their primary competitors. Biden’s “vision for America” is little more than a love note to the Middle Class, the “backbone of the country.” (If you had the phrase “backbone of the country” in your presidential campaign drinking game, let this be a reminder to take a drink.) Buttigieg pledges to lead us to “real action,” someone who will “stand amid the rubble” and “pick up the pieces of our divided nation.” Presumably, he will also assemble all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
What is therefore evident is that these candidates are relying on something other than polished policy to elevate them to a potential showdown with Trump for the presidency. Mayor Pete admittedly talks a good game. He’s clearly intelligent and has charisma. Uncle Joe, well, really wants to remind you that he worked with Obama. Never mind the apparent decline of his mental acuity or his vague creepiness. He’s a good guy. Just ask Barack. Obama, Obama, Obama.
Speaking of Obama, it is in this context that we might consider who the closest logical successor to his political legacy is still left in the 2020 presidential race. After all, concerning candidates of color, Kamala Harris just bowed out of the race, Cory Booker may be next, and Julián Castro doesn’t seem to be tracking all that well in the polls. Also, Beto O’Rourke, who isn’t a person of color but is handsome, speaks Spanish, and rides a skateboard (so, um, cool?) has already dropped out. Is there no one young and articulate enough to pick up where his Barack-ness left off?
In his bid for unity, Buttigieg, who has enjoyed a recent surge in polling, most notably among prospective Iowa voters, seems ready to take on that mantle. Here’s the thing, though: America and its politics are a different bag than when Obama first got ushered into the White House. Freelance journalist Zeeshan Aleem, in a recent piece for VICE, asks the question, “Can someone tell Pete Buttigieg he isn’t Barack Obama?” To this effect, he avers that the mayor of South Bend, Indiana’s “quest for unity is about as naive as Obama’s.”
For Aleem, Buttigieg’s persuasiveness overshadows his blandness from a policy perspective. There’s also the matter of his seeming naivete, as outlined in a few examples. Buttigieg, for one, advocates for an impeachment process that goes beyond politics, evidently unaware that this matter is already and perhaps inextricably linked to partisanship. He also, in fighting the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on Medicare for all, appears to think Republicans are willing to compromise on health care. For that matter, Mayor Pete seeks to avoid any talk or policy directive that might be construed as “polarizing.”
Again, Buttigieg looks to be missing the mark. In this moment, congressional Republicans are as likely to compromise as President Trump is to voluntarily leave Twitter. Besides, despite his own charm and charisma, Obama wasn’t able to make much headway in working with the GOP—with Mitch McConnell among party leadership, it’s not hard to see why either.
As Aleem explains, moreover, when deals were struck, they weren’t necessarily a significant win for the average voter. The Affordable Care Act’s origins were steeped in conservative thinking, did not include a public option, and did nothing to challenge the power of the private health insurance industry. Obama’s economic stimulus package featured a concession to Republicans in the extension of the previous administration’s tax cuts and, as many economists and critics on the left argued, did not go far enough because it didn’t ask for enough.
So, here comes Mr. Buttigieg, ready to try a page from Mr. Obama’s playbook. If Obama couldn’t make his ideas work then, though, it begs wondering what chance Buttigieg has owing to a political environment that has only become more polarized. Aleem writes in closing:
Buttigieg’s talk about breaking the shackles of hyperpartisanship and coming together to save the republic is seductive, but nothing about the way politics has been evolving for decades suggests that it’s a sound strategy. Like Obama, he relies on charisma and optimism to make such a future seem possible. But the hard realities of polarization cannot be vanquished solely by good intentions.
In an age when widespread unity is a political impossibility, fear of being polarizing isn’t just out of touch—it could be an act of self-sabotage.
To say we are a divided United States is an understatement. Such a synopsis likewise ignores that it’s not just that we share different opinions depending on where we fall along the political spectrum or how much we engage with politics, but that depending on our immediate circumstances, we may as well be living in different countries. Add the magnifying effect residence in insular political “bubbles” has on polarization and the problem becomes that much worse, with discourse guided by mutual distrust and a failure to be able to agree on what is even factually accurate.
Mayor Pete wants a fresh start for America. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to grasp how fractured that America is, electorally speaking.
Looming over the ultimate decision Democratic Party primary voters will have to make is the concept of “electability,” a word underscored by red squiggles in my browser as if to showcase just how nebulous a concept it is. In the minds of voters and pundits alike, Joe Biden’s and Pete Buttigieg’s electability is key to understanding their prominence in the polls. By this token, “electability” is effective code for “ability not to alienate a wide enough portion of the constituency so as to defeat Donald Trump this coming November.” In other words, these men are the presumed safe bets.
If the last few election cycles in the United States have taught us anything, however, it’s that our ideas about electability may be built on faulty premises. How many people would’ve considered a relatively inexperienced legislator from Illinois—a man of color by the name of Barack Hussein Obama, no less—”electable” at the start of his campaign? Next to an unpolished outsider like Donald Trump, wouldn’t we have viewed Hillary Clinton a more “electable” candidate given her career in Washington, D.C. and her name recognition? That’s certainly not how the script played out.
Depending on how far we want to take our abstract notions of electability, we have the potential to talk ourselves out of plenty of good—if not great—candidates. Does it matter that Buttigieg is an openly gay man and, like, Obama, lacks the political tenure of other primary competitors? What about Bernie Sanders’s identity as a Jewish democratic socialist? Elizabeth Warren continues to be heckled for her claim of Native American heritage. Is she un-electable? Was Kamala Harris, a woman of color, too “tough” to be electable prior to dropping out of the race? Who decides these matters? And how do you reliably measure such a mythical quality?
As a progressive, I tend to feel I am more sensitive than most to ideas about who is “electable” and what is politically “feasible.” A majority of Democratic Party primary voters and delegates decided HRC was the best choice in 2016, a presumption of electability likely aided by major media outlets including superdelegate numbers alongside pledged delegate totals in delegate counts. As noted, the final outcome didn’t quite go to plan.
What if Bernie had won, though? Would we still have been hemming and hawing about his electability or would the Democratic National Committee have gotten behind him, exhorting prospective general election voters with full-throated cheers? With the role of superdelegates diminished and with Sanders in a real position to the capture the nomination this time around given his fundraising capabilities and his place in the polls, considerations of his viability are yet more relevant. Surely, in the name of beating Trump, establishment Democrats would be eager to support him as someone who consistently beats the orange-faced incumbent in head-to-head polls, right? Right?
Along these lines, policy positions continued to be argued about in terms of their pragmatism. Rather, time after time, what is apparent is that various progressive causes are not lacking the specifics or the public support to be “realistically” workable, but the political will. On the subject of climate change, facing a wealth of evidence that humans’ use of fossil fuels is helping accelerate a threat to the future of life on this planet, many Americans favor a Green New Deal or some comparable plan to address this catastrophe in a meaningful way. It makes political and economic sense. The biggest obstacle evidently is not our desire, but our fealty to the fossil fuel industry and other prime pollutors.
Therefore, when it comes to presidential candidates, we would do well to abandon thoughts of who “the best bet” is or which candidate preaches “political unity” the hardest. Both concepts are, at their core, illusory. A better tack is to identify the candidate who best elaborates our values and what is best for the country and the world—not just their careers.
Joe Biden wants a return to a fabled time when Democrats and Republicans worked arm in arm, pitching a vision in cringe-worthy fashion of an America that was problematic in his heyday and hasn’t aged well. Pete Buttigieg wants a fresh start to set America back on track, emphasizing a reboot (Reboot-Edge-Edge?) over substantive change, to a time when we weren’t embarrassed by our president, but when things weren’t as rosy as our retrospective glasses might reveal.
What America really needs, meanwhile, is more than either of those plans. We need a revolution inspired by someone like Bernie Sanders or at least someone with the reformist mindset of an Elizabeth Warren to level the playing field between everyday Americans and corporations/the wealthiest among us. Accordingly, and when we tell our children to dream big, we need to follow our own advice.
On behalf of the billionaires of the United States of America, I would like to request that you, the reader, refrain from any talk of a wealth tax or tax increase on the super-rich.
While we’re at it, you should abandon all notions of supporting the Green New Deal or Medicare for All. None of this is politically feasible, and what’s more, you’d be taxing job creators, thereby hurting employment and the U.S. economy. In other words, just go back to enjoying the status quo.
You big meanies.
Dispensing with that bit of pretense, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty sick and tired of billionaires telling us what we can and can’t do in a political sense and why taxing them “to the hilt,” to borrow their verbiage, is so blatantly unfair.
The intertwined issues of personal finances, wealth, and taxation have gained new resonance with the entry of Michael Bloomberg into the 2020 presidential race. Evidently, having one billionaire on the Democratic side of things already (Tom Steyer) isn’t enough.
Also, there’s the matter of safeguarding certain ideologies. With progressives Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders more than relevant in the Democratic primary and Joe “I Got Along Fine with Segregationists” Biden not the sure bet to win the nomination that some establishment Dems might have envisioned at the start of his candidacy, Bloomberg’s late-start bid can be seen as the last gasp of old-guard centrists trying to cement their place in the American political landscape. You know, unless Hillary Clinton jumps in too, which in that case, just go ahead, shoot me, and be merciful. I just don’t think I can bear to watch that a reprise of that fiasco.
Because money equates to power and political influence, Bloomberg is not the only billionaire who is wont to gripe about plans to claw back dollars from the super-rich or lament Sen. Warren’s ascendancy in polls and have media outlets ready to listen. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, when recently asked about Warren’s proposed “ultra-millionaire tax,” joked about how much he’d have left under such a policy. Gates also highlighted how much he has already paid in taxes as well as given in a philanthropic sense, effectually debating whether or not a tax hike might depress charitable contributions.
All kidding aside, Gates realistically has more money than he or his family will ever need. The notion Warren’s tax plan or that of any similar framework could jeopardize his finances or his ability to donate is absurd. What’s yet worse is his response or lack thereof to a question about whether he would vote for Donald Trump’s re-election over Warren or any other Democratic candidate. For someone who has slammed Trump and his policies in the past, Gates appears to be putting his money where his critical mouth and thinking should be. The result is not a good one.
Before Gates cracked wise about being placed into a whole new tax bracket, there was former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who not only has similarly derided Warren’s ultra-millionaire tax as “ridiculous,” but once had visions of a presidential run dancing in his head as he went on a promotional book tour. Schultz’s “run” ended before it began, seemingly generating more scorn than praise from the general public. Hell, the man didn’t even make it past September.
Schultz’s decision to mount or not mount a campaign certainly garnered a lot of media attention prior to his opting for the latter, however, if for no other reason than the existential dread which accompanied the possibility, even if remote, that he might vie for president as an independent. And while he may have been heckled at stops on his tour and ratioed on Twitter, news of his political contemplation made the rounds on cable news and in major newspapers in much more favorable terms.
His both-sides-ing of Democrats and Republicans despite the GOP harboring honest-to-goodness white supremacists earned him not condemnation, but a platform by which to dispense his ridiculous comparisons. As it does too often these days, the world of political punditry largely failed to diagnose Schultz’s shortcomings prior to his abandonment of his aspirations for the time being. Though if you’ve been paying attention to the Bret Stephenses and the Donny Deutsches of the world, this may come as no great shock to you.
Which brings us now to Michael Bloomberg, presidential candidate, who has derided the GND as “pie-in-the-sky,” has insisted M4A will “bankrupt the country,” and who possesses a—shall we say—complicated political legacy dating back to his time as mayor of New York City, including but not limited to his repeated switches away from and later back toward the Democratic Party, his push to extend the city’s term limits law so he could serve a third term in office, and his support for much-criticized policies such as stop-and-frisk. In many respects, he appears to be out of step with his chosen party of the moment, not to mention prospective Democratic voters.
Try telling to this to the talking heads at MSNBC, however. In an on-air segment shortly after Bloomberg’s filing to get his name on the Alabama Democratic primary ballot, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd rather nauseatingly argued that Bloomberg is not only a “serious contender,” but is among the more progressive candidates on the core issues appealing to leftists. Bernie Sanders already had fired shots at Bloomberg’s candidacy, saying that the former NYC mayor “ain’t gonna buy this election.” Tom Steyer, fellow billionaire, suggested Bloomberg should agree to the idea of a wealth tax if he were serious about running for president. Todd’s own panel guests didn’t even seem to be buying this analysis.
And yet, here was Todd, trying to make the case for Bloomberg because of his, um, supposed appeal to suburban Republicans? While I’m all for Chuck Todd embarrassing himself on live television, these talking points do nothing but insult the intelligence of the viewer. Michael Bloomberg is a “serious” candidate because of his personal finances. End of story. He may have better electoral prospects than his successor, Bill de Blasio, but that’s not saying much considering de Blasio (who doesn’t believe Bloomberg should be running in the first place, by the by) ended his run not long after Howard Schultz suspended his ill-fated quest for glory in 2020. In an era in which the status quo is being scrutinized and flat-out rejected, Bloomberg seems like a prototypical bad candidate. All this before we get to his past comments on women and alleged inappropriate conduct toward them, which make him look like the center-left’s version of Trump. This is who Democratic Party supporters should back?
