Ten Principles that Unify Democrats (and most of the country)

By focusing attention on comparatively minor policy differences, the debates are obscuring a broad Democratic consensus that voters need to hear about.


Several years ago I was having lunch with a friend when the Democratic candidate for Congress came through the nearly empty restaurant, shaking the few hands available. After she left, our young waitress came to the table, and I could tell that she had a question unrelated to food. I expected her to ask whether we knew anything about the candidate, but her actual question was much more basic: “Do you know anything about Congress? Is it, like, important?”

That encounter taught me a lesson I have not forgotten: People who pay attention to politics often talk about “low-information voters”, but most of us have no idea just how low-information they are.

Back in 2004, Chris Hayes learned similar lessons from the undecided voters he canvassed in Wisconsin.

The majority of undecided voters I spoke to couldn’t name a single issue that was important to them. This was shocking to me. Think about it: The “issue” is the basic unit of political analysis for campaigns, candidates, journalists, and other members of the chattering classes. It’s what makes up the subheadings on a candidate’s website, it’s what sober, serious people wish election outcomes hinged on, it’s what every candidate pledges to run his campaign on, and it’s what we always complain we don’t see enough coverage of.

But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to. … The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief — not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.

Year after year, elections come out they way they do because people like my waitress or Hayes’ undecideds vote one way or the other or stay home. Those decisions are made on a much simpler level than we usually imagine, and the arguments we find so convincing often miss their targets completely. If such voters are persuaded, it is more likely because of our earnestness or our tone or something we said in the first ten seconds. Or maybe we inadvertently convinced them to vote against our candidate for some similarly tangential reason.

That’s what I was thinking Tuesday as I watched the final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucus, which will happen February 3. Debates draw out differences, and when candidates share basic goals and values, their differences are often deep in the details of policy. Those policy distinctions — like Medicare for All vs. Medicare for All Who Want It vs. adding a Medicare-like public option to ObamaCare — mean nothing to most low-information voters.

Worse, the squabbling over programmatic details hides the candidates’ vast areas of agreement. The New York Times, justifying its decision to endorse both progressive Elizabeth Warren and moderate Amy Klobuchar this morning, wrote:

The Democratic primary contest is often portrayed as a tussle between moderates and progressives. To some extent that’s true. But when we spent significant time with the leading candidates, the similarity of their platforms on fundamental issues became striking.

I believe that those points of consensus should be the central message of the campaign against Trump. That consensus is the best definition of what it means to be a Democrat, and is a better predictor of what the next Democratic administration will accomplish than any particular candidate’s program — even the winner’s. (In 2008, Hillary Clinton’s healthcare plan had an insurance mandate and Barack Obama’s didn’t. But when Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, it had a mandate. So if you voted for Obama over Clinton to avoid a mandate, you failed in your purpose.)

Political wonks are always tempted to dive down into the weeds of policy and argue why Candidate X’s plan is superior to Candidate Y’s. And I understand how those differences can seem terribly significant when you are in the throes of a primary campaign. But I think that’s exactly the wrong thing to be doing when we get rare moments of national attention, as we did Tuesday. What the public needs to hear are the principles that unify Democrats and set them against the current administration, not the fine details of policy that differentiate one Democrat from another.

Charles Blow made a similar point Wednesday morning:

Trump has laid out his vision for America: It is the racial Hunger Games. … The Democratic candidates, too, would be well warned to stick to a vision — a diametrically opposite and dynamically animating vision that will activate and energize the targets of Trump’s aggressions.

If I see Trump as a pestilence I may not see in your tome of plans a cure.

Here’s where I stand: If Candidate A’s policies are analytically superior, but Candidate B is the more convincing proponent of the Democratic consensus, I want to vote for B. That’s the difference I’d like to see the debates showcase. That’s not “electability” as it is commonly discussed; it’s who we should want as our spokesperson.

What do I think is in the Democratic consensus? I thought you’d never ask.

1. If you get sick, you should get the care you need, and your family shouldn’t have to go bankrupt paying for it.

If you showed this statement to the 20-odd candidates who have run for the Democratic nomination in this cycle, I firmly believe they would all agree with it.

Their differences are all about how to get there: What is the most efficient way to deliver that much healthcare? How would the country pay for it? What’s the most politically expedient path forward?

