Get Ready For The Democratic "Pragmatists"

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed with the headline “Are All Democrats Socialist? Don’t Believe the Hype.” The authors are Gregg Hurwitz and Jordan Peterson. I hadn’t previously heard of Hurwitz (he is identified as the author of a series of “thriller novels”); but Peterson is the guy who has shot to great fame in recent years as a YouTube star who advocates for leading a life of personal responsibility and hard work as the route to success. From what I had previously seen of Peterson, I had been quite impressed. With this op-ed, he just sank about 7 notches out of 10 in my estimation.

The central assertion of the op-ed is that the “social media warriors” and explicit advocates of socialism, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, who might seem to be the current stars of the Democratic Party, are not actually “representative” of its views. Rather, we should look to the views of those Democrats, here characterized as “quieter pragmatists,” who won the Congressional seats gained by the party in the last election. Among the 2020 candidates for President, our authors state that “voters would do well” to look to the “passionate moderate voices” ascending in the party. Like who? They name two: Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.

Are any of the Democratic candidates, and most particularly Buttigieg and Klobuchar, fairly characterized as “pragmatists” or “moderates”? Over at the Oxford English Dictionary, they define the philosophy of “pragmatism” as:

An approach that evaluates theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.

So let’s look at some of the evidence. For example, consider the Congressional resolution known as the Green New Deal. You will recall from prior Manhattan Contrarian reviews of this proposal that the GND begins with a demand to “[M]eet[ ] 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources. . . .”; and then it moves on from there to other modest proposals such as “upgrading” all buildings in the country, eliminating air travel, and doing away with beef cattle. And don’t forget free college and government-guaranteed jobs for all! A rough beginning estimate of the cost of all of this from the American Action Forum came up with a figure of $93 trillion; and AAF didn’t even consider the accelerating costs of running an electrical grid on the intermittent renewable sources as they increase beyond 50% of the power and start approaching 100%. That would add another $50 trillion or so, per the calculations of Roger Andrews that have been featured several times on this site.

So, would you say that this Green New Deal thing is pragmatic or not pragmatic? My view: On a pragmatism scale from 0 (total pie in the sky with no chance of accomplishing anything at all toward the stated goals despite tens of trillions of dollars of expense) to 100 (likely to accomplish something meaningful at reasonable cost), the Green New Deal has to rate about a negative 45.

Where do Buttigieg and Klobuchar stand on the Green New Deal? Buttigieg appeared on February 10 on a CNN program called “State of the Nation,” and had this to say about the GND:

[Buttigieg’s] remarks Sunday reflected a growing consensus among much of the prospective 2020 field in support of the "Green New Deal." "I think it's the right beginning," Buttigieg said of the resolution on CNN's "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper. Calling climate change "a national emergency," Buttigieg said the concept matched "a sense of urgency about that problem of climate change with a sense of opportunity around what the solutions might represent."

“It’s the right beginning”! I guess that means that Buttigieg has even more pie in the sky ideas for solving the climate “emergency” with government programs and taxpayer money that he hasn’t even told us about yet.

Klobuchar had been mostly ducking the subject of the GND prior to this week, but on Monday (April 22) she appeared on a CNN town hall, and got a direct question on the subject. Her response:

"And I think what's important as you look at the goals in the Green New Deal, and no one thinks we're going to dot every ‘i'  and cross every ‘t' in a short period of time, but we need those goals. We need, as a nation, to come behind goals. We need the energy of young people and people that really want to move on climate change, . . .”

So if I understand this, the new test for “pragmatism” is that it’s now totally “pragmatic” to be 100% in favor of “goals” like, say, increasing everybody’s electricity bill by a factor of 20, or eliminating air travel, as long as you just toss in that we don’t need to “dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ in a short period of time”? Got it? I’ll let you be the judge whether that’s your idea of “pragmatism.”

Now perhaps we should also consider another example, such as “Medicare for all.” This one is a little harder to pin down, because the proponents (led by Bernie Sanders) have been extremely vague, not just about the details of the proposal, but even about the broad outlines. Anyway, Klobuchar appeared on Anderson Cooper’s program on CNN on February 12, and had this to say:

When Cooper asked whether she supported "Medicare-for-all," Klobuchar replied, "I want to see universal health care, Anderson, and there are many ways to get there." The senator said she supports expanding Medicaid and Medicare, but she did not commit to overhauling private insurance. "The smartest transition right now would be to do a public option, and you could do it by expanding Medicaid, you can expand Medicare," Klobuchar added.

So she definitely supports some big new government expansion to get us to “universal health care.” Wait a minute — I thought that we already got “universal health care” with Obamacare. Why do we need a new round of massive government expansion to get us what we thought we already have? Am I missing something? You won’t find the answer from anything Klobuchar has said. Perhaps this is what we mean when we put the “pragmatic” label on Klobuchar — she’s just at another whole level of intentionally vague beyond that of her already-intentionally-vague competitors.

And Buttigieg? He responded on February 3 to questions from ABC’s George Stephanopoulos with answers that make Klobuchar seem clear-headed by comparison:

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a declared 2020 presidential candidate, on Sunday said a single-payer health care system is "the right place for us to head as a country," while saying a "Medicare for All" program doesn’t necessarily require doing away with private insurance. . . . "The bottom line is," he said, "We need to make sure that every American is able to get health care."

Got that? I’m all in favor of “single payer,” but of course “single payer” does not preclude multiple payers. And our previous multi-hundred-billion dollar program (Obamacare) that was supposed to accomplish this goal of “universal health care” just gets completely forgotten, and we move on to the next multi-hundred-billion dollar program with equally zero chance of accomplishing the stated goal. Or something like that. We’ll just add things on incrementally and see what works. Nothing does, so we’ll add some more. Pragmatic!

It’s kind of like the now 50 plus years of the War on Poverty. We’ll just add another program here and another program there and see what works. By now we’re up to $1.2 trillion of annual spending. No program ever works to reduce poverty, even by a little. The spending isn’t even counted in the measure of “poverty.” No program that fails to achieve its goal, or any part of it, ever gets eliminated. Is that what we mean by “pragmatism”? Only if the real goal is not the reduction of poverty (or universal health care or elimination of carbon emissions), but rather the massive and never-ending growth of ineffectual bureaucracy that can be counted on to always support the right political team.