I am a skeptical liberal. I agree with Democrats who say that President Donald Trump is uncouth, unhinged, unfit and untethered to the truth. But I also recoil at their absolute certitude that Trump cannot – and therefore will not – be re-elected.
Trump will never be my guy, but as I listen to the Democratic candidates, especially those on the left, I see them playing to the loudest faction of the party, not the more moderate voices.
Revisionist history may abound these days, but one fact can’t be challenged: Since 1900, incumbents have run in 20 presidential elections and won 15 of them. Most notable was Harry Truman, who won in 1948 despite a splintered Democratic Party on both the left (Henry Wallace) and the right (Strom Thurmond) and a squeaky clean Republican nominee in Thomas Dewey.
All Democrats can unite in denunciations of Trump’s behavior. But I think many, like me, are unsettled by the ideology of the Democratic left (The Squad, the Democratic Socialists and presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) and bristle at the theological tone that there is no other way to the promised land but through them.
Consider these three prime issues of the Sanders and Warren campaigns: Medicare for All, free public universities and forgiveness of student debt.
Medicare for All. The signature accomplishment of the Obama administration was the Affordable Care Act. It has since been eviscerated by the Trump administration. But rather than repairing it, this proposal replaces it with a single-payer system that under a bill by Sanders would require everyone, including an estimated 150 million people now on private insurance plans, to switch to it.
In a country born out of distrust for government, the debate about a massive new program should include healthy skepticism about new taxes and a growing budget deficit and national debt.
It’s a noble idea in the eternal search for an effective national health care policy, and one that has 14 cosponsors of Sanders’ bill in the Senate and 119 sponsors of the corresponding bill in the House. (All are Democrats.) It proposes to cover every American; replace private health insurance; eliminate deductibles; add dental, vision and mental-health coverage, and pick up out-of-pocket costs, except for drug co-pays.
The sticking point is that no one can agree on what it would cost. Sanders estimates $1.38 trillion a year over 10 years. Charles Blahous of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University predicts $32.6 trillion over 10 years. The New York Times puts the cost in the most understandable context: Individuals and employers now pay nearly half of the total cost of medical care in the United States. Nearly all of that would be transferred to the federal government under Medicare for All. Sanders says that a variety of payroll and income taxes would pay for the program.
In a country born out of distrust for government, the debate about a massive new program should include healthy skepticism about new taxes and a growing budget deficit and national debt. Instead, Sanders and Warren belittle such concerns for “using Republican talking points.”
Free public universities and student loan forgiveness. Sanders’ “Colleges for All” bill would end tuition at public universities. The federal government would pay 67 percent of the costs and the states, 33 percent. His debt-cancellation proposal would wipe out $1.6 trillion in student loan debt made through the federal government. His estimated cost for both programs is $2.2 trillion, which he says would be funded through a new tax on Wall Street transactions.
Under Warren’s proposal, the states and federal government would share the costs of free public universities. Her loan forgiveness program differs from Sanders’ in that it would forgive up to $50,000 in student-loan debt for everyone with a household income below $100,000. Borrowers making between $100,000 and $250,000 would have a portion of their debt forgiven. She would pay for this with an “Ultra-Millionaire Tax,” a 2 percent annual levy on the 50,000 American families with a net worth of at least $75 million.
If people wonder why some Americans support Trump, these proposals offer a good reason. Imagine the high school kid who has been told that college is the path to financial security but instead chooses to learn a trade and go to work. He or she soon becomes a wage earner while an old classmate is going to a state university on a federal student loan. Four to six years later, the classmate graduates with a debt of $40,000. Then the loan is forgiven. The same scenario can be applied to people who worked during and after college and retired their loan. Ask whom government is serving here?
Sanders, Warren and others on the Democratic left have both a convenient whipping boy and a tax source in the very wealthy. The candidates bring audiences to their feet with mention of the billionaire class, profiteers and the one-percenters. When asked how their proposals will be funded, their ready reply is “We’re the richest nation in the history of the world.” In the next, breath, however, they will condemn the influence of big money in elections and call for campaign finance reform.
Should they be surprised, then, when the ultra-millionaires decide that they would rather donate to sympathetic legislators than to the IRS?
Yes, I would vote against Trump, but I also want to have a good feeling about the person and party I am voting for.
Bob Martin is a retired Philadelphia Inquirer writer and editor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.