With the Democratic primary in full gear, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the positions of the leading candidates on the issues I care most about so that I can make up my mind based on more than just what I hear in the liberal echo chamber that is my social media. It’s hard to choose just a limited number of issues, but I wanted to keep this somewhat manageable so I’m going to start with Democracy and political reform in this post. I have done the research for Health care and Education as well, but I’ll post those separately. If people seem to find these posts useful, I’ll do a couple more on Guns and the Environment.
As you may have noticed, there are about a million people running in the Democratic primary right now, so it’s not feasible for me to research all of them. So again, to keep this effort somewhat manageable I’m going to focus on the top six candidates in the RealClearPolitics national polling average as of 8/21/2019. Those candidates are: Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, O’Rourke. As with issues, there are other candidates that I would like to include, but I’ve gotta cut this off somewhere. If things change significantly maybe I’ll update this later.
I should also talk a little bit about my methods up front. I am basing these posts on what candidates have on their websites. It’s possible they have talked about these issues in other contexts but I can’t scour the whole internet to find every last detail. To me, if the issue is something really important to them, they should have it on their website. For Warren I am making a slight exception to this rule. Her website is kind of confusing but after poking around on it for a while I discovered that a lot of her detailed plans are not actually on her campaign website, but are posted on Medium. Since she is using Medium as an extension of her website, I decided to include her Medium posts here.
I should also make it clear that candidate webpages are often crammed with little details and one-off mentions of issues, so it’s entirely possible that I have missed some things, or have decided not to include them here even though they are briefly mentioned.
And finally, I am going to try to faithfully summarize what is on each candidate’s page, but I am also going to throw in my own opinions where I feel the need, so this isn’t going to be completely neutral. Okay? Okay. So, let’s get on with it!
Democracy (Political Reform, Voting Rights, and Corruption)
This is basically the “how are you going to fix our deeply broken politics?” category. We’ve got a Republican party that has gone completely off the rails and no longer even pretends to act in good faith. It is openly courting white nationalists, flagrantly abuses the norms of our government to get its way, and gladly accepts the assistance of foreign powers to skew our elections and maintain power. It also is actively eroding voting rights in an effort to prevent people who are more likely to vote for Democrats from voting at all. More than any other issue, this dysfunction needs to be fixed, because until it is, we will not be able to make meaningful headway on any other issue. This is also the hardest issue to fix, so I’m interested in seeing what the candidates have to say.
Not a lot of details on this topic, but his site does specifically talk about strengthening voting rights and election security. He also addresses the problem of money in politics, mentioning public financing of campaigns and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. All good stuff but I would have liked more detail.
As an aside: I have been concerned by Biden’s apparent belief in finding common ground with Republicans. That may have worked once upon a time, when they were a party acting in good faith, but they have not been that party for a long time. If we keep pretending that they are and keep trying to meet them in the middle, Democrats are going to continue to lose ground and we will continue down a very dark path. When the Republican president is overseeing the creation of concentration camps and talking about racial and religious minorities with words like “vermin” and “disloyal” and “infestation”, and white supremacist terrorists are specifically citing his language to justify their atrocities, that’s not a difference of opinion. That’s not something that we just agree to disagree on. Here are a couple of relevant quotes:
“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”Robert Jones Jr.
“Meet me in the middle,” says the unjust man.
You take a step toward him. He takes a step back.
“Meet me in the middle,” says the unjust man.A.R. Moxon
Anyway, let’s move on.
Sanders also doesn’t have much detail on this topic, though he does have a laundry list of good ideas including things like automatic voter registration, restoring the Voting Rights Act, election day as a holiday, and ending gerrymandering. No word of how these things will be accomplished, but that’s (alas) pretty typical of candidate sites in general.