Bernie Sanders wants to get there in one fell swoop, with a government insurance plan that eliminates private insurance and is paid for by taxes. Most of the other candidates on the debate stage (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar) don’t believe they could pass such a plan, so they want to take a smaller step in the same direction by building on ObamaCare. (Once the public sees how that works and develops confidence in it, take another step.) Elizabeth Warren is somewhere between, proposing a Bernie-like program with a phase-in period.

That’s what they’ve been arguing about. Trump, on the other hand, has sabotaged ObamaCare, tried to repeal it in Congress, and is still backing a lawsuit that would declare it unconstitutional. Despite a lot of rhetoric about “replacing” ObamaCare, he has never released a plan for doing so. The upshot is that if he succeeds in his aims, tens of millions of people will lose health coverage.

2. We can and should do much more to slow down climate change.

President Obama did a number of things to slow down climate change, but Trump has undone almost all of them: Obama joined the Paris Climate Accord; Trump withdrew from it. Obama substantially raised fuel economy standards for cars and trucks; Trump initially froze them at the old levels, then agreed to a minor increase. Trump reversed Obama’s Clean Power Plan to cut carbon emissions from plants that generate electricity. Trump’s plan to roll back standards on methane emissions is too radical even for some oil companies.

All the Democratic candidates want to do more than Obama did, not less. They disagree about how much more and how fast it can happen.

None of the candidates denies or tries to minimize the significance of the scientific consensus on climate change: It is real. We already are seeing the effects. It is caused primarily by the carbon emissions that happen when we burn fossil fuels. It will reach catastrophic levels if the world does not substantially reduce its carbon emissions.

3. If you’re willing to work hard, you should be able to find a job that pays a decent wage.

Trump has reason to crow about the unemployment rate, which is very low right now. (Whether low unemployment is due to any policy of his, or is just the continuation of trends that started under Obama — that’s another debate.) But a lot of the people who have jobs are still not making a wage they can live on.

The federal minimum wage is still $7.25, the same as it was in 2009. The purchasing power (after inflation) of the minimum wage peaked in 1968. (The value of 1968’s $1.60 wage is $12.00 today.) In none of the 50 states is a two-bedroom apartment affordable on a full-time minimum wage.

President Obama tried to raise minimum wage to $9, but couldn’t get Republicans in Congress to go along. All Democratic candidates want a much greater increase. Both Bernie Sanders (the most liberal Democratic candidate) and Joe Biden (one of the least liberal) are calling for $15.

Democrats across the board want to create jobs paying good wages by repairing our country’s roads and bridges, modernizing the electrical grid, and shifting to renewable energy sources that don’t contribute to climate change.

4. The burden of taxes should fall primarily on those best able to bear it.

The benefits of the Trump tax cut went almost entirely to large corporations and the very rich. Despite the promises he often made during the 2016 campaign and repeated early in his administration, the new tax rules particularly favor people like him. In fact, many of the tax breaks that the law preserves or extends seem to be targeted precisely at benefiting Trump himself or his family. (That’s one reason he doesn’t want you to see his tax returns.)

This is part of a long-term trend that has lowered the tax rates paid by the super-rich.

(Sometimes you’ll see an article claiming that the very rich carry more of the tax burden than they used to, but these claims are deceptive: The very rich have seen their incomes go up many times faster than the rest of us. They get a much bigger piece of the pie than they used to, but while their share of the tax burden has gone up somewhat, it has not gone up proportionately.)

Corporations are also carrying a much smaller tax burden than they did in decades past. The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy lists 60 corporations that among them made nearly $80 billion in profits, but paid no taxes in 2018 under Trump’s new law.

Meanwhile, the federal deficit (which Republicans thought was an existential crisis when Obama was president, but have since forgotten about) has nearly doubled under Trump — from $665 billion in FY 2017 to a projected $1.1 trillion next year. This comes at a time in the economic cycle when the deficit ought to be going down, because it will rise even further when the next recession comes.

All the major Democratic candidates would reverse most of the Trump tax cuts, and all call for shifting more of the tax burden back to the rich. Elizabeth Warren is the most vocal about this, calling for a 2% wealth tax on fortunes over $50 million. The rest don’t go quite that far, but all  agree that the rich should pay more.

5. If you want to develop your talents through education, money shouldn’t stand in your way.

States used to put big money into their university systems, but they no longer do. As a result, college of any kind has become unreasonably expensive — far more expensive than it was a generation ago. (Until 1970, the University of California charged California residents zero tuition.)

