In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, columnist David Leonhardt bemoaned the reluctance of many “potential candidates” to run for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination. According to Leonhardt, they have been scared off by Joe Biden, just as others had been fearful of challenging Hillary Clinton in 2016. Leonhardt said the lesson to be learned from this history is obvious, “If you want to be president of the United States and have the opportunity to run, you should not let another candidate keep you from running in the primaries.”
Given the fact that during the past year and a half over three dozen individuals have declared their candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination without any clear choice yet arising, Leonhardt’ s advice may not be viewed as very helpful.
A nominating process that allows for a more meaningful discussion of key issues is what the country needs.
In January 2019, when the Democratic Party leadership announced plans for its 2020 presidential nominating process, I wrote a post critical of the over emphasis on primary debates “as the way to evaluate and filter potential candidates.” It would allow I declared “too much focus on personal charisma and rhetorical skills and only incidental discussion of issues…and how to resolve them.”
I also questioned the lack of sufficient criteria for judging who should participate in the debates. Tom Perez, the Democratic National Committee chairman, had talked about using polls and “grassroots fundraising” capabilities. Now that the party has allowed billionaire Mike Bloomberg to take the debate stage in Nevada, there are two wealthy candidates who are self-funded.
What we have witnessed thus far in the Democratic debates has not been thoughtful discussion of public concerns, but a great deal of finger pointing and fearmongering. A good example of this is the debate over health care.
The United States has the most expensive health care system in the world and that system is by no means the most effective. Most observers would say that a significant majority of Americans today are worried about access to health care at more reasonable and stable costs.
Instead of addressing this concern in a reasonable manner, several candidates mischaracterize the public’s attitude towards private health insurance: “everyone loves their private health insurance.” More accurately, virtually every American lives in fear that their private health insurance will continue to be threatened by uncontrollable cost increases resulting from unfettered competition for health care dollars among health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, medical equipment providers and corporatized hospitals.
Maybe a single-payer, government-financed system is not the best way to deal with our problems, but outrageous claims that “Medicare for all” will cost trillions more than our current system are simply not believable. Other developed countries, with single-payer government-financed systems, are operating with less costs and more success than we are with our heavy reliance on private health insurance.
Then there is the issue of our country’s growing inequality in income and opportunity. Some candidates are being castigating by others for suggesting that the wealthy in America can afford to pay a little more to support the creation of a more equal playing field. It is difficult to believe that candidates seeking to represent the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be more willing to weaken the country’s economic safety net rather than to consider imposing a wealth tax when there has been an explosion in the number of billionaires in America.
According to Forbes there are 621 billionaires in the US today with $2.9 trillion in wealth. This represents a better than 50 percent increase since 2010. In 2018, the US created over 600,000 new millionaires, more than half of all those created in the entire world. And Credit Suisse Research Institute suggests that financial inequality in the US is on the rise. Although the average wealth is $345,000 per person, the median wealth is only $30,000, marking a significant drop from last year and three times as low as other countries with similar average wealth.
There is similar bickering and personalized sniping relative to other significant issues, such as climate change and critical infrastructure needs. Crafting an appealing party platform is being sacrificed to the ambitions of the candidates, some of whom are clearly not qualified to be president.
Neither of the major political parties has paid enough attention in recent years to the actual task of governing a democratic society. Both have shown too much deference to corporate elites and other wealthy donors at the expense of the average American. Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was a result of that mistake.
Our presidential nominating process should encourage candidates with relevant experience to run. Candidates should have the opportunity to share their ideas with the voters, but it should be a conversation not an harangue.
As currently structured, presidential primary debates do not allow candidates to present detailed proposals to address the problems our nation faces. Nor is much attention given to the actual track record of the candidates that might offer evidence of how well they would respond to the challenges of presidential responsibilities.