This is not to say that Democrats should forego big ideas. Big ideas, even if only aspirational, can inspire voters. What cannot be accomplished today may be possible tomorrow. As Senator Elizabeth Warren asked, why run for president just to talk about what we can’t do and shouldn’t fight for?
Democrats do run the risk of seeming unrealistic and open to the charge of being socialist if nothing they propose appears practical in the foreseeable future. Candidates can increase their appeal in the minds of voters, however, by also (1) talking about their philosophical approach to governing and to particular problems, (2) emphasizing their qualifications for office, (3) exhibiting attractive personal attributes, and (4) telling people what they most certainly will be able to do once they are in the Oval Office.
This last item is especially important in that it allows the candidates to appear thoughtful and realistic, while at the same time implicitly attacking the incumbent. Possible campaign promises of this sort might include any of the following, in no particular order:
- Never use Twitter to announce policy, and use it only occasionally to call attention to conventional policy documents, requests for comment, etc.
- Commit to holding regular press conferences at least monthly.
- Propose cabinet members with demonstrable and relevant expertise, personal integrity, and no significant real or apparent conflicts of interest.
- Begin a process of evaluating regulations eliminated or weakened by the current administration, with the understanding that regulations are needed for the just and effective running of our society.
- Nominate judges having a mainstream judicial philosophy.
- Visit leaders of allied nations early in the presidency to reassure our allies that the United States is a reliable partner.
- Halt arm sales to Saudi Arabia pending improvement in that country’s human rights record.
- Halt financial support to Israel if that nation will not suspend the building of new settlements and the destruction of Palestinian dwellings.
- Declare that Israel and the Palestinians can either negotiate an acceptable two-state solution or Israel must incorporate Palestinian territories into the nation, make Palestinians citizens with rights equal to those of Jews, and denounce the concept of Israel as a Jewish state.
- Commit the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change and become a leader in seeking to avoid a global climate catastrophe.
- Remove all tariffs imposed by President Trump and seek legislation to prevent future presidents from enacting tariffs without congressional approval.
- Commit to establishing multilateral trade agreements to facilitate free trade in East Asia and elsewhere.
- Declare our acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea and our peaceful intentions toward that country, while maintaining economic sanctions as long as the DPRK maintains an abysmal human rights record.
- Begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, with the understanding that military action will be taken against any attempt to use that country as a base for terrorist training.
- Propose a budget that increases money for NASA and regulatory agencies and reduces money for the military.
- Restore full diplomatic relations and all financial and travel restrictions on Cuba.
- Negotiate disputes with China without the use of tariffs that hurt China but hurt the U.S. more.
- Seek an agreement with Iran that will defuse tensions and provide Iran some relief from economic sanctions.
- Seek new arms control agreements with an expanded set of nations, including China and Iran.
- Offer financial and technical help to Central American countries from which refugees have been streaming.
The above list could easily be made longer, and I have no doubt that items in the list could be attacked by people both on the left and the right. The point is simply that there are things that a president actually has direct control of and can make credible promises about.
Americans would be better served by Democratic candidates arguing about the points listed above and similar matters than the arcane and largely incomprehensible discussions we have been subjected to regarding how the nation might better deliver health care.
Are any of the candidates listening?