If you were to take a drink every time a candidate other than Joe Biden invoked President Barack Obama in campaign 2020, you’d be very thirsty. But if you lifted a glass every time Democrats took him to task recently, you’d be hungover. On Thursday Sen. Kamala Harris described the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Obama’s signature achievement, as a “starter house,” to be torn down in favor of a McMansion to be built on spec, no money down, with little prospect it would get approval from the controlling legal authority known as the Senate, which is stacked against you.
Say what? It’s become the fashion for progressives keen on showing how bold they are to distance themselves from the legacy of the first African-American president, the most admired man in the world, who, more astoundingly, is approved by 66 percent of Americans in a country so divided that apple pie is lucky to break 50. When asked which president has done the best job in their lifetimes, more Americans name Barack Obama than any other president, including Republicans’ beloved Ronald Reagan.
A record that doesn’t provide Excitement! Vision! Structural Change! is not to be extolled, we’re told. It won’t get progressives up off the sofa and out to vote. So rather than paint a calm picture of the blessed day after Trump is out of office, they are drawing a contrast with those unexciting days of yesteryear when Obama pushed through the only major reform of our broken health-care system since Medicare. They’re asking voters to scrap that good, but not perfect, law. In its place, a catchall of varied proposals called Medicare For All (MFA), written on the back of an envelope, that would restructure one-fifth of the economy. Trump will label Democrats socialists for that exciting vision, but he’ll do that anyway, so full speed ahead.
At Tuesday’s debate, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, on stage for the first time, noticed the strange tack his colleagues were taking. “It used to be Republicans that wanted to repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said in his one minute. “Now it’s Democrats.” They didn’t listen. Bullock is “a Biden,” one of those left-repelling moderates in the “mend it, don’t end it” camp on the ACA. Forget that he’s also done something no other candidate has—the only blue governor to get re-elected in a state Trump won by 20 points on a largely progressive agenda.
No, nothing to see there. Instead many of the candidates are emulating Biden’s closest competition, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders (who wrote the “damn bill”), and venturing into the land of the unknown where private insurers are banished and a new world of doctors making house calls arises from the ashes. In its most familiar version, MFA takes employer-provided insurance away from swing voters in the very states Democrats must win back, and from workers who gave up wages in exchange for better benefits. Former Rep. John Delaney, another little Biden, likened it to trying to pass Social Security while making private pensions illegal.
The only good thing about a speculative rehab of health care is that it deflects attention from the proposals to decriminalize illegal border crossings paired with attacks on Obama for deporting 300,000 people a year who had recently arrived illegally or with criminal records, a move early in his administration when he was trying to convince Republicans to pass immigration reform. At the same time, he protected children born and raised here safe under DACA.
None of the Obama bashers brought up what Trump ‘s doing: criminalizing legal asylum crossings which allows him to separate children from their parents (Obama detained some families; he did not separate them) and cage them like cattle. They’re too busy worrying over restoring voting rights to felons (think gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, should he get paroled, or Jeffrey Epstein, should he ever get what’s coming to him). Even generous Americans flinch at the idea of giving health insurance to undocumented immigrants when so many citizens are one cancer diagnosis away from financial ruin.
Democrats are giving swing voters, sickened by Trump and begging for reasons to trust them, pause. Progressives explain they’re just avoiding the disaster of another Dukakis and Mondale, who lacked bold ideas. But who needs bold ideas when there’s a country hungry to be rid of the most dangerous president ever? It’s true that candidates should use their airtime to tell voters what new things they will do for them, but not to the exclusion of what Trump has done to them. Trump gloated Thursday that “Democrats spent more time attacking Obama than they did attacking me.”
The contest the Democratic party has set up and the cable news networks are airing has become a Lord of the Flies affair: eat your own now to qualify for the next debate. Do it even if it means cutting loose the best thing Democrats have going for them if it helps knock Obama’s v.p. out of contention. At this latest debate, Biden stood up to the hits —if anyone it was Harris who looked unprepared, when soon-to-be afterthought Tulsi Gabbard took on Harris’ record as California’s top prosecutor. Biden stumbled over how to text him, but even the youngest among us can’t remember all the numbers modern life requires.
To remind us that no matter how misguided Democrats get from time to time, and that no one could ever sink to his level, Trump topped off weeks of demeaning Democrats of color and the cities they live in with a tweet Friday morning. Upon learning that the home of one of his targets had been broken into, Trump tweeted, “Really bad news! The Baltimore house of Elijah Cummings was robbed. Too bad!”
Still, Democrats shouldn’t press their moral advantage by asking voters to do too many things in addition to denying Trump a second term, which will be the end of us. Trump already claims he’s the one protecting pre-existing conditions and added, at a Thursday evening rally, that he’s curing AIDS and childhood cancer. As the party that brought health care to millions and defended it against Republican attempts to gut it, Democrats shouldn’t give anyone a single reason to believe him.