Who’s Being Pandered To This Year?

Photo credits, clockwise from top left: Ringo Chiu, Preston Ehrler, Brian Cahn, Richard Ellis, Nancy Kaszerman, Brian Cahn, all via ZUMA

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I am deliberately not paying too much attention to the Democratic candidates for president. It’s just too early. It won’t be until late in the year that we start to get a serious idea of their complete agendas, their staying power, their speaking ability, their media savviness, etc.

Still, I’ve been thinking about their proposals so far and what they say about how Democrats are thinking these days. Some of the stuff is unsurprising: everyone supports Medicare for All, for example, but with different ideas about how far to take it and how best to implement it. This breaks down along fairly ordinary ideological lines, with the progressives supporting full-on free health care for all and moderates supporting a more limited version that includes copays and premiums and a role for private insurance companies.

But then you’ve got the policies that candidates are using to truly distinguish themselves. Here are a few examples:

  • Kamala Harris has introduced a proposal to raise teacher pay.
  • Elizabeth Warren wants to break up big agribusiness.
  • Bernie Sanders is calling for a 77 percent estate tax on billionaires.
  • Beto O’Rourke is rather ostentatiously not talking about policy at all.
  • Jay Inslee is all climate change all the time.
  • Cory Booker’s signature policy is means-tested baby bonds. By age 18, the bonds would be worth about $10,000 for middle-class kids and nearly $50,000 for kids in the most poverty-stricken families.

So who are these candidates trying to appeal to? Everyone, of course, but specific policies like the ones above are more about appealing to specific groups than they are about ever becoming law. They’re all pretty unlikely to go anywhere in the short term, after all. I’d say it breaks down roughly like this:

  • Harris is appealing to teachers, a major Democratic constituency.
  • Warren is trying to make inroads in Iowa.
  • Sanders wants to get the old progressive band together.
  • O’Rourke is appealing to moderates.
  • Inslee isn’t really trying to win. He’s just trying to draw attention to climate change.
  • Booker wants to sew up the black vote.

I don’t have a sharp point to make here. I’m just observing that there’s a lot of garden-variety practical politics at play here, and this is probably the best lens to judge the candidates by right now. That may change in the future, but right now they’re all jostling to pick up support from specific groups by offering them something the others aren’t. Harris is doing this the most obviously, but she’s hardly alone.

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