As a result, too many of our young people face a terrible choice: Give up on developing their talents after high school, or take on debts that they may never be able to pay off. Or their parents face the choice: See their children stuck in dead-end jobs, or take all the money they had hoped to retire on and hand it to a university.

Wasted talent isn’t just a personal tragedy, it’s a loss for all of us. If our young people don’t learn 21st-century skills, American businesses will have a harder time finding good people, foreign companies won’t want to open branches here, our economy as a whole will be less prosperous, and the professionals we have to deal with in our personal lives (doctors, accountants, dentists, teachers, etc.) won’t be the best people. There is also a more subtle cost: the loss of the American dream. When only the rich can afford to send their children to college, the upper classes become entrenched; where you are born is where you will stay.

Democratic candidates have a variety of plans to do something about this: Some want to make public colleges free for everyone, or maybe just free for people whose parents aren’t rich. Some want to forgive all student debt, or only part of it. As with healthcare, the difference isn’t in the general principle, it’s in how to bring it about and who will pay for it.

The Trump administration’s priorities are diametrically opposed: They are constantly looking for ways to cut back on student aid or student loans, or to make them harder to pay off. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has consistently shown more interest in for-profit colleges that rip students off than in the students being victimized.

6. America should be a positive example to the rest of the world. When international cooperation is necessary to solve global problems, our country should lead.

We’ve fallen a long way from the “shining city on a hill” Ronald Reagan used to brag about. These days, if you’re a third-world dictator and you want to torture people or channel government money into your own pocket or use your law enforcement agencies to investigate people who cross you or accuse the press of being “the enemy of the people” or claim a phony emergency to grab power from your legislature, you just point to the United States and quote its president. It’s fine. All the best countries are doing it.

We’re now a country none of the other countries trust, because our word means nothing. Imagine how shocked our loyal allies in Canada were when we raised tariffs because we considered Canada a risk to our national security. Or talk to the Kurds, if you can still find any.

Historically, America has been an idealistic nation. Since World War II, it has led the community of nations towards higher standards of human rights and a freer exchange of ideas and people. The US has been key in setting up regional alliances for mutual security, with NATO being the shining example.

Today, the world faces many problems that no nation can solve on its own; most significantly, climate change, but also terrorism, nuclear proliferation, floods of refugees fleeing wars or climate-change-related catastrophes, and several others. But the Trump administration has chosen to step back from world leadership with a go-it-alone policy. Given our military power and central role in the world economy, no other nation can take our place.

Democrats want the US to be a good citizen of the community of nations, and to rally the nations of the world to confront the unique challenges of this century.

7. Every American should be encouraged to vote, and all votes should count equally.

For the last decade or so, Republicans all over the country have been putting obstacles in the way of people who want to vote, particularly if they are poor, black, HIspanic, or in school. Even if such people do manage to vote, gerrymandering can concentrate them in a small number of districts so that they wind up with fewer representatives in Congress or state legislatures. You can see the result in a state like Wisconsin, where Republicans maintain power no matter how the people vote. (In 2018, 54% of Wisconsinites voted for Democratic candidates for the state assembly, but those candidates won only 36% of the seats.)

The first bill Democrats passed when they got control of the House of Representatives last year was House Resolution 1 of 2019: The For the People Act. That law would end gerrymandering, extend voting rights, and set up a program to limit the power of large donors to political campaigns. The Republican-controlled Senate refused to vote on it.

Ultimately, Democrats would also like to get rid of the Electoral College — which allowed Donald Trump to become president even though Hillary Clinton got nearly 3 million more votes.

8. All Americans should be equal before the law, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, income, religion, or any other characteristic that isn’t relevant to the purposes of the law. All citizens should be treated with equal respect by law enforcement.

“Liberty and justice for all” is a key part of our national identity, but we haven’t been doing a good job of delivering it. Race makes a difference at every level of our justice system: Black neighborhoods are more heavily policed, leading to more arrests. Arrested blacks are more likely to be charged with crimes; charged blacks are more likely to be convicted; convicted blacks on average get longer sentences. The result is that a substantial portion of the black male population is in jail. (Laws preventing felons from voting, even after they leave prison, are a major way that minorities are prevented from exercising political power proportionate to their numbers.)

