Key takeaways: Should Democrats go big or get real? (copy)

From left, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke participate in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

John Nichols' Aug. 7 column declared about the second Democratic debate, “this time, there was a clear winner: ‘Medicare for All.’”

Presidential candidates and political analysts should be careful to not confuse a warm reception to an idea before a friendly audience into believing that position will help win the presidential race in November 2020.

Since Harry Truman, Democratic presidents have fought for national health care. They failed. Finally, in 2009, Barack Obama got a foothold with the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

The Republican lie was that it was “a government takeover of health care.” They said it would take away private health insurance, remove patients' choice of a doctor and establish “death panels” to determine who would receive health care. No Republican voted for the bill.

The political price the Democrats paid for doing the right thing was huge. They lost 63 seats and their majority in the House, and seven Senators in 2010, partly because of the Affordable Care Act. It was the worst loss by the political party in power since 1938. Repeal of Obamacare was a centerpiece of Donald Trump’s campaign for president in 2016.

Only several years after its passage did a bare majority of citizens declare their support for the relatively modest program of Obamacare. But it was an important start and resulted in health insurance for over 20 million previously uninsured citizens.

Now Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and John Nichols want to repeal it and replace it with “Medicare for All.” If a lie that Obamacare was a “government takeover of health care” cost the Democrats millions of votes, how many votes would an actual government takeover of health care cost?

Warren is quoted approvingly by Nichols: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”

In 1972, I was an anti-Vietnam War activist, a delegate for George McGovern and ran his northeastern Wisconsin campaign for President. McGovern was not only opposed to the Vietnam War; he wanted to radically restructure the tax code among other proposals. It was a devastating loss for the Democratic Party and the country.

McGovern carried Warren’s state of Massachusetts, and no other.

Richard Nixon stayed in office and the murderous war in Vietnam continued for three more years with a huge loss of lives.

Nichols described Sanders as serving, along with Warren, as a “progressive tag team” in the debate. Sanders said, “I know what’s in my bill. I wrote the damn bill.”

I am sure that ,Sanders does know what’s in his bill. That is not his problem. Sanders' problem is that the other legislators also know what’s in this and his other bills, and they don’t like the bills. That is why he has led passage of only three bills in his 30 years in the House and Senate. Two of those bills were to rename post offices in his state of Vermont.

Nichols reports that, after Warren’s remark, “the applause was thunderous.” Indeed, the audience, consisting overwhelmingly of progressive Democrats, loved it. We all know that warm, powerful feeling we experience when we are with people who agree with us. Surely, we must be in the majority.

The general election is different. The audience is over 230 million eligible voters, most of whom, unlike readers of the Capital Times, don’t pay much attention to politics. They may not watch the debates; they get “information” from 30-second ads and only slightly over half of them bother to vote. Just over one-third of our citizens can name the person who serves as their member of the House of Representatives.

Many more people with health insurance will vote than those who don’t have insurance. Those people may or may not like their insurance plans, but years of research is clear: people are extremely reluctant to give up something that they already have for the promise of something that they might get. A proposed "government takeover of health insurance" means risking the loss of their insurance.

Warren declares, we need “something to fight for.” I agree. We can fight to replace the worst president in history. This is the most important political task in our lifetimes. To not win is to put our nation and its traditions at great continued risk.

Let’s focus on that task and replace fear with hope, lies with truth, with someone who not only understands but embraces what is best about our country. If we are successful, we can stop the ravaging of heath care by Republicans that has already cost seven million citizens their health insurance. We can focus on saving and strengthening one of Obama’s greatest contributions, the Affordable Care Act. There may well be several candidates who can beat Trump, but the Democratic Party is at grave risk if we nominate someone who embraces "Medicare for All."

The Electoral College is an unfortunate, historic artifact that was agreed to in order to create a United States of America. Even with our strange system of elections, carrying only Vermont and Massachusetts will not be enough to beat Trump.

Harry L. Peterson served in the administration of Gov. Patrick Lucey and as Donna Shalala’s chief-of-staff, and is president emeritus of Western Colorado University. He lives in Middleton.

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