Please, no more 10-point plans!

The other day I expressed my dismay to a more liberal friend that Elizabeth Warren was steadily gaining ground in the race for the Democratic nomination.   Not because Senator Warren is not book-smart; she is.  Not because she doesn’t want to make life better for average Americans; she does.  But I am dismayed because she seems to have so little sense about the engines of our American success and seems not to recognize that all her “ambitious plans” are fantastic nonsense.  That critical deficiency will get Trump re-elected.  (OOPS!  There…I said it.)  My friend replied, “She doesn’t mean it.”  Oh?  And that’s good news?

Take “Medicare for All” as just one sad example.  We think we know what that means, but what we don’t know is how much it will cost and how will we pay for it.  And neither does Senator Warren.  Or, judging by her evasive answers, perhaps she knows the number is so huge that she just won’t say.  Is it because she knows we cannot pay for it, or because she knows that the costs are so outrageous that they would bankrupt the economy, or because she really doesn’t care to know?  All those possibilities are disheartening, whether they reveal an immense cynicism about the electorate that mirrors Donald Trump’s — or a willful, immense ignorance about economics that (wait for it!) rivals Donald Trump’s.   The truth is that Medicare for All will cost in the trillions, takes away private options, which even President Obama knew better than to advance, and worst of all, it will merely extend our historic unwillingness to confront the underlying problems that create our healthcare crisis.  We are obese, we eat and drink stupidly, we don’t exercise, and we smoke too much (although in this one area, we are making progress).  Treating the citizenry with ever-more-expensive drugs and interventions is about the least cost-effective way to address the problem.  And, according to PriceWaterhouse, which studied the problem, it will get worse.  One wonders how Elizabeth Warren, who professes to understand Everyman, hasn’t walked through enough Walmart parking lots and shopping aisles to face up to this, let alone understand its policy implications. 

Let’s face it – we ration healthcare now.  Warren pretends that we won’t have to.  That’s a lie.  Whether employers, insurers, or the United States Government rations healthcare, it will be rationed.  How should we do this?  By treating seniors better than children?  By purporting to cover everything with no thought to the greater good?  Why not at least charge a premium for obesity?

And what about “Free college for all?”  It’s laudable that Senator Warren empathizes with those who face high student debt or who passed on college because of cost.  But she seems never to have come to grips with the fact that if you make something free, it will be purchased with little thought for its utility, and it’ll just cost more.  She wants to reward people who took on debt, regardless of their course of study.  We need anthropology majors, but just how many do we need?  I prefer the blunt honesty of Amy Klobuchar, who told an audience of college students, “I wish I could staple a free college diploma under every one of your chairs.” “I wish I could do that, but I have to be straight with you and tell you the truth.” Instead, she supported refinancing of student loans, the expansion of Pell grants, and free community college.   She also supports helping more students get certificates or two-year degrees to enter trades — “everything from welding to technology to robotics” — where a bachelor’s degree isn’t necessary.  That makes sense.  It’s not sexy, it’s not Total Free Stuff, but it’s sensible.  And it might do more for our economy and our society than “free college for all.”

 We need a new paradigm, actually, one that is really not so new.  It involves real honesty – putting forward ideas for things that just might work, not initiatives that attract the most short-term interest or “energize the base.”  And with that honesty (we hope) will come other aspects of simple decency, and rational discourse.   Call me naïve, but I believe there is a great hunger in the land for straight talk, which is in its own way as eloquent as any paean to the impossible. I don’t think that 48 percent of the country has horns and a tail, as some people believe of “the other guys.” Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins recently observed,“No 10-point plan will solve the moral crisis that has infected our discourse.  The next president will not be able to rely on policy prescriptions to heal the wounds inflicted by the Trump presidency.  He or she will have to offer the type of inspirational leadership that has historically reserved for moments of profound tragedy.  Because let’s face it, we are in the midst of a horrific tragedy.”  

Please don’t scoff at the notion, but we need another Ronald Reagan.  Or a George H.W. Bush with eloquence to match his earnestness.  Or a Barack Obama who is not so contemptuous of the democratic process (not that many members of Congress are not deserving of contempt), so that future Lois Lerners get prosecuted rather than shielded, and future immigration reform comes through the Congress, not executive fiat.  (That’s why Obamacare has survived and DACA won’t.)  Similarly, true reform of our firearms laws will come through reaching out to the populace, above the heads of the current pack of obdurate, quarrelsome legislators, to inspire voters to force their representatives to do the right thing, even if only incrementally.  Trite?  Perhaps so, but one advantage of being trite is that you’re less likely to be wrong.  It will be very, very difficult to effect change, but it’s worth the effort, step by step.  There are plenty of Democratic candidates who have the capacity for that kind of patient, persistent effort; whether they will be recognized and rewarded for it with the nomination remains to be seen.  But I am convinced that blunt-instrument “solutions” won’t work.  And undemocratic shortcuts birthed by impatience divide us; they don’t unite us.