Biden or Bernie: The REAL Issues of 2020

It has certainly been quite a week in the 2020 race for the White House, with a dramatically different landscape than what we were looking at just one week ago today.  Since that time, we have watched 4 of the 6 major Democrat candidates withdraw from the race, and as a result of a pretty sweeping series of victories on Super Tuesday, we have witnessed Joe Biden’s campaign, apparently on life support 10 days ago, rebound to become a legitimate front runner once again, with only Bernie Sanders remaining as a contender.

Now, depending on your personal views, and based on the relative closeness of the total pledged delegates for each at this point, you may feel like Sanders has a better chance than I believe he really does, because of the nature of Democrat primaries, and the proportional allocation of delegates.  In other words, winning a state like Michigan by a few percentage points (by either of the two leading candidates) will result in no real change to the delegate count, as they will be split nearly equally.  On the other hand, blowout victories are what actually do move the numbers, and for the next couple of weeks, if you believe polling and historical context, Biden sets up to put a few blowouts in his pocket.  In places like Mississippi and Florida, it looks like Biden will likely win by 50 points or more, meaning he will take nearly all of the delegates.  On the flipside, Sanders is polling even or slightly ahead in a handful of other upcoming states so these delegates will likely be split close to evenly between him and Biden, regardless of which way they ultimately break.

Only time will tell now what the end result and who the nominee will ultimately be, but since it is down to two, it is much easier to start to draw a distinction between the candidates and their individual agendas.  Obviously, with two “old white guys”, there is really no difference between them in terms of the social progress we saw with Barack Obama becoming the first African American President, nor with Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman to be the nominee of a major political party, so there is really no difference in that regard.

Beyond that, and other than “we just need to remove Trump” as the only major issue, we are left with policy differences.  Speaking as someone who has studied political science and subjects like economics my entire adult life, I do enjoy a good policy debate, but at this point in history, I would really like to encourage you to not get too caught up in those differences between the candidates.  Aside from the usual exaggeration of a single President’s abilities to accomplish their agenda we see in every election, I believe their individual platform are even less important right now because there are a number of realities that we face.

In simple terms, as appealing as much of the Sander’s platform may be (and I agree that is definitely is), there is no chance of much of it being implemented.  With “Medicare for All” for example…this country needs to get there.  It’s more cost effective for everyone, it is clearly more humane, and it solves one of the biggest problems with our system today.  In 2020, however, Bernie Sanders could set himself on fire and it will never happen.  In the 1930’s, single payer healthcare was intended to be a part of the Social Security Act, and it had to be scrapped in order to pass the rest of the Social Security Act.  In the 1960’s, Medicare was originally intended to be a program that covered 100% of the medical expenses of seniors, and it was ultimately cut back to 80% in deference to the private insurance industry in order to pass Medicare.  As recently as 2009, when the Democrats were able to get 60 votes in the Senate for the ACA, in order to do so, even a public option being included in the ACA marketplace had to be scrapped to get those votes.  Bottom line, there is a strong opposition to publicly funded single payer healthcare of any stripe, including among members of the Democrat party, so realistically, even if the Democrats pick up 4 seats to give them a 51-49 majority in the Senate AND scrap the filibuster (60 vote threshold), Medicare for All has no hope of passing.  I do think Americans are ready to allow for a public option to be added to the existing ACA, however, because it can be done with much less fanfare, and presented as an “option”, not forcing anyone to take it.  Of course, that weakens the whole concept, but it would still represent significant progress.  Aside from healthcare, you can go through most any other bold proposal and see all the reasons why none of them will likely be achievable at this time.

Before you write this article off as an attack on the Sanders platform though, I would like to bring your focus to what issues we really face, and what the next administration will need to be focused on in the years immediately following the Trump experience.

Rebuild the Executive Branch

Simply put, the Federal Government is no longer equipped to do its ultimate job, which in my view is protecting Americans.  I do not simply mean from the national defense perspective, though our current abilities there can also be questioned, but rather with regard to everything from fiscal policy to weather, and everything in between.  Trump (and more so Steve Bannon) with their conspiratorial “deep state” theories have openly and proudly decimated the functionality of our government.  They have refused to fill hundreds of key positions, driven thousands from their jobs, and ended many policies and programs that nearly no one even knows about, bu that more often than not serve a very important purpose.  I suppose at least if they were saving money, you could argue in favor of this, but that is clearly not the case.  The federal budget (and budget deficit) are at record levels, but much like a gold plated sink or toilet in Trump Tower, the money is not being spent on what it should be.  And worse than not filling important positions, if that is possible, many of the ones that have been filled have specifically had people appointed purely because they hate the department they are put in charge of, and are given the mission of destroying it from within.

