Newsletter: What should Dems prioritize for 2020?

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Credit: Molly Adams

This is the opening comment from my newsletter, which you can read in full here and subscribe to here.

Priorities, priorities.

Last week Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote a piece arguing that 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls should prioritize climate policy, immigration reform, and pro-democracy reforms (end the filibuster, establish automatic voter registration, win statehood for DC/Puerto Rico, etc.) above all else.

He says that Medicare-for-all should not be a top 3 priority, mainly because the vicious fight required to pass it in 2021 would be too much of an opportunity cost for other legislation.

I don’t think I’m persuaded by that. I think Medicare-for-all should be a top 3 priority — here’s a quick run-down of why.

First of all, Medicare-for-all is hot right now, and Dems should capitalize on that.

Polling data shows that Medicare-for-all is clearly what the Democratic base wants: A recent poll by Data for Progress shows that among registered Democrats passing Medicare-for-all is a higher progressive policy priority than any other major issue.

Medicare-for-all also has cross-partisan appeal. A recent poll shows that 70% of voters support “providing Medicare to every American.” The poll found that 52% of Republicans support that proposition as well. Other polls have found similar levels of popularity. There are reasons to be skeptical that GOP support for it will endure — it’s unclear how many voters really understand that Medicare-for-all would ultimately seek to replace private health insurance, not supplement it. And once it enters the polarization vortex and Trump tags it as a threat to white people or private enterprise, then GOP interest in the policy will decline sharply. But there are good signs that Medicare-for-all appeals to the instincts of Americans across the political spectrum (which shouldn’t be too surprising given how immensely popularthe old system of Medicare is among all Americans) and that could weaken counter-mobilization efforts.

Medicare-for-all has got a significant amount of momentum already. A huge number of the leading 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have coalesced around it to prove their progressive credentials — it’s becoming a signaling mechanism for candidates to show they’ve got their finger on the pulse. The salience of the policy should make it easier to create a mandate for it within the party.

I’m not going to pretend that all of this means the fight for Medicare would be easy. It would be an ugly fight. Not only against the right, but also the private insurance industry, the hospital industry, and quite possibly many medical professionals afraid that their pay will be docked by cost-cutting pressures. But the movement that will be required to pass it — which would have to rise up across the nation — and the actual passage of the bill has the potential to transform political consciousness in America. Decommodifying health insurance and claiming health as a social right will be a paradigm-changer in terms of Americans’ relationship with the government. If it passed, it would change the very terrain upon which future political battles will be fought. While on one hand it would probably cost more time than a lot of other legislation, it also has disproportionate potential to ease the passage of subsequent left-leaning legislation. And even if Medicare-for-all proves to be out of reach, the emergence of a robust public option has the potential to be a transformative victory.

Lastly, Medicare-for-all is morally imperative. Obamcare was already struggling before Trump took office and it’s set to get worse, thanks to the GOP‘s nihilistic attacks on it. The US is the wealthiest country in the world, its healthcare system is atrocious and vulnerable to constant attacks, and the best and most sustainable solution that we know of is creating a government-backed health insurance system. How long can we procrastinate on what should be considered a prerequisite for calling ourselves a civilized society?

The rest of the newsletter, with reading recommendations and more, is here.

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