When Republicans win elections, they go hard right in the policies they push, even more than they campaigned on. Even when they win with the slimmest of majorities or even after they lose the popular vote (in the cases of George W. Bush and Donald Trump), they immediately claim to have a mandate and push the most extreme policies. In the case of Trump, someone who is by any definition an East coast elitist, he now governs like a conservative evangelical fundamentalist, pursuing policies on contraception, abortion, and LGBT social issues that you can be sure that he and the people in the social circles he moved in before he became president were opposed or indifferent to.
But when Democrats win, they go soft and start backing way from their promises, instead saying that they want to work with Republicans to arrive at consensus legislation, which means of course abandoning or watering down their campaign promises. This was the Barack Obama model and we are now seeing it play out in Virginia where Democrat Ralph Northam won the governorship in November with a promise to expand Medicare, but it now appears that he is backing off that promise, infuriating some of his supporters..
DEMOCRATS IN VIRGINIA and around the country rebuked Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam for softening on a campaign promise to push for Medicaid expansion in a recent interview with the Washington Post. Newly elected state Delegate Lee Carter, a Democratic Socialist, says enough is enough, warning that Northam may be alienating the Democrats who put him in office.
Northam told the Washington Post last weekend that he will not try to force a vote on expanding Medicaid — an issue that was central to his campaign — in the legislature. Responding to criticisms, the governor-elect’s spokesperson told the Washington Post that Northam still wants to expand the program.
Still, it remains unclear whether Northam will ask the legislature for a straight up or down vote on the measure or instead try to work out a compromise that may include reforms that could actually reduce Medicaid eligibility for some people.
Northam will enter office in January with a slate of newly elected Democrats, including Carter — a 30-year-old marine veteran who toppled the Republican House whip in the November election.
“It’s important to recognize that there are 750,000 Virginians with no health insurance whatsoever. So when we’re talking about the Medicaid expansion — there’s 370,000 people who are eligible under the federal rules,” Carter said in an interview with The Intercept. “So a clean Medicaid expansion only covers half of those people. A clean Medicaid expansion is the compromise. That’s where I’m coming from, that’s what I hope he’d be advocating for. I don’t think his comments were indicative of that.”
As a candidate, Northam made expanding Medicaid a cornerstone of his bid for governor. He highlighted that promise in campaign commercials aired throughout the state, a fact that was not lost on his supporters.
Carter is right to sharply criticize Northam and say that he should start from a very strong negotiating position, even more extreme than what he wants, so as to arrive at a compromise that is agreeable. That is standard negotiating tactics. But Northam seems to be like Obama who started the health care reform process by abandoning single-payer and signaling that even the public option could be eliminated and then creating a bill-writing structure that guaranteed that we would get a highly watered down system.
This difference between the two side is not because the personalities of Democrats and Republicans are necessarily different but because Democrats campaign on a platform that promises to help ordinary people but their campaigns are largely funded by wealthy people who do not give a damn about anyone other than those in their own class, and they and their lobbyists are the ones who have frequent meetings with elected officials. That is why elected Democrats need to feel constant pressure from their rank and file to prevent them from following standard neoliberal prescriptions, and I am glad that Carter is calling out Northam in Virginia.