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writing for godot

First and Second Cuts on Dem Presidential Candidates

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Written by David Bass   
Thursday, 21 February 2019 08:28

The number of announced Democratic candidates for President grows each week. Labels abound: establishment, moderate, liberal, progressive, woman, minority, experienced, youthful, ambitious, and so on.

I have no pre-existing preference and it’s not going to be easy to win my support this time around. I’m not going to pick my candidate based on race or gender or regional appeal or any other sort of demographic factor. The first cut is going to be based on two issues, healthcare and climate change.

For 2020, I’m not going to worry about the candidates’ stances on immigration or gun control or deficits or Israel or marijuana laws or any other issues I might care about until I get past the first cut.

Healthcare is solvable. 32 of the 33 most developed countries have universal healthcare systems. It is way past time for the United States of America, the wealthiest of all, to join our peers and adopt a system that assures everyone gets quality healthcare. It doesn’t matter if you call it “Medicare for All” or simply “Universal Healthcare,” public sentiment has never been more favorable.

There is this quaint notion that supporting universal healthcare is confined to the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party. That’s nonsense. We’ve been talking about it since Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party run for President in 1912. But what’s a century among friends? Any Democrat not in favor of universal healthcare bases his or her policy preference on the politics of whether this is a winning or losing electoral issue, not the merit of treating healthcare as a human right as every other wealthy nation has done. To make my first cut, you must make universal healthcare a clear and proud priority.

Climate change is urgent, as one of the top two existential threats of our time, along with the potential for nuclear war. We need to get after it, now, aggressively, comprehensively. While I haven’t studied in detail the Green New Deal, what I’ve read so far suggests more of a concept document than a set of policy proposals. As with universal healthcare, I’m not as much concerned about the semantics as about the clarity and urgency of the candidate on tackling climate change.

Some candidates will make my first cut; others won’t.

The second cut will be all about character. One part of character is the ability to get things actually done, to form effective coalitions, to bring recalcitrant followers inside the tent, to overcome obstacles (of which there will be many). The enormity of my first cut issues begs for an FDR or LBJ-style leader who can turn grand ideas into lasting policy.

The other part of character is the strength of integrity and personal values to avoid being corrupted by the decreasingly limited power of the Chief Executive Office. Congress continues to yield power and the last three President’s haven’t hesitated to claim it, altering immigration laws, spying on private citizens, assessing new taxes in the form of tariffs, fighting undeclared wars, shifting appropriated funds, and non-enforcement of all sorts of laws and regulations proscribed by Congress but inconvenient to the Presidential agenda. Too many of the people with titles suggesting authority in Congress (sorry, I can’t bring myself to call them “leaders”) only care about executive overreach when it’s being done by the other party, which isn’t enough to prevent de jure equal branches of government from de facto inequality.

As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” So I’m going to screen the candidates who survive the first cut based on their tendencies, to the extent known or knowable, to be susceptible to corrupt influences. In present day America, this is all too obvious. Which of the candidates will best reflect the character of George Washington, who declined virtually unlimited power (he could have established himself as an American Monarch), resigned his commission and returned to civilian life after liberating our nascent country from British control.

That’s where I’ll start. Show me the candidate who prioritizes universal healthcare and addressing climate change, and has the political skills to be effective on this two complex issues and the strength of character not to be corrupted by the power of the highest office. We’ll go from there.

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