April 2, 2020

Shadow Grasping

By Stephen Tuttle | Aug. 17, 2019

The quadrennial invasion of presidential candidates is now fully upon Iowa. It's the Democrats this year, nearly two dozen strong, and all of them in a hurry; there is much to do.
The Iowa caucuses, frighteningly, are less than six months away. And no Democratic candidate has ever been nominated after finishing worse than third in Iowa. 
There are mandatory campaign stops; county fairs, picnics, barbecues, farms, diners and backyard cookouts. The candidates will be eating plenty of corn, pork, beef, and deep-fried anything at the fairs, a challenge for a vegan like Corey Booker. They will recite versions of their stump speech dozens, if not hundreds, of times.
Their goal is to somehow distinguish themselves from others who have proposals at least similar to their own. And they have proposals aplenty.
There's the Green New Deal, “Medicare for All,” forgiveness of student loan debt, free tuition at community colleges and public universities, free universal daycare, a $15/hour national minimum wage among others. Every candidate proposes some version of most of it from Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are all-in on all of it, to those considerably less so.
If it all sounds plenty expensive, it is, and new taxes on rich people is the funding source
of choice. Suggestions have ranged from a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent to new taxes on investment income. Warren even suggests a “wealth tax,” in which people whose net worth exceeds a certain threshold must pay a percentage of their overall wealth. And what if rich people decide to flee the country for more tax-friendly climes? Warren has a plan for that, too; a 40 percent “exit” tax.
Plenty of plans, issues, and policy statements. It's not clear it matters to every potential Democratic voter. Iowa Democrats are already split into two fairly distinct camps, and their priorities are a bit different.
The first and larger group is looking for one thing only: a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump. Their take on policy differences is that any Democrat's plan is fine as long as that candidate can win. Whether it's Warren, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, or anybody else is irrelevant. 
The second group is made up of progressive absolutists who truly believe we need pretty much every program being proposed. They are very concerned about the purity of a candidate's positions and unpleasantly intolerant of alternative views. They don't much like compromise — though they likely would begrudgingly support a Democrat other than their chosen candidate.
Lost in all the attention to the presidential race is a looming problem that would render every Democrat's platform worthless. If a Democrat defeats Donald Trump but Republicans retain the Senate, or lose the Senate but regain the House, no plan we've now heard from any Democrat will ever move a millimeter.
There are 34 senate seats up for grabs in 2020, including a special election in Arizona. Republicans hold 22 of those seats, of which 10 are considered safe. Democrats will have to hold their 12 seats (unlikely, given one of them is in Alabama) and flip three Republican-held seats.   
If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is reelected and Republicans keep the Senate, he has already flatly said he won't even assign any of the Democratic proposals to committee, much less hold hearings.
National Democrats, enamored with the current polls and their chances to regain the White House, are becoming lost in the trees and unable to see the forest. While the candidates joust and inexplicably criticize Barack Obama, the better prize is little mentioned.
(The candidates should do a little research: Compare the dire condition the country's economy was in when Obama took office in January 2009 and the condition it was in when he left in January 2017.)
Democrats' focus should be the House and Senate races. Given that Donald Trump is the sworn enemy of Democrats and must be stopped, gaining control of both houses of Congress is the best avenue to do that. It would give them the power to block judicial appointments, cabinet nominations, budget items, and perhaps even some executive orders. And they could conduct all manner of investigations, which seems to be what they like doing best.
It would make for a very contentious couple of years with plenty of presidential vetoes and tweets. It might not work at all. But a Democratic president and a Republican Senate doesn't work any better in the current political environment.
For many Democrats and Independents, getting rid of Donald Trump is the primary objective, regardless of what happens with Congress. That's a mistake. Congress is the Trump roadblock they seek.
Aesop, the fabulist, said, “Beware lest you miss the substance by grasping at the shadow.” Democrats seem intent on shadow grasping while the substance slips through their hands.


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