An underappreciated quality in politicians is common sense. I don’t mean knowing the price of milk. (Millions of Americans buy milk and don’t know exactly what it costs, so can we drop “price of” questions?) In this case, I refer to the sound exercise of judgment coupled with a respect for the intelligence of voters.
Here’s what’s not common sense: We can fulfill the Green New Deal. People said we couldn’t put a man on the moon, and we did. Stop. Please. There are rational goals (e.g., space travel at a time we were progressing with rocketry), and there are silly, unattainable goals (e.g., me outracing an Olympic sprinter). Because some things can be achieved doesn’t mean all things can be. And yet, politicians keep using the inapt man-on-the-moon analogy.
On Sunday, we actually saw good examples of common sense from politicians. They fell into two categories: know what is reasonable and what’s not. And assess people individually, in context. Let’s take each in order.
Know what is reasonable and what’s not: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg displayed uncommon (these days) restraint when asked about the Green New Deal and the Affordable Care Act:
TAPPER: Do you endorse the Markey/Ocasio-Cortez Green New Deal?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, I think it's the right beginning.
Look, it’s a framework. Obviously, the Green New Deal, as we have seen it so far, is more of a plan than it is a fully articulated set of policies. But the idea that we need to race toward that goal and that we should do it in a way that enhances the economic justice and the level of economic opportunity in our country, I believe that’s exactly the right direction to be going in. . . .
Everybody is going to have their own twists or features they're going to add.
As a mayor, I would like to see it funding more things that would help our cities become sustainable. And there are other developments that are going to have to come along to establish exactly how we can meet those goals.
But they're the right goals, especially if you come at this from a generational perspective. You know, for me, the question of what the world is going to look like in 2054, which is when I'm going to reach the current age of the current president, that's not a theoretical question. That's a personal question.
And it’s very clear that we can’t go on like this. I mean, these weather extremes we’re experiencing now are what we were warned about to expect in these years in the ’70s and ’80s by science.
Asked about President Trump’s attack on Democrats as backers of Venezuela-style socialism. “Look, America is committed to democracy, and we’re essentially a market-based economy,” he said. “But you can’t — you can no longer simply kill off a line of discussion about a policy by saying that it’s socialist . . . And that word has also lost its power, especially when you think about the way it was applied to characterize, for example, the ACA, an idea that was invented at the conservative.”
Likewise, Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) was asked about Medicare-for-all:
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:
Remember when President Obama said, “If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance.” And then, you know, a few people in America actually lost their insurance because of the way that the plan worked. Now what Democrats are saying is, “If you like your insurance, we’re going to take it away from you,” from 180 million people that get their insurance from their employer and like it, where 20 million Americans who are on Medicare advantage, and love it. That seems like a bad opening offer for me. I think we’d be much better off with a bill like the one I have with Tim Kaine called Medicare X that creates a public option. It, it helps finish the work of Obamacare. And it says to America, “If you want to be in a public plan, you can choose to be in a public plan. If you want to keep your insurance, you can keep your insurance.”
There’s a lot of people thinking about running for president. Why you? What do you, what do you offer, do you think, that says, “You know what, this — I want to present this answer for the public”?
SENATOR MICHAEL BENNET:
I think that I’ve got a different set of experiences than the other folks in the race, many of whom are my friends and people that I like. But I spent time in business and time as a school superintendent before I was in the, in the job that I’m in now. As I sit, or when I sit on the Senate floor, I often think about what I’m hearing through the lens of the kids that I used to work for in the Denver public schools. And the agenda that I hear has very little to do with them, very little to do with their future, very little to do with the next generation’s future in America. So I think we have an opportunity to have a presidential campaign, you know, we’ve got a million people that are going to run, which I think is great, we have to do it. And I think having one more voice in that conversation that’s focused on America’s future I don’t think would hurt.
Both of these Democrats are progressives, but they also care about what they can do for Americans, not simply what sounds good in a campaign. They favor what I like to call radical moderation. Republicans will tell you that the country doesn’t want universal health care. That’s flat-out wrong, as every Democrat in the presidential primary knows. What Buttigieg and Bennet know that not all the rest of the candidates do is that to achieve a very big goal means getting elected and constructing a doable path to one’s ends. If you start with the unattainable and the scary, you’re doing no more than playing into the right-wing’s hands.
Assess people individually, in context: Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) was talking rationally about the Virginia state political dumpster fire.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And what about the Attorney General Herring who also admitted to having appeared in blackface in the past? Should he resign?
REPRESENTATIVE JENNIFER WEXTON: Well, his situation is different, and I judge each situation on its merits. The attorney general came forward proactively, is very regretful and contrite. He reached out to all the African American leaders ... and other leaders, very heartfelt anguish about what he had done. But he’s got a lot of work to do to regain the trust of the people of Virginia.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you're withholding judgment?
REPRESENTATIVE JENNIFER WEXTON: I’m withholding judgment. . . .
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to make sure we also talk about the Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax because I know you have strong feelings about him as well. He has made clear he’s not going to resign. Do you expect there to be an attempt to impeach him?
REPRESENTATIVE JENNIFER WEXTON: Well, one of the members of the House of Delegates has said that he intends to file articles of impeachment next week. That’s a decision that my— my former colleagues in the General Assembly are going to have to make about— about how that plays out. But I expect that the lieutenant governor will do the right thing for Virginia and resign.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Two of your Democratic colleagues, Senator Warner and Congressman Scott have— have sort of hedged their criticisms saying “if true.” Is there a possibility that Justin Fairfax is unfairly accused here?
REPRESENTATIVE JENNIFER WEXTON: He is the subject of two extremely credible corroborated accusations of serious sexual assault. That’s the situation we’re looking at right now. It seems highly unlikely that these women would come forward and subject themselves to this kind of abuse if these allegations were not factual. . . . I judge every case and every— every complainant in every situation on its merits. You know, I was also a prosecutor and this is not an issue where we need to prove something to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Elected leaders need to be held to a higher standard and where there are credible allegations— corroborated allegations of serious sexual assault. We’re talking about rape and forcible sodomy. This is something that impacts his ability to lead in future.
This is how ordinary people evaluate friends, co-workers and neighbors. Not everyone gets the same treatment; different conduct and different circumstances should lead to different outcomes. Fairfax doesn’t get a pass because Trump is still in office; Mark Herring doesn’t get the same treatment as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) because Herring’s handling of the situation was entirely different. Only in the political world do people insist on a one-size-fits-all model regardless of the size or circumstances of their actions. Rather than fear the “inconsistency” or “hypocritical” label, more pols should worry about the “lacking judgment” label. It’s a moniker that fits far too many in office and in the media.