Donald Trump’s dream is that Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination for President. Recent polls, while documenting Bernie’s slow fade from the national stage, also shows Biden continuing to lose support. The emerging winner may be Senator Warren. If this happens, Trump’s dream may become real. He may get to run against a Democrat susceptible to ridicule and who scares many independent voters.
Why is Warren doing so well? What is her appeal? It seems to be her anger, her certainty on who the enemy is, and her cornucopia of big promises. At least for now, this formula appears to be a winner, especially when you suggest your new programs won’t cost average taxpayers a dime.
If this sounds good, why not take it up a notch? Despite a generally good economy, why not suggest the country is on the threshold of economic doom? Many voters are halfway there already. Polls show voters, especially younger ones, uneasy about Trump, climate change and their own future. They are ready for Warren. She’s giving them the message they want to hear.
For good or for ill, the voters most receptive to Warren are not those who will determine who gets inaugurated in 2021. The possibility of a Warren campaign on steroids should make anyone nervous. Unfortunately, however, appealing to moderate voters to date has been a ticket to irrelevance for everyone in the race except Joe Biden. Because of this Warren, hoping to build momentum, and other candidates, hoping to replace Warren as the emerging front-runner, we are likely to see more “big plans.” But what could be promised that has not already been offered by one of the progressives in the race?
Here are a few examples, not things that a moderate would propose, but which would not surprise anyone if proposed in coming weeks by either Senator Warren or Bernie Sanders:
“Cars for all.” Just as healthcare is arguably a basic human right that must be reflected in a plan, so too is transportation. People without cars or other easy means to get from one place to another are handicapped. They can’t accept many jobs because they can’t get to them. They frequently can’t go to school or job training for the same reason. And they may not be able to access healthcare because patients go to doctors rather than doctors to patients. The cost would be more than $15 billion a year, one might guess, but the beauty of this idea is that you can claim it will pay for itself. The people who get cars or “transportation vouchers” under the program would become more productive. And more productive people pay more taxes. These taxes would pay for the program. It’s like magic. Also, cars provided would be electric, something that would help combat climate change and create new green jobs.
A National Workers’ Holiday Month. Instead of unimaginatively adding a new national holiday or two, why not mandate a full month? And why not name it after those citizens who, under the current system, will never be able to take a full month off work? The month would be August, just like France, and not only would non-essential federal offices close, but most private sector business would also be required to shut down. The month off would be a definite crowd pleaser, but, more importantly, climate changing pollution would decrease dramatically for a month and, because the economy would have to make up the production lost to the holiday, unemployment would drop. With less unemployment comes less welfare, which would save the government lots of money. Businesses would also save on air conditioning costs and, well, you know the rest. Advocates of this proposal are likely to argue that it would not adversely impact the economy because people would work harder in September when they returned to work. They would also argue that the shut-down would save the government and business overhead costs.
Free Cable /Streaming TV for All. Many low-income Americans do not have access to HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon Prime or even the Cartoon Network. This is creating a cultural elite of one class of citizens getting premium channels and networks and others stuck with the legacy networks of NBC, ABC, PBS, CBS, and Fox. This is not fair. The solution is to require all media companies to make their programming available for free on a broadcast channel. If a consumer still wants to pay for cable TV, it would be their right to do so. But those without $200 a month to spend on television would no longer have to pretend they don’t like Game of Thrones and other TV. This proposal would cost the government nothing because the “donation” of the programming would be required as a condition of being licensed by the federal government. The government would also benefit by being able to include sponsored messages on its new channels. More anti-smoking public service announcements, for example, would reduce government-paid healthcare costs. The money saved here could be used to provide Smart TVs to those citizens who will need one to tune into their free programming.
I could go on, but I suspect you get where this is headed. We haven’t seen the worst of the “big ideas” that some candidates may be working on even as I write this. Please also know that I am most definitely not proposing any of these “impossible dreams.” The three examples offered here are not intended as thought-starters for Warren, Bernie, or some other candidate hoping to jump-start a moribund campaign.
America needs a moderate candidate to get the Democratic nomination and to win the Presidency in 2020. Some might like some of my tongue-in-cheek “impossible dreams.” But defeating Trump requires not alienating swing voters and being a good President means not bankrupting the country by nationalizing anything not nailed down. Elections should not be run on the candy store model with candidates tripping over themselves to win voters with the biggest promises.
Donald Trump is dreaming about a candidate he can call a socialist. We owe it to ourselves not to let that happen.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy. He is the former chairman of the National College Access Network (NCAN), a group promoting success in higher education among underrepresented groups, and KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national leader in strategic foresight and education innovation.