Who’s Up, Who’s Down, Who’s Out to Lunch

Paul Sancya/AP Photo

Bernie and Liz maintained their hold on the party’s divided left.

Well, Bernie and Liz didn’t fight each other. Of course, that was partly because CNN pitted everyone else against them. I look forward to the future debates chiefly because they will not feature Messrs. Delany and Hickenlooper.

One particularly noxious line of attack leveled against Liz and Bernie was that their support for Medicare for All and the Green New Deal was really an attack on workers who’d won health insurance through their union contracts and would therefore have to lose it (that came from Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan) and that workers in the construction trades and the fossil fuel industry would be cast aside by the Green New Deal-niks (that came from Montana Governor Steve Bullock).

Ryan particularly singled out members of the United Auto Workers as those who would feel betrayed by the enactment of Medicare for All. Among the many things that Ryan doesn’t know, apparently, is the history of the UAW, whose legendary president, Walter Reuther, was the nation’s leading champion of enacting a governmental national healthcare system throughout his long years (1946-1970) at the UAW’s helm. And in December 1978, I heard a brilliant impassioned address at the Democratic Midterm Convention from Reuther’s successor as UAW president, Doug Fraser, calling on Congress and the president to enact what today would be called Medicare for All, and criticizing then President Jimmy Carter for failing even to move in that direction. What these exceptional union leaders realized was not just that only such a system could provide health security to the millions of Americans who didn’t have the kind of coverage that they had negotiated for the auto workers, but also that the resources that General Motors and its peers poured into its health insurance plans could be redirected to higher wages for their members and other workers across America. (This is  not to say that calling for the abolition of private health insurance is not without election-time political risk. Unfortunately, the risk is real.)

Reuther, by the way, also demanded General Motors reconstitute its board so it included worker and public representatives—that was the union’s key demand in the 1946 strike Reuther led against GM. One Democrat currently running for president has proposed a version of that: the presumably indifferent-to-UAW-members Elizabeth Warren

As for Governor Bullock’s fear that in opposing the fossil fuel industry the Democrats aligned with the Green New Deal were indifferent to the fate of the blue-collar workers in those industries, he completely missed or misstated the substance of Warren’s plans in particular. Her plans lay out a massive investment in domestic production (made even more massive by her trade policy, which she released on Monday) that would provide union jobs for displaced oil and coal workers and create a huge amount of work for construction workers. As I discussed at length in my article in the summer issue of the Prospect, Democrats would also likely have to provide compensatory payments for workers in the fossil fuel industries, but there’s no question that Bernie and Liz would be among the many Democrats who’d support such measures.  (The entire Green New Deal discussion was thrown off-kilter by the CNN moderators failure to distinguish between the Markey-Ocasio-Cortez plan and Warren’s. That wasn’t the only thing that the moderators threw off-kilter.)

My overall take on the Tuesday scrum was that Bernie and Liz maintained their hold on the party’s divided left and did well enough to stay in second and third (or third and second) positions in the national polls. I also thought Pete Buttigieg found a way to speak to viewers that was no longer in the brightest-kid-in-the-class mode, into which he fell too often during the first set of debates. He was, in fact, among the most relatable speakers on the stage, with a lot of very (but not overbearingly) trenchant things to say. I expect he’ll remain in the top tier—now a gang of five—as well. I don’t see any of the evening’s candidates not already in that gang moving into it, or expanding it into a gang of six or seven, on the basis of their performances tonight. Marianne Williamson provided some strong answers to questions, but her closing statement was far too woo-woo to boost her significantly.

Presumably the format will become less ridiculous and the candidates’ answers more thorough when the field is winnowed down in the next set of debates. We can only hope.

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