With the first televised debates behind us, the field for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is set at 20 candidates, from Colorado’s Michael Bennet to New York’s Andrew Yang. In September, they will be cut again, to half that.
So now we know who is running. It is possible we could still have a big-name late entry, someone for whom everyone else would have to move or be nudged over, but who? George Clooney? Jeff Bezos? Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would have to suddenly age in dog years. We now have a clear front-runner, a shape-shifter who cannot seem to draw a crowd; and barely hanging on in second place, the curmudgeon from the state of socialism and syrup. Déjà vu, anyone?
And then there is the rest of the field, like crabs at the bottom of a pot. Bennet brings an obvious intellect and an almost introverted nature rare in politics. Recently, he appeared in a CNN town hall.
“I’m tired of losing to Mitch McConnell, I’m tired of losing to a guy like Donald Trump who never should have won the presidency to begin with,” Bennet said, which is honest but not quite a battle cry. He cited the insured cost of his own recent cancer treatment as a reason why the U.S. needs that coverage for “all American citizens” – but, he said, Bernie Sanders is wrong – almost a shout, for Bennet – about Medicare for all.
Bennet wants a public option, which still would be a sound advance – “Medicare for all if you want it.” Markets and choice. “And now,” he said, “Bernie is proposing if you like your insurance, we’re going to take it away from you!”
Two more of the field strike us as unusually smart and able, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the Indiana mayor. When the Democrats are running to the left and Republicans are trying to push them there, these two are not radicals. Warren, campaigning hard for anti-trust legislation, among many other things, told an interviewer several months ago, “I believe in markets. Markets that work. Markets that have a cop on the beat and have real rules and everybody follows them.” And if people call you a socialist? she was asked. “Well, it’s just wrong,” she said.
Warren was not thinking of socialism as a belief in free housing, free health care and free education, but as the faith that a non-market economy is even possible, let alone can support a welfare state. In Oregon, lawmakers are trying to limit licenses to grow marijuana because there is too much supply relative to demand, driving prices down. This is why you do not want a government directing an economy. Before you know it, it will be selling taxi medallions.
John Hickenlooper, Colorado’s former governor and another candidate for 2020, styles himself an “extreme moderate.” One of his latest brushes with headlines came recently when he had his turn on NPR’s “Opening Arguments” series.
“I don’t think we’re going to address climate change by guaranteeing every American a federal job, which is what part of the Green New Deal was,” Hickenlooper said, referring to Ocasio-Cortez’s climate resolution, adding, “These are what a lot of Americans look at as facets or aspects of socialism ... If we don’t stand up and say that we Democrats don’t stand for socialism, we’re going to end up re-electing the worst president this country’s ever had.”
In Cuba, people like to joke that the government pretends to pay them and they pretend to work. No one in their sober moments thinks a massive expansion of the federal workforce is a good idea, just as no one can explain the benefits of a command economy. You do not have to love markets to see that or impute magic to them. It’s like living with bears: You just need to allow them, regulate them and give them a little room.