Thus far in the presidential contest the Democrats get an “A” for creativity. Heretofore fringe ideas now have legs and abound in the campaigns of the twenty-odd contenders. The incumbent president runs on his record, and in 2020 that will be Donald Trump. However, his myriad opponents, possessed of unlimited imagination, can run on whatever they like. And they like a lot.
Four strategies appear amongst all the Democratic campaign talk: rewriting the ground rules, redistributing wealth, capturing potential voters, and managing key issues. Rewriting the ground rules means changing the U.S. Constitution. Redistributing wealth is signaled by the word “free” when advocating government moving wealth around without creating any. Capturing potential voters seeks out those presently ineligible to vote who would be welcome in federal elections. Managing key issues involves bold initiatives targeted at crucial election issues, such as the Green New Deal on climate change and abolishing ICE on immigration.
The ground rules for federal elections are found in the Constitution. Critics on the left suggest abolishing the electoral college and abiding by the national popular vote only. They would also add three or six additional justices to the Supreme Court (FDR tried “packing the Court” in the late 1930s and failed). A related proposal suggests allowing the Court itself to pick three new justices, avoiding “politics.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) “democracy dollars” idea is novel. Every eligible voter would get vouchers up to $600 dollars - from the government - to use to support a federal campaign, just by asking. This amounts to $200 each in House, Senate and presidential races. The expense would be covered by, yes, taxing the rich, taking $60 billion over 10 years from CEOs making “excessive” salaries.
That brings up the redistributing wealth strategy. Candidate Andrew Yang is running on the platform of “Universal Basic Income.” The UBI he proposes for us is a set of guaranteed payments of $1,000 per month, or $12,000 per year, to all U.S. citizens over the age of 18, no questions asked.
Targeting a specific group, Democratic hopeful Julian Castro would give teachers a $10,000 boost from a federal tax credit. Castro also proposed a $1.5 trillion plan that would grow the federal role in education with national pre-K, universal free college, and programs to lower and forgive debt that burdens many graduates. California Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) has offered a more modest $315 billion plan to boost teachers’ pay over a decade.
Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and others have argued for free tuition for public colleges, universities, and community colleges. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) unveiled a proposal to wipe out up to $50,000 in student debt for millions of borrowers, making her the first major 2020 presidential candidate to advance a plan to address the burden of higher-education loans. With a price tag of $1.25 trillion over 10 years, Warren’s higher-education initiative ups the ante on an issue that other candidates have sought to address at lower cost.
Senator Corey Booker (D-MA) introduced the Federal Jobs Guarantee Development Act in April, which would set up a pilot program that provides jobs that pay at least $15 an hour in 15 urban and rural areas. Co-sponsors include Senators Harris, Warren, and Gillibrand.
Booker's proposed American Opportunity Accounts Act, better known as "baby bonds," would provide every child born in the United States with a $1,000 savings bond. The child would receive up to $2,000 every year, based on family income. The child could access the account at age 18, but only for allowable uses like education and home ownership. Booker believes it gets people into the middle class quicker.
Booker has also introduced a companion bill in the Senate to create a committee to study reparations to descendants of slaves. Not clear is what criteria would define “descendants,” such as who qualifies as African-American, whether to cover blacks in Union states, and if reparations would be adjusted for inflation.
In an effort to capture hitherto ineligible voters, Bernie Sanders has said that even people who commit serious crimes like murder should be allowed to vote from prison because the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Sanders said at a CNN town hall, "Yes, even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away, you're running down a slippery slope." Vermont alone has allowed incarcerated people to vote since its founding. Candidate Kamala Harris told CNN that “we should have a conversation” about letting convicted murderers in prison have the right to vote.
It’s not clear if a Democratic candidate will support 16-year-olds voting for President, but Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) introduced a bill in the House which included granting the right to vote to any citizen 16 or over; 236 Democrats signed on as co-sponsors. The bill also makes Election Day a federal holiday, and requires presidential candidates to release their tax returns. In debate on the same bill, the Democrat-controlled House voted 228-197 to defend local governments that allow illegal aliens to vote in their elections.
Seeking to manage key issues, Democrats are on record favoring late term abortions, so late in fact, that they seem to endorse infanticide. Recall Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (not a candidate) on a radio show discussing a state legislature bill that would legalize abortions up to birth. “If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and mother,” he said. Democratic presidential candidates were largely silent on his comments.
A number of candidates endorsed the Green New Deal joint resolution authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA). Laying out the main elements of a legislative plan, it describes a 10-year plan that would phase out fossil fuel use and shift to 100% renewable zero-emission sources, and eliminate gas-powered cars and air travel, while overhauling the nation's infrastructure and creating many new high-wage jobs to wipe out poverty.
Several candidates support Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposition, with former VEEP Joe Biden adding “I think if a person needs medical care we have an obligation to provide it, regardless of whether they are documented or undocumented.” Thereby Biden in one sentence connected free medical care to the thorny immigration issue. While candidates are lukewarm on abolishing ICE, the idea of open borders seems to clearly have traction.
Finally, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) signed a bong (pipe), announcing his support for a national bill decriminalizing marijuana.
Thus concludes a sort of laundry list of Democratic presidential hopefuls’ remedies for our country’s woes, hopefully an accurate enough description of their collective positions to be useful to discerning voters in comparing them with the Republican party’s forthcoming counterpunches. Notably, responsible fiscal policy makes neither party’s wish list.
Looming in the near future is the distinct possibility of a 2020 presidential election featuring two candidates about as far apart on most important issues as they could possibly be, and still be running for the same office in the same country in the same year. The sky’s the limit in 2020. Who’s your favorite?
Gene G. Blair has been a resident of Huntsville for 39 years. He is retired from the Criminal Justice Center at SHSU, and is also retired from the U.S. Army. He is a director on the Executive Board of CASA of Walker, San Jacinto, and Trinity counties.