I still haven’t watched the whole thing, but I think last night’s was probably the most contentious debate so far of the Democratic presidential race. I plan to write separately about foreign policy, which seems in any case to have gotten typically too little attention in this debate. On domestic policy, the most significant contention was on health care, and much of it was aimed at Elizabeth Warren. That’s fine. The betting markets now rate Warren the single most probable nominee. I think that’s right, and I’m happy about it. But she needs to be challenged, the better to be steeled against Donald Trump.
I don’t think she rose sufficiently to the challenge. Her persistent, stubborn refusal to answer the simple question—will middle class taxes need to go up to pay for your Medicare for all proposal?—was disturbing. She’s not going to be able to evade that question forever—Trump won’t let her—so it would have been better if she had had an answer already. Apparently, she thinks she can make the case that her single payer health care proposal would net out positively for middle class people—that increased taxes would be more than compensated for by decreased health care costs. So, she needs either to make that case explicitly or change her position.
Klobuchar got in a great dig at Warren by pointing out that Bernie Sanders, at least, honestly admits that taxes would have to go up. But Sanders also unwittingly confirmed that Medicare for all is politically problematic. When Biden challenged him with a fairly specific claim that the necessary tax increases would significantly exceed health care cost savings for typical middle class families, Sanders made no effort to refute him. Instead he just launched into his familiar rhetoric about Democrats unwilling to fight the insurance companies. It’s reasonable to infer that Bernie didn’t have a good answer to Biden.
So, this was not a good night for the progressive position on health care. I say that as one who believes that single payer is almost certainly the best way to go from a policy standpoint, but probably not the best way to go to defeat Donald Trump. I think that Warren can make a great candidate and a great president, but she needs to get her act together on health care.