Now that Rahm Emanuel doesn’t need to worry about running for reelection as the Mayor of Chicago or grooming any Clintons for the White House, he has time on his hands and the freedom to say things that may be unpopular in his own party. This weekend he took full advantage of his unfettered position with an op-ed in the Washington Post where he takes his party to task for their obsession with Medicare For All.
By the time I finished reading the piece I was seriously surprised. This is some clear-eyed thinking that will see him burned to the ground among supporters of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the rest of the significantly more socialist 2020 hopefuls. But this one section of the essay should really inject a dose of reality into the Democratic debates, assuming anyone is willing to listen.
Medicare-for-all is guaranteed to frighten many among the vast majority of Americans who already have health coverage. It would require a disastrously unpopular tax increase on the middle class. And it would unite a world of the special interests against us.
This dog just won’t hunt. Perhaps worse, we cannot afford to try and then fail. Losing on health care will make it more difficult for us to make progress on education, the environment or other social justice issues. We need to chart a different path. So let’s use history and context as a guide.
I’m mystified as to why, at a moment when 90 percent of Americans already have insurance, our presidential debates are focused so exclusively on expanding coverage rather than containing costs. That’s the challenge that bedevils most families constructing their monthly budgets at the kitchen table.
Rahm’s full explanation of a better approach for Democrats on the issue of healthcare sounds dangerously sensible and I hope they don’t listen to him. He’s laying out a strategy that could wind up being very palatable to rank and file voters. We currently have a larger percentage of Americans with health care coverage than virtually ever before. Emanuel suggests targeted programs to get the remaining few covered rather than upending the entire apple cart and changing the health care system for the entire country.
He also lays out a list of the craziest items on the Democrats’ agenda that will cost them an enormous amount of political capital. These include rewriting the entire tax code, “decriminalizing” the border, giving everyone free college and eliminating fossil fuels with the Green New Deal. That’s twenty pounds of crazy in a five-pound bag, as Rahm apparently realizes. With that in mind, he asks if Democrats should “be strategic on at least one big-ticket item.”
If the eventual Democratic nominee runs on Medicare For All, Trump should be able to tear them apart on the debate stage and make their presidency a very frightening prospect for most middle-class voters who currently have health care coverage through their employers. (You’ll notice that Biden is avoiding it like the plague.) The same goes for the Green New Deal. Some of the other “free stuff for everyone” proposals might gain some traction, but those two are the real killers.
You can disagree with virtually everything Rahm Emanuel stands for (I know I certainly do), but he didn’t survive for decades in the swamp and the Chicago Daley machine environment without knowing his way around electoral strategy questions. But as I said above, we can still hope that the 2020 candidates won’t listen to him. If they do, Donald Trump could be in trouble next year.