Ah, but this is what privilege looks like. It affords you ample opportunity to publicly lament the concept of a wealth tax and have other people give you free press and do your dirty work trying to convince the public of your legitimacy for you. It gives you a ticket to the dance without having to do any of the hard work of building a political profile or raising the funds to mount a campaign. It lets you create a toxic work environment that encourages the open objectification of female employees and emboldens male leadership to make sexual advances and inappropriate comments with impunity. The potential loss of this privilege and criticism of the above may be interpreted by people like Bloomberg as unfairness. But it’s a bit of the scales tipping in the other direction—and perhaps they haven’t tipped quite far enough yet.
For a progressive like myself, what is so frustrating about the existence of presidential wannabes like Michael Bloomberg and Howard Schultz—aside from the notion they are glaring examples of why we need to get big money out of politics—is that they only serve to amplify the voices of other centrists like them, making the case to Americans that there is no way we can achieve the kinds of policies the Bernie Sanderses and Elizabeth Warrens of the world envision. They’re too unrealistic. They’d be a disaster for the country. They’re akin to the pony that children ask for for their birthdays or Christmas. You’re not a child, are you, prospective voter?
Presumably, Bloomberg and Schultz are smart men. They might be prone to delusions of grandeur, mind you, but who isn’t from time to time? But yes, this is why their take on issues like the environment and health care are so disappointing. If someone like Bloomberg is such a visionary leader, why can’t he think of a way to make initiatives like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All work?
For that matter, why can’t other moderates see the light? In mathematics, students are taught to work backwards to solve problems. Sure, the potential solutions for the United States might be more complex than with a sixth-grader’s homework. The mechanism, though, is the same. Before saying no to an idea, why not play around with it? What meaningful societal advancement has ever arisen from defeatist capitulation?
The obvious complication herein, of course, is that Bloomberg and others may be aware of how to work to solve these problems, but actively choose to ignore these avenues. Then again, maybe they simply are blinded by a mindset that refuses to let them envision the full range of possibilities. One might argue that there are no conditions by which men like Bloomberg and Schultz could appreciate the big picture. They are so far removed from what life is like for average Americans they simply can’t acknowledge their situations.
Sure, this critique can be leveled at politicians of all make and model to a lesser or greater degree; Bernie supporter that I am, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that he is a millionaire in his own right on the strength of his book sales. For the likes of these billionaires, however, it rings especially true. What’s more, it can’t be ruled out that they aren’t panning Elizabeth Warren’s ultra-millionaire tax out of self-serving interest. Even when they have more money than God like Bill Gates does.
Could Michael Bloomberg make an impact on the 2020 presidential race? Perhaps. Is he what America needs, though? No, and you can bet Donald Trump is licking his chops at the prospect of facing him in the general election. Democrats, there’s too much at stake to entertain thoughts of what President Bloomberg might do for the country.
As a Bernie supporter dating back to 2016, many things stick in my proverbial craw, but one turn of phrase even today still grinds my likewise proverbial gears. When asked during a Democratic debate in October 2015 by Anderson Cooper whether she is a moderate or a progressive, Hillary Clinton remarked, “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”
Ooh! Sen. Sanders, did you feel that sick burn?
Without wanting to delve into Clinton’s history and go tit for tat, pointing out all the things she may not have “gotten done”—like, for instance, actually winning the 2016 presidential election—the litmus test of getting things done remains problematic because of how unevenly and borderline disingenuously it gets applied, specifically as it concerns authentically progressive candidates.
For that matter, I’ve witnessed it being used by supporters of one progressive candidate against another. You probably have an idea about where I’m going with this. Anecdotally, I’ve seen some Elizabeth Warren fans take shots at Bernie, asking, for all his 28 years in the House of Representatives and the Senate, what has he, you know, done? Presumably, some of these Warren supporters were Hillary supporters from the last campaign cycle, so the same line of attack about what the senator from Vermont has accomplished may yet be fresh in their minds. For a select few, there may additionally be some misdirected resentment in accordance with the notion Bernie is not a “true Democrat” and was a chief reason why Donald Trump won. Poor Hillary. It’s never her fault.
Key to the do-nothing-Bernie argument is a glance at his legislative record, particularly the legislation for which he was primary sponsor actually getting enacted. His objectors will point out that, in over two decades in Congress, Sanders has only had seven of his resolutions/bills ratified: four from his time in the House, three in the Senate. Five of these motions enacted are germane mostly to his home state, including two pieces of legislation which served to designate post offices after someone specific. Not altogether scintillating stuff. The other two specifically addressed cost-of-living adjustments for veterans and updating the federal charter for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Again, you may find yourself uninspired unless you were specifically impacted by these changes.
What this line of thinking fails to account for is the context in which these bills were introduced. After all, this is Congress we’re talking about here, an institution not exactly known for its prolific productivity. The very GovTrack.us showcase of Sanders’s sponsored legislation linked to above helps explain this reality.
Does 7 not sound like a lot? Very few bills are ever enacted — most legislators sponsor only a handful that are signed into law. But there are other legislative activities that we don’t track that are also important, including offering amendments, committee work and oversight of the other branches, and constituent services.
Right. There’s a bigger picture to be appreciated. On the subject of committee work, Bernie is a ranking member of the Senate Committee on the Budget and a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Energy and Natural Resources; Environment and Public Works; and Veterans’ Affairs committees. So there’s that.
Such analysis also doesn’t consider the over 200 bills/resolutions signed by the president to which Sanders added his name as a co-sponsor since being sworn in as a U.S. Representative in 1991. As it must be clarified, not all of these are watershed legislative achievements. I mean, from my count, nine of these co-sponsorships were related to commemorative coins. Still, to imply inaction on Bernie’s part is misleading.
Moreover, this ignores all the times Sen. Sanders has shown leadership on a bill that, through no fault of his own, hasn’t been passed. Look at his recent offerings. Recognizing the “climate emergency” for what it is. College for All. Medicare for All. Social Security expansion. Raising wages. Lowering drug prices. These were all proposed this year. Just because this legislation is dead on arrival in a GOP-controlled Senate with a Republican in the White House doesn’t confer meaninglessness. It signals the individual proposing it is willing to fight for things worth fighting for.
This is before we even get to the issue of when political expediency “gets things done” but not necessarily in a way that is productive for all Americans. Back in June, Joe Biden touted his ability to work with the likes of James Eastland and Herman Talmadge to pass legislation, waxing nostalgic on the “civility” that could be afforded to all parties.
Beyond the obvious problem that Biden is touting his ability to work with Southern segregationists in—let me highlight this in my notes—2019, that communal effort may not be what it’s cracked up to be. The former VP has received his due criticism from Kamala Harris and other Democratic rivals for allying with segregationists in opposition of busing to integrate schools. Next to his legacy as “an architect of mass incarceration,” as Cory Booker put it, Biden’s willingness to compromise paints him in a rather poor light. It certainly clouds his purported credentials of being a champion of civil rights.
It’s not just with Bernie either. Across the board for Democrats, it seems instructive to view legislative efforts through the lens of what party controls each house and who is potentially waiting to sign a passed bill in the Oval Office. Republicans, led by shameless obstructionist and judiciary stacker Mitch McConnell, control the Senate. Donald Trump, who appears to have a death grip on today’s iteration of the GOP, is president. Should we fault Sen. Warren for watching Trump and Co. dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before her eyes? Should we admonish Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of The Squad for voting their conscience only to see Senate Republicans or moderate Democrats in either house stand in their way?
Centrists like Nancy Pelosi may sneer at progressives who “have their following” only to see their votes outnumbered or their voices drowned out by appeals to civility and expediency. Absent the ability to lead, however, the progress they seek is all but nullified. There’s a reason why figures like Sanders and AOC are so popular when Congress as a whole is not. The policy positions they embrace are, by and large, supported by the American public. What’s not lacking is their commitment. It’s the political will to see their initiatives through.
Key to the Clintonian-Bidenesque “getting things done” mentality is a firm belief in the value of bipartisanship, of reaching across the aisle in the name of advancing legislation. Say the right things. Make the right amendments. Pull the right levers. Eventually, a workable bill will come out. That’s how things are supposed to work, in theory. Reasonable people making reasonable policies.
Amid the dysfunction of today’s Congress, this ideal still appears to hold water with the general public. How else to explain Joe Biden’s continued hold on the top of Democratic Party polls after two poor showings in the debates and despite a history of gaffes and poor decisions? Unless some voters are simply happy enough to have some semblance of Barack Obama’s presidency back. If we could just go back to the days before the era of President Donald Trump, everything would be back to normal, right?
Maybe, maybe not. Biden may reminisce fondly about the days when Democrats and Republicans could get along peaceably or believe that once “sensible” leadership is restored to Washington, the GOP will cut the malarkey and retake the mantle of responsible stewards of the country. He arguably both underestimates the polarization of the current political climate and overestimates his own deal-making ability in doing so, though.
Today’s Republican Party isn’t your granddaddy’s Republican Party, simply put. Not when the president is lashing out against his critics on Twitter daily, getting policy directives from FOX News, and putting the nation on the path to a dictatorship. Not when members of the party are actively denying the severity of our climate crisis or pretending that white nationalism doesn’t exist. Not when party leaders are defending the inhumane treatment of migrants at our border and are sharing derogatory memes about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her progressive colleagues with impunity.
For those of us who aren’t old enough to recall an environment like the one Biden envisions, this is all we know of the GOP, and based on how low it has sunk and continues to sink, there’s every reason to believe it has reached the point of no return—if things were even that good to begin with. Once we take off our rose-colored glasses and re-appraise past decisions from intersectional perspectives, we may come to realize just how devastating certain policies spearheaded by both parties have been for Americans outside the so-called ruling class.
In addition to his checkered civil rights record, Biden’s cozy relationship with the banking, financial services, and insurance industries contrasts starkly with his image as a blue-collar champion. Given a crowded Democratic primary field and ample resources with which to evaluate his overall record, this may turn out to be a liability. That is, even if he earns the party nomination, there’s still the matter of the general election. Trump seemingly defied the odds against Hillary Clinton, in many respects a superior candidate. Who’s to say doubling down on someone like Biden won’t backfire, leaving us with a second term of President Trump? If he’s doing and saying all these reprehensible things now, what will this mean when he gets re-elected and has nothing to lose?
Going back to the days of bipartisan cooperation under past administrations may have its superficial appeal to voters, especially moderate whites who can better afford to be casual political participants. Even that relative comfort may be illusory, however. The climate emergency is not going to fix itself. Nor is the student debt crisis or the health care affordability crisis or our crumbling infrastructure or any other serious dilemma facing our world. Simply put, the stakes are higher now and Obama-era notions of hope and change dissolving into incrementalism aren’t sufficient. It’s going to take more than that. It’s going to take real people power.
Let’s therefore put aside vague, top-down conceptualizations of “getting things done” in favor of mobilizing voters and encouraging citizens to get involved at various levels of government. We’ve got the people. We only need the conviction to see it through. If you’re not on board with a progressive vision for our future, don’t worry about what is politically “feasible” or what can get done. Worry about getting out of the way of those determined to lead.
Despite President Donald Trump’s umpteen comments in reference to the “failing” New York Times, the “Fake News Washington Post,” and other notable publications critical of his leadership, there has been a lot of good reporting during his tenure in the White House and in the campaign leading up to the election.
It is good reporting borne out of necessity, prompted by an administration in disarray built on a complete disregard for transparency and truth. Alas, there has also been some less-than-good reporting and/or questionable editorial oversight in recent times. Frequently, media outlets will report Trump’s public comments at face value, devoid of meaningful context. “President Trump accuses Democrats of election fraud.” Right, but what about the idea he is doing so without citing any credible evidence? For the love of journalistic integrity, call a spade a spade, won’t you?
If reporting on Trump’s failed stewardship of the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City or the utter fraud behind Trump University or his repeated aggressive sexual behavior in and out of marriage or his stance on the Central Park Five and advocacy for their execution is the good, and reporting on, say, Stephen Miller eating glue as a child is the bad, the ugly may be the out-of-touch views promulgated by today’s television pundits and columnists, many of them white males who refuse to check their privilege at the door.
Case in point, Bret Stephens, whose work, according to many familiar with it, is a repository for bad takes. In a recent column for the New York Times, Stephens opined that the Democratic Party, as evidenced by the first round of presidential debates, is off to a “wretched start” in advance of 2020 and “seems interested in helping everyone except the voters it needs.”
