We are entering the end of the beginning of presidential primary season, which is something like a qualifying tournament for places in another qualifying tournament for a spot in the championships. We yet should expect to see erratic play from talented but unseasoned professionals.
It is the time for big, beautiful and bad ideas. That is what we are doing as we continue to consider seriously whether Sen. Bernie Sanders could put over Medicare for All and the rest of his socialist program. His support among the Democrats’ primary-voting base has been almost unbudging.
It is also why we are trying to keep up with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plans. We thought she had worked herself into a spot by also promoting Medicare for All while refusing to say whether it would raise taxes on the middle class. Sanders said it would; and everyone else knew it would, they just wanted to hear her say it.
We have heard from Warren supporters and other backers of Medicare for All who want to see better health care for everyone. For deep, structural reform to take place quickly, they say, they will have to eliminate private insurance overnight or it will never happen: Rip off the capitalist Band-Aid.
Then Warren changed her mind and decided she would go for the same public option some of her rivals proposed – and we wondered then how her supporters of just yesterday felt, on a limb she sawed off. In polls, she lost almost half her standing. One critic on the left asked whether voters now would “excuse her capitalist, imperialist, anti-working-class agenda because she’s a woman.”
“The irony is that a candidate whose political identity has been built in part on her reputation as a policy wonk – a potential president who boasts of having a plan for nearly every challenge facing everyday Americans – has been tripped up by a policy issue that has ... defined her party for years,” The Washington Post reported. “Meanwhile, the pivot to calling for a transition phase opens questions about what Warren believes.”
Just, for what it’s worth: Taxing wealth is not a belief. Sanders, meanwhile, is steadfast, but we are not convinced that is a contemporary virtue in a socialist.
The high-water mark of socialism in America probably occurred a little over a century ago (although we will revise that view if Sanders gets the nomination). Canyon County, in southwest Idaho, had roughly 3,000 households in 1900 – and 20% of them subscribed to Appeal to Reason, the weekly socialist newspaper. By 1910, Appeal to Reason’s paid circulation made it the biggest socialist newspaper in American history. By 1917, it was effectively gone, killed off by its opposition to America’s entry into World War I and its support for the Russian revolution.
The American tolerance for socialism today is likely more akin to its palate. Many Americans might eat kale from time to time because it is supposed to be good for them but they do not want it for dinner every night. They still play the lottery and think every man is a king.
That has something to do with why Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet dismissed Warren’s former health care plan and Sanders’ current one as politically “stupid.” Recently, Bennet left the presidential campaign and held a town hall meeting in Denver, his first of the kind in more than a year. “What I don’t want to do is spend the next 10 years fighting a losing battle for Medicare for All,” he told the gathering. Bennet prefers the public option.
Asked afterward if it was wise to attack fellow Democrats, who are still polling far better than he is, Bennet denied he was.
“What I do think is important is for us to litigate these issues before we’ve got a general election against Donald Trump,” he said.
In this pre-season of litigation, Andrew Gillum, the failed Democratic nominee for Florida governor in 2018, had a column in the Post recently, saying “‘Socialism’ is a GOP smear.”
Maybe so, but we think that call is also coming from inside his house.