No fair asking Democratic contenders to take a position

Yesterday, Steve and I wrote about how Democrats are starting to worry that the leftism that infects their party may cost them dearly in the 2020 elections. Such worrying is on display in this column by E.J. Dionne.

The veteran cheerleader pleads with Democrats to fight President Trump rather than each other. If you think about his column, however, Dionne is really calling on his Party to hide the ball.

Much of Dionne’s focus is on the bickering House Democrats. He notes that they “are united on many things.”

He’s right. The core difference between the Pelosi wing of the House and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s small squad isn’t over what, ideally, should be done. Both factions want open borders, socialized medicine, a weaker military, etc. Both would like to see Trump removed from office by Congress.

The difference is that Pelosi doesn’t want to show this hand because she knows it’s a losing one with voters. She’s being sensible, of course, but it’s probably impossible to get everyone in a caucus of 235 members to keep from saying what they want and what they really think.

Dionne’s hide the ball agenda becomes obvious in his advice to Democratic presidential candidates. He wants them to agree to stop answering “raise your hands” questions in debates.

Dionne’s recommendation is understandable. The candidates did themselves no favor when all of them (if I recall correctly) raised their hand in support of free health for illegal immigrants, and when nearly all of them indicted they want to end private health insurance.

But there was nothing unfair about the questions. One either favors these things or one doesn’t.

Dionne says the issues are “complicated.” Maybe. But presidents have to decide complicated questions with a “yes” or a “no.” They can’t vote “present” the way Barack Obama sometimes did as a legislator and the way Dionne, in effect, wants Democratic contenders to do during debates.

Moreover, in the debates, the “show of hands” questions were only an entree into a discussion of the issue posed. Candidates were given the opportunity to explain their answer and to add any qualifiers they thought necessary.

There’s also the issue of how it would look to voters if Democratic candidates entered into an agreement not to show their hand (literally and figuratively). I think it would look bad. Voters would understand that the candidates were hiding the ball. To be fair, though, it might not look as bad as supporting free health care for illegal immigrants.

But it might be impossible to get everyone on the stage to agree to boycott “show of hands” questions. It wouldn’t be in the interests of, say, Joe Biden or Amy Klobuchar, or the small number of non-radical candidates on the fringe of the race to forgo the opportunity to stand out as more sensible than the rest of the field. Nor is it even clear that the likes of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Bill de Blasio would want to pass on the opportunity proudly to display their leftism, as opposed to looking like wimps.

Dionne’s column includes the obligatory claim that the “the Republican Party has moved so far to the right.” But Dionne wouldn’t have had to write his column if the Democrats hadn’t moved so far to the left.

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