Let’s put aside our puzzlement over why Stephens, a conservative notorious for being a climate change “agnostic” (as he terms it), feels he needs to criticize the Dems declared for presidential runs in this way even noting his frequent criticism of President Trump. The startlingly crude viewpoints in his piece speak for themselves. In particular, this passage drew jeers and censure from the blogosphere/Twitterverse:
In this week’s Democratic debates, it wasn’t just individual candidates who presented themselves to the public. It was also the party itself. What conclusions should ordinary people draw about what Democrats stand for, other than a thunderous repudiation of Donald Trump, and how they see America, other than as a land of unscrupulous profiteers and hapless victims?
Here’s what: a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.
They speak Spanish. We don’t. They are not U.S. citizens or legal residents. We are. They broke the rules to get into this country. We didn’t. They pay few or no taxes. We already pay most of those taxes. They willingly got themselves into debt. We’re asked to write it off. They don’t pay the premiums for private health insurance. We’re supposed to give up ours in exchange for some V.A.-type nightmare. They didn’t start enterprises that create employment and drive innovation. We’re expected to join the candidates in demonizing the job-creators, breaking up their businesses and taxing them to the hilt.
As numerous critics have pointed out, for Stephens, who spent his childhood in Mexico and is fluent in Spanish, to lump himself in with the “this is America, we speak English” crowd is woefully disingenuous. You know, unless he suffered a head injury that has caused him to forget the Spanish he learned as well as the very fact he speaks it, which in that case, my condolences.
More than that, though, the dehumanizing “them-versus-us” rhetoric at a time when migrant families are being indefinitely detained en masse in substandard facilities (the term “facilities,” in many cases, is a generous one) without legal representation or even being charged with a crime is chilling. Not to mention it’s riddled with inaccuracies as a function of being grounded in nativism and trickle-down hogwash.
They broke the rules, even though seeking asylum is supposed to be legal. They don’t pay taxes, even though they do. They got themselves into debt. Who? Are we talking about undocumented immigrants here or college students/young adults born in the States, whose issues with repaying their student loans are nothing at which to scoff? And spare me the “job-creators, taxed to the hilt” line. If we’re talking about multinational corporations, some of them have gotten exceedingly proficient in paying little to no taxes while forgoing investment in their employees and the surrounding communities for the sake of relentlessly seeking profit. In this respect, creating jobs (which may not even be that rewarding for the job-holders in the first place) is the least they could do.
Stephens isn’t the only one at the Times trafficking in self-centered moderate conservative whining. In his own reaction column to the Democratic debates, David Brooks, another Never-Trumper, pleads with Democrats not to “drive him away,” taking it upon himself to speak for the 35% of American voters who identify as “moderates.”
In doing so, he decries how “the party is moving toward all sorts of positions that drive away moderates and make it more likely the nominee will be unelectable.” Americans like their health plans. The economy is doing well (yay, capitalism!). These candidates sound like they want open borders, which has lost progressives elections elsewhere around the world. There’s too much raging against the top 1% and not against the top 20% (the upper middle class).
There’s that concept again: “electability.” It’s a concept everyone seems to profess knowing a lot about without being able to clearly define it. Will advocating for Medicare for All (which, by the by, has broad support from Americans across the political spectrum) make a candidate unelectable in the general election? How would we even know? The economy is doing well now. What happens if we suffer another economic crisis (and yes, there are warning signs to be had)?
On immigration, are we to ignore the ethical and moral concerns for-profit imprisonment of asylum-seekers and immigrants presents, not to mention the real economic benefits these people bring to the table, because of moderate whites’ vague worries about a loss of “cultural identity?” On the Democrats trying to engage with Trump in a battle of “populist v. populist,” why not mention how Trump’s supposed “populism” is really just a concession to wealthy white males like himself?
Ultimately and in all, Brooks is critical of progressives who reject calls for civility and, in laying out their vision of the future, ensure the party can’t win next November. What good is “civility,” however, when today’s Republican Party is premised on bad-faith, deceptive arguments for holding up the status quo? And rather than appealing to a shrinking, elusive voting bloc, why not try to generate actual enthusiasm among those who haven’t voted or previously couldn’t vote? Why not try to win rather than playing not to lose? Have we learned nothing from 2016?
Evidently not. Instead, we get moderates who lauded Hillary Clinton and assured us voters would tire of Trump once again propping up an establishment candidate in Joe Biden because he supposedly “can stand up to” the orange-faced incumbent. Never mind Biden’s checkered past as a senator or that he seems to lack original policy ideas. Let the gaslighting continue and ignore the sound of progressives banging their heads against the wall.
I’ve highlighted Bret Stephens’s and David Brooks’s questionable outlooks on the 2020 presidential race, but this kind of analysis is by no means limited to conservatives. On the Democratic/liberal end of things, there are examples of punditry gone awry a-plenty.
Rebecca Traister, columnist at The Cut, an offshoot of New York magazine skewed toward women’s interests, describes this as the “Donny Deutsch problem in media.” As she explains, while the Democratic Party field is indicative of the country’s growing diversity—both ethnic and ideological—the face of today’s talking heads in political media hasn’t kept pace. Traister writes:
Where many Americans have seen the emergence of compelling and charismatic candidates who don’t look like those who’ve preceded them (but do look more like the country they want to lead), some prominent pundits seem to be looking at a field of people they simply can’t recognize as presidential. Where many hear Democratic politicians arguing vigorously on behalf of more justice and access to resources for people who have historically been kept at the margins of power, some prominent columnists are hearing a scary call to destabilization and chaos, imagining themselves on the outside of politics they’ve long assumed should be centered around them.
Altogether, what’s emerging is a view of a presidential commentariat that — in terms of both ideas and diversity — is embarrassingly outpaced by the candidates, many of whom appear smarter, more thoughtful, and to have a nimbler grasp of American history and structural inequities than the television journalists being paid to cover them.
Traister acknowledges Stephens amid the elaboration of her column, but adds some more names as examples of individuals who are supposed to be experts in their field but seem out of touch with what’s happening in the world more than anything.
Following the debates, Joe Scarborough railed against the Democrats’ stances in favor of undocumented immigrants being entitled to health care and that their crossing the border should be decriminalized. Chris Matthews, like Stephens, framed Kamala Harris’s taking of Joe Biden to task on the subject of busing during the debate as making white people feel as if they are “on trial” or that she is speaking out of some racially-based resentment. As for Mr. Deutsch, he panned Elizabeth Warren’s prospects in the general election next to Biden’s, touting his experience as an advertising and branding executive as an affirmation of the validity of his viewpoint. He, like Donald Trump, evidently gets people. Well, I’m sold, I don’t know about you.
As Traister finds and as others would agree, the “safe center” on which these men think the Democrats can rely may no longer be the source of salvation they or other mainstream liberals imagine it to be. This much becomes evident when looking at the substantial appeal of signature policy ideals such as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and taxing the wealthy at a higher marginal rate. The contention of Deutsch et al. is that promoting these positions will hand Trump the election in 2020. Maybe it’s through embracing a bold vision of the future (a vision furthered by strong female candidates, no less) that the excitement needed to turn out the necessary voters to prevent his re-election will be achieved, though.
In fairness, Traister admits the likes of Stephens and Scarborough may be right, at least in the short term. Maybe the Democrats will win with Biden as their chosen candidate. Over the long term, however, the party strategy will almost certainly have to change in deference to a “different, faster, smarter, lefter turn toward the future.” To this end, the hegemonic hold white males have over political punditry will need to be addressed at some point too.
Unfortunately, this won’t be realized nearly fast enough, meaning newspaper subscribers and TV viewers will be forced to see the 2020 campaign through the prism of these privileged, moneyed men’s worldviews. Meaning we’re liable to get defenses of Biden and his condescending attitude toward people unlike him ad nauseum until the election or until his bid for the White House goes down in flames.
There’s a #MeToo dimension to this disproportionate representation as well. Matthews caught heat last year for an unearthed “hot mic” incident of sorts from 2016 where he jokingly asked where he put “that Bill Cosby pill” he brought with him in advance of an interview with Hillary Clinton. Deutsch, by his own admission, is a shameless flirt who has fantasized about women he was worked with and waxed poetic on Sarah Palin’s hotness when she first came to political prominence.
When Traister speaks to how problematic it is that potential voters and prospective candidates for public office are having their opinions shaped by these men, she has a firm grasp of what she’s talking about. Their professionalism (or lack thereof) is certainly not above reproach. Might we not submit the same of their political insights?
The male-dominated world of political media reacting with pearl-clutching bewilderment at up-and-comers in the Democratic Party like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leading by example. Joe Biden’s place atop the polls despite his apparent unpreparedness in that first debate. These phenomena are related. These men are unused to a world in which their place atop the hierarchy is no longer guaranteed, where a twenty-something who previously worked as a bartender—gasp!—is beating them in the open exchange of ideas. As the very title of Rebecca Traister’s article asks, politics is changing; why aren’t the pundits who cover it?
A disciplined leader. A woman focused on specific policies that affect people’s lives. Someone who gets results. These are among Will Saletan’s characterizations of Nancy Pelosi as expressed in a largely laudatory recent piece written about her for Slate.
Before we get to the meat of Saletan’s article, titled simply “Trust Pelosi,” there’s the matter of a profile of Speaker Pelosi by Glenn Thrush that appeared earlier this month in The New York Times, of which Saletan’s essay serves primarily as a reaction piece. Thrush shines a spotlight on Pelosi’s stewardship of the Democratic Party, particularly as it intersects with notions of impeachment and taking back the White House in 2020.
As Pelosi would have it, impeachment is not the way to remove Donald Trump from the Oval Office. It’s beating him in the upcoming presidential election—soundly. Otherwise, Trump et al. might contest any Democratic victory as illegitimate. Impeachment proceedings are all but guaranteed to stall in the Senate and the ensuing confrontation would likely energize Trump and his supporters. Rather than risk alienating moderates, Pelosi believes in “owning the center left to own the mainstream” rather than “engaging in some of the other exuberances that exist in [the Democratic Party].” That is, more Affordable Care Act and less Medicare-for-All. Sorry (not sorry), progressives.
What about other elements of the current American political landscape? How does Ms. Pelosi feel about recent events which stand to affect the balance of power in Washington, D.C.? On the increasingly troublesome handling of the Mueller probe/report by Attorney General William Barr juxtaposed with the ever-erratic behavior of the president, while Pelosi finds it testing her commitment to no impeachment, she remains firm on this point, even if privately she thinks he (Trump) has earned this treatment several times over. On the field of potential Democratic challengers to Trump? Pelosi sees Joe Biden’s popularity in the polls as a symbol of voters’ familiarity and trust, dismissing concerns about his 90s-era treatment of Anita Hill. On working with Republicans? Pelosi is for it, notably if it can help Democrats retain or win hotly contested congressional seats.
There you have it. The communicator of a simple message. Tough as nails. Able to keep rogue members of the party from “hijacking” the House Democratic Caucus. Cordial when the occasion arises but willing to clap back (literally) when the circumstances invite such behavior. It’s Nancy, bitch. Deal with it.
This is the backdrop against which we view Saletan’s own analysis on Pelosi’s role as de facto party leader until a presidential nominee is chosen. As he views subsequent criticism by progressives related to her comments in Thrush’s feature, it is “overblown.” Along these lines, Saletan points to several reasons why Pelosi should make “liberals from San Francisco” (as she describes herself) proud:
She’s more “progressive” than you think
If we’re judging Nancy Pelosi simply as a function of her lack of support for the Green New Deal, describing her as a “leftist” or “progressive” is understandably problematic. As Saletan argues, however, her voting record suggests she is more in step with the left than her detractors might otherwise concede. She argues for affordable health care, education investment, environmental protections, equal pay, fair wages, gun safety, immigration reform, infrastructure investment, protecting Social Security, women’s rights, and other tenets of the party platform most people on the left can broadly agree on. Since Donald Trump took office and as of this writing, Pelosi has voted with the president’s position 18.6% of the time, as calculated and tracked by FiveThirtyEight. That’s not dissimilar from someone like Tulsi Gabbard (20.5%) and significantly lower than Beto O’Rourke (30.1%).
For Pelosi, it is more advantageous to defend policy stances that “are well understood and supported” against the other side’s attacks rather than advancing big ideas that might “alarm the other side’s voters more than they inspire yours.” Hence the focus on the ACA rather than Medicare-for-All and on elements of the Act for which polls already show broad support.
She focuses on policies, not ideologies
For Pelosi, the name of the game is connecting with undecided voters and on maintaining, if not further cementing, the Democratic Party’s control of the House. Concerning the former, she makes a point of avoiding belaboring talk about Trump in favor of highlighting the ways Democrats are fighting for everyday Americans, pointing to the tangible benefits of their policy goals (e.g. framing the climate change issue as a jobs issue). On the latter, Pelosi wants to make sure vulnerable Democratic incumbents in “purple” districts are protected, arguing that there aren’t enough deep-blue districts to approach things the way progressives might prefer. After all, if Republicans regain a House majority, the progressive agenda becomes moot, at least in a pragmatic sense.
