Margaret Valenti writes on the crisis of choice that rests on the shoulders of Democratic voters and the Democratic party. Is there any way to bring the party together to beat Donald Trump given the rivalry that led to a very negative debate in Las Vegas last night?
“Vote for whomever the democratic nominee is” is the official motto because the Democratic party prioritizes defeating Trump above all else. However, that concept is not realistic, nor is it that simple. The extent of the rivalry and divergent paths of the democratic candidates was thrown in our faces during the tumultuous debating that occured last night. Especially for some radical sects of Sanders’ supporters, some democratic voters feel that it is their way or the highway. Alternatively, some voters believe that the socialism Sanders puts forward puts capitalism in danger.
Not to imply that there is not a spectrum among all parties, but the Wednesday, February 19th democratic debate in Las Vegas saw a chasm appear in the Democratic Party that can no longer be ignored. The candidates did well to distinguish themselves and highlight the faults of their opponents, but this leaves the democratic party more fractured than ever before and it will be hard for anyone to concede to their opponents.
In any other election cycle, Pete Buttigieg would be the most progressive candidate on the stage. A broad representation of ideas from within the Democratic Party is better than a limited representation of ideas, though the 2020 presidential race could use a lot more diversity. The broadness of ideas, the constant swing from left to right within the Democratic Party itself, leaves voters with anxiety. Who is telling the truth? Is the system rigged? Who can beat Donald Trump? There is not a clear answer to any of these questions and it depends entirely on who you ask.
Yet, hearing the candidates talk about these issues last night was like watching a wheel spin in circles. The truth is that most of the candidates are barely getting to the heart of the issues and they spent more time last night attacking each other, leaving a lot of unanswered questions. The voters already know their plans, their strategies, now it is about survival of the fittest.
In regard to the question of Medicare for All, it could end up being cheaper, or it could end up costing a fortune, depending on how it becomes implemented and how it affects the economy, which basically means the collective opinion of economists on the question is ‘it depends’. The truth is that Medicare for All is an entirely untested idea in a nation of 327 million people and counting with a $22 trillion-dollar national debt. Other nations that have a version of Medicare for All hold a fraction of that population and debt. To not acknowledge that as a barrier to Medicare for All is purposeful blindness and misdirection. Medicare for All should exist in the U.S. — healthcare is a human right — but there is a huge barrier that progressive voters need to come to terms with. Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg all have plans that incorporate a transitionary period to Medicare for All, the rest of the candidates on the debate stage support expanding and improving the Affordable Care Act.
The truth is that focusing on student loan debt and free public college ignores the fact that the U.S. has an unequal and disparate public education system that begins in kindergarten. It is as if the U.S. collectively chose to give up on trying to improve public education. Investment in public education creates a more educated electorate and more opportunity for oppressed communities — poor communities, communities of color, immigrant communities, and communities who face physical, intellectual, and emotional health challenges, to name some — who face the brunt of the inequality in public education.
Of course, many competitive jobs in the U.S. still require a Bachelor or Associates degree, but there are still a lot of jobs that do not. Many of those jobs are low income, but so are many of the jobs that people get after college. Prioritizing public education makes college a less necessary step in the U.S. education system, which decreases the amount of debt. No one can fix the problems of society by having people attend another four or more years of school. Provide that choice, sure, but also make sure public education is equally competent across the country and that the government can pay public school teachers an adequate salary. None of the democratic candidates are acknowledging the inequality of public education on a debate stage.
Those issues, Medicare for All, student loan debt, and free public college, were important talking points throughout the debate. Nevada is the first real test of the candidates’ strength in a state that actually represents the U.S.’ demographics accurately. It is time to see how the candidates do when faced with needing to attract, or more accurately pander to, voters of color. Few of the candidates have perfect records when it comes to achieving equality across race in their own communities or in the Senate.
Mike Bloomberg received a lot of heat last night for “stop and frisk”, an atrocious policy that criminalized people of color in New York City post-9/11 when Bloomberg was Mayor; Pete Buttigieg claims that his policies as Mayor improved the lives of all residents of South Bend, but there is little actual evidence to suggest that and any improvements that came to the community came to white, largely middle-class communities; Elizabeth Warren did claim Native American ancestry at one point in her life despite the six to ten year generation gap, for which she apologized.
Amy Klobuchar recently came under fire as well for forgetting the name of the Mexican President, her vote to confirm the man who would create the notorious border separation policy, as well as her record as Senator when it came to investigations of police shootings and a potential wrongful conviction in her state; Senator Sanders walked with Civil Rights protesters on Washington and his brave activism in Chicago got him arrested multiple times during the Civil Rights Movement. He has the largest and most diverse base among Democratic voters, but that does not make him perfect, especially considering the actions of some of his more radical supporters that he half-heartedly addresses.
Can Anyone Win?
In a fractured system such as this one, which unveiled itself for the world last night, the candidates all struggled to reach higher ground. The truth is that none of them are perfect, it is which imperfections voters can handle that will define who gets the democratic nomination. Right now, that seems to be either Sanders or Buttigieg, but Bloomberg is also making a valiant effort to compete with Klobuchar and Warren as they vie for those top two spots as well.
There is the issue pertaining to whether the person who wins the most delegates should win. Historically, a candidate needs 1,991 delegates of the 4,051 total delegates to win, but it is unlikely any of the candidates will reach that number. So, the question becomes should the person with the most delegates overall win the nomination or should the superdelegates, made up of undecided delegates, not reliant on the will of any voters, overturn the decision of the popular vote and cast the deciding votes to determine the nominee. If none of the candidates gets 50% of the delegates, then, according to the new rules adopted after the 2016 election, the 714 superdelegates will play a big role in deciding who the nominee will be in Milwaukee. That outcome is likely considering the number of candidates. Sanders and Buttigieg have the most delegates so far, but that could all change come Super Tuesday on March 3rd, which is less than two weeks away.
If the Democrats goal is to beat Donald Trump, then the latest Democratic debate was good practice. Regardless of who the nominee is, Donald Trump will attack with whatever he can use and the candidates responses to that criticism better improve from where they were last night. The Democratic voters and the party must decide who can stand up to the bullying that Trump will surely use and they must be able to win. That is the bottom line and, while the issues matter, it will come down to who has the best response to his mudslinging. The candidates need to step up their game for the sake of the future of Democracy in the U.S. Four more years of Trump is not a valid option.