Two days of debates and one clear winner: Bernie Sanders.
Establishment candidates – Biden, Harris, Booker, Gillibrand, Bennet – tore each other apart on stage last night, each trying to figure out how to thread the needle between what the country wants – Medicare for All, Social and Economic Justice, and a Green New Deal, the Sanders agenda – and what their big dollar donors demand.
Biden’s already made it clear to his donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he’s elected president. His “healthcare plan” leaves 10 million people without coverage – and more importantly, is a delaying tactic. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are hoping healthcare activists get tired, burned out, and fade into the background. Challenged on the Obama administration’s abysmal record on deportations, he dodged the question. Booker shot back, “You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not.”
Biden went after Julián Castro, “I never heard him talk about any of this when he was the secretary,” and got slapped down hard. “One of us has learned the lessons of the past, one of us hasn’t,” Castro retorted.
Biden never had command of the stage or the debate. He bumbled from one fiasco to another, only occasionally turning a decent phrase, but even those were low key jabs free of substance, like, “I have guts enough to say his plan doesn’t make sense,” speaking of Castro’s immigration plan. Nothing to get excited about except in small, petty ways. If he was the frontrunner coming in, he did nothing to suggest he deserves the title. His stature shrank.
Even the mainstream media that’s been desperately trying to help him since he entered the race was starting to take note of his lack of poise, confidence, and competence. He fumbled the call to action in his closing – he was supposed to ask people to text to a number, and instead sent them to a web page that doesn’t exist. Immediately after the debate, CNN commentators, usually big Biden boosters, were talking about how he didn’t get it done, didn’t look like a strong debater or a strong candidate. Once they recovered from the shock of what they’d just seen, some started to come back with, well, he did well enough, even if he didn’t do well. Biden was given the most time to speak, he did nothing with it to help his cause, and he’ll probably sink in the polls.
If anything, Kamala Harris was worse. She tried to sell her plan to privatize Medicare by touting the endorsement of Katherine Sebelius, former governor of Kansas and the Obama Health and Human Services secretary who oversaw the dismal, bug-riddled rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Sebelius is now on the board of Devoted Health, along with former Senator Bill Frist (R-TN). Devoted Health is set to make millions if Medicare is re-organized along the lines Harris proposes. It’s been reported that Sebelius “worked with Harris campaign staff as it was being developed.” Harris gives the wealthy what they want – government handouts, like privatizing Medicare so the 1% can make billions off of the injury, illness, and misfortune of others. She’s a bought and paid for shill of the health insurance industry.
Challenged by Gabbard on her record as a prosecutor and Attorney General of California, Harris simply imploded. When confronted with the fact that she prosecuted people for marijuana, then laughed about smoking it (and inhaling), her reply was a weak version of ‘but I support legalization now.’ When challenged to apologize to people she kept in jail past their release dates, she didn’t apologize, she just said she was “proud” of her record. When asked to explain why she withheld exculpatory evidence from a death row inmate, she blustered on about how proud of her record she is. Tulsi shot back, “When you were in a position to make a difference and an impact on these people’s lives, you did not.”
Harris’ campaign co-chair – speaking on Democracy Now! – didn’t even try to dispute these charges, just talked about how many reforms Harris made. While there are some subtleties and nuances that Gabbard elided, the fundamental issues are clear – Harris had the power and the opportunity to avert injustice, and she chose not to. The establishment media will try desperately to rehabilitate her, but too many people are paying too much attention and there are too many independent media outlets. This won’t go away.
I don’t want to dwell on the blow-by-blow because focusing too tightly misses the big picture. There is no core to the establishment candidates’ policies. There is no serious conviction, nothing these people would fight for, tooth and nail. They’re arguing over the narcissism of small differences.
They’re going to fight over covering or not covering 10 million people under a system that hands billions of government dollars over to the 1%, or having a system of private Medicare plans that hands billions of government dollars to the 1%? In the campaign, for theater, sure – we just watched it. In office, behind closed doors, in a negotiation? You believe that and I’ve got a bridge to sell you. They’re going to be driven by insurance industry insiders and lobbyists – like Sebelius (D-KS) and Frist (R-TN), both openly working for the same team now. What will come out will be what the politicians and lobbyists are being paid to make happen, dressed up to look vaguely like what someone promised. The substance will be a government program designed to deliver profits to the 1%, not healthcare to we the people.
The Harris and the Biden “healthcare plan”, every establishment “healthcare plan”, is a government handout to the 1%. Every plan that keeps private insurance is an insurance plan – not a healthcare plan – a government handout to the 1%. That’s why the 1% hate Sanders. He doesn’t have any sugar for them, not on healthcare, not on fossil fuels, not one anything. Sanders doesn’t believe in government handouts.
He believes in everyone paying their fair share.