To this effect, the speaker emphasizes values over movements. As Saletan underscores, for instance, she is much more apt to describe positions in terms of their purported “fairness” than evocative of “socialism,” a term which carries baggage and is used by the right to try to engender opposition and fear. Pelosi’s vision of the Democratic Party is one of an appeal to pragmatic reason and to voters in the center “abandoned” by the GOP.
She seeks to connect to voters’ values rather than demonizing the right
Continuing with the idea that Democrats can own the center Republicans have forsaken, Rep. Pelosi hopes to sway voters who lean Republican but may be critical of Pres. Trump to vote blue, contrasting his record with that of former presidents like Ronald Reagan. In making such a pitch, she stresses the importance of “values” as a practicing Catholic. The environment. Health care. Separating families at the border. These are values issues, ones that Americans who hold deeply religious views can consider as a subset of their faith. Moreover, by making appeals in this way, Pelosi is speaking to those who vote with their gut rather than based on a comprehensive understanding of policies.
She believes in impeachment,but wants the public’s support
To the extent that impeachment proceedings would die in the Senate or would be used to energize Trump’s base, Pelosi approaches such a move with trepidation. On this note, she favors continuing House committee hearings that build on what we know from the Mueller report and other investigations, hoping to turn public sentiment against Trump much in the way Americans turned against Richard Nixon in the wake of months of investigation into his (mis)conduct. Quoting Pelosi in the final moments of his piece, Saletan closes with these thoughts:
On the whole, the speaker has it right. “Public sentiment is everything,” she likes to say, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln. “With it, you can accomplish almost anything. Without it, practically nothing.” Pelosi schooled Trump in the fight over the government shutdown, and she’s patiently waiting him out in the standoff over who will propose taxes to pay for an infrastructure plan. The liberals of San Francisco should be proud.
While “schooling” Trump may seem an almost dubious achievement—the man’s penchant for malapropisms and spelling errors have become the stuff of legends in the age of Twitter—it seems certain that Pelosi is well-equipped to deal with him. You know, as well as anyone can reasonably deal with a man-child like Trump.
Anecdotally speaking, in my online discussions and in-person Democratic club meetings, Pelosi’s stature is that of a female legislative icon beyond her historic identity as the first (and only) woman to serve as Speaker of the House. Despite misgivings about her leadership in advance of this Congress, she has weathered that storm and is apparently not going anywhere anytime soon. For most rank-and-file Democratic supporters, that’s at least “somewhat favorable.”
The thrust of Will Saletan’s and Glenn Thrush’s articles may well agree with what they believe personally. In Saletan’s case, it is an opinion piece, so we would envision his views and Nancy Pelosi’s align somewhat closely. In Thrush’s case, this is a report that cites Pelosi directly, so the author’s personal inclinations are less clear, though there is very little if any pushback against her assertions within.
In a day and age in which memes are accepted as fact and in which publications are bidding to outdo one another in terms of clicks and exclusives that break before anyone else, though, the sources of the information we consume should be considered for potential bias. Slate, though fairly liberal among mainstream news outlets, has existed under the Washington Post banner since its acquisition in 2004. The New York Times, irrespective of accusations on the part of Donald Trump and other conservatives, also tends to promote an outlook that falls left of center.
Even so, these companies are part of a network of news sources backed at least in part by money linked to major corporations or wealthy patrons. The Washington Post, as of 2013, has existed under the ownership of Nash Holdings, a limited liability holding company established by Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos. The New York Times is publicly traded and controlled by the Sulzberger family by means of two classes of shares, of which Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú is the largest single shareholder. Journalist Matt Taibbi notably criticized the Times‘s favoritism of Hillary Clinton over the grassroots-oriented candidate Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primary. These purveyors of news may be left of cable news conglomerates and are certainly far removed from the likes of Breitbart, The Drudge Report, Glenn Beck, and InfoWars, but they still may reflect more of a centrist or elitist bias than their readers, hungry for content and subject to their own biases.
In the case of Nancy Pelosi, access to a politician of her stature and a desire to appeal to a readership fueled by anger at the president likely informs the essentially congratulatory tones of these features. With all due respect, Saletan acknowledges that Pelosi’s strategy “is open to dispute.” For one, the praise of Ronald Reagan and other Republican leaders of yesteryear is fraught with complications; ask communities of color ravaged by the war on drugs or the LGBTQ community ignored during the peak of the AIDS crisis and see if they’re as charitable in their recollections.
There’s also the matter of not wanting to criticize Trump for fear of antagonizing those who voted for him, a tactic which Saletan indicates arguably plays better in deep-red districts than as a one-size-fits-all methodology. Other possible points of contention are her adherence to centrism in the hopes of warding off moderate Republicans challenging for House seats (“that might be playing it too safe”) and her harping on the likelihood that Trump will contest the results of the 2020 election if they go against him (Saletan suspects “she’s using that scenario as a scare tactic to motivate her troops”). Trump and his ilk routinely turn molehills into mountains or simply fabricate those mountains entirely. This sadly might be an inevitability.
Speaking as someone who ascribes to a progressive mindset, my biggest concern is that Speaker Pelosi seems to both overestimate the American people’s ability to handle worsening economic and environmental trends and underestimate her party’s supporters. Regarding her dismissal of Medicare-for-All, the Green New Deal, and other progressive policy goals, Pelosi’s positions belie the seriousness of various crises. We are in the midst of a climate crisis. Americans are saddled by medical, student, and other forms of debt. Income and wealth equality are widening, with far too many people in this country living in poverty or close to it. Defending the ACA and embracing incrementalism when warning signs abound conveys the sense you don’t feel the same pinch your constituents do, inviting accusations of being an out-of-touch elite, even if exaggerated.
As for the notion Democrats should prioritize policies “that are well understood and supported,” this assumes voters are not especially well-informed about or desirous of progressive policy designs. Some clearly are not. On the other hand, if the popularity of younger progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is any indication, these ideas are not far outside the mainstream and voters, particularly young voters, are quite knowledgeable about them indeed. I keep thinking back to the episode not long ago in which Dianne Feinstein lectured a group of young environmental activists about political realities and pointed to her legislative record. Thank you for your service to this country, Sen. Feinstein. But this is serious business and if you’re not going to lead on the subject of climate change, you need to get out of the way of those who can and will.
In all, what strikes me about Nancy Pelosi’s strategic mindset and that of other establishment Democrats is that they appear content to play not to lose rather than swinging for the fences, walking on proverbial eggshells in Donald Trump’s shadow. That didn’t work in 2016, prompting one to wonder what party leadership has learned exactly since then.
To be clear, I think Pelosi’s experience and shrewdness are assets in connecting with voters. I would tend to agree that it’s useful if not essential to be able to pitch parts of a platform in different ways to different voters and voting blocs. For better or worse, not everyone is swayed by considerations of morals and presidential ethics. That said, I’m not sure her deprecation of her party’s “exuberances” convey the right message. Not when aggressive centrists like Josh Gottheimer are making House Democrats and the party look bad by extension. But sure, keep siding with him over Ilhan Omar.
In Nancy we trust? On many issues, yes. But I have my doubts—and chances are you do as well.
Despite America’s much-ballyhooed status as “land of the free and home of the brave,” when it comes to voting, a significant portion of the U.S. population remains unwilling or unable to cast their ballots in elections up and down tickets. A recent report for NPR by Asma Khalid, Don Gonyea, and Leila Fadel entitled “On the Sidelines of Democracy: Exploring Why So Many Americans Don’t Vote” plumbs the depths of this modern electoral reality.
First, a matter of statistics. According to the authors’ data, only about 60% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2016. If 2010 and 2014 are any indication, meanwhile, turnout for midterm elections is only expected to be about 40%. As the NPR piece insists, it can’t be known for sure how many elections might have experienced different outcomes had all or a even a larger majority come out to the polls.
However, as the report is also keen to stress, voting doesn’t just decide winners and losers. It influences what policies candidates enact upon getting into office. What’s more, it affects how these politicians interact with would-be supporters and which interests they appeal to. In other words, rather than depicting campaign platforms as static and resistant to change, Khalid et al. see them as malleable under the right outside pressure.
What’s particularly disturbing about the who, what, and why of voters vs. non-voters is that research shows these two groups have appreciably different views on matters of policy. The findings of Jan Leighley cited within the NPR piece suggest non-voters are more likely to support programs which expand the social safety net and policies which effect a redistribution of wealth.
This is before we even get to the matter of those who can’t vote, whether because of criminal records, registration issues, or other “irregularities.” The authors place this subset of the population in the hundreds of thousands, a significant number when considering some recent elections have been decided by mere hundreds of votes.
But non-voters who can vote and choose not to are at the crux of Khalid’s, Gonyea’s, and Fadel’s piece. Using data from L2, a non-partisan voter file vendor (you can read about the exact methodology in the linked article), NPR analyzed what separates voters from non-voters. Though the specific circumstances vary from place to place, the authors isolated four factors: age, income, education level, and habits.
In talking to young adults from Las Vegas, the common refrain was that they didn’t know enough about politics or even voting, for that matter, to cast ballots. This echoes the findings of Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE, an initiative at Tufts University which looks at youth civic and political participation.
Not only are young people potentially confused about what voting entails, but they are generally pessimistic about its ability to bring about positive change. As they tend to be more itinerant than other age groups, they also feel less connected to the issues affecting where they live. Or they’re “too busy.” Or they don’t feel inspired by many political candidates. Whatever the underlying reason(s), by not voting, young adults are making it that much more likely candidates will opt not to court them in future elections in favor of groups that come out more strongly.
In McDowell County, West Virginia, the issues of class and education loom largest. The median annual income in Welch, WV, the county seat, is only about $25,000 a year. Once again, there’s the perception that no matter who is in office, their county gets the proverbial short end of the stick and is all but ignored by politicians.
Going back to Jan Leighley’s research, class more than any other variable promotes a voting discrepancy; nearly 80% of high-income earners vote, as opposed to only about 50% of low-income earners. As having a college degree makes a person that much more able to secure employment and start a career, it is no wonder education level is a factor as well. Throw in the need to work multiple jobs and other potential responsibilities, and voting certainly stands to be less of a priority.
As for El Paso, Texas, the NPR study found low Latinx turnout. At least in El Paso County, there are specific reasons which may combine to explain why over 60% of registered voters don’t come out to the polls. Part of the reason may be that immigrant families may not be familiar with voting, and that children of immigrants born here may not have had their parents serve as models in this regard. This may help inform why Asian-American voter participation is also low. Additionally, Texas hasn’t been a politically competitive state for decades now. Plus, El Paso doesn’t exactly have a good track record with respect to corrupt public officials, so there’s that, too.
Still, as Khalid et al. show, it’s not just in Texas that Latinx voters are disproportionately staying home, even when candidates for public office like Donald Trump are painting Mexicans with broad strokes as criminals and rapists. In addition to the idea that Latinxs feel a disconnect with the political process—this is emerging as a common theme across demographics—the reality is that voter outreach to non-voters is, as the article puts it, “anemic.” Rather than try to engage non-voters, candidates will plumb voter files for people who do vote frequently and try to reach out to them. This does not bode well for a robust increase in voter turnout.
Perhaps on some level, one sympathizes with political campaigns on this last note. As the NPR article states outright, “It’s more expensive and time consuming to chase down infrequent voters.” Inconvenient as this truth might be, though, it doesn’t provide a solution going forward. This is not meant as a criticism of the report, which appears to be well-researched and incisive. Nonetheless, it’s a limitation, as complex as any potential solution to low voter turnout may be.
Thus, for all the report’s valuable insights, it’s, well, kind of a downer. Maybe this is unavoidable in the face of stark electoral realities, but for those of us seeking an inspired and inspiring path to action, we’ll have to look elsewhere for answers.
My time as a frequent voter and political observer has been admittedly brief. However, rather than take the tack of many to harangue the non-voting among us into submission—Lord knows I’ve received my fair share of vote shaming despite actually going out to the polls—I tend to focus on how the voting process can be reformed and how the major parties should do better given their prominence.
At the risk of oversimplification, a big way to generate more enthusiasm for voting is to produce better candidates who run on genuinely attractive platforms. In this sense, the person(s) behind the campaign are less important than the ideas and ideals they embrace. Why else would Bernie Sanders, a septuagenarian secular Jew from Vermont with a Brooklyn accent, be so popular among people who follow politics, especially young people?
This is, of course, not to say that Bernie’s 2016 campaign and stances were perfect. For instance, his positions on foreign policy issues at times lacked nuance, and his defense of gun ownership and gun manufacturers when gun violence is such a hot topic (mostly because Americans keep getting shot and killed at rates far surpassing those of other developed countries) was characterized as out of touch. I, for one, support his views on not going after manufacturers unless they behave unethically or illegally, but I also recognize his defense of attitudes from a state that prizes hunting as a tradition as a liability for a presidential run.
