It’s a source of innovative policy proposals that are vetted
With so many candidates having declared their intention to run for the Democratic Presidential nomination, tonight will be the first of two packed nights of debate. Even with two ten-person debates, there are still a number of viable candidates who did not qualify to participate, including one Governor, one member of Congress, and a Mayor.
There is no doubt that this is a big, impressive field. There are two Rhodes Scholars, Pete Buttitieg and Cory Booker, and two candidates who have never run for office, Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. There are at least three combat veterans, Joe Sestak, Seth Moulton and Pete Buttitieg. There are even a number of states with multiple candidates running, including Massachussets, with Elizabeth Warren and Seth Moulton, Colorado, with John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennett, Texas, with Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke, New York, with Kirsten Gillibrand and Bill de Blasio, and of course California, with Kamala Harris and Eric Swalwell. I’m probably missing some.
The result has been the predictable hand-wringing by some of the talking heads that this field is too big and that it will damage the party’s chances. Just today, in New York Times Opinion, political scientist Larry Bartels called for the party leaders to have a greater impact upon picking the eventual nominee — something that we have been moving away ever since the smoke-filled rooms of the middle of the last century.
To me, there are two big advantages to having a competitive primary. Remember that the last two times a Democrat won the White House, Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 1992, were the product of vigorous primaries. Obama fought Hillary Clinton until the bitter end, eventually beating her by a relatively small margin.
And Bill Clinton fought off a field of seven other candidates, five of whom mounted aggressive campaigns and one of whom, Paul Tsongas, actually beat Clinton in New Hampshire, almost denying him the nomination. Clinton didn’t actually win a primary until Georgia — the fifth contest in the season. Really, he didn’t emerge as the favorite until Super Tuesday.
The point of this is that when Democratic candidates emerge from tough primary fights, they are not damaged goods, they are battle tested.
When there are multiple choices competing, the weaker candidates are shown for who they are. That’s why Obama beat Clinton in 2008. Indeed, it’s unfortunate we didn’t have a more competitive primary in 2016. If so, Clinton’s weakness might have become more evident.
The second way competitive primaries are positive for the party is because it brings new policy ideas to the fore, and those ideas are vetted through an intense process. Believe me, if a candidate has a bad idea, its weakness becomes evident very quickly as a result of the klieg lights on the campaign trail.
In this primary season, three candidates are really emerging as the candidates of substance. Each have offered policy proposals that really deserve some attention, and might form the basis for an aggressive agenda starting in 2021 (hopefully!).
The next President is going to have an economic mess to clean up
Trump does deserve credit for the economy… now that it’s starting to go south
Elizabeth Warren has gotten a lot of attention with her various policy proposals. Perhaps the most intriguing, as far as I’m concerned, is her proposal for subsidized childcare financed by a wealth tax. To be sure, enforcing a wealth tax will be a challenge, especially given the ability of the wealthy to move assets, and it has not been successful in other countries.
But the United States is not like other countries. Given our wealth and power, it would be difficult if not impossible for the superrich to completely hide their assets or keep them overseas. And early childhood care and education is one of the most successful programs where it has been attempted, both in terms of making it possible for women to work and thus contribute to the economy, and in positive outcomes for the children.
Cory Booker has a way of turning himself into a caricature with his over-the-top theatrics — remember “I am Spartacus” during the Kavanaugh hearings? But he is actually a real candidate of substance. His idea of “baby bonds,” essentially giving bond accounts to all children upon birth, and increasing the amount for the underprivileged, has been shown to be amazingly successful elsewhere. It has real promise of revitalizing entrepreneurship and evening out inequality.
Finally, Andrew Yang has become best known for his proposal for a universal basic income of $1000 per month. I sympathize with his argument regarding disappearing jobs and the weak American safety net, but as a successful entrepreneur it seems to go against the grain. I think there are better ways to improve the safety net without simply writing every American a check.
Nevertheless, he does have a number of other practical ideas that really deserve some attention. For example, we could revitalize the non-profit sector by issuing $100 charitable donation vouchers to all Americans. His aggressive approach to infrastructure is really what is needed, and his idea to move federal agencies out of Washington actually has a lot of merit.
Finally, he is very realistic about politics in proposing the return of earmarks. Although they have gotten a bad name, they are a way members of Congress can make sure issues that are important to them get attention. And in so doing, it generates more support for infrastructure renewal, which is desperately needed.
Please let me know in the comments if you think there are ideas from other candidates that deserve merit!
I know this post will generate a lot of comments from other candidates’ supporters arguing that I missed some other important policy proposal. I welcome those comments. But that expectation, in and of itself, shows how much a large contested primary contributes to the policy discussion among Democrats.
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