That wealthy have never paid their fair share. They desperately want to keep it that way.
The first night of debate was a disaster for the wealthists and their shills. All the folks they could count on to carry their water were utterly destroyed. Delaney, Hickenlooper, Ryan, Klobuchar, Beto – Buttigieg had some good lines, I even gave him credit for the most important line of the night, but he didn’t stand out particularly, and he has a much more complicated argument to make.
This is an important point about establishment arguments. They’re not grounded in any substance. Why do you want to keep private health insurance companies around?
They don’t have anything beyond kindergarten boosterism for the “magic of markets”. As Warren has made clear, that’s complete nonsense. Markets don’t work for healthcare because the incentives are the wrong way around. The insurance companies are out to maximize profits and the only way to do that is to not sell insurance to sick people, and deny coverage to anyone enrolled in your plan as often as possible. The only solution to that is taking the profit motive out of healthcare.
Then they’ll rail on about choice, we must have a choice! As Sanders has pointed out, that’s just malarkey. People lose their doctors and hospitals every day and they don’t get a choice about it – if their employer changes their plan, if they change jobs, if they lose their job – they lose their doctor and other care providers. You want to keep your doctor and stop being on this merry-go-round of plans, doctors, clinics, specialists, and hospitals the quest for profit has put us on? You want Medicare for All. All doctors are in network. All clinics and hospitals and specialists are in network. You get to pick your doctor, you get to keep your doctor, clinic, hospital, specialist.
The establishment only has emotional arguments. Scare tactics. They’re not working that well anymore. The vast majority of Americans want a universal system that covers everyone. They’re not scared of the “Government Takeover of Healthcare™” anymore. The only way to get to universal coverage, without a massive government handout to the 1%, is single payer healthcare. The simplest way to get to universal single payer from where we are now is to expand Medicare into Medicare for All.
Next they’ll scream socialism! They’ve been screaming their incantation against socialism for three or four years now. It’s not working. Sanders and Warren are rising in the polls. After this performance, Biden and Harris will probably lose support.
Over the two days of debates the Sanders campaign reports they’ve received $2 million dollars in donations, from over 100,000 contributors, 25% of them first time contributors. That brings Sanders to well over 2 million individual donors. Almost all of them can donate again and again with no worry of running up against the $2,800 contribution limit, because they’re donating $1 and $2 and $20 dollars at a time. His closest rival for largest donor base is Warren, who just passed 1 million donors.
No one else has anything close to one million, much less two million donors. If they did, they’d be crowing about it. No one else picked up 25,000 new donors from the debates, or we’d have heard about it.
The incantations against socialism aren’t working anymore because we “won” the cold war. I’m 48, born in 1971. I barely remember the cold war. Almost no one born after 1980 has any significant memory of it. Hardly anyone born after 1980 has any memory of China as anything more dangerous than the manufacturing wing of Walmart – dangerous because American capitalists use it to bludgeon workers and unions into wage and benefit concessions, not because of socialism.
For the first time since the 1940s socialists are standing up and making their arguments, in full voice. For the first time since the 1940s, the red scare isn’t working. They keep saying it louder and louder, screaming it, and nobody’s paying them much attention.
More accurately, the only people paying attention are pretty much the same people they already had from the racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia. This is no surprise. The more open you are to new ideas, the less likely you are to be racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, or homophobic. The younger generation – those under 50 – are significantly less likely to be any of those things. The older generation are the most susceptible to the red scare, they’re the only ones that have any significant memory of the “red menace”.
There are a number of the older generation – Bernie Sanders, my mom, plenty of other 60s leftists – who already think socialism is a good idea. Those under 50 are more likely to associate socialism with Nordic social democracies. Or they may have some real exposure to socialism through the Democratic Socialists of America, some other group, or their own curiosity – and they know it’s nothing to be afraid of.
It means social and economic democracy. Everyone pays their fair share. No one is allowed to dominate another because of their wealth, race, gender, gender identity, origin, ability, or other excuse for dividing we the people between us and them. That’s Sanders’ message in a nutshell.
It’s the core of what progressives like Sanders are fighting for. It’s what Sanders has been fighting for, tooth and nail, his whole life.
The establishment is in ideological confusion. They have no solid policy ground to stand on. They’re flailing. They’re already trying to distort the polls to make Sanders look like he has less support. They’re trying to block Sanders supporters from showing up on tv. They have no coherent argument against Sanders’ agenda, because it is the logical, rational, science-based agenda. What they have is the wealthist agenda. Full of government handouts to the 1% and platitudes for the rest of us.
Faking the polls and trying the media blackout might work, but I doubt it. More people are waking up to their game every day.
For the first time since the 1940s, socialists are speaking up, in full voice, and the establishment doesn’t have a credible existential threat to distract us with. All we have to do is keep making our arguments.