With all the sincerity and conviction they could muster, the major Democratic presidential candidates this month scrambled to out-promise each other on how they would, if elected, solve America's health care problems, fix immigration, help college students pay their debts and withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
They make it sound so easy, so logical, so doable, and oh-so affordable.
It's exactly because of these kinds of oversimplified, crowd-pleasing answers that America has Donald Trump as its current president. Trump promised his supporters the world, but he turned out to be a world-wrecker. Democrats must demand a higher standard from their candidates, who debate again on Oct. 15.
Voters in places like heavily Democratic St. Louis will decide in the coming year which of the remaining contenders ultimately challenges Trump in 2020. They will risk failure at every turn if they settle for soundbite-friendly, simplistic answers to complex problems.
To hear the candidates talk about Afghanistan, for example, it's as if a withdrawal after 18 years of occupation would be consequence-free. Trump made similar promises before his election about withdrawing, but as he's now learning, it's not as easy as waving a magic presidential wand.
When queried what she would do as president, Sen. Elizabeth Warren stated during the Sept. 12 candidates' debate, "What we're doing right now in Afghanistan is not helping the safety and security of the United States. It is not helping the safety and security of the world. It is not helping the safety and security of Afghanistan." The audience responded with thunderous applause.
"We don't need those troops there. I would bring them home," former Vice President Joe Biden said, again to applause.
But Democrats should be asking how someone like Warren, a champion of women's rights, would square her stand with the likely outcome for Afghan women. Had Warren properly researched her response, she would not have asserted that the United States isn't helping the safety and security of Afghanistan. Millions of Afghan women depend on the U.S. presence to prevent the Taliban from returning to power and returning them to a status as faceless, powerless slaves. Would a President Warren simply shrug her shoulders and turn her back on them? Would Warren unleash the Taliban to shoot teenage school girls in the face the way they did Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan?
The United States has a long and honorable history of long troop deployments abroad. Thousands of U.S. troops remain in South Korea today to stop North Korea from even thinking about a return to the hostilities that began nearly seven decades ago. Thousands more are in Europe, helping deter Russian military adventurism. As expensive as such deployments are, they are vital to global security.
The only candidate with actual military experience in Afghanistan, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, also chimed in on the need to rethink the Afghanistan mission. But after the debate, he expressed concern about how hastily his colleagues jumped onto the quick-pullout bandwagon. "It almost came across as if the candidates think there is no point to being there, which is not how I view it," he was quoted as saying afterwar.
It's important to note that, despite all the eye rolling the candidates did when the subject of Trump and his trade war came up, they were quick to agree that China deserves to be punished for stealing U.S. technology. Several supported higher tariffs on China. In other words, they're calling for essentially what Trump is doing now.
The candidates have been equally simplistic when it comes to pressing issues like immigration, health care or the massive debts being accrued by college students.
If immigration were easy to solve, Democrats would have done it when they controlled the White House and Congress.
As Republicans correctly note, there's no such thing as "free" college tuition. Someone must pay the bill for plans to erase college tuition debts or eliminate tuition for future college students. Professors still need to be paid. Universities still have massive infrastructure costs that must be covered.
Warren's plan to cancel most student-loan debt and eliminate tuition at public universities is estimated to cost about $1.25 trillion. To pay for it, she proposes a 2% extra tax on the household assets of the nation's 75,000 wealthiest families. She wants to add another 1% "billionaire surtax" on households whose net worth exceeds $1 billion.
When she recites this formula to adoring crowds of supporters — crowds that consist almost entirely of young people — the applause is deafening. Someone needs to bring those young admirers back to reality. Any such "free" plan would require a wholesale political shift in Congress to the far left, and there's no indication that American voters in staunchly Republican districts across the country are anywhere close to embracing these far-left ideas.
Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have embraced plans to replace Obamacare with universal, single-payer coverage, dubbed Medicare for All. Cue the applause. Young audiences are always ecstatic to hear these ideas. Those young people also happen to be the ones who will inherit this nation's massive existing debt of $22.6 trillion.
Doesn't someone owe them a hard dose of reality about how much these plans would cost, or how their favored candidate would pay for it on top of their plans to pay down the national debt, provide free college, welcome new immigrants, end hunger and reverse global warming?
Dreaming, as the old Blondie song went, is free. Reality can be very, very expensive.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Photo credit: geralt at Pixabay