April 2, 2020

The Circus is Coming

Spectator
By Stephen Tuttle | Feb. 22, 2020

We're two caucuses and a primary deep into the Democratic primary circus. This might be a good time to review the frontrunners.

Let's start on the left. No, farther left. Keep going, and you'll eventually arrive at Sen. Bernie Sanders.  

Sanders describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist,” an oxymoron of the highest order. He ran in 2016 and has not stopped since, cobbling together a coalition of young idealists and lower-income working folks to build a vast and committed organization. 

The Sanders' platform is quite unlike that of any major presidential candidate in the past. He calls for universal healthcare (“Medicare For All”), universal daycare, paid parental and medical leave for at least 12 weeks, tuition-free community and state colleges, forgiveness of all current student tuition debt, a $15/hour national minimum wage, significant tax increases for wealthy individuals and corporations, legalization of marijuana, reduced defense spending, and conversion to all renewable energy by 2030 with the so-called Green New Deal.  

The downside of the Sanders agenda, aside from the practical and political impossibility of it, is cost. Estimates of the increased spending required are in the $3.5–$4 trillion a year range.   

Senator Elizabeth Warren supports most of the same ideas but has recently backed off slightly on the timing. Unlike Sanders, she seemed to have had an epiphany, realizing this could not all be done at once.  

Still, her plan would also add trillions to the annual budget. More troubling for her is that Sanders has successfully pulled supporters from her camp to his. There might not be room for two candidates on the far left.  

There is scant evidence, or none, that their positions represent the majority of Democratic voters though their supporters are certainly the loudest. And members of Congress elected in traditionally Republican districts or bright red states would be unable to enthusiastically support a platform their constituents do not.

Wandering back toward the middle is everyone else, and their platforms are all quite similar. All support a $15/hour minimum wage and an expansion of Medicare and/or the Affordable Care Act, while opposing oil and gas drilling on federal land and offshore. Each would like to impose a carbon emission tax and support negotiated Medicare drug prices, citizenship for Dreamers (those brought here illegally as children), and the increase of corporate taxes — but not to 2017 levels (corporate taxes were at 35 percent, but President Trump and Congress lowered them to 21 percent.) They would reassess defense spending and require universal background checks for gun purchasers.  

Pete Buttigieg would eliminate for-profit charter schools, Senator Amy Klobuchar wants to eliminate the Electoral College, Joe Biden would eliminate private prisons and pay for infrastructure with increased taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and Michael Bloomberg, who has not yet appeared on a ballot but is surging in the polls, would outlaw assault weapons. Those positions are not necessarily unique to those candidates but have been emphasized by them during the campaign.  

What differentiates any of them? What is their downside?

Buttigieg is likely the smartest of the bunch, a Rhodes scholar who speaks eight languages and is a crisp debater. But he's also the least experienced of the group, having served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. More troubling for him, according to a recent Gallup poll: Only 75 percent of voters indicated they would be willing to vote for a gay candidate.  

Klobuchar has been an effective senator representing Minnesota and shone in the final New Hampshire debate, which moved her from a single-digit candidate to the upper tier. But her time as a prosecutor included a lot of tough-on-crime activity — recommending tougher sentences, like jail or prison, for non-violent misdemeanors, including truancy — that resonates far less well in an era of criminal justice reform than it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is self-financing his campaign and generously so. He is the strongest gun control advocate in the group and the only candidate who has actually taken steps to accomplish that. He has a track record administering a major economy and creating jobs. But his support for stop-and-frisk policies (he eventually disavowed), which were eventually determined to be unconstitutional racial profiling, is a problem.  

Biden is, by far, the most experienced candidate and the one most likely able to work on both sides of the political aisle. But his campaign has been a mess and one or both of his feet too often end up in his mouth.  

Moderate Democrats believe Sanders is unelectable in a general election and will cost the party their majority in the House and more Senate seats. Progressives believe they are the new wave of the party, dismissing moderates as “corporate Democrats.” 

On Tuesday, March 10, Michiganders will have our chance to choose. If you're a Democrat, picking the candidate who can beat Donald Trump should outweigh any philosophical differences.  

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