The censorious centrists have been berating progressives for thinking too big. Medicare for All is impractical. Taxing the rich seems too socialistic. A drastically higher minimum wage might cost some jobs. Free higher education could help some affluent kids. A Green New Deal is over the top.
Basically, an ideological preference is masquerading as tactical advice. Most of these centrist souls, by coincidence, don’t support Medicare for All, or other expansive public programs. But are they wrong on the tactical advice?
If you look at the history of great progressive breakthroughs, from the abolition of slavery, to the enactment of Social Security and the Wagner Act in the 1930s, to the great Civil Rights Acts and Medicare in the 1960s, they began as the dreams of the radicals, with moderates as the naysayers.
I vividly remember a Jules Feiffer cartoon from about 1967 lampooning an anxious moderate critic of the Vietnam War, carrying a sign saying “A Little Less Bombing.”
Take a close look at the history, and in the endgame the landmark laws get watered down some to be enacted. But they would not have become law at all had not the radicals begun by asking for the whole loaf.
In the case of Medicare for All, as the Prospect has repeatedly shown in several pieces, it’s fiscally impossible—too big a tax hike—to get there in a single stroke. But it makes great sense to extend Medicare to all 55- or 50-year-olds—my colleague Paul Starr calls this Midlife Medicare—or to have an optional buy-in for everyone who wants one. And then extend it to the whole population.
Yet Medicare for All is exactly the right slogan, aspirationally as they say. If you don’t start big, you end up puny. And Lord knows, Democrats ever since Carter and Clinton have had far too much puny. Programs that are puny do not transform lives for the better. The result is Trump.