Far too often, black men and women die in encounters with police without ever reaching the justice system.

These problems existed long before Donald Trump took office. But as with climate change, the Obama administration was trying to do something about them, and the Trump administration has undone all that progress. In particular, Trump’s Justice Department has all but stopped oversight of racism in local police departments. Trump himself has actively encouraged police to physically abuse suspects.

Any Democratic candidate for president would get back on the Obama/Holder track of trying to reduce the racism in law enforcement and the legal system.

9. As much as possible, politics should be insulated from the corrupting influence of concentrated wealth.

Briefly, controlling campaign finance looked like a bipartisan issue. Republican Senator John McCain made it a central plank of his first presidential campaign in 2000, and he teamed with Democrat Russ Feingold to produce the McCain-Feingold Act in 2002.

But Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents have subsequently declared unconstitutional just about any substantive limits on political spending. One of the few remaining options for controlling big-money politics is disclosure (i.e., letting the public know who is financing political ads, rather than letting big-money interests hide behind shell organizations with vacuous names like “Concerned Citizens Against …”), but the Republican Senate has blocked any such legislation.

This is one of the clearest differences between the parties: Republicans want big-money donors to have as much power as possible, while Democrats want to limit the power of money in general, and (to the extent that those limitations prove impractical) enhance the power of small donors.

10. The basic constitutional covenant is still necessary and should be respected: majority rule that respects minority rights, three branches of government that check and balance each other, and an appropriate balance between the public good and individual freedom.

For years, preserving or restoring the Constitution has played a major role in Republican rhetoric, but President Trump has made a mockery of all that. This is one of the major issues in his impeachment, and should be a major issue in the 2020 campaign as well.

The Constitution assigns Congress the “power of the purse”, which means that no money can be spent without Congress’ approval. But when Congress refused to fund Trump’s border wall last year, even after a lengthy government shutdown, he declared a phony “state of emergency” and seized the money from other programs. He also illegally held up money that Congress had appropriated to aid Ukraine.

Congress has a constitutional duty to keep oversight over the executive branch, but Trump has routinely refused to provide subpoenaed documents and witnesses, arguing in court that he has “absolute immunity” against any investigations whatsoever. His legal arguments are absurd, but will serve to delay things in the courts long enough to keep the public from finding out what he’s been doing until after the election.

The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but he committed an act of war against Iran without consulting Congress.

Again and again, Trump has shown that he admires dictators: Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping, and many others. (The New Yorker’s satirical Borowitz Report says “Ayatollah Mystified That He is the Only Dictator Trump Dislikes“.) That’s because he wants to be one.

In spite of decades of Republican rhetoric, Democrats are now the party that stands for the Constitution.

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Comments

  • Daughter Number Three  On January 20, 2020 at 10:52 am

    Where do you see reproductive freedom and justice fitting into these 10? I see them under number 8, because how can you be equal under the law if you aren’t allowed control (including medical control) of your own body.

    • weeklysift  On January 20, 2020 at 12:01 pm

      You’re right. I should have mentioned it explicitly. The difficulty bringing men to justice for domestic violence and sexual harassment also fits in #8.

    • weeklysift  On January 20, 2020 at 12:11 pm

      If I were going to do a separate principle for abortion, I think I’d phrase it: “Decisions about birth control and pregnancy should be made by women and their families, not by governments.”

    • weeklysift  On January 20, 2020 at 12:11 pm

      Guns were another major omission, now that I think about it.

  • Jeff R.  On January 20, 2020 at 11:50 am

    Bravo. I think this is brilliant! Both the candidates and we readers can “debate” over the details of these ten principles. What is central, though, is the concept of commonality. These operationalize our values and identity. And if the Republicans want to say, well, they too endorse these, then it’s a straightforward exercise to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the legislation they’ve enacted. Or, if they oppose these principles, then I think they’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

  • Ed Blanchard  On January 20, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    Thank you, Thom, for another well-thought out and consisely-written narrative. In the midst of today’s “politics” the informed, non-combative voter is becoming our nation’s fastest depleting asset. Your reports are a much needed antidote. Please, keep them coming. I pray every day that our country will make a comeback.

  • Guest  On January 20, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    For us the Sift faithful, the message of unity and common principles is spot on, thank you, Doug. And broadly, a positive, forward looking vision, even if built more on rhetoric and marketing than substance, seems to attract voters better than a negatively framed campaign (Obama had hope and change, but Clinton like Kerry before her seemed to rest on the point of not being her political opponent…and Biden ominously seems to want to follow in their footsteps).

