The cowboy humorist Will Rogers famously said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party . . . I’m a Democrat.”
I celebrated Will’s 140th birthday recently by remembering that my dad like to quote him saying things like: “A politician is not as narrow-minded as he forces himself to be.” Or this classic: “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously, and the politicians as a joke, when it used to be vice versa.”
Which brings us to the absurdity of modern American politics, an unprecedentedly divisive president and those who would replace him.
Donald Trump has, as one-time GOP strategist and John McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt said recently, “completely remade the American presidency through his debasements of its traditions.” Trump is the first president in any of our lifetimes who has consistently sought “to incite and divide as opposed to unifying around core principles.”
Yet, Trump is betting that he can avoid, despite ever mounting evidence of abuse of power, being forced from office and that he can again thread the Electoral College needle next year, while losing the popular vote. Trump’s only path to victory is to become ever more shrill and demagogic in bashing his opponents. “Our radical Democrat opponents,” Trump said recently, “are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage. They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”
That is palpable nonsense, but it’s all he has. Donald Trump wants the coming election to be about anything but him and Democrats will make a historic – hopefully not also tragic – mistake if they allow the election to be anything but a referendum on Trump and his presidency.
Yet, Democrats like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are playing directly into Trump’s small hands with their own crazy divisiveness. It comes in a vastly expensive and vastly controversial “Medicare for All” plan. Trump will re-brand this as “socialism” in a New York minute.
Every American with the possible exception of a few hospital administrators, medical device manufactures, insurance company CEOs or orthopedic surgeons knows that our “system” of health care is an ultra-expensive joke. We spend more money for worse outcomes than almost any other developed country. Yet our political leaders go into partisan lock down mode to prevent sensible efforts that could make things better. Mitt Romney once proudly embraced – you can look it up – what essentially became Obamacare, but when Romney’s reforms became identified with a Democrat open political warfare ensued. And Republicans effectively conceded the entire issue to Democrats.
Remember Trump promised, “I am going to take care of everybody … Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” Right. The only policy the GOP has is repeal of Obamacare and they haven’t done that.
So with all this running room to maneuver on a fundamentally important issue for millions of Americans Democrats are debating who can raise taxes the most to fund “Medicare for All.” The plan is not only unrealistic because it can’t been enacted, but also because it cedes the health care issue to a president who can’t remotely articulate a true policy but can say “socialism.”
It turns out that the worst president in modern times, even one who is a narcissistic sociopath, will beat a socialist every time.
Meanwhile, Democrats are focused on macro contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, two of the least representative states in the nation, as the means of winnowing their gang of potential candidates.
Jimmy Carter, who most Americans now regard as a not particularly skillful president, but a remarkable former president, needs to share some of the blame for why we place such outsized importance on Iowa. Democratic presidential candidates who couldn’t find Dubuque on a map two years ago can now not only locate the river town on the Mississippi but also name the local party chair in Osceola County, population 6,040.
Former vice president Walter Mondale once disavowed any presidential ambitions – it was fake news – when he said, “Life is too short to be spent in Holiday Inns,” but that’s what you do in Iowa.
Until Carter in 1976 made the curious, which is say insane Iowa caucus process central to selecting presidential nominees the quaint local tradition was, well, a quaint local tradition. Now the political universe turns on the latest Iowa Poll and whether Biden is slipping or Mayor Pete surging.
I like Iowa. I worked there years ago at a small radio station where I interviewed Rosalyn Carter late in 1975. But I’m still not sure a few thousand people gathered at a school gymnasium in Waukon or at a Lutheran Church in Corning is the best method to select the next Democratic candidate who has a minor charge: save the country.
For one thing the logistics of getting people out from in front of the television on a Monday night in February in Iowa is a daunting challenge. As one organizer recently told the Des Moines Register, “It’s like … trying to plan a wedding reception at the same time at 86 locations and you don’t know who’s going to show up.”
No sane political party – at least no organized one – would select candidates this way. And no organized party confronted with one overriding objective in less than a year would flirt with let alone adopt some of the positions Democrats are espousing.
“Medicare for All” may be the undoing of some Democratic primary candidates and, if so, they deserve the undoing. Come on, Iowa!
Democrats, at least some of them, seem to have forgotten that they don’t need a policy prescription for every single issue confronting the world. They just need to not scare a lot of Americans who are dog-tired of Trumpian nonsense and incompetence and are looking for a change, but not a scary change.
Democrats need to remember their task is to defeat a historically unpopular president by realistic appeals to women, young people and Latino and African-American voters who are repulsed by Trump’s chaos, lying and corruption. The old white guy crowd is lost to Democrats, but the right Democrat can appeal to the remaining genuine swing voters who will take a dim view of a plan that eradicates 150 million private health insurance plans and raises taxes to do it.