Debates 2020

Democrats Are Terrified of Their Own Non-Socialism

Those who disagree with Elizabeth Warren's economics tried really hard not to say so during the Dems' first presidential debate


Yesterday, before the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2020 cycle, I argued that early debates can actually tell us a lot about where a political party is heading, and that the biggest question Wednesday would be "Will any non-fringe candidate bring up math?"

Last night's answer came through loud and clear: Oh, hell no.

Literally, the second, third, and fourth questions, asked to the second-, third-, and fourth-highest-polling candidates on stage were invitations to refute the budgetary math and government-energizing approach of the evening's front-runner, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass). And all three competitors whiffed.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), who has made clear in this campaign that she's not a "democratic socialist," was asked to expand on her dismissal of progressive "magic genie" proposals to hand out free money to the likes of college students, but spent just one short, defensive sentence in her 190-word response acknowledging any limitations on giveaways. "So I do get concerned about paying for college for rich kids, I do," Klobuchar said. "But I think my plan is a good one. And my plan would be to, first of all, make community college free and make sure that everyone else besides that top percentile gets help with their education."

Former congressman Beto O'Rourke, who has campaigned in the past on cutting the size of government, was asked whether he would agree to a 70 percent top marginal income tax rate, which has been proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), and bears a passing resemblance to Warren's tippy-top tax. O'Rourke, visibly nervous, literally did not answer the question despite three attempts by moderator Lester Holt, beginning his first filibuster with this perfectly Warrenesque rhetoric:

"Right now, we have a system that favors those who can pay for access and outcomes. That's how you explain an economy that is rigged to corporations and to the very wealthiest. A $2 trillion tax cut that favored corporations while they were sitting on record piles of cash and the very wealthiest in this country at a time of historic wealth inequality."

As I wrote yesterday, "Whether Klobuchar or O'Rourke feel brave enough to stand up for budget math will be a key early indicator of whether bothering to pay for stuff is still a live rhetorical issue in the Democratic Party." They failed the test spectacularly. And they were hardly alone.

Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.), who has been running away from his past enthusiasm for charter schools, took a different tack than evasion or acknowledgment—he simply denied there was any daylight between him and Warren at all.

"You've said we should not 'be running around pointing at companies and breaking them up without any kind of process'," NBC's Savanna Guthrie pointed out. "Why do you disagree?" Booker simply replied, "I don't think I disagree," then went on to bemoan corporate consolidation and criticize companies by name.

As foreshadowed, the only candidate on stage last night to seize the notion of practicability as a differentiator and selling proposition was moneybags former Maryland congressman John Delaney, currently averaging 0.4 percent in national polls. But even Delaney, who injected some comparatively centrist notions into discussions on Medicare and climate change, and whose closing statement emphasized "real solutions" over "impossible promises," turned down a golden opportunity to swat away the statist claptrap of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

After the deservedly loathed mayor posited that the "heart and soul" of the Democratic Party should include such notions as "there's plenty of money in this world, there's plenty of money in this country; it's just in the wrong hands," Delaney was asked directly by Telemundo host José Díaz-Balart "Do you agree?"

Delaney's 229-word answer didn't come close to including the word "no."

"I think we have to do real things to help American workers and the American people, right?" he said. "This is the issue that all of us hear on the campaign trail. We need to make sure everyone has a living wage. And I've called for a doubling of the earned income tax credit, raising the minimum wage, and creating paid family leave." And so on.

Democratic candidates on stage last night did not see their own different-than-Warren economic policy views as potential slingshots to vault their campaigns forward, but rather more like icebergs that could sink the whole enterprise. Klobuchar spent a single sentence defending the apparently controversial-to-Democrats notion that maybe outlawing private health insurance wasn't such a hot idea, then pivoted quickly to evil pharmaceutical companies. O'Rourke couched his own Klobuchar-like reticence in the most lefty sounding way: "If you're a member of a union that negotiated for a health care plan that you like because it works for you and your family, you're able to keep it," he said.

As Nick Gillespie noted this morning, tonight's grown-ups' table debate (featuring 10 candidates with a combined two-thirds of national polling support), will give us the best early opportunity to test democratic socialism with whatever isms front-runner Joe Biden and out-of-nowhere upstart Pete Buttigieg represent. Soon enough, we won't have the John Delaneys of the world to kick around anymore; will any other Democrat be brave enough to buck the party's embrace of magic-genie economics?

NEXT: A Pregnant Woman in Alabama Was Shot in the Stomach and Miscarried. Now, Alabama Cops Are Charging Her With Manslaughter.

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    1. Right now, we have a system that favors those who can pay for access and outcomes, so you’re in luck!

    2. F—! I thought these damned bots were gone!

      F you bot; die and go straight to hell!

  2. We Koch / Reason libertarians shouldn’t obsess over minor differences we have with Democrats on economic issues.

    The most important aspect of economic freedom is the right of anyone on the planet to immigrate to the United States, make a home here, and find a job here. Or maybe not find a job; that’s beside the point. The point is, Democrats are embracing open borders while the GOP has been taken over by alt-right white nationalists.

    Open borders socialists > Nazi “capitalists”


    1. “Or maybe not find a job; that’s beside the point”


      I really do wonder if democrats will make the Reason editors bend to the point of breaking. Nick already mentioned that he is starting to like Trump.

      1. In the world of the economically blind, the one-eyed man is king.

  3. “Libertarians aren’t right or left”
    – morons

    This is the very reason that any libertarian who wants to get something done tries with the republican party. These clown candidates are afraid to speak well of the free market! Every single one of them.

    1. You mean like Ron Wyden and his anti-surveillance accomplishments?

  4. “If you’re a member of a union that negotiated for a health care plan that you like because it works for you and your family, you’re able to keep it,”

    O’Rourke continued with, “muahahaha!”, and made twirling motions with his fingers at the corner of mouth. The moderator made no mention of his laughter.

    1. Gee, where have I heard that lie before?

      1. It does sorta ring a bell, doesn’t it?

        1. It is actually so reminiscent of the previous lie that I am not sure that it is not an implied threat to people who refuse to join a union.

          I am also not opposed to the idea that he is a complete idiot.

          1. Not complete, still under construction, but he’s working hard.

  5. For Fucks Sake… MATH is Hard… UmKayyyyy….

  6. The 2020 election is over 16 months away. Maybe having debates this early, even if just over who the candidates will be, is part of the problem.

  7. Warren will soon proposed the Federal Money Tree Fertilizer and Pesticide Tax Credit Act of 2019 to promote the planting of money trees in everybody’s backyard. That way we can pay for anything.

    1. But what about the people don’t have backyards?! We need to plant the money trees on public parks so everyone can enjoy them. Yes, the homeless will probably use the tree money as toilet paper but at least then everyone can have access to the homeless poop-covered money.

    2. Too much trouble. She should just order banks to add a zero on the left of the decimal point of everyone’s accounts, and tell people to use their Sharpie to add a zero on all currency.

    3. “Warren will soon proposed the Federal Money Tree Fertilizer and Pesticide Tax Credit Act of 2019 to promote the planting of money trees in everybody’s backyard. That way we can pay for anything.”

      By gosh, you may be on to something here: GMO money trees!

      1. I can see the angst of Progressives now.

        “It’s free money for all our social programs!!! But it’s evil workd-killing GMO money!!! What to do!?!?

        And then their heads explode.

  8. Nobody can afford to be the candidate who isn’t promising free ponies.

  9. Can we get some fucking moderation on this site? Please?

    1. Free minds, free markets, and freedom to comment wildly too much for ya?

      1. Maybe he’s referring to the ‘writers.’

        1. Are there writers? I thought everyone was an editor.

  10. “O’Rourke, visibly nervous, literally did not answer the question despite three attempts by moderator Lester Holt”

    Anybody who accepts an invitation to a debate and refuses to answer a direct question should be immediately escorted out of the venue and denied the opportunity to participate in future debates.

    Unless your debate was intended to be a clown show all along, I guess.

    1. Politicians almost never answer questions. At best they regurgitate some canned blurb that might have a slight relationship to the questions.

  11. These candidates are so in the woke silo they cannot even begin to refute extremism for fear a twitter storm will be brought down upon them, and they will be eliminated at the outset.

    Meanwhile Biden [in spite of his numerous faults to closest thing to an actual adult in this rogues gallery] is being excoriated over 1970s bussing.

    I see 4 more years of orange man on the horizon.

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