    However, if the context is specifically low-info voters, then this article kind of begs the question. Demonstrating the commonality of Democratic hopefuls on a host of issues…to a sub-population who, almost by definition, don’t know/care much about those issues…sounds like we are skipping a step. Also, to a low-info voter, the message of “all Democrats are the same” might just as easily come off as disparaging rather than encouraging, particularly if their material situation didn’t improve much in the Obama years.

  • Thomas Paine  On January 20, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    Amy Klobuchar is a “moderate” only when compared to the far-right reactionaries across the aisle. She’s a corporate centrist in the model of HRC and someone who would best be represented by the campaign slogan “No We Can’t!”

    Amy Klobuchar sells herself as someone who rejects programs that would benefit most Americans on the basis that those programs would not be favored by who she believes would only vote for someone who also rejects them, failing to acknowledge, of course, that the election in November is a national referendum on Trump, not on specific issues, and especially not on detail-driven schisms within issues a healthy majority of Americans support in principle, such as some form of publicly financed health insurance for American citizens.

    She doesn’t really stand for anything other than “electability”, this, in spite of the fact that she’s never faced anything but being the state-wide nominee of the dominant coalition party in white bread Minnesota. And the way she has stood for this is to mimic HRC by making an appeal to the right while mocking the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party (which, technically, she’s not even a member of) as proposing impractical solutions that are not worth even trying for.

    Look, if people want to elect a traditional Republican as POTUS, since the GOP has turned into an authoritarian, fascist cult, that’s their prerogative. But let’s be accurate in our descriptions of the candidates before us, especially during the primary process, which is, after all, about making distinctions between them rather than wrapping them all up in soft gauze and saying anyone will do.

    It’s the primary process. Low-information (what a euphemism for ignorant) voters aren’t paying attention, and won’t until about three weeks before the general election. That’s basic poli-sci. Attempting to speak to them now is not only a waste of energy, it misses the importance of what’s actually going on.

    it’s the time for differences and distinctions, especially this cycle when the mission in November – to remove Trump – will result in the Democratic nominee being the person to govern for at least the next four years regardless of who that person is. So – let’s pick the best one, and let’s go through a thorough process of identifying what best is, based on what we want the next four years to look like. And that means focusing on the differences and speaking to the high-information participants who are paying attention and who will make the final selection in their state primaries, caucuses, and at a national convention that may well not have a clear-cut nominee going in.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On January 20, 2020 at 2:38 pm

      I don’t think we have to worry about Klobuchar. The main effect she will have in Iowa is on whichever candidate her supporters realign to after she fails to meet the 15% threshhold and is eliminated in the first round of voting. She and Yang (that is, their supporters) may be the kingmakers in that case. I haven’t seen any polls asking who everyone’s second choice is, which doesn’t make a difference in a primary, but can be significant in a caucus.

      • Guest  On January 20, 2020 at 4:29 pm

        Wait, George, do we not have to worry about Klobuchar or is she a potential kingmaker?!

        Re second choice, 538 put out a piece in December “Voters’ Second-Choice Candidates Show a Race That Is Still Fluid” which showed, in something of a surprise, Sanders being the top backup choice for Biden supporters; Warren for Sanders supporters and vice-versa Sanders for Warren supporters; Biden equal to Warren for Buttigieg supporters; and Biden for Bloomberg supporters. At the time, Klobuchar wasn’t worth the ink apparently. This was a month and a half ago, so take it with a grain of salt and all that.

      • Thomas Paine  On January 21, 2020 at 12:01 am

        This is as good a place as any to note what a garbled mess the presidential primary system is. Why should Iowa and N.H, two white states that don’t remotely represent the constituency of the Democratic Party, get to set the perception of front-runners that deserve crucial financial support? Why should some states use a convoluted caucus system in the 21st century? Why should private organizations, which is what political parties are, get to use public funds and administration while conducting the process by whatever means their leaders/directors choose regardless of whether those processes are fair to either citizens or candidates?

