A set of crucial issues are animating the 2020 Democratic primary.
Conversations focus on revitalizing the nation’s response to climate change, creating a single-payer health care system, reckoning with the nation’s slaveholding past and uprooting a long-held electoral practice.
Coverage likely fixates policy wonks and confuses University of Toledo students.
To make sense of the dynamics, history and origin of the issues tossed out on the campaign trail and in the news media, the Independent Collegian reached out to several experts and reviewed candidate town hall coverage to compile the 2020 Democratic Primary Policy Guide for Students.
The Green New Deal
When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) announced the Green New Deal, they introduced a set of policy proposals to address climate change, promote job growth and reduce economic inequality.
Now 2020 Democratic presidential candidates field questions on the campaign trail and in town halls on whether they’d support the move.
Overall, the Green New Deal is a “broad outlook, idea [and] change of paradigm,” said Professor of Environmental Politics Saatvika Rai. “In some way...it has kind of moved the country toward two broad issues: One, of course is addressing climate change, but also doing it in a way that [addressees]” economic issues and job creation.
She proposed a set of factors that explain the deal’s sense of urgency and prominence in the national conversation.
The emboldened new members of the House of Representative pushed progressive reform and shifted public opinion at a grassroots level through citing evidence of climate change.
“The environmental impacts are so in our face,” Rai said, pointing to recent hurricanes, the California wildfires and flooding in the Midwest.
President Donald Trump may take advantage of the Green New Deal, deploying it as a political weapon in the general election. He uses environmental reforms as a punchline at rallies and paints them as omens of socialism should the Democratic Party gain control.
Important to note, as Rai pointed out, climate change is here and humans are feeling its effects.
The science behind climate change is “getting stronger and stronger,” and the delay in action “is just politics...the people who are going to suffer in the end are the common people...the citizens,” Rai said. “It’s very important for us to move in the direction where we make this a bipartisan issue.”
Medicare for All
When Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) first sought the 2016 Democratic nomination for president, he was the only major candidate calling for a single-payer health care system, more commonly dubbed, “Medicare for All.”
Now, almost all the Democratic presidential candidates are supportive of the policy proposal and only tend to disagree in terms of how to implement the system and what it would look like in practice.
Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political newsletter at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, explained the resurgence of the issue in an email to the Independent Collegian.
“Even after the Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, some Democrats did not feel like the law went far enough in terms of providing truly universal health insurance coverage,” Kondik wrote.
“Democrats took a political beating on the ACA throughout former President Barack Obama’s tenure, but the Republicans struggled with their own health care messaging and proposals in the 2018 [midterm election] cycle,” Kondik added.
“Democrats hope that [health care] can be a winning issue in 2020, too, and they are making proposals that are more far-reaching than what the current ACA provides.”
“Whether these proposals ultimately appeal to the broader electorate is an open question,” he wrote. “It seems like there is a mood in the Democratic Party right now for going big on health care.”
In 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the prolific black author, wrote a piece for the Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” citing the nation’s racist past and policies.
“Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole,” he said.
The wide reach of that piece, activists and civil rights groups responding to incidents of police brutality and the shootings of unarmed citizens contributed to putting the issue of reparations on the national agenda, according to Professor of Political Science Renee Heberle.
Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called for a Congressional Committee to address the issue. The former housing secretary turned candidate Julián Castro also recommended a federal study.
In this political moment, the definition of reparations is not clear cut; Sanders noted his support for the idea depends on “what the word means.”
To Heberle, whose research interests include justice and mass incarceration, the idea of reparations includes a “race specific policy” that would recognize…the failure of Reconstruction, and the failure to understand what slavery, Black Codes, segregation and redlining along with “other specific governmental policies did to sustain a condition of radical inequality between white people and black people…”
She called for economic forms of compensation, “but also, and perhaps more importantly,” institutional and symbolic change along with public apologies.
Students should pay attention to “whether or not the candidates are offering a race conscious policy or whether they’re offering an expanded approach to mitigating inequality more generally,” Heberle said. “The latter approach may be taken in order not to alienate the white working class.”
The Electoral College
Al Gore in 2000. Hillary Clinton in 2016. Both Democratic candidates for president lost the Electoral College and won the popular vote.
Some 2020 candidates want to make sure that never happens again.
When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) proposed ridding of the system at CNN town hall, she received raucous applause.
“It's no surprise that Warren received applause for her proposal to reform the Electoral College,” wrote Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Broxmeyer in an email to the Independent Collegian.
“The gap between the popular vote and the electoral vote is projected to increase further going forward, given the growing partisan urban-rural divide and regional patterns of electoral competition.”
He said that may pose serious questions of political legitimacy.
He provided insight into electoral practices’ history:
“For the Framers of the Constitution, it was vital to prevent a demagogue from ascending to [the role of chief executive] who might abuse their power and the public trust. Previous experiments in republicanism had been brought to a quick end because of demagogues.”
“The Framers believed it was vital to prevent this outcome. Therefore, the president was not to be chosen directly in a popular vote but rather indirectly by electors, acting as caretakers, who could act as a buffer on popular impulses.”
Other influences of the system included states’ clout in the electoral process, Broxmeyer wrote.
Slavery played a part as well:
“The three-fifths clause gave slave states additional representation in the House of Representatives by counting slaves as property.”
The last serious attempt to reform the Electoral College was proposed by Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN) during the 1960s, according to Broxmeyer.
Now the 2020 Democrats are (par for the course) taking a shot at shifting the status quo.