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Decision time in Virginia

SoVaNow.com / February 26, 2020
Super Tuesday is just days away, with Democratic presidential primaries taking place in Virginia and 13 other states on Tuesday, Mar. 3. As Democrats head to the polls, the party seems to be entangled in a silly season/crunch time bi-verse. Silly season, because voices in the party are warning of impending doom if Bernie Sanders captures the nomination. Crunch time, because Super Tuesday is when it actually might happen.

Dems need to chill out. Should Bernie become the party electorate’s choice to run in the general election against Donald Trump, he will bring strengths and weaknesses to the race just like any other candidate. Without a doubt, his greatest virtue is that Bernie is what Bernie is, and for a politician (which Sanders and Trump and all the rest are, make no mistake) he comes across as straight-talking and authentic, tremendous assets in any campaign. Keep in mind that anybody who runs for president will possess an enormous ego that makes them at least a little bit weird. This is true whether the candidate has personal wealth of uppity billion dollars or walks into your office off the street to announce that he or she will soon be living in the White House.

Speaking of Michael Bloomberg, he hasn’t sat for an interview with us in the run-up to Super Tuesday, but Virginia surely is high on his list of states where he hopes to do well. I’m going to delve into my own candidate preferences in a moment, but please, please, for the love of God, everyone leave Michael Bloomberg A-L-O-O-O-N-E — as in, do not vote for the man. The notion that anyone should run for president with half a billion bucks and little else to say for his campaign is an insult to everything Democrats are supposed to stand for — opportunity, fairness, fighting for the little guy. Plutocratic excess is for the other party. With oodles of questionable behavior and bad political choices to answer for in his past, Bloomberg seems to think he can just buy his way out of trouble with slick campaign marketing. Frankly, I think we’re dealing with way too much of this kind of thing already in American life.

My advice to anyone considering voting on Tuesday is to pick the person you think is best for the job — the candidate who, through a combination of character traits and policy choices, gumption and guile, will make the most effective chief executive. The qualities I’d prioritize are intelligence, energy, a knack for being both plainspoken and politically sophisticated, and a willingness to go out on a limb from time to time because good leaders aren’t afraid to advocate for ideas they know to be good for the country. (The opposite quality can be summed up in a word — “pandering.”) Experience is preferred but not necessarily required, depending on the candidate we’re talking about. Echoes of FDR are great, but a modern-day Harry Truman will more than do.

My vote Tuesday will be going to Elizabeth Warren, for better or worse. She and Bernie are closely matched in terms of what they would try to accomplish as president (“try” is very much an operative word here) but to my way of thinking, Warren shows a far greater talent for actually getting stuff done. Just to start with the obvious, Warren identifies as an unabashed capitalist while Sanders insists on calling himself a socialist. I could go on forever about how the distinction can be somewhat less than meaningful (Ronald Reagan famously railed against socialism with the passage of Medicare) yet from a political standpoint, socialist is a pretty dumb label for a politician to embrace. Unnecessary, too: America’s real problem is rigged capitalism, whereby someone like Jeff Bezos can amass incomprehensible wealth while his supporting corporation pays virtually nothing in taxes (and preys on much smaller businesses that do). Elizabeth Warren gets this point better and more sharply than any other candidate in the race. Unrigging an increasingly corrupt marketplace — and, by extension, making the economy work for ordinary people — is a winning message if only the Democrats can find a candidate able to sell it.

The differences between Warren and Sanders are instructive on this score. Bernie’s call for a political revolution to enact Medicare For All (his signature, sea change policy) is aspirational and, very likely, hot air. Warren, always the ace student, offered her own M4A plans with more meat on the bone than what Sanders has put forward. This opened her up for criticism — not entirely without justification, given that some of her proposals are just as aspirational as anything Sanders has suggested — but under-the-hood, many excellent, achievable ideas can be found in her strategy for improving health care for everyone. Which comes as no surprise, given that plans are a special talent of Warren’s.

Dean Baker, author of “Beat The Press,” an economics blog at The Center for Economic and Policy Research, is one observer of politics who doesn’t bother with cheap commentary (therefore making his stuff consistently worth a read). Rather than joining the pundit pile-on after Warren issued her M4A plans, in which the candidate called for a first-year expansion of Medicare followed by a push later in her administration to enact Medicare For All, Baker looked at the substance of her proposal. Here’s an excerpt:

Earlier this month, Senator Warren put out a set of steps that she would put forward as president as part of a transition to Medicare for All. The items that got the most attention were including everyone over age 50 and under age 18 in Medicare, and providing people of all ages with the option to buy into the program. This buy-in would include large subsidies, and people with incomes of less than 200 percent of the poverty level would be able to enter the Medicare program at no cost.

These measures would be enormous steps toward Medicare for All, bringing tens of millions of people into the program, including most of those (people over age 50) with serious medical issues. It would certainly be more than halfway to a universal Medicare program.

While these measures captured most of the attention given to Warren’s transition plan, another part of the plan is probably at least as important. Warren proposed to use the government’s authority to compel the licensing of drug patents so that multiple companies can produce a patented drug, in effect allowing them to be sold at generic prices.

The government can do this both because it has general authority to compel licensing of patents (with reasonable compensation) and because it has explicit authority under the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act to require licensing of any drug developed in part with government-funded research. The overwhelming majority of drugs required some amount of government-supported research in their development, so there would be few drugs that would be exempted if Warren decided to use this mechanism.

These measures are noteworthy because they can be done on the president’s own authority. While the pharmaceutical industry will surely contest in court a president’s use of the government’s authority to weaken their patent rights, these actions would not require Congressional approval.

The other reason that these steps would be so important is that there is a huge amount of money involved. The United States is projected to spend over $6.6 trillion on prescription drugs over the next decade, more than 2.5 percent of GOP. This comes to almost $20,000 per person over the next decade.

This is an enormous amount of money. We spend more than twice as much per person on drugs as people in other wealthy countries.


Lowering the cost of prescription drugs is one of those issues all politicians talk about — including Donald Trump — but never seem to do much about, because the influence of Big Pharma in Washington is every bit as vast and pernicious as you might imagine. The absurd degree of patent protectionism for the pharmaceutical industry is one reason we have to look towards Canada for low-cost prescription drugs, and also why insulin — a medicine that has been around for almost a century — has become increasingly, absurdly expensive. If I’m looking for someone to fix this problem, first thing I’m going to do is find the candidate who diagnoses the causes accurately and calls out the culprits loudly. That’s Liz Warren.

There’s lots more I could say on the subject, but let’s cut off the chatter here and let the electorate decide. Whoever Democrats nominate, that candidate will have a solid shot to take down Donald Trump — but not if the party fractures ahead of the general election. Primaries are for choosing among generally palatable candidates. Eyes on the ball, people, eyes on the ball.

My choices, ranked:

(1) Warren
(2) (tie) Klobuchar/Biden
(3) Sanders
(4) Steyer
(5) Buttigieg
(6) Bloomberg
(7) Gabbard

This week’s Virginia polling results, general election matchups, courtesy of The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College:

Sanders 49% – Trump 40%
Biden 48% – Trump 40%
Warren 48% – Trump 41%
Buttigieg 47% – Trump 40%
Klobuchar 46% – Trump 39%

Granted, Virginia isn’t likely to be a swing state in November, but Donald Trump’s unpopularity amid decent economic times is something that Democratic voters should keep firmly in mind when they vote this primary season. Talking yourself out of supporting a promising candidate because of nonsensical fears about “electability” is a great way to end up with an unconvincing, problematic nominee in the fall — Michael Bloomberg or otherwise. Just a reminder, Donald Trump also was considered unelectable four years ago, until he wasn’t. And today here we are.

Here are two excellent pieces laying out the case for Elizabeth Warren for president. Enjoy!



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