        In addition, this year’s Democratic primaries demonstrate why they should be using a preferential balloting system, where people get to rank every candidate and have their votes move to their second, and then third, choice when their own personal choice is eliminated. In fact, this is what should be done for all elections where there’s more than two candidates.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On January 21, 2020 at 12:08 pm

        At least it’s better than party bigwigs meeting in a smoke-filled room at the convention to select the nominee. I agree that we need a better system. Caucuses are a terrible way to hold elections, as they tend to favor candidates with a few passionate supporters as opposed to lots of lukewarm supporters (and elections are won by numbers, not enthusiasm). They also exclude anyone who doesn’t have several hours to caucus, such as the elderly, disabled, or anyone who has to work.

        As for a ranked choice system, I’m not sure that’s necessary in a primary as you don’t want it to be winner take all; you want to apportion delegates among the various candidates based on their support, so the initial percentages can be significant depending on how delegates are awarded.

        Iowa and New Hampshire aren’t very representative of America, but they are cheap to campaign in. Pennsylvania would be much more representative in terms of race and class, but it has two expensive media markets that could shut out candidates who weren’t well funded, but could have been competitive in Iowa.

      • Anonymous  On January 21, 2020 at 10:16 am

        “In addition, this year’s Democratic primaries demonstrate why they should be using a preferential balloting system, where people get to rank every candidate and have their votes move to their second, and then third, choice when their own personal choice is eliminated. In fact, this is what should be done for all elections where there’s more than two candidates.”

        I agree. This year’s primary is a perfect example of why we should be using some kind of Ranked Choice Voting, similar to what is used in the State of Maine.

        https://www.fairvote.org/rcv?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIpN2Plbeh5gIVBniGCh3hTATmEAAYASAAEgKNIvD_BwE#how_rcv_works

      • Guest  On January 21, 2020 at 1:12 pm

        “elections are won by numbers, not enthusiasm”

        Counterpoint for you, George: 2016. The candidate with more votes and less enthusiasm lost the White House. Those who can build enthusiasm on their side tend to do well in presidential elections (Obama, Trump) while those who can’t compared with their rival work at a disadvantage (Kerry, McCain, Romney, Clinton).

      • George Washington, Jr.  On January 22, 2020 at 7:11 pm

        I meant primaries, not the general election. Sanders’ supporters in 2016 were definitely more enthusiastic than Clinton’s, but after Super Tuesday, it was pretty much over with, as he never caught up. Sanders tended to do better in caucuses, while she did better in primaries. In Washington state, which had both, Clinton won the primary, while Sanders won the non-binding caucus.

        You’re correct that in the general election, enthusiasm is important – just ask Mitt Romney, John Kerry, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale, or Hillary Clinton – all candidates who faced an opponent whose supporters were far more excited about him.

  • Lou Stone  On January 20, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    So sad, yet expected, the NYT makes the wrong choice with Elizabeth Warren: See Program 19, “The Sad Downfall of Elizabeth Warren”, Rumble With Michael Moore, 1/14/2020

    From: The Weekly Sift Sent: Monday, January 20, 2020 7:13 AM To: sinixt@centurytel.net Subject: [New post] Ten Principles that Unify Democrats (and most of the country)

    weeklysift posted: “By focusing attention on comparatively minor policy differences, the debates are obscuring a broad Democratic consensus that voters need to hear about. Several years ago I was having lunch with a friend when the Democratic candidate for Congress ”

    Respond to this post by replying above this line

    New post on The Weekly Sift

    Ten Principles that Unify Democrats (and most of the country)

    by weeklysift

    By focusing attention on comparatively minor policy differences, the debates are obscuring a broad Democratic consensus that voters need to hear about.

    _____

    Several years ago I was having lunch with a friend when the Democratic candidate for Congress came through the nearly empty restaurant, shaking the few hands available. After she left, our young waitress came to the table, and I could tell that she had a question unrelated to food. I expected her to ask whether we knew anything about the candidate, but her actual question was much more basic: “Do you know anything about Congress? Is it, like, important?”

    That encounter taught me a lesson I have not forgotten: People who pay attention to politics often talk about “low-information voters”, but most of us have no idea just how low-information they are.

    Back in 2004, Chris Hayes learned similar lessons from the undecided voters he canvassed in Wisconsin.

    The majority of undecided voters I spoke to couldn’t name a single issue that was important to them. This was shocking to me. Think about it: The “issue” is the basic unit of political analysis for campaigns, candidates, journalists, and other members of the chattering classes. It’s what makes up the subheadings on a candidate’s website, it’s what sober, serious people wish election outcomes hinged on, it’s what every candidate pledges to run his campaign on, and it’s what we always complain we don’t see enough coverage of.

