Op Ed

Harris Could Push Dems Towards Pragmatic Policies

On health care, immigration, free college tuition there are potential compromises.

By - Aug 18th, 2020 05:36 pm
Kamala Harris. Photo is in the Public Domain.

Kamala Harris. Photo is in the Public Domain.

If Kamala Harris could help Joe Biden add a large dose of pragmatism to the high-flying political ambitions and rhetoric of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, she could have an indelible political legacy and a historic career.

Clearly, Biden’s run for the presidential nomination proved that the progressive agenda had far less than majority support in the country. The progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren got blown away. What they were proposing didn’t sell. Only one-third of their party bought their agenda.

She may have said to herself, “The goal is to get to 100 percent coverage for health care. Why mess with dumping 150 million Americans off their employer plans, which are largely working just fine? That’s half the population.

“Let’s solve for the uninsured 11 percent, the people not covered by employers or public programs like Medicaid. Let’s drop the sound-bite ideology and get those people insured.”

Serendipitously, there is a ready-made platform for doing just that through a combination of public subsidies and marketplace dynamics. It’s called Medicare Advantage. It works so well that around half of the seniors in flyover country have opted to go that way. Their Medicare dollars buy them extra benefits by going through private insurers.

For ideologues on the right, it includes market competition and choice. For ideologues on the left, it gets to universal coverage.

Harris could surprise the world by adding a layer of pragmatism to other major unresolved issues. On immigration, for example, she could call for a grand compromise that gives illegal immigrants a green card for life, but no voting rights ever. But their children born here would get full citizenship with voting rights.

She could call for secure borders, stopping short of a full wall, as part of the deal. Such a compromise could bring to an end to decades of divisive strife over illegal immigration.

On another front, progressives like Harris call for free education all the way through college. It’s a noble goal for the United States. Again, though, there’s a pragmatic compromise that people of all stripes could agree on.

In return for a free education, the young people of America could sign a contract to give three years of their lives to the commonwealth. After leaving college, they could go to work at half price in the military, public health, education, infrastructure, conservation, or public safety.

They could pay the country back for their degrees, while not incurring a mountain of debt.

The GI Bill has worked famously; the Peace Corps less so, but passably.

These are just three areas of public policy where there is an opportunity to add a pragmatic overlay to a progressive goal.

These get-it-done concepts will not see the light of day during the remaining months of the campaign, because Biden is so far ahead. He will not want to rock the boat. Biden will raise no controversial ideas that he has not already uttered.

He will let Trump sink his own boat. The president is already bailing water furiously.

If Harris opens a door with unrealistic left-wing platitudes, she will give Trump an opening to label her a “socialist” or worse.

When and if Biden is inaugurated, with Harris at his side, he can make things happen, not just talk about them. If their combined leadership gets even a few of those major issues resolved, Harris automatically becomes the Democratic nominee in 2024, assuming Biden will not run for a second term at age 82.

If they fail to move the chains on major issues, she will not deserve to be the automatic choice to run for the oval office four years from now.

Meanwhile, the Biden-Harris duo needs to fix an early blunder quickly. The Democratic national convention in Milwaukee had to be cancelled for virus protection — and political purposes too. Trump would have jumped all over an outbreak here.

But it is inexcusable and just plain dumb that one or both of them didn’t come here for the nomination acceptance speeches. Once more the elitists from the coasts are flying over Milwaukee and the Midwest. They dumped on Milwaukee, which had dug deep and spent heavily to host the convention.

Virtual speeches could have originated here just as well as from Delaware. We do have the Internet here. (Factoid I: One of the Internet pioneers, Lawrence Landweber, worked at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.)

Finally, how could the Biden campaign managers forget the obvious – that narrow wins in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin in 2016 carried our current president to an electoral win and the White House?

Trump and Vice President Pence are already flying to fly-over country to fill the glaring void

John Torinus is the chairman of Serigraph Inc. and a former Milwaukee Sentinel business editor who blogs regularly at johntorinus.com.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics, Real Estate

3 thoughts on “Op Ed: Harris Could Push Dems Towards Pragmatic Policies”

  1. Mingus says:

    Torinus makes a very good point about healthcare. This county needs a pragmatic approach to health care which focus on gradually covering more people while making changes in the system while keeping what works. Radical changes brought on often create more problems and lose support from the voters.

  2. frank a schneiger says:

    There are several things wrong with John Torinus’ take on things in this column. For starters, his notion that Joe Biden needs Kamala Harris to be “pragmatic,” or that Harris herself is not pragmatic. If Biden has a fault, as we all do, it is, during his long career, to have been too pragmatic, to have jumped at half-a-loaf way too early. I doubt that he needs Ms. Harris to correct this fault. But, contrary to John Torinus view of things, given our situation, the last thing we need is this version of split-the-difference”pragmatism.”

    Next, Mr. Torinus goes after “unrealistic left-wing platitudes.” This theme has been a favorite of the reactionary right for much of recorded history. Here is a list of unrealistic left-wing platitudes: Social Security, GI Bill, Medicare, Medicaid, interstate highway system, unemployment insurance, civil and voting rights acts, 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, progressive income tax (remember that?) and on and on. You cannot name one that wasn’t seen as an “unrealistic left-wing platitude,” that would destroy the country, make things worse, hurt the people they were intended to help, reward the undeserving, etc., etc., etc.

    On the subject of health insurance – as distinct from health, health care and healthy communities, not mentioned by Mr. Torinus – is he proposing Medicare Advantage programs for all age groups that are not currently covered by a program for seniors? If so, why should this program be managed by public, for-profit companies whose purpose is to maximize revenues and “shareholder value” and minimize reimbursements, the so-called medical loss ratio? And how does this solution get at the – now glaringly visible – problem of unhealthy people and communities?

    Finally, the “flyover” business. Having grown up in Milwaukee (Mineral Street and Galena Street, not suburbs) and maintained my ties to my hometown, I have lived my adult life in New York City,( trendy/elitist/left-wing Manhattan,) and listened to the flyover crap forever. “Flyover” is not geographic. People in New York are much like people in Milwaukee. It all depends on income and social class. And “flyover” is a class. It consists of the people that you never see at the airport, whether it is LaGuardia or Mitchell Field, because they never fly commercial. They are mostly Republicans, part of the the tiny sliver at the top that rarely sees and is not interested in the fate of the “little people.” They are like the Trump family, the “Do you know who I am?” people, the always wanting more people. Want to see the flyover elites? Look at Donald Trump’s donor list, including the Wisconsin flyover elites. And, just think, there they are right in the middle of the country. Who knew?

  3. blurondo says:

    Whenever I see that Mr. Schneiger has contributed to an edition of Urban Milwaukee, I immediately go there first. It’s very rewarding to read his critique and analysis of the discussion at hand.

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