The audience for the first Democratic presidential primary debate was not just the party faithful. It was the low-information voters. And ignorance won, not Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
All of the candidates—Lincoln Chaffee, Martin O’Malley, and Jim Webb, as well as Hillary and Bernie—offered the next big handful of economy- and morality-rotting goodies from the welfare state candy bag—more government spending (the buzzword is “investment”) in infrastructure, jobs, green energy, education, you name it.
It is disheartening that in every election the Dems make the same “give us more money” argument, confident that short attention spans will head off the obvious question: “What happened to the money you asked for in the last election and the one before that, promising our problems would be solved? Why haven’t our problems disappeared? Why have your solutions failed?”
Let’s just look at education. Over the past 25 years local, state, and federal education spending has gone up at least by 40 percent in real, inflation-adjusted terms. But test scores by all measures have remained flat. The Democratic candidates’ answer to the problem? Pretend like none of the ineffective spending in the past ever happened and seek more money.
All the Democratic candidates promised to forgive student loans or somehow lighten student debt. They also promised “free” college tuition for all—specifying, of course, that it would not actually be free because “the rich” would pay for it in higher taxes. Sanders made a revealing admission—which we knew already—while making his case: “A college degree today . . . is the equivalent of what a high school degree was 50 years ago.”
That being the case, have the mostly government-owned and -operated schools done such a poor job that you need a college degree to get the knowledge high school once offered? Certainly, greater knowledge is needed than high school provides for more jobs in our advanced economy. But employers complain that high schools often fail to teach the basic skills the way they once did, and that such skills must now be sought from college grads. And 20 percent of incoming undergrads need to take remedial courses to make up for what they didn’t get in high school.
The candidates all complained about the high cost of college. They ignored the fact that colleges in part set their prices based on the level of financial support they know students can get from the federal government. In other words, government loans help drive up the college costs. They also ignored the fact that most students attend public colleges, and that these are government entities. As such, they tend to be immune from market forces, the same forces that have brought down the costs and increased the quality of everything from supermarkets to smartphones.
But maybe bringing these facts and figures into Bernie’s fictional world wouldn’t have mattered anyway. After all, Americans educated in this failed system aren’t very good at math.
Perhaps the most shocking segment of the evening came when all candidates save Webb argued that the lives of 87 percent of Americans don’t matter. This was in response to the question, “Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?” Four candidates answered “black.”
The answer, of course, was cowardly. It pandered to black racists who are polarizing the country. But worse, it failed to address the real problems of inner-city blacks. O’Malley observed that when he was mayor of Baltimore, the city was “burying over 350 young men every single year, mostly young, and poor, and black.” He didn’t mention that most were murdered by other blacks. He didn’t mention that his party has controlled the city for five decades.
He and the other candidates correctly argued that the criminal justice system is in need of serious reform. But it is the welfare state that all these Democrats support that has caused the moral degeneration that makes so many inner-city neighborhoods and schools crime-ridden hell-holes. It is the welfare state that teaches poor people that they are helpless and must look to government largess, handed out by political elites, for their sustenance. And it is welfare state regulations that make it difficult or impossible for poor individuals to find jobs or become self-reliant entrepreneurs.
A major theme of socialist Sanders that has struck a deep core with voters is denouncing what he calls “capitalism.” He argues that big businesses use political pull to enrich themselves and impoverish the rest of us.
But he conflates the crony system with real free markets. In a crony system political power rather than the ability to sell to voluntary customers is the coin of the realm. That system should be denounced by Republicans and Democrats, Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street alike.
In a real free market, government does not favor one enterprise and industry over another. But Sanders, like the other Democrats, still wants political power to determine who gets what. Only the Democrats want to be the deciders. And it is the fact that government can help enrich one sector—“green” energy—or destroy another—coal—that causes businesses to invest in lobbying and play the political game in the first place. The alternative to the crony system offered by the Democrats is an authoritarian, dictatorial system.
Sadly, most Americans do not know the difference between the crony system and free markets. And Republicans had better understand that they cannot expect to win hearts, minds, and elections simply by denouncing the Democrats as socialists. A recent survey found that among young people 18-29 years old, 49 percent have a positive reaction to the word “socialism” while 43 percent react negatively. By contrast, 46 percent react positively to “capitalism” while the word leaves a bad taste in the mouths of 47 percent.
The first 2015 Democratic debate showed that, if elected, any of that party’s major candidates will lead, in effect, an Obama third term.
And it showed that Republicans have their own education challenge: to educate voters about which system and policies will allow more opportunities for individuals to prosper by running their own lives, and which will further enslave and impoverish them.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.