With Super Tuesday almost here, it?s probably too late for any of the leading presidential candidates to further distinguish themselves from one another in terms of policy in the primaries.
They must continue to say the same thing they?ve said at every campaign rally all year unless they want to be called a ?flip-flopper.? Robot-like consistency is always more important than being right on the issues in American politics. While the Republican candidates do have rather large policy differences between them, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama only disagree at the margins. But it?s not too late for the Democrats to sharpen rhetoric and policy positions for the general election and beyond.
What has been most interesting in this election is what no one has been talking about ? all the policy proposals that haven?t really been on the agenda at all. While policies like single-payer health care and a carbon emissions tax may sound like fringe proposals, there is actually considerable agreement among experts that they are the best ways to fix our health care crisis and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.
But what?s actually on the table? We have, at best, a plan to subsidize insurance companies and provide tax credits so the uninsured can afford health care while leaving the inefficient structure in place. While it would be easier to provide the coverage directly, political reality insists on maintaining the middle man. This is obviously an effort to strenuously avoid anything that smacks of ?socialism.? Similarly, both Democrats have proposed a complicated cap-and-trade regulation bureaucracy so we can avoid saying the word ?tax? out loud. Why should presidential candidates continue to run through these hoops for political expediency? Why are straight-forward and common-sense policy proposals marginalized?
Regardless of who wins the Democratic Party?s nomination, the nominee should inspire Americans not only with soaring rhetoric, but with their solid policy proposals. This is particularly relevant for Hillary Clinton, who is hampered both by the widespread perception of her cold persona and by her association with the scandals of the Clinton presidency. Mr. Obama is the fresh-faced charismatic charmer and the reincarnation of Robert Kennedy. So if Ms. Clinton wins the nomination, there is going to be an inspiration gap, but it?s one she can fill with substantive policy.
It?s also important for Mr. Obama, who is often portrayed as politically inexperienced and unfit for the presidency. If he can show he has the policy smarts he?ll need as president by proposing bold, meaningful reforms, he will be able to blunt some of that criticism.
There are a lot of parallels between the 1992 election and the current one. Bill Clinton came into power in 1992, succeeding an unpopular George H. W. Bush in the White House on the backs of dismal economic conditions and middle class anxiety. Hope was a big part of his campaign too; after all, he didn?t let anyone forget that he came from a broken home in Hope, Ark.
But once he got into office, his agenda was stymied by relentless opposition. It didn?t help that his wife came up with most of the details for his health plan in a secret taskforce. But it also didn?t help that Bill Clinton didn?t have a plan or strategy for obtaining universal health care before he got into office. Thus, the plan was a blank slate, and the American public bought into the claims of the smear campaign by the special interests.
Since the Republicans are going to call any plan of the Democratic candidates ?socialist,? they might as well fight for the best-case scenario policies and not worry about the fear mongering. It is likely that any plan proposed in Congress will be substantially weakened during congressional negotiations. But as always in the art of compromise, the closer you can come to your side?s original position at the end, the better. Democrats are frequently accused of lacking backbone; rejecting the conventional wisdom would be a great way of showing they?re capable of standing up and fighting for their beliefs.
When Ms. Clinton gave the commencement speech at Wellesley in 1969, she praised politicians who ?practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.? We all want to be inspired by our politicians, but what is most important is that they eschew political calculations in favor of advocating policies that prioritize the common good. The real question in this election is who will be bold enough to demonstrate their desire to accomplish this in their policy proposals, not just in their rhetoric.
Ryan Greenfield ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science and economics.