The Democratic presidential debates of 2019 are under way. The early debates span two nights because of the large number of candidates. By December there will have been six debates. We can expect that the field will narrow as voters becomes better acquainted with the candidates.
The debates are sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) which is the legal authority for all Democratic Party organizations throughout the country. The DNC is officially neutral in these debates but, as in the past, the preferences of the party insiders are being “loudly whispered” by local elected officials, many of whom depend on the Democratic establishment for campaign support.
Recently, many presidential candidates previewed their campaigns at the California Democratic Party state convention in San Francisco. Fourteen of the candidates spoke to 3,000 Democratic activist delegates from around the state. The candidates made earnest presentations to the delegates describing the problems facing society and proposing programmatic solutions to those problems.
It’s About Wealth Polarization, Stupid!
It’s hardly a secret that wealth has become concentrated in the hands of fewer people since the start of the Clinton administration 30 years ago. Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) exported hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs to overseas sweatshops. At home, displaced workers were reduced to working part-time jobs in the “gig economy” without health care or retirement benefits. Banks sold financial aid packages to students and lobbied for tuition increases at public colleges and universities. New college graduates found the loan repayments were scandalously high. This set the stage for the Democratic campaigns of 2016 and today.
In response to the crisis, a precious few of the Democratic candidates offer dramatic solutions.
In 2016 the sole critic of NAFTA, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, proposed a $15 an hour minimum wage, Medicare for all, and a return to a highly graduated progressive income tax. He also proposed enlightened social concepts such as abolition of the death penalty and criminal justice reform. Sanders did not get the Democratic nomination but he attracted a loyal following.
Sanders is back again in the 2020 campaign but this time he has a competitive colleague in the presidential quest — Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Warren’s core economic proposal is a wealth tax. This dramatic concept would support society with a tax on accumulated wealth — not just income. Accumulated wealth over generations creates the ruling class of a capitalist system. In the past, the estate tax served as a minor damper on this effect. However, it has been cut significantly starting in the 1990s and the cuts continue to today.
We now live in a highly stratified society.
The Circular Firing Squad
Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist, while Warren is a very progressive capitalist. Combined, they represent the left progressive end of the 2020 Democratic party debate. They are constantly pressured by the news media to distinguish themselves from each other. Both Warren and Sanders refuse to do this.
The political left has a remarkable pattern of turning on itself rather than looking outward. This is often called the “circular firing squad with guns pointed inward.”
Instead, Sanders and Warren concentrate their focus on the problems of capitalist society and offer programs to address them.
The Old Establishment
Late last year, many local elected Democrats began whispering loudly that they had a preferred Democratic ticket for 2020 — Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. However, this contrived marriage has experienced a rocky start. For example, Biden, was a longtime supporter of the Hyde amendment which prohibited the poor from access to women’s health care services. He changed his position a few days after the California Democratic Party convention in an apparent nod to his possible running mate.
Harris did address the delegates but she was overshadowed by Warren, who spoke in the same session. In keeping with the Warren-Sanders non-aggression pact, Sanders chose not to speak the same day.
Biden, the favorite of party insiders, ducked the California convention, missing the opportunity to expose himself to the 3,000 Democratic Party activists. Voters will have ample opportunity to schmooze with Biden later — at lavish fundraisers in homes located west of La Cienega Boulevard and north of the I-10 freeway.
As we absorb the debate, perhaps we should think about a Sanders-Warren ticket and its program for America. They advocate ideas whose time has come.
The authors are members of the California Democratic Party Central Committee and founding members of the Democratic Socialists of America. Nelson is a member of the California Democratic Party Executive Board.