As some might even aver, Sanders is really a one-issue candidate. That one issue, however, is a central one: widening income/wealth inequality and the dissolution of power and viability of the working class. It’s a problem that some of us can afford to ignore, but the vast majority can’t.
Accordingly, when Bernie talks about these subjects as well as getting money out of politics (the “rigged economy” train of thought), it resonates. Take the example of health care. When Americans have to choose between paying medical bills and buying basic necessities, that’s not merely due to poor choices—it speaks to a broken system. It’s no wonder he and candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who espouse similar views (including advocacy for Medicare for All) have captured the imagination of so many people.
It should be stressed that great candidates don’t just grow on trees. Part of producing better candidates is being able to choose from a deeper pool. I’m not just talking about “diversity” in the narrow sense of ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other identifying characteristics, though these are important. I mean more individuals with a progressive mindset should be running for office. This is easier said than done when people have families and jobs and lives. You know, better people than me.
Nevertheless, along these lines, party leaders should make the effort to reduce or lower the barriers for civic and political engagement. Part of this is demystifying the voting process and the ability of running for office. While I don’t feel we should necessarily encourage people to make ill-informed decisions, there’s also the matter of other voters caring about one issue or choosing based on ugly prejudices (see also “President Donald J. Trump”). In all, it would appear to be a wash. The same goes with candidates for public office. For every noble statesman or stateswoman to serve in an official capacity, there’s someone who is ill-qualified for their role and/or good for nothing else but running for office (once again, see also “President Donald J. Trump”). As the saying goes, this is politics, not rocket science.
When politicians are not compromised by their obedience to moneyed interests, and when the threshold for political participation is more reasonable (i.e. fewer fundraisers charging several hundred dollars a head), only then, I believe, will we set the stage for a meaningful dialog between elected representatives and their constituents. This includes town hall meetings with residents—you know, ones to which officials actually show and field questions rather than ditching them and complaining about unfair treatment. You ran presumably because you wanted to serve your state/town/what-have-you. Do your job.
I speak about these things in the abstract, realizing full well it is difficult to bring about positive change. To reiterate, easier said than done. It takes time, effort, and cooperation forged through a shared vision. Then again, no one said it would be easy, and furthermore, the desired outcomes are worth the struggle. We as a nation have to do better when it comes to voter turnout. The alternative is to stay home and ensure that our needs continue to go unanswered and our voices remain unheard.
That’s the story we get from our beloved president, Donald J. Trump, at least. As many of us can attest to, though, what he says may not be (or is rarely) the gospel truth.
In an August 13 post in his nascent online newsletter, Popular Information, journalist Jedd Legum discusses how, indeed, GDP growth is strong and unemployment is low. Sounds great, right? While not to discount these trends, the issue is that wages aren’t rising to accompany them. Legum writes:
There is something fundamentally broken about the United States economy and no one is doing anything about it.
Unemployment is low. GDP growth is strong. But official government data released on Friday show that real wages for American workers have gone down over the last year.
Nominal wages, the dollar amount workers see in their paychecks, have slowly crept up, increasing 2.7% between July 2017 and July 2018. But that has not kept up with inflation, which rose 2.9% over the same period.
The economy is growing. Workers, however, are falling further behind.
This sounds awfully doom-and-gloom coming from Legum, but as he indicates, he has the data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to back him up. What’s more, he identifies key reasons why workers aren’t reaping the benefits of a robust economy through their take-home pay.
First of all, before we get to why wages are stagnant or declining, there’s the matter of the Trump tax cuts. After the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law, the White House promised that “the median U.S. household would get a $4,000 real income raise.” That hasn’t happened, though.
To make matters worse, Trump and his advisers are apparently not interested in revisiting their policies to assess their potential flaws. Instead, Trump has—in characteristic fashion—doubled down on his assertions. He has ignored any evidence to the contrary, boasting that our paychecks are bigger and America is booming like never before. That’s especially not true in the case of our “booming” nation, but why let facts get in the way of a good story?
As Legum is keen to point out, however, trends in wage stagnation relative to inflation are bigger than Donald Trump. (But shh—don’t tell Trump that. In his mind, he is the sun around which we revolve.) Regardless of who is president or which party is in power, wages have been effectively stagnant for decades.
Based on this phenomenon, Legum insists that if people are complaining of an economy “rigged” against them, they are, well, right. Despite America’s status as one of the richest countries in the world and in an era of increasing profits, fewer people are enjoying those additional rewards. Cue the conversation about the 99% versus the 1%.
Accordingly, as Legum asks in his introduction, what gives? The answer is a complicated one, though there are some major culprits in the eyes of economic analysts. The first is employer-based health insurance, of which costs are on the rise. Because of escalating health care expenses, employers are less likely to raise wages. Because they are concerned about coverage and costs, employees are less likely to seek employment elsewhere. Consequently, employers are less inclined to negotiate on wages for fear of a departure. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that lower-wage workers also are disproportionately affected by these rising health care costs.
Speaking of negotiating for higher wages, a decline in union membership mediated by deliberate attempts to undermine organized labor has weakened the bargaining power and wages of union and non-union workers alike. Without significant union membership, there is insufficient reason for non-union employers to raise wages to compete with those of union firms. This is to say that it is not a zero-sum game involving the wages of union and non-union workers.
Compounding the problem of wages in America is that productivity is lagging despite advancements in technology. Legum speaks to the theory that American companies are simply not investing enough for the long term, instead opting to turn revenues into dividends or stock buybacks that inflate stock prices. Meanwhile, as he also indicates, wages have increased more slowly than productivity, so this is “only a piece of the puzzle.”
All of these factors lead up to Legum’s central point. While wage stagnation is obviously complex, there are yet remedies which can be effected. On the health care front, Medicare-for-all and other single-payer models at the state level have been suggested as ways to make employer costs more manageable. For unions, there are possible interventions like majority sign-up or multi-employer bargaining. For productivity’s sake, where private organizations fail, public investments in infrastructure can help pick up the slack.
The problem with these remedies is that they aren’t being implemented, or as Legum puts it, “no one is working to fix the problem.” Re the Trump administration, in many cases, these solutions aren’t just being ignored—they are forsaken for policies that deliberately move us backward.
We all remember the attempts by the president and a Republican-led Congress to kill the Affordable Care Act. They haven’t yet proven wholly successful, though this doesn’t mean the GOP will stop trying. Trump also celebrated the ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, characterized by many as a major blow to public-sector unions. As for infrastructure, Trump promised it would be a priority of his tenure in office. Heretofore, like most of Trump’s promises, it has yet to come to fruition.
In closing, Legum writes, “Politicians of all stripes speak incessantly about the American worker. But until they tackle the wage crisis head-on, it’s hard to take them seriously.” The absence of references to a specific political party here implies that both Republicans and Democrats should be taken to task for their role in subverting the wage growth of the labor force in the United States.
For the GOP, which has long kept the interests of big business close to heart, this is no big surprise. On the other hand, for the Democrats, the putative party of the people, the charge is that they have failed workers by not more vigorously defending organized labor, not to mention too eagerly embracing corporate lobbies/wealthy donors and their influence. This is the sort of inaction from lawmakers that the average voter is arguably justified in raging against. With the criticism from the left, there is an added sense of disappointment that a party which traditionally has embraced working-class Americans appears to have so readily abandoned them.
As Judd Legum underscores, these trends which have contributed to wage stagnation amid a growing economy were in motion before the rise of Donald Trump. His ascendancy is perhaps an all-too-logical consequence of their elaboration. As numerous publications and pundits observed, working-class whites, who came out in force for the business tycoon in 2016, were a key source of his support.
Before the election, the voting bloc of whites without a college degree was reportedly shrinking, and polling data had Hillary Clinton with one foot in the White House. Meanwhile, a group of individuals who disdain professionals because they perceive themselves to be disdained, while holding fast to the aspirational model embodied by Trump, was instrumental in swinging the election to the Republican presidential nominee. If Democratic strategists were convinced they could all but ignore this subset of the electorate (and key segments of the Rust Belt), it turned out they were wrong.
It’s political realities like this which make the recent decision by Tom Perez and the Democratic National Committee to reverse a ban on donations from fossil fuel companies rather alarming. Ostensibly, this was a move made because input from labor suggested a ban on fossil fuel money was an “attack” on workers. In reality, and as the activist community has observed, this 180 is designed to allow fossil fuel executives to keep donating to (and buying influence within) the Democratic Party.
The DNC’s about-face is particularly galling given that the prohibition on fossil fuel contributions—which specifically targeted corporate PAC donations—only came about this past June. Defenders of Perez’s proposal might be wont to point out that the Republican Party accepts substantially higher amounts of cash from the fossil fuel industry than the Dems do. There’s also the aspect that Democrats in contested districts/states feel they need to take a more moderate stance when it comes to energy production.
Still, as Kate Aronoff, contributor to The Intercept, quipped, “There are no jobs on a dead planet.” The DNC’s recommitment to an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy is a regressive turn of events at a time when more urgent action on climate change is needed, and when the Trump administration is doing its part to reverse as many regulations designed to safeguard the environment as possible (see also Scott Pruitt as the original pick for the EP-freaking-A).
Moreover, the rationalization of taking fossil fuel PAC money as a defense of organized labor is an altogether cynical one. Apparently, being a rank-and-file worker/Democratic Party supporter and having enthusiasm for an energy plan based on renewable sources are mutually exclusive. If you care about your job, evidently you give f**k-all about the planet.
To reiterate, the problem of stagnant and declining wages in America is a complex one mediated by a number of factors. At the same time, a little leadership from our elected representatives could go a long way in convincing us we are on the right track in trying to ameliorate the situation. Unfortunately, legislative gridlock and intentional concessions to corporate interests inspire little confidence we’re moving in the right direction on this issue.
What if I told you there were a way for the United States of America to save, up front, tens of billions of dollars? Access to health care would drastically improve. Individuals, families, and businesses alike would experience less of a financial and logistical burden, and doctors and patients would be empowered regarding the decisions made in the interest of the latter. Other areas tied to health care would also stand to benefit from the reduced complexity of the new system and the relief over who is and who isn’t insured or otherwise cannot afford critical procedures. On top of all this, such a framework is already being used to great success elsewhere in the world. Sounds great, right? We should be jumping at the chance as a nation to implement such a system, no?
In case it were not already apparent, I’m referring to a single-payer health insurance system, which, in this country, would take the form of a Medicare-for-all paradigm. Hmm, are you still as enthusiastic?
I’m guessing there are those of who you aren’t, whether you’re a staunch Republican, a Democratic loyalist, or none of the above. Advocacy for a single-payer public insurance system was one of the cornerstones of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, but it was one of the most commonly assailed elements of his platform alongside the notion of free college tuition for public schools. As was the running theme from his detractors, the idea sounded great, but practically speaking, it had no chance of becoming reality. On some level, I tend to think the plausibility of Bernie’s proposed policies got and still does get conflated with the likelihood of him becoming a finalist, if you will, in a presidential race. However you slice it, Sanders was fighting an uphill battle in capturing the Democratic Party nomination ahead of Clinton. Still, for all those convinced a Medicare-for-all system in the U.S. would be a disaster in the making, might there be more to the story than even these self-professed experts realize? That is, could the concept of a single-payer insurance plan not only have merit, but also be exactly what this country needs?
First things first, let’s discuss what a single-payer health insurance system involves at its most elemental, and then we can better explore the case for implementing such a system nationwide. To do that, we’ll consult Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), an organization devoted explicitly to advocacy for a universal, single-payer national healthcare program. PNHP, as part of its work, strives to furnish a more informed debate on how to address health care in the United States, and it offers a wealth of information and resources to this point. According to the organization, single-payer national health insurance is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health financing, but delivery of care remains largely private. For those of you who hear “public agency” and start frothing at the mouth, yes, the government would be involved in the administration of a Medicare-for-all program. Before you get carried away, however, let’s directly and immediately address what this entails, and what it does not.
1. Single-payer health insurance does not require steep tax hikes.
As Physicians for a National Health Program explains, indeed, an additional tax will be needed to cover the costs of a national single-payer system, one described as “modest” and based on ability to pay. Now, I see you breaking out your pitchforks and torches there, but hold on a minute, would you? An estimated 95% of households—what I consider to be a significant majority—would ultimately save owing to not having to pay premiums (including co-pays and deductibles), as they do under private insurance plans. In other words, you’d give a little, but get a lot in return.
2. Single-payer is not socialized medicine.
Republican politicians often like to dangle the specter of socialism and vague notions of government overreach to scare voters away from a superior policy option. In this instance, arguments against Medicare-for-all or even the Affordable Care Act are designed to distract from scrutiny of the American Health Care Act, the intended GOP replacement for the ACA and a piece of legislation so flawed no Republican—not even Donald Trump—wants to be associated with by name. Which is, ahem, exactly why it should be referred to as TrumpCare or RyanCare.
