Who Are the Moderate Democrats Actually Fighting For?

2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaking at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, California. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, California Senator Kamala Harris, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar may talk a good game when it comes to criticizing corporate greed and the government’s indifference toward the working-class, but when one looks beyond the surface and digs into their policies, an air of “business as usual” looms in the background.

In the battle for the centrist vote within the Democratic party, Buttigieg has emerged as the top dog for the moment since the last debate, narrowly edging out Harris in multiple polls after a post-debate bump in support, lending him credit toward being the most popular left-leaning (major emphasis on the word “leaning”) moderate not named Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.

And why would anyone be surprised? The clean-cut mayor ticks off many of the boxes that the establishment/corporate crowd tend to adore.

Ivy league education? Check. Military experience? Check. Strong religious beliefs? Check. Youthfulness? Check. A unique background that when carefully utilized by campaign staff could make him simultaneously appeal to salt-of-the-earth factory workers and yoga-loving wine moms? Being a piano-playing polyglot from America’s heartland with the possibility of becoming the nation’s first gay president certainly can’t hurt in that regard.

Buttigieg speaking at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention in San Francisco, California. (Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

Underneath the glossy magazine covers, presidential aesthetic and his appearances on Showtime’s “Desus & Mero” and the wildly-popular radio show known as “The Breakfast Club,” Buttigieg’s strategy—along with the strategies of the other center-left Democrats in the race—is to use the neoliberal playbook from the Clinton/Obama years.

This “strategy” is one which involves saying a lot without actually saying anything at all. And this time, this model has been updated for 2020.

Had Biden chose not to run in this election, I’m highly confident that Buttigieg would be polling as a solid third, with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren duking out for the number one spot as both of them would alternate between first and second until the nomination.

Don’t believe me? Buttigieg is Ivy League-educated (he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and followed it up by attending England’s prestigious University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship for his postgraduate studies), well-spoken, looks like a natural on the debate stage and his status as a married, openly-gay politician has high potential to aid in erasing the negative stereotypes that many Americans still hold towards the LGBT community.

On paper, he should be among the ranks of the growing progressive branch of the Democratic party, being seen in photo ops with left-wing firebrand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who recently announced her support for Sanders) and Shahid Buttar, the 45-year-old attorney from San Francisco aiming to unseat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from congress.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) alongside Sanders in a recent interview with The Intercept’s Ryan Grim. (Source: The Intercept / YouTube)

Yet, the 37-year-old mayor was found to be bankrolled behind the scenes by lobbyists and special interest groups. In fact, up until a few months ago, Buttigieg was the sole remaining candidate receiving high-profile donations from the likes of wealthy contributors to the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in addition to taking funds from Steve Elmendorf, one of Washington D.C.’s most powerful lobbyists. Since last April, Buttigieg has sworn off big-money donors.

Each of the moderates have plenty to say when it comes to social issues in America. They’ve given countless monologues about racial inequality, women’s reproductive rights, gun control and the state of the nation under the leadership of President Trump. However, once anything revolving around the country’s rich and powerful comes into discussion, they quickly divert from passionate left-wing-style rhetoric and moonwalk toward the center.

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Take for instance, the proposal of Medicare for All, the call for universal health care for every American citizen, which has been spearheaded by Sanders and Warren and is supported by 70% of Americans.

Instead of going along with most Democratic voters who support the measure, the moderate democrats in the race have chosen to hide behind fear-mongering (and ironically) right-wing talking points such as “How are you (referring to Sanders and Warren) going to pay for it (Medicare for All)?” or “What would you say to the hard-working (insert ‘farmer,’ ‘factory worker,’ ‘mechanic’ or any other generic Midwestern archetype that politicians of all stripes feign compassion for here) who likes their current health insurance?”

Since the first debate, Klobuchar has mostly strayed from any real, concrete, ground-breaking policies and instead has opted for the “Politician You’d Like to Have a Beer With” route, affecting her accent in certain moments and never missing an opportunity to remind us of her Midwestern upbringing. (Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

Buttigieg has trotted out his plan of “Medicare for All Who Want It,” which, similar to the proposals of Biden, Harris and O’Rourke who aim to simply expand Obamacare, would allow Americans to “opt in”: they can choose to go with a private insurer, but if an individual feels that the private insurer isn’t giving them a good enough deal, they can switch over to a more “affordable” health care plan.

According to his campaign website, the “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan would “…incentivize private insurers to compete on price and bring down costs,” by “…leveling the playing field between patients and the healthcare system,” and give “…the American people a choice…to set the pace at which our country moves in a better direction on health care.”

In other words, anyone in the race for the Democratic nomination not named Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren proposes forcing Americans to barter their lives with billion-dollar corporations for health care and should they not be able to find an adequate insurer (i.e., if they can’t afford to pay for it), they can “opt in” to a weak, shoddy version of government-funded healthcare.

Curiously enough, both Harris and Buttigieg are ex-supporters of Medicare for All. Harris co-sponsored the plan back in 2017 and Buttigieg announced his former support of the plan via a tweet back in 2018, yet they both now urge the importance of not abolishing private insurance and giving the American people a “choice.”

Harris speaking at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

In one of the few noteworthy moments from the last Democratic debate, Warren dismissed Buttigieg’s plan as “Medicare for All Who Can Afford It.” 

The double-talk and appeasement toward the rich has left a growing portion of progressives within the Democratic party with a feeling of disdain toward the D.C. dwelling, suit-and-tie wearing, power lunch-eating elites that have wielded the reins of America’s mainstream left since the nineties.

There is some good news for those sick of the corporate Dems. While he still holds a clear lead in the race, Biden’s campaign has begun to fall far behind Warren and Sanders in fundraising, despite the fact that his cash flow is being supplied by wealthy donors and those loyal to Obama and the Clintons.

But don’t be too enthused. Due to their fears of Sanders or Warren securing the nomination, the democratic establishment is working on a Plan B if Biden’s campaign runs out of steam. Campaign donors have discussed an emergency replacement of sorts, floating around the names of neoliberals such as billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg (a man worth over $50 billion), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Hillary Clinton (“Why?” I ask) and even Michelle Obama.

With Biden’s fundraising on shaky ground, donors to the democratic establishment are concerned about his campaign. (Credit: Marc Nozell / Flickr)

If we want to push for real change in the upcoming election, poor and working class Americans need to realize that the moderate collective within the Democratic party does not have our best interests in mind. For all the pandering that they do, they will never hesitate to let the poor and disenfranchised fall through the cracks while the corporate class—regardless of their political affiliation—continue to rule this nation with an iron grip.

As long as Wall Street and pharmaceutical companies can continue to buy and trade politicians like Pokémon cards while pushing prospects who pose no threat to their net worth to the top of the election pile, we may as well prepare ourselves for the possibility of Hillary Clinton crowbarring her way onto the debate stage next year.

Quinton Bradley
Contributing Writer

Quinton Bradley is an Ohio-based writer. He runs a blog called Hammers and Papyrus and can be followed on Twitter @QBAbstract.

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