Deconstructing Debate II

Timothy Philen is an opinion writer, award-winning advertising creative director, and author of Harper&Row/Lippincott’s “You CAN Run Away From It!,” a satirical indictment of American pop psychology.    Email:

Timothy Philen is an opinion writer, award-winning advertising creative director, and author of Harper&Row/Lippincott’s “You CAN Run Away From It!,” a satirical indictment of American pop psychology.


In his 1980 stand-up routine, social satirist Mort Sahl used to point out that 200 years ago America had 2.5 million people and produced George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Today, he lamented, we have 225 million people and have produced Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. 

He said he wasn’t sure what that said about politics, but it certainly proved that Darwin was wrong.

Our grand old tradition of comparing current politicians to our founders and being woefully disappointed is still alive and well, evidenced by another couplet of Democratic dustups this week.

Watching the debates, I felt like Rip Van Winkle waking up in the middle of the 2040 presidential contest, where socialist candidates of every stripe were arguing about whether adding free health care, free child care, free college tuition, forgiveness of student loan debt, and a guaranteed basic income would be a sufficient commitment to the “working people of this nation: the wealthiest nation on earth.”

Make that “former working people” and “former wealthiest nation on earth,” because the scope of the delusional proposals coming from most Democratic front-runners will, ironically, keep the American dream out of the reach of all but the wealthiest Americans -- the comic-book archenemies of these same progressive politicians.

That’s because socialism doesn’t hurt the truly rich and it helps the truly needy. The problem is, as it expands, it has to increasingly feed on taxes from middle class individuals and small businesses which, in turn, slows our economic engine and stifles personal upward mobility: aka the American dream.

Worry not, however, because the Democrats, according to presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, are now, in addition to being the “Party of Science,” also the “Party of Math.” 

I’m not sure what that means, or what alternative math he’s referring to, but here’s some basic arithmetic related to a few of the new entitlements the Democrats are proposing:

According to a House Budget Committee study, the “Medicare for All” single-payer health care system would cost $3.2 trillion per year. The “Green New Deal,” which most every Democratic hopeful embraces, would cost $9.3 trillion per year. Yang’s universal basic income proposal another $3 trillion per year and student loan forgiveness a one-time $1.6 trillion. Free college for all, by contrast, seems like a bargain at only $125 billion annually.

So how would Democrats pay these mind-numbing costs without bankrupting our economy and triggering a worldwide economic meltdown?

Simple, as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said with a grin Wednesday evening: “Tax the hell out of the wealthy.” And he went on to invite everyone to visit to contribute to the cause. Or we could go in another direction and in the words of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, make the infamous “One Percent” who, along with nefarious corporations, were the prime beneficiaries of the Trump tax cuts in 2017, “pay their fair share” via Warren’s “wealth tax.”

Unfortunately, that tax, according to former Democratic Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, would bring in, at most, $75 billion per year. 

Yes, that’s “billion” with a “b.” The balance would have to be paid by middle and upper-middle class Americans which is, of course, impossible. There’s not enough income available to tax in the entire US economy to pay for the Democrats’ dreams, even if the government confiscated every last dollar from every American every year.

The tragedy for thoughtful progressives is that this kind of economic absurdity is being elevated to the serious forum of a presidential race. And while socialist ideology always gets some traction in times of economic instability and high unemployment, the Democrats trading in Bolshevik bombast in a booming economy that is beyond full employment -- with job openings now numbering a record 7.1 million -- is doubly absurd.

Several times Wednesday evening Vice President Joe Biden, who has lapped the field with 33% support from Democrats -- twice as much as his nearest competitor -- was shaking his head in disbelief listening to some of these proposals and enduring the other candidates’ savaging of his own common sense approach to expanding entitlements and paying for them responsibly as we go.

It’s a shame for a Democratic Party that just 20 years ago was working together with Republicans to successfully pass a balanced budget.

As for the Democrats’ chances in the general election, here’s the deal: Biden’s moderate views and policies are the Democrats’ only hope. 

As for the vice president personally, the good news is that he recovered admirably in the second debate from his halting performance in the first. He was certainly better prepared. Still, he’s almost 77 years old, slow-moving, frail-looking and given to lapses of speech and memory common to many people his age.

Between a booming economy and a not-so-booming Biden, the Democrats have a very steep hill to climb to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and a vigorous, and sometimes vicious, President Trump won’t make it any easier.