With specific regard to a single-payer program, the association with socialized medicine is one that is used to obscure and deflect. Socialized medicine is when facilities are owned by the government, and health professionals are on the public payroll. This is how it works in England, or even with the VA in the States. A Medicare-for-all, national health insurance system only socializes the administration of this insurance, not the care itself. Patients would be able to choose their doctor and hospital, and doctors would be afforded greater autonomy in their own right.
3. Medicare-for-all is not unaffordable.
Double negative, apologies, but I’m most concerned with the underlying concept here. I noted earlier how individuals and companies would benefit by no longer having to fuss around with co-pays and the like, but the American economy stands to gain at large from a single-payer framework. Nearly a third of current health spending in the United States today belongs to administrative expenses. As President Trump has learned the hard way, health care is complicated, and the price tag for billing, marketing, underwriting and other overhead activities is estimated to cost us some $400 billion. A year. Recouping that money alone would be sufficient to cover a Medicare-for-all health care system. So much waste—and so much of it preventable, too.
4. Single-payer insurance does not result in rationed care.
One of the biggest points of the hit piece regularly levied against universal health care is that it rations care. Unbearable wait times! You’ll die before you get to see a doctor! You mean as opposed to the current system in the United States, where you basically have insurance only if you can afford it? That’s rationing too, bruh! Some 30,000 Americans die every year because they can’t afford health insurance, and still more forgo procedures and treatments because of refusals of insurers to cover them. The extent to which delays are experienced in any single-payer system is a function of that system’s capacity and the ability of the associated government to manage the patient load, and as such, long waits are not an inherent condition of universal health care. Besides, and I don’t know about you, but I would rather wait a little longer to be seen by a doctor than, um, die.
5. Approval for a national health care system is not a minority opinion.
Establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle would try to convince you that a national health program isn’t desirable, or in the case of the more conservative ones, bad for business. Poppycock and hogwash, I say! For starters, on the dimension of business, a single-payer system would actually be a boon, as employers would no longer be burdened by administrative tasks related to health care and health insurance, and would thus be better able to focus on their core functions. Irrespective of what a Medicare-for-all program would stand to do for companies and their management, though, doctors and their patients alike see the writing on the wall when it comes to the merits of universal health care. Nearly 60% of Americans support a single-payer health insurance program in the United States, and four in ten Republicans also favor such an approach. This complements a similar percentage of doctors who have been, for close to a decade now, calling for a national health insurance system. This polling data begs the question: if Medicare-for-all/single-payer is so bad, why do so many of us want it?
In trumpeting the support of a majority of Americans who favor a single-payer health insurance format in the United States, it should be duly noted that a good portion of the constituency does not. For some, notably on the Democratic Party side of things and ever mindful of the legacy of Barack Obama, upholding the Affordable Care Act seems to be sufficient. To be sure, in the short term, resisting attempts by Donald Trump and Co. to eviscerate the ACA and elements of the social safety net is important—bigly important, at that. Still, a side-by-side comparison of a proposed Medicare-for-all plan and the current legislation in place regarding health care/health insurance makes the flaws in ObamaCare stand out, and arguably gives Republicans more fodder in trying to convince the public to get behind repealing and replacing it. Once again, Physicians for a National Health Program has a handy guide as to why the Affordable Care Act, though leaps and bounds ahead of the AHCA, yet falls short of being, ahem, what the doctor ordered when it comes to what is ailing health care in the U.S. Here are the salient points from this study of contrasts:
1. The Affordable Care Act still leaves millions of Americans without coverage.
An estimated 30 million Americans will go without health insurance by 2022 if current projections and trends hold. For a nation as affluent as the United States, that’s appalling, and this figure doesn’t even begin to consider the tens of millions who remain underinsured, and as alluded to earlier, intentionally bypass recommended medically necessary procedures because they can’t afford them, or otherwise believe they can’t. Medicare-for-all, meanwhile, offers health care for everyone, as the name implies.
2. Under the ACA, patients are not offered a full range of benefits.
In a seemingly very backward state of affairs, employers and other insurers tend to offer fewer health benefits and yet require higher co-pays and deductibles as we go along. That’s borderline insane. Under Medicare-for-all, all medical necessary services would be covered.
3. In a single-payer system, the country would save money. With what is currently in place, costs would only skyrocket.
To reiterate, with Medicare-for-all, we’d be saving about $400 billion with no net increase in health spending. Over the next ten years, if health care in America remains unchanged, costs would increase by more than $1 trillion. Trillion. Again, craziness, especially if plans offered by insurers are getting more draconian with each passing year.
4. In a single-payer system, patients would be allowed free choice of doctor and hospital. In the current system, denials and limitations of service abound, and networks continue to be restricted.
How often have you heard or experienced situations in which an individual wants to see a specialist or undergo a procedure, but that function or professional is not covered by his or her health insurance plan? Or worse, what about a situation in which a patient, unbeknownst to him or her, is attended by a doctor not included in his or insurer’s network, and is hit with a disproportionate charge on his or her bill as a consequence of this care, the likes of which may be nominal attention at best? These are all-too-common scenarios under the current health care framework, which disempowers both doctor and patient. Within a Medicare-for-all paradigm, patients would be afforded their choice of facility and physician.
5. The Affordable Care Act does not rectify inequality in costs between the wealthy and lower-to-middle classes.
Because funding for a Medicare-for-all system would be based on a progressive tax system that draws revenue from income and wealth taxes, and because premiums and out-of-pocket costs are replaced by these taxes, not only would 19 out of 20 Americans pay less than they do now, but health care administration would run more smoothly and fairly. Currently, health care costs are disproportionately paid by poorer Americans, especially those facing or suffering from acute and chronic illness. Which, honestly, if you’re surprised about, you perhaps suffer from some form of break with reality or a particular condition that yields delusions.
So, single-payer health insurance would save Americans time, money, energy, and grief. It is loads better than the American Health Care Act, and it surpasses the Affordable Care Act, a well-intentioned but structurally flawed bit of policy. Moreover, internationally, there are plenty of successful models from which to choose, including those of Australia, Canada, France, Spain, and Taiwan. A majority of Americans supports it. Why aren’t we progressing faster and further on this issue even at the state level? Well, the potential answers are manifold, but as is so frequently the case, it helps to follow the money. Indeed, understanding resistance becomes that much easier when we consider who stands to lose from the implementation of a Medicare-for-all system, or better yet, who has been profiting handsomely from today’s confusing and fragmented market. The following are some of the key players in the opposition of universal health care:
When you stop to think about it, it’s kind of a shitty thing for insurance companies to make such heavy profits on something that could very well mean life or death for the health care seeker. And yet they do, and where this revenue stream exists, you’ll usually find a voice against single-payer. Take AARP. You might think an organization devoted to the well-being and empowerment of retirees would support a program that would stand to help a population worth the advocacy and extra protection. You’d be wrong. AARP makes about a quarter of its money via UnitedHealthcare, the largest for-profit insurance company in the nation, and so its support for the Affordable Care Act is about all the Association can muster. Public insurance would almost certainly rein in the health insurance industry to a considerable extent, and to this end, the private insurance lobby has devoted a commensurately large amount of resources to try to keep it down.
Not our pharmaceutical companies, forever motivated by the highest ethical and moral standards! That’s right, kids: Big Pharma doesn’t like the idea of Americans importing prescription drugs from Canada at reduced rates, and they certainly do not like the idea of the government negotiating drug prices on behalf of the consumer and buying in bulk so as to make their products more affordable. The entrenchment of the pharmaceutical industry in our everyday lives is apparent from anyone who has watched television for, like, an hour. “Moderate to severe” illnesses. “Possible side effects” include. Shit, that you probably know what to do in case of a four-hour erection just speaks to the tight grip Big Pharma has on this country, as does your likely familiarity with who Martin Shkreli is and the absurd practice of jacking up prices of drugs like EpiPen at a moment’s notice. In the Wild West of the prescription drug market, drug makers see a no-nonsense sheriff looming in Medicare-for-all—and make no mistake, they ain’t fixin’ to stand by and let it try to restore order. No siree.
Conservatives in business and government who bank on “free-market” economics
Conservative Republicans love the theory behind the power of the free market, and hate what they perceive to be government interference in the due course of business. What has aided the GOP in their electoral aspirations and their attempts to dismantle the ACA is the American people’s own distrust of government and pursuit of wealth. As you might expect, there are serious problems with simply allowing health care to take care of itself under the premise that allowing people to make choices without the federal government interceding always leaves consumers better off. Critical to understanding this debate is realizing visions of a “free” market in health care are all but illusions. The peculiarities of this industry are such that consumers rarely possess the sort of content knowledge adequate enough to participate in an informed negotiation with the seller, be that the facility performing the requested service, the pharmaceutical company selling the drugs, the medical equipment company selling the paraphernalia, the private insurance company selling the plan, or some combination therein.
Even assuming end users can reasonably close this knowledge gap, however, there is still the matter of prices being less than transparent and subject to change, not to mention subject to variance across states and dependent on whether people/families can afford to pay. On top of all this, and perhaps most importantly, so much of health care is not based on want, but need. If you need a reasonably complicated form of treatment, or a prescription drug that is fairly expensive to manufacture, you need health insurance, or else you are paying exorbitant amounts out of pocket—and even then you might be out of luck if supply is on the short side and prices shoot up with demand. Breaking this whole situation down to its essential point, we, the consumers, have little bargaining power when it comes to trying to negotiate a fair deal, and as costs get shifted to out-of-pocket expenses, those who genuine lack the ability to pay are more frequently disadvantaged, and the companies and wealthy individuals that have a vested interest in generating profit from health care and health insurance tend to benefit. In other words, free-market principles applied to health care in the United States are fundamentally about redistribution of costs—and in a way that is pretty much guaranteed not to be in your favor.
So far, a number of states have tried to pass some form of single-payer legislation, and in the case of the state of Vermont, it actually went into effect before being repealed a few short years later. In terms of current attempts to enact a public health insurance system on a state level, perhaps the most notable examples are those of California and New York, if for no other reason than they are big states, electorally speaking. As you might expect, though, these initiatives have been targeted by more than their fair share of hit pieces and smear campaigns. In the Golden State, there are scare-tactic specials such as a piece in the Sacramento Bee entitled “The price tag on universal health care is in, and it’s bigger than California’s budget.” Which, technically, is true, but still lower than the current price tag, as author, radio host, and one-time Green Party vice presidential candidate Pat LaMarche explains. In the Empire State, meanwhile, you have the likes of Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the conservative think tank Empire Center, being given a platform by the New York Post to deride New York Democrats’ push for single-payer health care as a “lunatic” endeavor. Well, Gerald Friedman, economics professor and department chair at UMass – Amherst says the Dems’ proposed plan would not only save lives and money over time, but create some 200,000 jobs. Dude’s got a PhD, too, so suck on that, Hammond!
Noting the hurdles faced in individual states to get single-payer plans approved and sustained, maybe it’s just as well that we think bigger as a country and fully get behind Medicare-for-all health care. After all, the legislation is ready and waiting. In the House of Representatives, H.R. 676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act, was introduced by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan’s 13th District (the Fightin’ 13th!) and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce back in January. Since that time, it has also been referred to the House Ways and Means and House Natural Resources Committees, and 112 representatives have signed on as co-sponsors, a record-breaking number. As for the Senate, three guesses as to who plans to introduce a version of this bill. If you aren’t thinking about a certain senator and unabashed democratic socialist from Vermont, well, you very well may not know your ass from a hole in the ground.
Granted, in the very short term, this means little without Republican support, and to be clear, not one GOP legislator has signed on as a co-sponsor of H.R. 676. We would expect similar treatment in the Senate; if Tom Price’s confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services is any indication, Republican legislators will actively try to rig health care to the benefit of moneyed interests. This does not mean that the effort is an unworthy one, however. The more that GOP leaders push a more deeply flawed replacement (AHCA) for an already-flawed health care system (ACA), the more that people understand that single-payer national insurance exists and is effective the world over, and the more single-payer legislation is advanced on a state-by-state basis, the more momentum builds for a credible solution to our health care crisis and politicians who will rise to the challenge of meeting the needs of their constituents. Because it is a crisis. Try telling the families of the people who have died as a result of not having health insurance it’s not.
So, seriously—it’s time for Medicare-for-all/single-payer health insurance in this country. We’ve waited long enough, and in truth, we the people can’t afford to wait any longer.
