Following weeks of pressure from Democratic rivals and the media, Elizabeth Warren recently presented a detailed plan about how she would pay for Medicare for All. Her plan, which includes increasing her proposed wealth tax, something that on its own is a pretty good idea, did little to assuage her critics, made her a weaker general election candidate and provided rhetorical ammunition for other Democratic contenders, particularly those who are more centrist including Joseph Biden and Pete Buttigieg, to use against her. Additionally, by giving in to this pressure, Warren again revealed a tendency to make foolish political decisions when pushed by political opponents. We last saw this tendency when Warren inexplicably allowed Donald Trump to goad her into, of all things, taking a genetic test that revealed that she had some relatively distant Native American ancestry.
Although it is easy to criticize Senator Warren for this, it also reveals a major difference between the two parties. Warren’s campaign tagline has implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, been “I have a plan for that.” While Warren may boast of having a plan for everything, it is increasingly clear that the Republican Party, and their leadership in the legislative and executive branches don’t have a plan for anything other than trying to win the next elections and protecting Donald Trump. This is one of the major asymmetries in American politics today. The Democratic Party views governing as a responsibility that cannot be ignored, while the Republican Party consistently demonstrates no interest in, or ability to, govern.
Other than a major tax cut, appointing judges and rolling back environmental and regulations, Trump has not governed in any meaningful sense of the word
This is evident in how Donald Trump has conducted his presidency. Other than a major tax cut, appointing judges and rolling back environmental and regulations, Trump has not governed in any meaningful sense of the word. When a problem, such as wildfires in California, emerges Trump responds not by trying to solve the problem, but rather by attacking Democratic officials in California. Trump’s response to homelessness in California has similarly been to blame Democrats while also, for good measure, blaming the people who live on the streets of our cities. A president, even one who was a Republican, who believed governance was important would, at the very least, propose solutions to these problems or establish a task force to try to come up with solutions. On these, and other issues ranging from climate change to health care to widening wealth gaps Trump has not done this.
In addition to using the presidency to pursue his twin goals of enriching himself and his close family while staying in power, Trump has emerged as a kind of gadfly in chief. His Twitter feed and public appearances frequently include criticisms of other elected officials, observations about how bad various problems are, crackpot theories about who is to blame and speculation about what might happen in the future. In this regard, Trump sounds much more like an outsider, albeit a cranky, angry one with a tenuous relationship with reality, rather than a president who has the ability to address these problems. In an odd way, Trump has responded to being one of the most powerful men in the world, by retreating to a self-imposed powerlessness.
The Republican Party stopped being genuinely interested in governing years ago
As with many problems facing America today, Trump is only the most recent and glaring manifestation. The Republican Party stopped being genuinely interested in governing years ago. The symbolic beginning of this was when Mitch McConnell told a group of GOP donors in early 2009 that his primary goal was to make newly inaugurated President Barack Obama a one term president. Members of the party that is not in the White House should be expected to oppose the President on many issues, but they should also be expected to try to legislate, address problems and seek compromise. That is how governance worked for much of American history, but it stopped in 2009. In 2009 and 2010, Republicans in congress worked hard to stop President Obama from passing a health care proposal, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that had its origins in a conservative think tank, while offering no proposals of their own. Following the passage of that act, Republicans in Congress spent the rest of the Obama years trying to overturn the ACA, while not proposing a real replacement, and proposing tax cuts. The Republican tax cuts shift money to the wealthy, but are better described as magical Randian thinking than actual attempts at governance.
During the last two years, Trump has accused Democrats of behaving in a similarly irresponsible fashion, but the Democratic led House of Representative has passed numerous bills that have never even been addressed by the Senate. Again, the Republican led Senate is refusing to even have policy conversations that could lead to compromise. This governance gap has led to a double standard where Democratic candidates like Warren, but the others as well, are asked to propose, explain and price out solutions to various problems facing the country while Republicans, even before Trump, are asked to do little more than make big picture promises and provide implausible explanations of how cutting taxes and regulations will solve everything.
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