Right-leaning pundits seem incensed that Harris is keeping a role for private plans rather than sticking to maximalist rhetoric. She finances the plan not with a wealth tax (like Warren’s heavily criticized plan) but with a tax on financial transactions. Umm, that’s a better, more realistic option, isn’t it?
Harris’s rivals are going ballistic, accusing her of trying to be all things to all people. They might not mean it as such, but that’s called good politics. Getting the best of both worlds — rallying the base without losing the center (or giving a pathway to Medicare without scaring people) — is exactly how one wins elections, even primary elections in which the party is properly concerned about giving President Trump ammunition to unload on the eventual nominee. Sanders’s campaign put out a blatantly misleading statement accusing Harris of trying to “privatize” Medicare. Lily Adams, Harris’s communications director, tells me, “It’s just not true and frankly they know it. Her plan immediately expands coverage, is most closely modeled after the current Medicare system that works and is the best way to get to universal coverage and take on big insurance companies.”
Andy Slavitt, who served as acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama, says: “In a nutshell, the most important narrative out of this plan is that the Democratic presidential candidates are putting forward different approaches with often relatively modest distinction on how to get to the same place — universal coverage.” In Harris’s case, she avoids the pitfalls of Sanders’s plan without giving up on improved access. “Senator Harris’s plan is an effort to balance idealism and pragmatism. It says in effect: We have a mandate to get everyone affordable health care and put people over profits — but we don’t need to tear down the things people have and they like in order to do it.”
Harris smartly recognized that Democrats win on health care if they make the election a choice between taking away health-care coverage (as Trump would do) or solidifying Obamacare/extending access to health-care coverage. If Democrats become advocates for destroying the entire system and creating chaos and “socialism,” then Democrats will wind up handing Trump the advantage.
Harris has used her telegenic personality, prosecutorial flair and precise policy positioning (left, but not too far left) to balance three competing concerns: Rally the critical African American base, endear herself to the progressive wing of the party and preserve her general-election credibility — without which Democrats desperate for a win are unlikely to nominate her.
If Harris wins the nomination, her success may be traceable less to her much-heralded attack on Biden in the first debate than her clever health-care resolution in advance of the second debate.
She will get a chance to defend herself against critics’ nitpicking at Wednesday night’s debate. Her critics should be forewarned: Arguing that someone has been too reasonable or that a candidate used to be fuzzy on an issue isn’t all that effective.