Watching a passel of Democrats in the Motor City struggle to differentiate themselves recalled my move years ago from politics to New York PR.
I was a bit confused about nomenclature in my new profession and turned to a grizzled veteran. What, I asked him, is the difference among public relations, marketing communications, advertising and the then-hot new concept of strategic communications?
“Not a (expletive deleted) thing,” he grunted. “It’s all selling soap.”
Putting aside the theatrics of Biden Bashfest II Wednesday, the faux showdowns on the first night opened a new going-forward narrative of differences among the “moderates” and “progressives.” The Wall Street Journal opined on “the sharpest ideological differences in decades.”
Don’t buy it.
Every Democrat on the stage was selling the same thing: Bigger Government.
Let’s zero in on key domestic issues covered in the three-hour midsummer night’s nightmare, shall we?
Health care was supposedly a differentiator, with alleged middle-of-the-roaders fixing to pour cold water on Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ $32 trillion Medicare for All dream.
Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney managed to squeeze in his money line — “real solutions, not impossible promises” — on four separate occasions, and called Medicare for All “extreme.” But he also shoehorned in the phrase “universal” in conjunction with health care four times, proposing “a universal health care system to give everyone basic health care for free.” That’s telling ‘em, congressman.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, worried about his unionized constituents, thought Medicare for All was a bit much. He just wants to move eligibility down to 50 years of age and have 60 million (roughly a third of all adult Americans) more people buy into the program.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — supposed “moderates” — all threw their support behind the so-called ”public option” to compete with private insurance.
But South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a “progressive” public option backer, gave away that ruse: “We’ll see Americans walk away from the corporate options into that Medicare option, and it will become Medicare for All without us having to kick anybody off their insurance.”
Thanks for the heads-up, Mayor Pete.
How about immigration? Golly gee, some Democrats on the stage actually thought it was less than a terrific idea to invite the entire world in by decriminalizing illegal entry and offering free health care to anyone who shows up.
But the dissenters agreed with the radicals on the essentials of “comprehensive immigration reform:” opening the door wide to Dreamers, expanding legal immigration, and of course, the proverbial “pathway to citizenship” for illegals. Congressman Ryan even insisted we were “strong enough” as a country to “welcome” basically all asylum seekers.
Gun control. There’s that word “universal” again. This time used on seven occasions connected to the term “background checks,” which Hickenlooper claimed to have achieved in Colorado and Klobuchar and Bullock were going to make happen by taking on the evil NRA, don’t ya know. Along with consensus around “assault weapons” and closing various “loopholes.”
While we’re on the subject of the favorite word of the “moderate” Democrats, Delaney and Hickenlooper would both join Warren in providing “universal” pre-K. How would they do it? Raise taxes on the “rich,” of course.
Yes, Delaney faced down the Senator from Taxachusetts on her crazy wealth tax idea. But he (and “moderate” Klobuchar) would hike capital gains rates instead — which history suggests would reduce revenues.
Money in politics. Bullock would ban “dark money” and “kick the Koch Brothers” — who last time I looked had the same First Amendment rights as anyone else — “out of Washington.” Basically the same tack as progressives Beto, who wants to bar PAC contributions, and Mayor Pete, who thinks America should amend the Constitution to reverse Citizens United. (Since, for goodness sakes, we once passed an amendment to ban liquor!)
And “climate,” specifically, the Green New Deal, the loudest critic of which was, again, Mr. Delaney, who considers it unrealistic. So Mr. Real is instead going to “get us to net zero by 2050” by taxing carbon, raising the Department of Energy research budget fivefold, hiking “investment” (read: uneconomic subsidies) in renewables and “creat(ing) something called the Climate Corps.”
Bullock also thinks we need to “transition” to a “carbon neutral world” and bribe — I mean “aid” — energy industry workers to get there.
Ryan? He’d resurrect the ghost of industrial policy, creating a “chief manufacturing officer” to enable America to “dominate the electric vehicle market” including batteries, solar panels and charging stations. (Solyndra, anyone?)
In his closing statement, Delaney tried again to create some breathing space with Warren and Sanders by comparing them to epic liberal losers of the past: McGovern, Mondale and Dukakis.
But as you watch the rhetorical pushing and shoving and posturing in coming debates and elsewhere on the trail, understand that even the most “moderate” contender is far to the left of any of those three — and “selling” an agenda more radical than any political platform in our history.
What’s the real philosophical difference among the candidates? Not a (expletive deleted) thing.
Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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