Tom Steyer is an intriguing presidential candidate – an articulate billionaire who came out early in favor of impeaching Trump and embraces a progressive scheme other rich people object to, the wealth tax. At the last televised debate Nov. 20, Steyer announced a new centerpiece of his campaign -- a plea for term limits as an essential cure to the nation’s election ills.
|John Lewis embraced by colleagues as the voting bill passed the House.
That brought warm applause and shortly thereafter historical significance as Rep. Lewis, often called the conscience of the House, continued to influence his colleagues. He was hugged as they passed – and sent along to the death camp known as the GOP Senate – a restoration of the voting rights act. This was another forward-looking bill (more than 275) passed by the Democratic House and left to wither by Mitch McConnell and the GOP.
Need I mention that Lewis is in his 17th term in the House? Another blow to term limits is Nancy Pelosi, also in her 17th term. I believe that Lewis photo includes (at far right) another veteran, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, now in his eighth six-year term and sometimes called the Senate’s “last Watergate baby.”
Now Steyer has a point. Long incumbency often hurts democracy, since incumbents wield abnormal campaign power (nearly impossible to unseat) and can represent complacency and potential corruption. But sometimes exceptions make the rule. Steyer couldn’t have timed his switch in emphasis worse. The nation clearly has other priorities in this race for the highest office.
|Kamala Harris becomes the gone girl
The TV stakes are now all white faces, including billionaires Steyer and Andrew Wang, whose money can keep them going a long time. Hanging on is Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a common sense Midwesterner who is counting on a miracle in Iowa, which her naturalistic manner may bring off (she is slightly rising in the polls). Newly in the race but not on the TV podiums are Deval Patrick, former Massachusetts governor, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has more billions than anyone else in the contest and is already spending $27 million on ads to make up for lost time.
Bloomberg has the most prominent track record to tout but a long flirtation with Republican roots and a take-charge manner that reminds many of the dictatorial streak we’re trying to avoid this time. His choice of descriptive phrases has also gotten him in trouble since what is forgiven in a Joe Biden is not as easily forgiven in a Bloomberg.
|Is Bloomberg in danger of looking like
the big money bully?
Wang is the futurist and something of a slap-in-the-face realist by asking America to look around the corner at automation and artificial intelligence. But there are hefty problems already on the public’s mind such as climate change and gun safety so that his appeal is more intellectually engaging than a throat grabber. And there is a danger that his platform sounds like a money giveaway – a sort of “Queen for the Day” gift of $2,000 to every adult.
Two other candidates gaining in the Iowa polls, Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, have been sniping at each other about who is more transparent with money figures. I am sometimes bothered by Warren’s “I have a solution for that” answer to everything and to Buttigieg’s simplistic view – an old GOP trope – about the Democrats not paying enough attention to the deficit (while only Bill Clinton and Barack Obama really attacked the runaway debt). But both candidates seem strongly reflective of a positive direction for the voters. Their beating each other up on what rich people support them seems petty.
Frankly, while I strongly disagree with Bloomberg’s attitude that this is a weak field of candidates, I am not blown away by the debate process, which I think does more to elevate the DNC than the candidates. The Democratic National Committee may not have wanted Bernie Sanders in 2016 but it is a gross exaggeration that they “did in” his campaign, which I think was on the road to self-destruction because of his unwillingness to bend in rhetoric as he had done in reality during his Senate career.
The 2016 DNC tampering has become a rallying cry for Bernie supporters this time around. Now the DNC is trying to look more even-handed but they are tilting the playing field by setting boundaries that reward money more than voting power and poll numbers more than the actual living room and Internet debates that are taking place. (This time they may actually be helping Bernie stay in!) People need time to assess the players. And the key issue hovering in the background is whether the US can really wait a year to get rid of Trump or impeach him now before he does more damage.
What people have so far determined is that they know Biden and agree with Trump’s fear of him. It seems to me we are heading for a repeat of 2016, with Biden substituting for Hillary to go against Trump (with Bernie aced out again by super Tuesdays). But this time the voters are better armed. So well armed that they are already looking past the primaries.
Trump keeps saying that impeachment is designed to undo the people’s choice in 2016. Let’s be clear about that fallacy. By three million votes, the people’s choice was Hillary. You could argue that the American people are trying to rectify a minority victory in 2016, conditioned by Electoral College games they were largely unaware of.
The TV debates themselves seem sidetracked into personality disputes, magnified by the media, which always enjoys a fight. I don’t think many of these policy nuances mean all that much since everyone is moving in the same direction on the big issues. There is a danger of making an absolute promise that is not deliverable – and then being castigated by those who voted for you who don’t understand the nature of compromise to get things done.
And sometimes the disputes are just silly. Take the departed Kamala, picking a debate fight with Biden over school bussing, which worked great for her as a child and which, to oversimplify, he supported on the local level but opposed as a federal mandate. Bussing was a noble effort at integration that, in Milwaukee, led my family to bus our children into the inner city. But meanwhile there were black parents forced to bus their children to outlying schools where the kids felt unprotected. If there had been seven black women rather than one on that TV debate stage, there would have been seven different stories about integration via bussing.
This is also the problem of appealing to the voters on racial lines. It’s not like we’re all members of some private political club.
Similarly, Warren has the most detailed domestic agenda and recently brought more people into her camp by suggesting Medicare for All may take several years to implement and that supporting Obamacare in the first rounds was not off the table. Yet to the Bernie people, such pragmatism confirmed their view that she was a capitalist more than a progressive.
Bloomberg is flat wrong that this is a weak field. Objections to Trump are growing to the point that any of these opponents can make a good case. Particularly with an electorate that understands where the candidates are heading more than getting hung up on how they get there. Basically though, I was impressed by the quality of candidates past and present. I remain tolerant – though the tendency to exaggerate will affect my vote -- of how they get themselves in media trouble by over-stating to make an impression.