You don't get what you can't get elected for.
For some time now, the Democratic party has been enthralled in a debate. It centers around whether Democrats should be staking out unshakable grounds on the far Left of the political spectrum on in favor of an immediate, massive, and direct expansion of government, or whether they should seek to pursue a center-Left course that makes the government a partner in people solving our own problems and gradually moves public policy.
I am firmly in the second camp.
The argument of the ideologically inflexible far Left is simple at its core, and that's its best appeal. It has blunt clarity, it is unburdened by nuance or ambiguity, and it integrates a frame liberals are fond of: fight. "You don't get what you don't fight for", says Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a favorite of this side of our party. Bernie Sanders, the patron saint of this line of thinking, wants a revolution.
You indeed don't get what you don't fight for. But in order to have an opportunity to fight for something in politics, you must get elected first.
In other words, you don't get what you can't get elected for.
The battle lines here are actually not, as Warren and Sanders often argue, about big or bold ideas. It's about what ideas are good ideas and what ideas people will vote for in order to elect the next president. For example, I don't think it's particularly bold to force everyone into a single, government run health care plan. It's an old idea, but not a bold one.
For me, a bold idea is to invest in the people the faith to make that choice. Allow everyone and every business to sign up for a public plan or a private one, and make private insurance and the government plan compete on the basis of cost, access, innovation, and care.
I don't think it's necessarily a "big idea" to tell people that everyone can get a job with the federal government if they want to. It's an admission of defeat. It says that government should give up on incentivizing small businesses, investment, and the private sector, where massive, society-altering improvements in standard of living have come from, not to mention that private industry has outpaced the government in expansion of civil rights for some time now. The same big companies villified by "progressive" activists and the same companies that Elizabeth Warren wants to break up were at the forefront of LGBT antidiscrimination long before even a liberal government came along to affirm the dignity of my community.
I am not here to argue that Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, and Google are angels, or even that their market power should not be reined in. But their size was undoubtedly helpful in demonstrating that LGBTQ employees are an asset, not a barrier, to growth. Their established reputations gave their LGBTQ employees the financial security to come out and fight for their rights and dignity in the larger society. To this day, companies like Apple and Microsoft are standing up for Dreamers while the federal government is failing miserably.
The free enterprise system, then, is not just a machine for innovation and productivity. It can also be a vehicle for social progress even when the government lags behind. The truth is corporations are neither intrinsically evil, nor inherently good, and either assumption is equally damaging.
To move massive amounts of employment to a government that often lags behind industry in nondiscrimination doesn't seem to be a "big" idea in any way other than that it will make the federal workforce bigger. Call me old fashioned, but I think the government should determine what it is most effective at doing and hire adequate staff to do it. It shouldn't first decide how many people it wants to hire and then make up jobs to fill.
A better idea? The government makes major investments in public infrastructure, including mass transit, green energy, and rural broadband, and makes private industry compete to get the job done efficiently. What the government needs to do to do that successfully is to have good management. The type of management that the Obama administration instituted, under the supervision of Vice President Biden, during its implementation of the Recovery Act during and in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, is a great example.
There is this impression out there that employing the government as a heavy blunt object to solve all of our economic problems alone counts as a "big idea" rather than deploying the powers of the government as a smart, targeted leverage and resource that people can use to solve their own problems. That is wrong. In fact, it is this view of the government as a hammer and every problem a nail that is truly small, lazy, and lacking in imagination. Americans have done, and can do, better.
So let's dispell this notion that only those with a broken-record-type lazy, let-the-government-do-everything thinking may claim the ground of running on big, bold, progressive ideas. Quite to the contrary, the truly big progressive ideas are coming from those who are proposing innovative, practical ways of solving problems that involve the government as a partner but do not require it to do everything for us.
The American people know this, and that is what makes it difficult for the purveyors of government-solve-all solutions less electable than those devising more innovative policy. It's what makes classic socialism (in contrast with classic liberalism) - state ownership of all resources - unpalatable in the American body politic.
It's not that Americans don't want a candidate who will fight for affordable health care for everybody. It's that we don't want one who doesn't trust us enough to give us a choice.
It's not that an Americans don't want a candidate who will fight for America's workers. We just don't want one who wants to be all of our boss.
It's not that Americans don't want a candidate who will fight to make higher education and vocational education debt-free. It's just that we don't want one who wants to use our taxes to pay off big banks for loans taken out by children of the wealthy.
We want big ideas, not lazy ideas.
As poll after poll have proven, most Americans believe in the same things most liberals do: equal rights under law, equal opportunity to get ahead, and a strong safety net. But in all likelihood, Americans will not elect a candidate who puts all their eggs in the government basket and tries to sell that as a big idea.
And we won't get what we can't get elected for.
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