jump to navigation

Democrats Have a ‘Go Big or Go Home’ Problem (Washington Examiner) February 6, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

The fact that Democrats could not even deliver timely results of their own Iowa caucuses underscores their larger problem. They have become the party of big, structural changes led by government in a time when people lack confidence and trust in big government.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren likes to talk about the need for “big, structural change” to our domestic policies. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is right with her, denouncing “half measures” and arguing, as he did in a recent commercial, “America is best when we strive to do big things.” Nearly all of the Democratic candidates have jumped on the “go big or go home” bandwagon, with calls for “Medicare for all,” free college, a revolutionary and expensive Green New Deal, and huge tax increases on the wealthy. Apparently, Democrats have concluded that if policy proposals are not blockbuster, then they are merely lackluster. Their pitch is not President John F. Kennedy’s “we can do better” call for improvement, but rather President Franklin Roosevelt’s plea for a revolutionary New Deal.

The problem is that the public increasingly distrusts big government. A Pew Research Center study published last year showed that only 17% of people trust the government to do what is right, while 75% believe that trust in the federal government is shrinking. Examining trust in various leadership groups, government officials came in dead last, behind scientists and educators, but even trailing journalists and business leaders.

Political scientist Amy Lerman, in her 2019 book Good Enough for Government Work, reached a similar conclusion, while also providing some insight into why this is the case. She asserts, “The tendency of Americans to associate ‘public’ with ineffective, inefficient, and low-quality services is a central feature of our modern political culture.” They figure if the government cannot even manage the long lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles, why should you trust other government programs? Lerman notes that there is greater confidence in privately run programs than in the government, even when the research would indicate otherwise.

Here, then, is an opportunity for Republicans to promote not only private solutions to public problems (charter schools, private health insurance, even private prisons) but also to demonstrate that smaller, targeted government policies will be more effective than the Democrats’ big, structural changes. A good example is the recent Republican climate change proposals that stress “innovation” rather than the Democrats’ massive Green New Deal. Republican ideas include planting a trillion trees to address carbon dioxide, providing tax breaks for research, and curbs on plastics. Meanwhile, Democrats want to reinvent the entire economy to address climate change at a cost of trillions of dollars. Research would suggest that average people would not trust that kind of megasolution.

California is in the midst of another one of these structural versus incremental change battles regarding its need for more housing. Senate Bill 50 would have forced cities and counties to permit denser housing developments, especially near urban transit centers. Taller buildings and more houses on lots were the state’s one-size-fits-all solution to override local zoning laws and increase housing. However, there were other, more targeted alternatives, such as streamlining the permitting process and reducing the infrastructure costs for new housing. In the end, enough Democrats who represented suburban districts joined with Republicans to defeat it for now, but it will likely return in some form. Again, the question is whether the state should, in effect, reinvent local zoning or whether smaller, more targeted alternatives were a better choice.

Peter Drucker, the late management guru, used to say that low-cost probes generally make more sense than betting the farm on some big idea. Democrats, however, prefer to use a crisis as a basis for revolutionary change. Republicans’ message in 2020 and beyond, should argue that a series of innovations and policy tweaks targeted at the real problems are a much better way to develop policy than big structural changes.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the co-author, with Gordon Lloyd, of How Public Policy Became War, published May 7.

To view the column at the Washington Examiner”


%d bloggers like this: