From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The Fierce Urgency of Less
Date October 19, 2019 2:05 AM
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[The three B’s (Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg) of can’t-go-big]
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THE FIERCE URGENCY OF LESS   [[link removed]]

 

Harold Meyerson
October 17, 2019
The American Prospect
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_ The three B’s (Biden, Bloomberg, Buttigieg) of can’t-go-big _

Pete Buttigieg, left, and Joe Biden talk on stage following the
Democratic debate at Otterbein University, October 15, 2019, John
Minchillo/AP photo

 

The new moderate meme is that big proposals are not only unenactable
but also disqualify those who make them from the presidency. That was
the attack that Pete Buttigieg delivered last night against Elizabeth
Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Beto O’Rourke. “Why unnecessarily
divide this country over health care when there’s a better way to
deliver coverage for all?” he asked Warren. “We can’t wait”
for more comprehensive programs to be codified and implemented, he
told O’Rourke, swatting down Beto’s proposal to outlaw assault
weapons.

An unsuspecting reader of Wednesday’s _Washington Post _would have
come across a similar line of attack in an op-ed
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former New York mayor and current gazillionaire Michael Bloomberg, who
in a fit of Warren-phobia is reported
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be considering jumping into the presidential race. “The presidential
aspirants are not short on big ideas,” Bloomberg wrote.

But voters must demand they explain how they intend to move from
proposing plans to actually implementing them, including passing them
through Congress. Those who dodge the question by speaking of
revolution and the bully pulpit aren’t up to the job.

(Apparently, Bloomberg thinks neither Theodore nor Franklin Roosevelt
was up to the job.)

What underlies these theories of political change are empirically
baseless assumptions of a Biden-esque variety—specifically, that
more moderate proposals can win Republican support, as they did during
Biden’s early years (the 1970s) in Congress. As anyone who’s been
at least dimly conscious since the mid-1990s should be able to attest,
that world, with that kind of Republican, has vanished tone and tint.
Considering that the Affordable Care Act passed without a single
Republican in either house voting for it, does Buttigieg really think
he can win Republican votes for his own “Medicare for All Who Want
It”?

Suppose, however, that the Democrats win control of both houses of
Congress next year, and enact Warren’s proposal to eliminate the
filibuster, so that they can pass a bill through the Senate with 51
votes. Let’s say Warren is the new president, despite the efforts of
Buttigieg and Bloomberg to keep that from happening. She still may not
have the 51 Democratic votes to push Medicare for All through the
Senate—or, say, to enact a serious wealth tax. Under those
circumstances, she’d probably settle for whatever most closely
approximates Medicare for All, and perhaps a scaled-back wealth tax,
while not abandoning the fight to get stronger legislation in future
years.

And despite the objections of Bloomberg and Buttigieg, that’s how
you get political change. If you don’t mobilize voters for ambitious
change and use the bully pulpit to build support for major reforms,
you can’t even get incremental fixes. Consider, for instance, the
fight for a $15 minimum wage, which appeared almost fantastical when
fast-food workers began demanding it in 2012. If those workers had
heeded Buttigieg’s counsel of only demanding what was immediately
political feasible—that’s what Mayor Pete means when he counters
ambitious proposals with his new catchphrase, “We can’t
wait”—they would have demanded an increase in the federal minimum
from $7.25 to, say, $7.50. And still, the Republicans would have
opposed it (as in fact, congressional Republicans have opposed all
efforts to raise the wage over $7.25). Instead, over the subsequent
years, the workers persuaded states and cities to phase in a raise to
$15.

At bottom, though, the aversions of Mayor Pete and Mayor Mike to the
ambitious plans of Sanders and Warren aren’t strategic; they’re
ideological and self-interested. Neither believes the American economy
needs the upending it requires to produce a more egalitarian economy
and politics. Mayor Pete’s campaign funding depends too much on
those at the top who don’t wish to relinquish a share of their
wealth and power; Mayor Mike is the very personification of the
funders Mayor Pete relies on.

So when the three B’s of Fighting for Less—Biden, Bloomberg, and
Buttigieg—tell us to demand less, they are laying the groundwork for
winning nothing. 

_HAROLD MEYERSON is editor at large of The American Prospect. His
email is [email protected] Follow @HaroldMeyerson
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