Democratic debate roundup: January 14, 2020

Last night I got around to watching the Democratic debates, which I’d recorded on my DVR. Below are my impressions of the six candidates:

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders does an excellent job in the catbird seat of 21st century global capitalism. Many of his assessments of what is wrong are on-target.

For example, most of us can agree that CEO pay has gotten out of control. Last year the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, received a 66% pay raise,  bringing his total compensation to about $43 million. (In 2014, he made $84 million.)

The corporate class has also used the trade agreements of the last generation to ship American jobs overseas. The resulting savings have not returned to American workers. They’ve returned to shareholders and to CEO compensation packages.

In this regard, we might argue that the failures of the corporate class since roughly the year 2000 have created the demand for a Bernie Sanders in 2020. A generation or two ago, corporate managers tended to think in terms of stakeholders, now all they think about are shareholders. I agree with Bernie on this point—and I’ve mostly voted Republican since 1988, the first presidential election in which I was old enough to vote.

I also agree with Sanders about the obscene prices of pharmaceutical drugs, and the general dysfunction of our broken healthcare system. Sanders has stated—no new or original observations here—that Americans pay several times more for healthcare than the citizens of any advanced society. And what we get is not very good, and not at all customer-friendly. (I speak with some experience here, as several of my older relatives have endured long hospital stays in recent years.)

I’ve long argued that some form of government intervention is necessary: In the early 1980s, the federal government stepped in and broke up the Bell System. This was a response to the sky-high prices of long-distance phone charges under the AT&T monopoly. Government actions like that, including reasonable antitrust legislation, can be necessary and beneficial. A similar intervention in the healthcare market is way overdue, and shame on the GOP for failing to introduce a comprehensive new plan, after controlling the White House and at least one branch of Congress for almost four years now.

But we’re talking about Bernie here. While Bernie is great at enumerating problems, his only solution is a government takeover of virtually everything, lock, stock and barrel. Bernie doesn’t want to create more competition in the health insurance and prescription drug markets; he wants to turn them into government-run monopolies, more or less.

I’m not going to say that Bernie is stupid, because I honestly don’t believe that. The problem with Sanders, rather, is that he’s spent a lifetime sniffing his own ideological flatulence. He was an early convert to Marxism. (While still a student, he joined a branch of the Socialist Party of America.) He’s never really been anything but a leftwing political activist or a leftwing politician. He’s certainly never run a business or made a payroll.

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Sanders doesn’t understand how a modern economy works, how wealth (wealth for everyone) is actually produced. This puts him at odds with New Democrats (moderate Democrats) like Bill Clinton, who ran for president in 1992 on the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinton certainly saw a robust role for government stimulus and government regulation. But Clinton also understood that free enterprise—Bernie Sanders’s boogyman—is what creates prosperity. Government can only divide up the pie and control the pie. Government can’t actually bake the pie, or even acquire the flour and sugar.

The net result of all this is that Bernie Sanders can strike me as perfectly rational one minute, and then sound like a frothing student radical from 1968 the next. He’s interesting to listen to at times, but I wouldn’t want him within a mile of the Oval Office.

Elizabeth Warren

Bernie Sanders (see above) is uninformed on many topics. There is no evidence, however, that Sanders is a misogynist or even a male chauvinist. There are video recordings of him—going all the way back to 1987—-in which he states that a woman can be president, and that women should aspire to the presidency.

I therefore don’t believe, not for one moment, that Sanders told Warren that a woman couldn’t beat Donald Trump, as the Warren team now alleges.

Elizabeth Warren is clearly trying to erect a straw man argument here. As Sanders and others pointed out in the debate, the question of whether or not a woman can be the standard-bearer for a major party and fare respectably with the voters has already been settled. No one is seriously posing this question in 2020.

Elizabeth Warren comes across as the stereotypical politician, who will basically say anything in order to get elected. Her campaign is in trouble, and she knows it.

Pete Buttigieg

I disagree with Pete Buttigieg on plenty of issues—such as the Electoral College. That said, Buttigieg is easily the most intelligent of the 2020 batch of Democrats.

Pete Buttigieg is a whip-smart, married gay man who is also a combat veteran of the US military. He ought to be a progressive Millennial voter’s wet dream. But progressive Millennials, lo and behold, largely disdain him, preferring the geriatric Sanders and the flighty Warren. Go figure.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden was looking tired onstage. He fumbled over some of his words, and it was clear that he lost his train of thought a few times.

Joe Biden is 77 years old. At 51, I’m a youngster by comparison, and even I would find the campaign trail grueling.

Age is a fact of life that we all face in various fields of endeavor. In 1985, at the age of 17, I was a state championship cross country competitor. Today I have bad knees, and I get my cardio workouts on a stationary bike or a treadmill.

The current presidential field is dominated by septuagenarians: Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden. Some seventy-somethings clearly have the stamina for the presidency, and others don’t. There are serious questions about Joe Biden in this regard, based on his debate performance.

Amy Klobuchar 

I have a distant connection to Amy Klobuchar: The husband of one of my high school friends attended Yale with her.

Amy Klobuchar seems relatively centrist (as 21st-century Democrats go), and she would probably have a decent chance in the general election. But she’s presently polling at 8% among Democrats. Absent some major upset, it’s difficult to imagine her pulling ahead of Warren, Buttigieg, Biden, and Sanders.

Tom Steyer

What exactly does this guy stand for? During the debate, he was all over the place.

Tom Steyer is presently polling at 2%. No one seriously believes that he’s going to be the Democratic nominee in 2020.