After a Democratic Party primary season which saw nine debates and 13 candidate forums held, and a Republican Party campaign season which saw 12 debates and nine forums held, many Americans may be justifiably and understandably “debated out.” Half-truths and outright lies. Pandering to prospective voters along demographic lines. Constant interruptions. The rambling attempts to answer questions from the person of Dr. Ben Carson. For these reasons and more, it is no wonder people may not only become disengaged from political discourse in the weeks and months following any presidential election and into the inauguration, but may actively distance themselves from anything of a political nature. Especially if you find yourself on the liberal end of the political spectrum, the executive actions taken by President Trump and the partisan rancor which has marked the confirmation process for a number of his Cabinet nominees has made tuning in to the news these days almost somewhat of an act of masochism. Either that or you want to take out your frustrations on the nearest object. In the latter case, make sure the consistency of said object is closer to that of a pillow than, say, a brick wall.
While the nature of politics today and President Trump’s victory have helped alienate scores of Americans, others have taken recent events as a call to action and a reason to stay informed and involved. Though the workings of Congress may remain arcane to many of us, a notion buttressed by the crushing boredom of House and Senate proceedings, through News Feeds and trending topics on social media, as well as dedicated accounts whereby average citizens can interact with their elected representatives, political figures have never been more accessible than they are today. Why, I interact every day with President Trump via Twitter! OK, so maybe it’s a bit one-sided, and it consists of me Tweeting to his preferred account each time that he lost the popular vote, according to the most recent count, by 2,868,519 votes—but hey, I get to speak to him directly! (He seems very concerned with the results of the popular vote, so I figured he should be apprised of the status of the count, you know, just in case anything were to change.) It’s an exciting time in American history to be so close to those with our best interests in mind!
It is with this dichotomy that I offer the news, in the event you were unaware, that CNN aired a televised debate on the subject of health care recently, with periodic updates on social media featuring snippets of the proceedings. Wait—you’re saying—this is February 2017. We just had an election, and the 2018 mid-terms aren’t until November of next year. Why are we having a debate at this very early point in the campaign? Well, for starters, both of the participants are, in fact, running for re-election in 2018, and as a matter of fact, made it pretty darn far in the presidential race before conceding to the eventual party nominees. Besides this possible means to an end, though, the topic of conversation is an important one for Americans across income level, age level and other identifying characteristics. The subject of health care in the United States is a pressing one for individuals and businesses alike, and yet more so in the wake of the GOP’s announced plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Based on what our leaders and policymakers decide in the near future, large swaths of the population stand to be impacted one way or another, and noting the costs involved, generations to come may likewise be affected by the actions of the present. So, yeah, while we’re a way’s away from November 2018, it makes sense to have a debate now when so much is at stake.
Have I sufficiently set the scene? Even if I haven’t, let us press onward, for we have much to discuss, grasshopper.
UNITED STATES OF JOE RECAPS THE CNN HEALTH CARE DEBATE
For a weeknight debate in the campaign off-season, CNN and the powers-that-be for each “side” of the affair could have trotted out your run-of-the-mill, rank-and-file members of Congress. As it turned out, though, this debate brought the heat in the form of two heavyweight contenders in the political scene. Your, ahem, “fighters” in this bout:
In the red corner, the U.S. Senator everyone loves to hate, the Tea Partier from Texas, the Canadian-born, half-Cuban aficionado of the government shutdown, ladies and gentlemen—give it up for Rafael “The Zodiac Killer” Cruz!
Annnnnd in the blue corner, he’s an independent senator but he caucuses with the Democrats, he lives in Vermont but he’s Brooklyn through and through, he’s a fan of democratic socialism and he’s not afraid to show it—”let me be clear” who I am talking about: the one, the only, Bernard “It’s Not about Me, It’s About Our Revolution” Sanders!
Round One: The Opening Statements
Bernie Sanders was first to go in the opening segment, and per the boxing metaphor, he came out swinging. According to Sanders, the Republicans’ intended repeal of the Affordable Care Act would mean 20 million Americans finally able to have health insurance would lose it, the 10 million seniors struggling to pay for prescription drugs would see their costs go up by an average of $2,000, and people with serious diseases/illnesses could be refused insurance for having pre-existing conditions. In making these arguments, Bernie acknowledged the ACA isn’t perfect, but indicated a majority of Americans want better than a repeal without an improved replacement. Then, he dusted off his old line from the campaign trail: that the United States is the only major country on Earth not to offer health care as a fundamental right. It doesn’t make it any less true, of course, but ahem, we’ve heard this before.
Ted Cruz, when he was on for his two minutes, talked about how his colleague in the Senate and the Democrats want government to control health care, and therefore want to wrest control away from you and your family. Cruz then proceeded to engage in the GOP’s new favorite tradition—dragging the legacy of Barack Obama—specifically by alleging Obama made promises about Americans being able to keep their own plans and that families’ premiums wouldn’t rise, and didn’t keep them, and capped these arguments off by saying the election was a referendum on ObamaCare. Actually, it seemed like the election was a referendum on establishment politics in general and/or Barack Obama and “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, but sure, go nuts with that story, Ted.
Round Two: So When Exactly Do We Repeal, Again?
To start off the actual debate portion of the debate, Jake “Please Don’t Put Me on with Kellyanne Conway Again” Tapper, co-moderator of CNN’s prime-time event alongside Dana “Admit It, You’re Glad I’m Not Don Lemon, Aren’t You?” Bash, engaged Ted Cruz about a timeline for a repeal of ObamaCare. After all, Paul Ryan had said a full repeal would get done by the end of 2017, but President Trump recently suggested a repeal and replacement might not come to pass until 2018. So, wouldn’t anything less than a substantive change by the end of this year be tantamount to a broken promise? Cruz was quick to reject this assertion, though, returning to his line about recent elections between a referendum on ObamaCare, saying “the people” wanted lower deductibles and premiums and more choices, not less, when it comes to their health care providers. Don’t we all, Ted. Don’t we all. Cruz closed his thoughts on this particular question by saying we need “common-sense” reform on health care and health insurance in America (“common-sense Republican reform”—bit of an oxymoron, no?), and attacked Democrats for resisting all changes to the Affordable Care Act. It’s not necessarily true, mind you, but it plays well in sound bites and video clips.
Given the opportunity to respond, Bernie Sanders replied by saying the Republicans don’t have a credible substitute for the ACA, and accordingly, are in a state of “panic.” He was all, like, oh, you want a choice under the GOP’s plan? How about if you have cancer, then you either have affordable health care, or if you are refused coverage because you have a “pre-existing condition,” you—wait for it—die? What kind of a choice is that? OK, so he didn’t say it exactly like that per se, but he may as well have. As Sanders views things, it is the nature of private insurance that drives these no-win situations for the consumer, and in a rebuttal to the notion ObamaCare has driven up premiums, remarked that it was under the Bush administration that rates really began to soar. So chew on that for a while, you whipper-snapper!
In a rebuttal to the rebuttal, Ted Cruz pointed out that insurance companies’ profits increased during Obama’s tenure, which doesn’t really prove anything, but the correlation is there. Bernie made a counter-offer that we should just bypass the insurance companies altogether and institute a Medicare-for-all system. Cruz then pivoted to a verbal assault on Big Pharma and the cost of prescription drugs, which Sanders admittedly got baited into joining because he loves him some Big Pharma bashing. Sheesh—one question in, and this thing was already threatening to go off the rails.
Round Three: Ponder This
Round Three marked the introduction of audience member questions into the fray. The first of these came from a woman named Neosho Ponder, someone diagnosed with breast cancer and currently undergoing treatment because of ObamaCare. She wanted to know of Ted Cruz: if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, what guarantee will I have that I’ll be able to afford health insurance given my “pre-existing condition” of cancer? To which Cruz essentially was all, like, um, well, we can pray for you? Bernie Sanders first asked for Jake Tapper to “cut him a switch.” Then he proceeded to lambaste his political rival for wanting to repeal every word of the ACA without maintaining the ability to protect those with pre-existing conditions from the machinations of the insurance industry. Cruz responded by saying what about the 6 million people who lost their coverage as a result of ObamaCare? (By the way, not really close to being accurate.) Dana Bash interceded to ask him when, exactly, he planned on answering Ponder’s question. And Ted Cruz was all, like, I already did a bunch of times. And Bash was all, like, seriously, though, what about those pre-existing conditions? And Cruz then offered to do everyone in attendance a magic trick to lighten the mood. No—you’re right—he didn’t, but it would’ve been just about as effective. Because he and the Republicans can’t promise Americans like Neosho Ponder will be able to find coverage, and in the spirit of illusions, would only excel at making affordable health insurance disappear.
Round Four: The, Er, Abnormal Pap Smear Round
No one involved in the actual debate had an abnormal pap smear, whether we’re talking about the participants or the moderators. That is, that we know of. I mean, Ted Cruz could secretly be a hermaphrodite or something. Not that I’m alleging he is one, by the way. Just saying you never know. No, that revelation came from audience member Melissa Borkowski, a nurse practitioner from Florida with a husband, four kids, and, oh, just a tiny little insignificant $13,000 deductible. Bernie Sanders was asked, um, what gives, old man? Sen. Sanders replied by saying, well, Pam, we shouldn’t be paying that much, and if this were France, Germany, Scandinavia or the U.K., you wouldn’t. She-He Cruz, meanwhile, contended we pay more because we get better and more frequent care. What happens when the government controls health care is that it rations that care. So there, Bernie. Then he stuck his tongue out and made antlers with his hands to his head.
Piggybacking off Borkowski’s question and her, well, candid medical information, Jake Tapper directed a follow-up at Bernie, asking him about a state like Florida that now has less insurance choices to offer through ObamaCare and through the public exchange. How do we manage affordability for the consumer while still offering a fair number of choices? First, responding to Melissa’s question and Ted Cruz’s comments, because he’ll answer your question when he’s good and ready, Mr. Tapper!, Bernie Sanders noted that when people can’t afford health insurance and proper health care, that is effectively a form of rationing as well. The solution, as Sanders sees it, is to, as an extension of a Medicare-for-all single-payer program, provide a public option in all 50 states and offer the kind of competition needed against the private sector. Ted Cruz, in his reply, brought a visual aid in the form of a map of this insurance coverage—or lack thereof—and criticized the public option as the government controlling your health care, also known as—gasp!—socialism. Besides, as much as Sen. Sanders might extol the public option, what about all those Canadians and Scandinavians who come to the United States for superior health care?
Quick to jump back in, Bernie refuted the notion that the government option was the government telling people what to do. After all, it’s an option, not a mandate. Regardless, you don’t see leaders of these countries that offer the public option, even the conservative ones, choosing to get rid of this avenue for insurance. Mr. Zodiac Killer, in response, threw out some horror stories about rationing and waiting periods for patients as a justification for why there shouldn’t be a public option or even a Medicare-for-all program. Bernie, however, wasn’t having any of it, and threw out not his own horror stories, but rather an estimate that tens of thousands of Americans die each year because they don’t seek medical treatment, or as Big Pharma would refer to it within the context of possible side effects for prescription drugs, there are tens of thousands of “fatal events.” Ooh—Bernie Sanders with the haymaker, right before the commercial break!
Round Five: Help Me, LaRonda!
Actually, it was LaRonda who needs the help, although, unfortunately for her, she probably was never going to a satisfactory answer from either debater. The question, first directed at Sen. Sanders, was posed by LaRonda Hunter, an owner of five Fantastic Sams hair salons who would like to expand and hire more employees, but this would put her over the 50-employee threshold, and under ObamaCare, she would need to start providing health insurance to her employees. So, how could she meet this regulatory requirement and grow her business without raising prices or lowering wages? (Side note: I have never heard of Fantastic Sams, but evidently, they have locations all over the damn place. They also evidently don’t like using apostrophes. I mean, it should be “Fantastic Sam’s,” right? Unless the founder has the last name Sams? Either way, their distinction of being “fantastic” seems suspect.) And Bernie was all, like, well, Ronda. And Ms. Hunter replied, it’s LaRonda. And Sanders was all, like, dammit, you people have to stop changing your names on me! As to your question, though, um, you don’t? That is, if you have that many employees, they should be getting health insurance. Sen. Ted Cruz, given the floor, took the opportunity to portray ObamaCare as the nemesis of small business, and identified two piteous classes of people created by the Affordable Care Act. The first is the 29ers, those forced to work part-time jobs because ObamaCare kicks in at 30 hours a week. The other is the 49ers, who suffer the plight of being a terrible football franchise. Kidding—sort of! The 49ers, in Cruz’s context, are people like LaRonda Hunter that stop short of hiring 50 employees or else be subject to needing to meet the insurance requirement under the ACA. So, thanks, Democrats, thanks, Barack Obama—this is the Hell you’ve wrought in the United States of America.
Bernie Sanders, of course, was not about to take this line of thinking from Sen. Cruz lying down. On the contrary, he made a few key points. First, he acknowledged that premiums are way too high, but again, they’ve been on the incline since the days of Dubya. Second, Sanders explained that there are actually fewer part-time workers now than there were before the passage of the ACA. Third, and reiterating his point from earlier, from the campaign trail, and from much of his adult life, the U.S. should enact a Medicare-for-all program—that is, unless Ted Cruz and the Republicans don’t kill it off first. Ooh—a body blow from the people’s champ! Cruz hadn’t lost his fighting spirit either, however. He asked his competitor, you know, Bernie, President Obama said premiums would go down. Wasn’t he a liar-liar-pants-on-fire? Ouch—a right hook from the challenger of his own!