    But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to. … The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief — not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.

    Year after year, elections come out they way they do because people like my waitress or Hayes’ undecideds vote one way or the other or stay home. Those decisions are made on a much simpler level than we usually imagine, and the arguments we find so convincing often miss their targets completely. If such voters are persuaded, it is more likely because of our earnestness or our tone or something we said in the first ten seconds. Or maybe we inadvertently convinced them to vote against our candidate for some similarly tangential reason.

    That’s what I was thinking Tuesday as I watched the final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucus, which will happen February 3. Debates draw out differences, and when candidates share basic goals and values, their differences are often deep in the details of policy. Those policy distinctions — like Medicare for All vs. Medicare for All Who Want It vs. adding a Medicare-like public option to ObamaCare — mean nothing to most low-information voters.

    Worse, the squabbling over programmatic details hides the candidates’ vast areas of agreement. The New York Times, justifying its decisi

  • James P Wright  On January 20, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    What I find concerning is illegal immigration, one issue on which Democrats do not have a consensus, but current candidates have been driven by an extreme faction to take positions that are unsustainable, and opposed by most Americans. There is a consensus of course that children should not be treated cruelly. Also that people who came illegally many years ago, attracted by a lax immigration system that tacitly ignored them as long as they provided cheap, docile labor to agriculture and construction industries, should be allowed a pathway to citizenship. However, I think the majority of us want some limit on the annual number of immigrants so as to not overwhelm our health care, housing, schools, etc. Something like the million legal immigrants allowed each year for decades, more than any other country, by far.

    And at the very least, all immigrants should come across our borders with the knowledge of our government so we can screen out those few who actually are criminals. Decriminalizing illegal border crossing and eliminating ICE (its activities should be limited to finding and expelling actual serious law breakers), are not things most Americans support. Every country controls immigration to protect the interest of its citizens. I, for example, would not be granted residency in Canada because I am retired and likely to be a burden on their health care system that I have not spent a lifetime paying into. And no matter how desperately I want to move to Canada, they are correct to say no.

    • Paul Bradford  On January 20, 2020 at 7:36 pm

      I had a conversation last night with a long-time friend who also felt that the immigration issue was important, as in reducing illegal immigration was his number one priority. I feel like if I made a list of issues that are important to me, reducing illegal immigration would never make the list. Not if I had a list of a thousand priorities.

  • Lynn Fountain  On January 20, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    This is SO WELL DONE! It needs VERY broad dissemination. The Democratic candidates should absorb the ten principles and keep pounding away so VOTERS CAN CLEARLY SEE & begin to understand what is at stake.

  • Gary DeThird  On January 20, 2020 at 6:39 pm

    Bernie is leading in the polls. I don’t think you know that based on the photo you used.

    • weeklysift  On January 21, 2020 at 12:12 pm

      Bernie leads an occasional poll, and is currently the RCP polling average leader in New Hampshire, 1.3% ahead of Biden. Biden leads nationally and just about everywhere else.

      I went looking for a picture where more than two candidates looked like they were disagreeing. That was the first one that turned up.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On January 21, 2020 at 12:12 pm

      He’s not leading nationally, and he’s not leading in Iowa, and the few polls showing him ahead are within the margin of error. Iowa is still wide open and any of the top four could win.

      • Gary Denton  On January 24, 2020 at 3:08 pm

        Other hot-button issues, immigration, church-and-state separation, and deficits could be included but it becomes an issue of where do you stop.

      • Gary Denton  On January 24, 2020 at 3:12 pm

        My replies got misplaced.

        Sanders tops a national poll for the first time and it is a four-way race in Iowa.

        https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/01/22/bernie-sanders-joe-biden-lead-national-polls/4540702002/

      • George Washington, Jr.  On January 24, 2020 at 4:25 pm

        I saw that after I posted my comment. Not to be a wet blanket, it’s just one poll, and it’s within the margin of error, but he’s moving in the right direction. If this is corroborated by other polls, it will be interesting to know where his new support is coming from. Of course, taking him off the campaign trail in the weeks right before the caucus could have an effect, but probably less of one than it would for a primary.

  • ammondolge  On January 24, 2020 at 10:06 am

    Hey good

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