by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
We’ve had the first couple of sets of Democratic debates, the first on MSNBC, the second on CNN.
Many friends and acquaintances have asked me if I watched. I received a weird, even confused look when I tell them that I have not watched the debates and I’m not planning on watching them.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are not debates. These are beauty contests. Think of those Miss America pageants in which gorgeous 19- and 20-year-old women are asked one serious question. “If you could, how would you change the world?” We invariably get the empty-headed, nonsense gobbledygook that you would expect.
Now, place 10 serious candidates on the stage and give them one minute apiece to answer a serious question. How would you change American policy towards North Korea? “I would bring five to ten thoughtful experts around a table and over three to four days we hammer out a policy that was best for the United States. I would take into account that we are close allies of South Korea and Japan while understanding that Russia and China have a vested interest in what happens to North Korea.”
Nobody in the debate room wants to hear that. Folks in the audience might even boo that answer. But that’s the right answer. That’s the only answer you can give it a minute or two that makes sense. Otherwise you’re spitting out soundbites.
On the other hand … “If they fire one more rocket, I would nuke those degenerates back to the Stone Age.” That answer might get a lot of applause, but it’s the wrong answer for the United States and our allies. (You cannot make thoughtful policy by stringing several soundbites together.) I will begin watching and paying attention when we have four or five serious candidates who are really debating the issues—and are given time to answer in full.
Who are we? What do we want?
The time has come for us to decide what it is we really want? What do we really believe in? Although Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed universal healthcare for all, is that we really want? Millions of Americans currently have health insurance, provided by their employers or that they pay for themselves. Do they simply scrap their health insurance and join Medicare for All? Do you have to sign up for healthcare or is healthcare simply given to all Americans? How do we pay for it? How do we prevent long lines and waiting periods that are seen in Canada and England? I believe in universal healthcare. I believe that healthcare is a right. I also believe that we need to understand the nuts and bolts of whatever proposal we are going to be debating.
Do we believe in freedom? What does freedom mean? If you live in Puerto Rico or DC and you don’t have a voting member in Congress, are you free? If you go to college to chase the American dream and you get saddled with $100,000 or $200,000 in soul-crushing debt, are you free? What is more important, the rights of a corporation or the rights of a citizen? (Hint: which one is mentioned in the Constitution?)
Principles matter, on both sides
As we stand here looking at our Democratic mirror, this is not an esoteric exercise. This is critically important. Our Republican colleagues are imploding as we speak. Conservatives used to believe in law and order, smaller government, balanced budgets, and a whole host of things that haven’t really been embraced by Donald Trump.
As a progressive, I want to be as inclusive as possible. Yet I don’t think that we should include everybody. If you love Nazis and hate Jews, blacks, Hispanics, and anyone who doesn’t look like you, I don’t think that you belong in our big tent. If you love guns but hate the irresponsible use of guns and hate senseless gun violence, we have plenty of room in our tent for you.
If you believe that we are a nation of laws but also believe that separating parents from their children and putting them in cages is morally wrong, we would be happy to work with you in getting those laws changed and figuring out a more humane way to handle our immigration problem. Is our party about basic human rights? Is it about love? Is it about respect?
We can win!
We must look in the Democratic mirror in order to understand this unique opportunity that we have in front of us. We have the ability to win and win big. We won a race in Alabama. Alabama! Understand how earth shattering that is. We won in the reddest state in America. Donald Trump and the Republican Party supported a guy who did not believe in the rule of law. He clearly did not believe in following laws laid down by the Supreme Court. He also thought that it was okay as an adult of 35 to pursue and to date 15-year-old girls. Steve Bannon actually went on the campaign trail and campaigned with this guy. So don’t tell me we can’t win with the right candidate and right message.
We have to look in our Democratic mirror and see the mistakes that we’ve made in the past. We need to avoid the landmines of our past. We need to run candidates who excite voters. More specifically, we have to excite the youth. The 18-to-30-year-olds are the muscle, they are the energy of the Democratic Party. If we don’t have the youth going absolutely nuts over our candidate, we have chosen the wrong candidate. If we are serious, if we run serious people, if we have strong principles, and if we run on those principles, we will win … and we will win big. Don’t listen to me. Look in the mirror and see victory!