The Silenced Majority
In virtually every American election, especially at the state and federal level, Democrats must endure endless rounds of media speculation about whether they have moved too far to the left as to be somehow deemed “unelectable”. It really makes no difference what issues Democrats run on, there will always be a question of whether those positions are just too “liberal” for the general electorate and it is a certified guarantee that Republicans will always try to portray them that way. In the run-up to the 2020 election, those stories have already begun and the search for the Beltway-approved “moderate” is well under way.
While the donor class and (Bill) Clintonian Democrats wait for Joe Biden to make a decision, the current moderate-du-jour is Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota. Klobuchar’s moderate credentials apparently include the ability to win elections in the Midwest, her ability to work across the aisle, the refusal to call herself a socialist or to eliminate ICE, the willingness to go on Fox News, and the idea that building on Obamacare is the path to universal health insurance rather than an immediate transition to Medicare-for-all.
What’s truly remarkable about Klobuchar is that her positions actually highlight how false the moniker of “too left wing” is for candidates like Sanders, Warren, Harris, and others. Klobuchar supports the goal of universal health insurance and would allow individuals to buy in to the Medicare program. She supports higher taxes on the wealthy including rolling back the tax advantage for capital gains. She supports allowing Medicare to negotiate pharmaceutical prices and the importation of drugs from Canada and elsewhere. She wants to increase antitrust enforcement. She would rejoin the Paris climate agreement and push for increases in renewable energy. She supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. On virtually every critical issue, Klobuchar supports the core goals and policies that virtually every other current Democratic candidate does. Yet Klobuchar gets the “moderate” label and others are deemed “too far left”.
Yes, the devil is in the details and the primary campaign will illuminate whether Klobuchar is more moderate than her currently stated positions reveal. As I have previously argued, the Democratic primary campaign may well be fought less on actual policy goals, since most of the field holds similar views, than on how far they might be willing to go to get those policies implemented, including advocating the elimination of the filibuster.
But the ridiculousness of calling the Democratic field too far left is that the very polices they espouse are supported by the vast majority of the American people. As Tim Wu points out, “About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices”.
The reality is that the majority of the country is probably even farther left than a so-called moderate Democrat. That majority has been consistently thwarted for nearly two decades by what I call the tyranny of the minority which has effectively used the constitutional levers that protect the minority to impose its will. As Wu continues, “The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it the oppression of the supermajority”.
It is easy to forget since the President has focused on pleasing his white nationalist base and acted like a bog-standard Republican on economic policy, with the exception of tariffs, that Trump ran on higher taxes for the wealthy, repealing the carried interest loophole, and reducing pharmaceutical prices. But, as so often happens, those important issues seem to never be addressed once the election is over. Much of that is due to the dominance of a center-right view that dominates the Washington culture, aided by lobbyists and the high-end donor class.
A classic example is an op-ed piece today from the insufferable David Brooks. While agreeing that America deserves universal health care and admitting that a single-payer program would not only accomplish that but probably save over 40% of what we currently paying, he lays out all the reasons why Medicare-for-all would be impossible. All of those reasons are primarily related to the disruption that such a transition would require. What Brooks doesn’t mention is that many of them have been addressed with a variety of plans. He just maintains that old Down East mantra, “you can’t get there from here”.
Brooks ends his piece by saying, “If America were a blank slate, Medicare for all would be a plausible policy, but we are not a blank slate. At this point, the easiest way to get to a single-payer system would probably be to go back to 1776 and undo that whole American Revolution thing”. And, in a sense, he is exactly right. For Democrats, the issue of the 2020 primary should be less about the differences between moderates, socialists, and those deemed as “too far left”, all of whom largely agree on the issues, and more about how to make the fundamental changes necessary to ensure that we CAN get there from here and that the silenced majority is finally heard.