WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NY — December 1, 2019 — The dominant ideas of the 2020 presidential race are emerging, especially in the Democratic primary contest. Unexpectedly, the intellectualism of Elizabeth Warren has come to define the politics of the campaign, much to her credit. Candidates, pundits, and voters are caught up in the debates about her proposals. Good or bad, right or wrong, her wealth tax and Medicare for all initiatives are the central political issues in play.
She adopted this strategy in the face of conventional wisdom otherwise. Her theory is that being anti-Trump isn’t going to be enough. Warren understood at the beginning of the campaign that opposition to Donald Trump, even support for impeachment and conviction, were necessary positions in the contest for the Democratic nomination. But the lesson of 2016 was that more was needed. She carefully and thoughtfully produced it. It’s a remarkably optimistic calculation that may or may not work.
Whether she will benefit politically is unknown. The early bird doesn’t always get the worm. She also attracts the attention of every bird hunter in the land.
There are signs of both good news and bad news. Merits aside, the politics of her Medicare for all and wealth tax are the stuff of daily coverage and discussion. It’s all about her initiatives.
The wealth tax has broad political support among just about every demographic group (except Republican men). It has the twin virtues of directly affecting only a sliver of voters and being easy to explain.
On the other hand, Medicare for all (or “single-payer”) will affect everyone and is complicated. There is a risk of disruption of existing insurance relationships, and it’s costly if it becomes part of the federal budget. It still polls well, but there are signs of slippage, and it’s a target of opportunity for the opposition both within and without the Democratic Party.
Assume for a moment these trend lines hold. Warren will own one popular and one unpopular idea. She will have to recalculate the politics constantly. But it’s always good to be the candidate who defines the issues.
Most of her opposition is focused on electability and the need to defeat Trump. It’s an understandable strategy. Democratic voters of every stripe are committed to nominating the candidate with the greatest chance of defeating Trump. The Biden/Klobuchar/Buttegeig wing of the party does make the occasional foray into specific policies intended to protect the middle and working classes from continued economic attrition. But their explicit appeal is to those who fear the consequences of a second term for Trump.
I happen to share that priority. The potential damage to national security, the environment, personal rights and liberties, minority opportunity, women’s rights and other concerns is without limit. But again, the lesson of 2016 is that fear of Trump is not enough to win a presidential election, at least in the Electoral College.
There’s enormous uncertainty in all this. Impeachment and the bizarre antics we get daily from Trump make it hard to rely on history or rational analysis. In the face of moral and political chaos, Warren has chosen an admirable path. She may have to abandon single-payer and embrace a public option that preserves existing insurance programs, like Obama tried to do. But she’s keeping the faith with the better angels of our nature and the necessary commitment to ideas and values that we should demand of every candidate.
Richard Brodsky is a former state Assembly member.
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Original publication by Times-Union on December 1, 2019. https://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Richard-Brodsky-Warren-s-campaigning-on-the-14874101.php