At first it looked like Warren was also going to be pretty high level. Her main webpage just lists a handful of good ideas, such as how to curb the influence of lobbyists and impose ethics standards for judges. She also mentions an amendment protecting voting rights, fighting voter suppression and gerrymandering, overturning Citizens United, and fighting the influence of foreign powers and the use of hatred and bigotry to divide the electorate. All good stuff but not very detailed.
But then I realized that a whole bunch of her policy proposals are actually spelled out as posts on Medium, and are listed on her actual website under “Latest Announcements”. So that’s kind of a strange choice, but as I mentioned above, since she’s using Medium as an extension of her website, I’ll include those posts here.
Based on those posts, Warren also plans to implement automatic voter registration, election day as a holiday, early voting and vote by mail. She also has the interesting idea of implementing federal standards for elections, and then having the federal government pay for state election costs for states who meet those standards. She also proposes a new Secure Democracy Administration to replace the existing Election Assistance Commission, with power to step in and oversee elections if states are violating federal standards.
She also has another post about the Mueller report that I guess falls under this category. It basically boils down to: she will make it clear in as many ways possible that the Department of Justice can in fact indict the president.
In yet another Medium post, this one pretty brief and to the point, she proposes eliminating the electoral college and replacing it with a national popular vote.
Harris’s site is a bit more wordy about the issues, but it’s not clear that she actually gets more specific. She lists restoring the Voting Rights Act, making election day a holiday, overturning Citizens United, and improving election security and infrastructure. Despite a higher word count, I’d put her on par with Sanders for level of detail.
Now this is more like it. Buttigieg has a good amount of detail on this subject. Lots of ideas that are also shared by other candidates, but a little more detail on many of them, and a good number of ideas that I haven’t seen on the other candidate sites. Some noteworthy examples: voting by mail and protecting voting rights on tribal lands; overturning Buckley vs. Valeo (related to campaign finance contribution limits) as well as Citizens United; Puerto Rico in the electoral college and potential statehood; national popular vote to replace the electoral college; bipartisan commission to reform the Supreme Court with suggestion of more justices, term limits, and different methods of choosing justices. There seem to be some genuinely good and unique ideas here. I’m impressed.
O’Rourke’s site seems to be more verbose than some others, but it’s not fluff: he also has a good amount of detail on this topic. I can’t repeat everything that he lists, but he has a lot of good stuff on voting rights and turnout, term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court, good and specific ideas about limiting money in politics, election security and transparency in online advertising. And most of the good ideas listed by other candidates appear in some form on O’Rourke’s page too.
Ok, so how do all the candidates stack up? I decided that the best way to compare was to put together a table. Now, to be clear: this is just based on what I was able to find on their websites. The lack of a mark on a given topic doesn’t mean that candidate is against that thing, it just means I couldn’t find a clear statement about it on their site. Also, number of marks in the table does not by itself determine how good a candidate is on these issues. The table is just a useful way to summarize and see what issues and ideas are unique vs which ones are mentioned by everyone.
|Improve voting rights in general||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Restore Voting Rights Act||X||X||X||X|
|Overturn Citizens United/|
voting rights amendment
|Automatic voter |
|Election day holiday||X||X||X||X||X|
|Public funding for elections||X||X||X||X||X|
|Abolish/limit super PACs||X||X||X|
|Improved election security||X||X||X||X||X|
|More transparency on|
|Voting rights for the|
|Supreme court reforms||X||X|
|Candidate tax returns public||X|
|Crack down on lobbying||X||X|
|Accurate and depoliticized census||X||X|
Puerto Rico and DC
|National popular vote||X||X|
|Term limits on Congress |
and Supreme Court
|Federal standards for elections||X|
So that’s where the leading candidates stand on the (rather broad) topic of Democracy and Political reform. I would say that Buttigieg is in the lead on this topic, with O’Rourke and Warren not far behind. Sanders had some good stuff but almost no details to go with it. Biden mentioned a few good ideas, but not as many as the other candidates and lacked detail so he comes in at the bottom on this issue for me.
Stay tuned for similar posts on Health Care and Education!