No debates, Joe; a discussion

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The last debate between Biden and Bernie was on March 15. And now Joe says, “I think we’ve had enough debates.” So, no more debating, but how about a calm and meaningful discussion?

A debate is a way in which one-upmanship is primary, a way in which you try to show that you’re better than the other guy. A discussion is a way in which you listen to what the other person says and try to add to it in a way that the other person will find acceptable or even pleasing. And that’s what Bernie and Joe should be doing.

Assuming that the Milwaukee Democratic Convention takes place in July as scheduled, Joe is very likely to be named presidential nominee. Of course, anything can happen. Joe might get coronavirus and die before then. Yet even if he is alive, that doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be elected president.  Bernie represents at least 30% or more of the voters in the Democratic primaries, and he is key to getting those voters out and supporting Biden in the fight against Trump.

The Movement for a People’s Party held a Zoom meeting on March 26, and their goal is to get Bernie to be their presidential nominee if the Democrats don’t choose him. Of course, it’s unlikely that Bernie would become a third party candidate, but the third parties—Greens, Social Democrats, et al.—will keep going, and Biden will need every vote he can get. He needs to get the Bernie/Progressive Wing of the Democrats firmly at his side, and that will happen only if the platform and the planned Biden administration is acceptable to the entire party, not just the moderates.

Take the continuing fight over Medicare for All. The coronavirus disaster in the United States—it is on course to have a worse outbreak than China or even Italy—shows that it has no real public health system. It needs a universal care system at the federal level, one that is in no way dependent on private organizations seeking profits. Biden shouldn’t keep pointing at Italy or China as symbols of failings of public systems, because each of those countries had issues which the United States does not. China was the first country to face the plague, and Italy had one of the oldest, family oriented populations in the world, making quarantine hard to use. The U.S. suffers from a lack of testing kits and face masks. Plus many of its residents cannot afford to see a doctor, and there are a lack of doctors. Do we want to maintain this sort of rag-tag system in the richest country in the world?

And, speaking of wealth, 49% of Americans expect to live paycheck to paycheck this year. Haven’t we had enough of income inequality? And this year we’ll have massive unemployment due to coronavirus. We’re going from stock market crash to job market crash. Biden isn’t going anywhere without a coalition of Democrats.

Earlier, Biden said that he supports free college (one of Bernie’s planks) and changes to the bankruptcy laws (one of Warren’s planks). (Previously, he wanted only the first two years of college to be free). That’s at least a start towards unification. That’s what the discussion should be about. Biden should talk about his platform, and Bernie should talk about his. They should match up the areas where each sees the need for change and try to come to an agreement on changes. Really, that shouldn’t be that difficult.

Look at Joe’s positions and then at Bernie’s. For instance, on criminal law, both want to abolish private prisons and the death penalty. Both want cash bail reform and an end to mandatory minimum sentences. Hey, that’s a good beginning. Both want to study reparations for blacks and to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Both want citizenship for Dreamers (DACA).  Both want universal background checks on guns and a voluntary buyback program for assault weapons. Both are against unlimited spending in political campaigns. Both want to pay farmers to use climate-friendly practices. In other words, nail down the positions where both agree. Modify positions (e.g., free college) where they disagree but where compromise is likely.

On the other hand, Bernie wants Medicare for All, while Biden wants expanded coverage but a retention of private insurance. There’s a fairly easy compromise on this, which is to follow the Swiss system. There, everyone must join the private system after being three months as a resident, and the private insurance system is heavily regulated by the government. In the U.S., you could have a government system for whoever wants to join it, and require private insurers to provide the same coverage and costs as the public system. To save administrative costs for doctors and hospitals, have the government disburse all the money to the providers, leaving the private insurers to fight with the government over any issues. And cover all health issues with a payment from the government (and maybe a small monthly payment from the users; but no deductibles or side fees).

In their discussion, Bernie and Biden should be prepared to discuss the healthcare system and the changes that could be made, hopefully arriving (in public) at a compromise with a promise of support by both of them.

It’s important that the voters know who will be in the cabinet. The Trump administration has a revolving door. Its “A Team” of 65 members has an 82% turnover. This is the worst performance of all presidents since and including Reagan. Bernie and Biden should bring a list of favorites for important positions and try to reach an agreement. (They should probably trade lists before the discussion starts so that the discussion can focus on important compromises.)

If Biden and Bernie can have public discussions about important platform and personnel issues, the likelihood is that they could find genuine compromises and form a real coalition. I would look forward to an offer from Biden so that Bernie can have a strong and meaningful leadership position in the administration. This would doubtless be a key element to beating Trump.

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