COMING OFF one of the least-edifying debates of the campaign season, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) agreed in an interview Friday that the format has not tended to promote voter understanding of the candidates’ positions. “It’s been really hard for the candidates who are not Bernie Sanders to express their policies and their ideas,” she said. The pattern: Mr. Sanders promises unlimited free stuff to everyone; other candidates propose smarter, more targeted approaches — and then get slammed for lack of boldness. Making their case has been even harder for the pragmatic and straight-talking candidates in the race because two billionaires — Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer — have saturated the airwaves with incessant television advertising.

In reality, Ms. Klobuchar’s agenda — like those of former vice president Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg — would be pathbreaking. Ms. Klobuchar wants to crack down on pharmaceutical companies, introduce a generous public health-care plan, scale up college affordability, invest in vocational training, pour money into infrastructure, enact public campaign financing and press states to shorten prison sentences. Tackling climate change by getting the country to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would be her “number-one priority.”

So Ms. Klobuchar and others in her lane set ambitious goals. But they do not entertain the fantasy, sold by Mr. Sanders and, to a lesser degree, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), that bold change can be achieved with few-to-no hard choices or little care for the risks. On climate change, for example, Ms. Klobuchar wants to tax greenhouse gas emissions, among other proposals. A price on carbon would spur the transition to clean energy far more efficiently than having politicians arrogantly take it upon themselves to design a green economy in minute detail from Washington. She would help poor and middle-class children go to college but let the wealthy pay tuition. She recognizes limits on how much debt the government can take on.

Like Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg, Ms. Klobuchar understands that change can come only through the hard work of coalition-building. “Being willing to reach out,” she said, “should not be viewed as a negative in the Democratic primary.” She noted that Mr. Sanders refused to support compromise immigration legislation during the George W. Bush years. “That was one moment of leadership: Were you willing to work with the Bush administration on a path to citizenship?” she said.

She also argued that, with President Trump on the ballot, inclusive governing is good politics. People outside the left wing want to restore decency to the White House, and Democrats should appeal to them.

In a more rational presidential selection system, these ideas and arguments would get more of a hearing. Holding primaries, not caucuses, would make less likely the designation of a front-runner based on minuscule total numbers of votes. Public matching funds would give qualified candidates a fairer chance to compete against plutocrats. Debates would elevate substance over angry cross talk. But even without such reforms, it’s not too late for voters in the coming primaries to fairly examine the records and platforms of the candidates.

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