The older fighter, though, proved he can still take a punch. Bernie conceded it turned out that Obama’s promise turned out not to be true, though he probably thought it was true at the time. (Second side note: if we’re calling Barack Obama a liar on this front, what does that make Donald Trump, who has already unrepentantly broken scores of campaign promises in less than a month on the job? Oh, that’s right—that would make Trump a “fraud.”) At any rate, the only way a scenario like LaRonda Hunter’s would work, he reasoned, is if we cut through the administration and bureaucracy and guarantee health care for all. Cruz, perhaps surprisingly, agreed. There’s too much paperwork. It’s all the government’s fault. Sanders replied, wait a second, Mr. Looks Like the Lead Singer of Stryper—government is part of the reason, but so are insurance companies. Sen. Cruz, once more, agreed, saying they should agree on some sort of alternative. Sen. Sanders, putting his hand to his face and shaking his head back and forth, was all, like, I’ve already said it, like, five times—Medicare-for-all, single-payer. What, do you not believe health care is a right? And Ted Cruz was all, like, I like rights. Religious freedom, that’s a good one. The Second Amendment—I enjoy that one as well. Bernie Sanders was, at this point, growing tired of his rival’s rope-a-dope. The ensuing dialog went a little something like this, and I’m paraphrasing, obviously:
BERNIE: Do you believe health care is a right?
TED CRUZ: I believe access to health care is a right.
BERNIE: WHAT THE HELL GOOD IS “ACCESS” IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT? THERE’D BE 20 MILLION MORE PEOPLE WITHOUT INSURANCE IF NOT FOR OBAMACARE! AM I SPEAKING ANOTHER LANGUAGE HERE?
Damn, Bernie! Don’t hurt him! Ted Cruz, in this round, may just have been saved by the bell, er, commercial break.
Round Six: The “Congratulations on Your MS” Round
The next audience question from the debate came from the person of Carol Hardaway, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Because her state did not expand Medicaid coverage under the ACA (and what state is that? Hint: it rhymes with “Shmexas”!), she was forced to move to one that did in Maryland. So, if the Affordable Care Act is to be repealed, can she still have her coverage or a replacement that is at least on par with it? Ted Cruz, in his response, first said this—and I wish I was making this up:
Well, Carol, thank you for sharing your story. And congratulations on dealing with MS. It’s a terrible disease. And congratulations on your struggles dealing with it.
As I often do with these debates, I follow people’s comments on Twitter as they air live, and after this line from Cruz, the immediate response from most of the users was, “Wait—did this guy just f**king congratulate her on having MS?” Yes, he f**king did. This is the problem Ted Cruz faces when he has to express an actual human emotion: it often comes across as extremely awkward. When he was done applauding Ms. Hardaway for having a debilitating illness, Sen. Cruz then basically said, gee, I’m glad Medicaid is working for you, but it’s a terrible program and should be replaced with private insurance. Bernie Sanders, in rebuttal, once more conceded Medicaid, like the ACA, is not perfect, but for those governors who have refused federal funds on principle, he hopes they can sleep at night knowing some of their constituents probably died as a result of refusing the Medicaid expansion. Cruz fired back by saying Medicaid is rationed care. Sanders replied by saying that slashing funding for Medicaid is only making things worse, and what’s more, this fabled access to quality health care that the Republicans and others tout is lacking in urban and rural areas, begging the expansion of programs like the National Health Service Corps to help meet the needs of the primary care crisis.
Throughout all of this, meanwhile, Carol Hardaway’s question remained unanswered, such that Jake Tapper actually cut in to let her speak again when he noticed her shaking her head because Ted Cruz did not adequately address her concerns. Given the chance to respond, Sen. Cruz professed that there is “widespread agreement” on replacement plans, and cited three hallmarks of something that would theoretically fill the void of ObamaCare if it were repealed: 1) allowing Americans to purchase plans across state lines, 2) expanding health savings accounts (HSAs), and 3) making health insurance portable so it travels with you from job to job. He also cited his home state’s passage of tort reform laws to address lawsuit abuse and medical malpractice suits. Some notes on these “widely agreeable” solutions:
Across-state plans sound good in theory, but the primary obstacle, as this New York Times piece written by Margot Sanger-Katz details, is not regulatory, but financial and of insurer network difficulties. Insurers don’t like them, by and large, and besides, the states like to regulate these matters themselves. Not to mention it takes time to establish relationships between insurance companies and health care providers. In other words, it’s not that simple, Ted.
HSAs offer possible advantages in that plans with lower premiums but higher deductibles may cause people to be more cognizant of what they’re spending. However, a potential drawback is that consumers may not be willing to seek out more expensive procedures—even when they really need them. It’s a disturbing thought, but a reality of these types of accounts.
Portable health insurance is, in theory, a great idea. In practice, though, logistical difficulties often loom herein related to an inability to find comparable plans when changing insurers, or otherwise failure by the insured to adequately suss out whether a plan is truly beneficial to them. At any rate, the big picture issue would seem to be keeping insurance costs low regardless of insurer, and this seems to be at odds with how many health insurance giants operate. As quick as Sen. Cruz and others are to point to “big government,” the insurance industry bears as much, if not more, responsibility.
Ted Cruz touts his state’s commitment to tort reform as a success, but studies suggest that health care costs did not decrease as a result of Prop 12, which passed in Texas in 2003 and was advocated for by Gov. Rick Perry and other GOP members within the state. Often, malpractice suits and the costs of litigation are blamed for the rising cost of medical care, but it is the economics of the health care industry and errors which primarily drive the upward trend. Moreover, capping the possible damages for victims of malpractice risks denying them the monies they need, or otherwise shifting the burden to programs like Medicare and Medicaid. You know, the same programs Republicans are trying to gut. But, go ahead, Senator Cruz—pat yourself on the back.
The “round” concluded with Sanders pointing out that Texas has the highest rate of uninsured residents by far—and in the process, casually dropping the notion his state, Vermont, has the second-lowest rate of insured in the nation—and Cruz defending the Lone Star State as a job producer and drastically more diverse than Vermont. Then Sanders said Cruz was ugly. Then Cruz said Sanders’ accent is stupid. If Jake Tapper didn’t intercede, the two senators might literally have gotten into a slap fight—forget my boxing analogy. Oh, it was so on now!
Round Seven: Womanhood—The Pre-existing Condition
On the debate pressed. Next to pose a query was Maria Shahid Rowe, a nursing student at the Medical University of North Carolina, pregnant with her second child, who wanted to know of Ted Cruz what any plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act would mean for pregnant women, who were at risk of being dropped before ObamaCare passed due to being considered to have a pre-existing condition, or for women in general for that matter, in that they could be charged higher premiums than men. Cruz went on for a while, eventually settling on the issue of mandated coverage for ObamaCare, such as the example of a 101-year-old being forced to have maternity coverage. Sanders was more succinct in his reply, and translating for his colleague in the Senate, explained the Republican Party could make no such guarantees. Cruz, in his follow-up, threw out a lot of stats about how young people, in particular, have been hurt by ObamaCare. They could be true. Then again, they could be misleading or just made up. Suffice it to say, though, that despite the myth-making of Republicans about the ACA, many millennials have actually been able to better afford health insurance as a result of subsidies, or have been protected against unexpected events such as getting laid off by virtue of the provision that allows them to stay on their parents’ plans until the age of 26. If nothing else, this muddies the proverbial waters on Ted Cruz’s “facts.” Man, does that guy love “facts.”
Dana Bash stepped in at this point to redirect the conversation a bit. First, she circled back to the notion of women over the age of 60, and asked Bernie Sanders whether or not he believed they should be paying for maternity coverage. Sanders acknowledged it was a problem, but something that could be looked at going forward, before stressing the idea that pregnancy should not be considered a pre-existing condition. Bash then turned to Ted Cruz, and inquired whether or not a replacement for the Affordable Care Act would maintain the provision that women do not have to pay out-of-pocket for birth control. Uh-oh, Ted—it’s a question with religious undertones! Sen. Cruz stuck to his playbook, assailing government mandates, and making some weird analogy about driving a Lamborghini. Sen. Sanders, in his answer, while questioning the merits of the fancy car metaphor (“I think it’s a bit disingenuous to talk about driving a fancy car with getting access to healthcare when you’re sick”) raised perhaps the most significant point: that the GOP has incentive to repeal the ACA to give the top 2% sizable tax breaks, much as they would abolish the estate tax. Then Cruz started talking about a flat tax, and once more, the debate threatened to go off the rails. Jake Tapper really couldn’t have called for a commercial break any sooner than he did.
Round Eight: Possible Side Effects of Listening to Ted Cruz Include Nausea and Suicidal Thoughts
With the final audience question of the night, Colorado resident Cole Gelrod, whose daughter was diagnosed with a heart defect and who can’t pay for her prescription drugs with his employer-provided insurance, but can do so under the auspices of ObamaCare and his state’s Medicaid expansion, asked Ted Cruz what the plan was to address the rising cost of prescription drugs and how to deal with insurance plans in which companies can choose not to cover life-saving drugs. Sen. Cruz basically said it’s the FDA’s fault, because these drugs are getting approved in other countries. Ted Cruz should just make his motto, “When in doubt, blame the government.” Bernie Sanders, while he agreed with his colleague to the extent that FDA-approved drugs should be affordable and available to Americans to re-import at cheaper rates, and vowed to re-introduce legislation to facilitate this function, also said we as a nation should be negotiating lower prices through Medicare. Cruz once again—wait for it—blamed the government. Sanders—wait for it—blamed pharmaceutical companies and corporate greed, and professed the belief that these corporations and exorbitant executive pay should be reined in. Sen. Cruz was all, like, well, I don’t think the government should dictating who gets paid what. This is America, not some socialist nation. Sen. Sanders was all, like, you know, places like Denmark, Finland and Sweden aren’t that bad. Even if they do put pickled herring in mustard sauce.
Dana Bash then broke out an air horn and pressed it loudly for several seconds before redirecting the two debaters to the subject of taxes, whereupon she asked Bernie, if he is opposed to taxes going up on the middle class, why should those individuals and families who go without some form of health insurance be subject to a tax penalty? Bernie was all, like, well, they shouldn’t. The rich should be paying more, but in the meantime, we have to try to get needed revenue for benefits somehow. Ted Cruz was then all, like, well, if you don’t like the tax penalty, why did you help write ObamaCare? Your health care plan is going to cost us trillions of dollars. And Bernie Sanders was all, like, yeah, well, your tax plan gives the top 1% most of the benefits, as does doing away with the estate tax. Now, if we were to enact the Sanders plan—
And that’s when CNN cut to commercial to fulfill its obligation to its corporate overlords. Buy more cars! And more prescription drugs! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!?
Round Nine: Closing Statements
I’m going to breeze through this final section, because I’m sure by now you know where each of the debaters are headed. Sen. Bernie Sanders sees major problems in Congress being beholden to the wants of the insurance, medical equipment, and pharmaceutical industries, and the United States being the wealthiest nation in the world and lagging behind other developed nations with respect to health care. Sen. Ted Cruz sees ObamaCare as a failure as evidenced by high premiums and deductibles, canceled insurance policies, and lies, lies, lies! from Barack Obama, and wonders why we would give yet more power to government to mediate health care. That’s basically all you need to know from this exercise. Oh, and DON’T F**KING CONGRATULATE SOMEONE WITH MS! I’M TALKING TO YOU, TED CRUZ!
And the winner was? CNN? Listen—who you think “won” the debate probably depends on whose point of view most closely resembles your own. To that end, I’m not all that interested. I personally think Bernie Sanders made the more compelling arguments, but as a self-identifying progressive, I naturally would. Others watching or reading the transcript might believe Ted Cruz mopped the floor with the senator from Vermont, and furthermore, that Democrats are bringing down this country. Seemingly more and more these days, Americans, buoyed by the news they absorb through cable news channels and social media echo chambers, hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. Still, that so many people are engaged on these issues and others even after the election signals to me that Americans are understanding the importance of continued involvement with political news, if not the merits of volunteering in campaigns or running for public office themselves. Accordingly, I hope events of this sort are scheduled in the future. Maybe a debate on commercial banking regulation between Elizabeth Warren and Steve Mnuchin, or, say, a debate on education practices between Betsy DeVos, and—I don’t know—a freaking fifth-grader. Average Americans should have a way to be exposed to the major parties’ stances on a variety of issues in a highly accessible, comprehensible way.
It’s the dawning of a new age in U.S. politics. More power to the people, I say! And more debates! You know, provided they don’t involve Don Lemon.