For anyone who is interested in more details, this link to an NPR article reviews a book written specifically on the subject, and gives a better explanation than I can:

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

So, for me, one major issue the next President must be prepared to fully commit to is rebuilding the Federal government’s capabilities when it comes to doing it’s job.  That doesn’t even necessarily mean spending more, but rather just refocusing on what is really important, and it will take years to restore these capabilities.

Judges, Judges, Judges

Unlike Republicans who have been quietly plotting to take over the Federal Judiciary for decades, Democrats have never made this an issue, until recently.  Sadly, even in spite of seeing what is happening and the effects of it nearly every day, I still do not think there is enough being made of this issue.  We need to replace every older Liberal judge with a younger version in order to protect, at a minimum the current 4-5 minority liberals have in the Supreme Court.  We need to secure what is left of the more liberal arm of the Federal judiciary at every level…or in other words, the side that generally stands with the People, and not the corporate interests…the side that stands with individual liberty, and not the will of the Evangelical Right…the side that stands with what I believe to be the most important phrase of the Constitution “general welfare” of the People, and not one that selectively applies their made up “Originalist” theories whenever it suits their purposes…and definitely the side that is not willing to defer all power to the Executive Branch with the Scalia/Cheney/Barr view of an all powerful unitary executive (translation:  DICTATOR).

The Senate

The natural follow-up to these first two issues is the Senate.  Why?  Simple…if Mitch McConnell remains in control of the Senate, the next President will not be able to effectively resolve these two issues.  It is a given that McConnell will obstruct everything that comes to his desk, either throwing it in the trash and not calling a vote, or voting down what he doesn’t just throw on the scrap heap.  The Democrats need a net gain of 4 seats…period.  Given that one current Democrat is more likely to lose, than win in Alabama, that means Democrats must win 5 seats currently held by Republicans.  The states that can be targeted for this “flip” include:

Flip:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • North Carolina
  • Montana
  • Maine
  • Georgia (Two seats up for election)
  • Kansas

Defend:

  • Alabama

While there is no direct link between the Presidential candidate and the outcome of the Senate races in these states, it is hard to argue that a Presidential candidate who is more exciting to the voters of a particular state can’t do anything but help in the Senate race, so I would suggest you look at how each of the two candidates performs in the primaries in each of these places.  As of this writing, Biden has won three of the key states and Bernie has won one.  Arizona, Montana Georgia and Kansas are forthcoming yet.

Foreign Relations

One of the most dramatic things we have seen under the “leadership” of Donald Trump, is a near complete withdrawal from our historical allies around the world.  We are closer to the leadership of nations like Israel and Saudi Arabia than ever, and are giving a cold shoulder to NATO allies.  This has to be reversed.  We MUST rebuild these alliances and restore their faith in America.  We must rebuild the State Department and our diplomatic capabilities with credible, knowledgeable professionals and not lunatic conspiracy theorists and Fox News contributors.  Ironically, this is something that even the Republicans in Congress would largely support as they are forced to bite their tongue daily when faced with Trump’s statements and actions.

To accomplish this, we need someone with credibility, a reliable track record of foreign cooperation and a deep understanding of international affairs.  In addition to diplomatic relations, this will also include areas of trade and the environment.

Elections and Democracy

Although I am presenting this a little further down the list, it is like everything else…a top priority.  We are witnessing an all out assault on our democracy, and it did not just begin in 2016 with Russia’s intervention.  This has been a movement in the works for decades, quietly funded by people like the Koch Brothers and the Bradley Foundation, and it must be stopped.  We need to get back to the original intent of the founders, which was NOT to maintain a system of minority rule.  If we want equality between the races and economic levels, we must start to provide for equality in their votes and access to it.  Issues to be addressed:

  • Restore and enhance voter rights.  We need people to have reasonable access to polling places, and not spend half a day on a bus to get there.  We must reverse all of the other obstacles that are systematically reducing certain races and income classes ability to vote.  Voter disenfranchisement is as bad is at was during Reconstruction, and it must be reversed at every level.
  • Protect our elections from foreign influence, either directly through hacking and other measures, and psychological manipulation.
  • General election security, including things like requiring paper ballot backups.
  • Automatic voter registration with a consistent mechanism across the states to ensure people are not blocked from voting by purges and other “tricks”.
  • Ensure that your financial condition is not an obstacle to voting, including not withholding someone’s right to vote because they have unpaid fines, because of financial burdens of voter ID laws, and the financial impossibility of people taking time off work to spend six hours waiting to vote when their employer is only required to pay them for two hours.

The bottom line is that we will never see real progress made in this country when we are constantly slipping further into a system of minority rule.  This is not being done by who financially backs candidates, at least not to the degree that voter suppression is doing it.

I did not list these as bullet pointed priorities, not because they’re not important, but rather that they are likely a heavier lift than may be possible in the next four years.

  • The Electoral College needs to be abolished simply because if you are electing an office that is by definition supposed to represent all Americans equally, the ballots cast for this office should be weighted equally.  Less populous states are more than adequately protected and represented in the U.S. Senate, giving them each an equal say in all legislation, as well as all Judicial and Executive appointments.  They should not get a louder voice in the election of the President.   For more on this, you can read my previous article “The Electoral College and All It’s Flaws”.
  • Partisan gerrymandering needs to be eliminated for both state legislatures and the House of Representatives.
  • Campaign Finance Reform – Specifically the Citizens United decision must be overturned, but in the longer term, the only way that our government will once again be “By the People and for the People” is that we will need to transition to a system of publicly financing campaigns, so that the best ideas win, not just the ones with the most money spent on them, and third party political influence must greatly reduced, if not outlawed all together.

The Environment and Climate Change

For starters, we simply need to rejoin the Paris Agreement.  This is simple and can be done unilaterally by a President who is so inclined, but obviously, the issue is much deeper than this.  The steps we should be looking for from the Democratic nominee include:

  • Commitment to reversing each of Trump’s environmental deregulation orders, from automobile gas mileage standards that have been undone to restoring clean water protections.
  • Restoring the full capabilities of the EPA, the Department of the Interior, and even Health and Human Services as environmental conditions do have a direct impact on our health.
  • Restore the focus on clean energy solutions, and transition subsidies currently going to the fossil fuel industry to these clean options.
  • Develop programs to transition people directly impacted by declining use of fossil fuels to new jobs, especially people currently or previously working in coal, oil and even natural gas.  These new jobs will most certainly pay more, but we need to get people qualified to fill them, and in some cases, make relocation to where these new jobs are more feasible.

The Green New Deal is a good plan, and one I believe we need to ultimately work towards, sooner rather than later, but again, like with Medicare for All, it does not seem like it is even close to legislatively feasible at this time, so progress toward it should be focused on versus fighting a battle that cannot be won.

Healthcare

Fix it…it’s broken.  Easier said than done, of course.  A good start here would be to restore the elements of the ACA that have been chipped away over the past 10 years by Republicans.  And secondly, because any ultimate passage of single payer legislation will require an overwhelming movement on the part of the People, the first step in that battle will be to give a real life example of how it could work, and that example seems to be adding a public option to the ACA marketplace.  If we can make it reflective of how a true single payer system would work, and show that it is cost effective while providing the same or better care, the “free market” WILL take over as millions of people will choose this option, and as more people choose it, the easier it becomes to ultimately eliminate the other options.  Bottom line…if you believe in the concept of single payer, then let’s get on board with putting it into practice NOW so we can actually get there longer term.  To just keep talking about something that is legislatively impossible serves no one.

Corruption

We simply have to deal with the reality that a rogue President, aided by sycophants in Congress, will not adhere to all of the norms and ethics we have trusted leaders to just voluntarily adhere to in the past.  Trump has shown that none of that matters, and if someone has the will to take the heat from the media and the people, they can do pretty much anything they want.  We need to codify many of the things we previously left up to decency and ethics to dictate, and that will include having a President who is willing to actually limit their own power in the process, as opposed to expand it in an effort to get their agenda implemented, regardless of the long term costs to our country.

Conclusion

I realize that none of these issues, or at least not what I am presenting as realistic goals we should be focused on, represents a complete solution to any of our problems, but I keep going back to the notion of realistic.  What I ultimately want, and what I believe we should all be focused on is making steady progress toward these goals…the kind of progress that does in fact make our country a better place for the majority of people in measurable ways.  It’s also the kind of progress that unifies people behind the bigger ideas as they see improvements without upheaval, and more importantly, it is the kind of progress that is not easily undone by a giant pushback like what we saw from the Tea Party in 2010.  Besides that, while my list may not seem exciting and revolutionary, it will still be a heavy lift for any President in just four years.

As such, I think we all need to be focused on electing the candidate that appears to give us the best possibility of achieving this list, and of equal importance, the candidate that sets up the best chance for a 12, 16 and even a 20 year run of progress that will never be achieved if we just keep swinging back and forth between the left and right like a pendulum.

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