How to make political change digestible


Several anti-Trump moderate-to-conservatives followed up on the Democratic Party Debates last month by worrying that the Democrats had let themselves be pushed too far to the left in their first big turn in the national spotlight.

One was David Brooks who pleaded with Democrats to give him someone who he could vote for. Meaning, of course, not just him but those like him who deplore Trump but aren’t left-wing progressives. Another was Bret Stephens, who declared the debates a “wretched start” for the Democratic Party. Here’s a bit from Stephens:

“In this week’s Democratic debates, it wasn’t just individual candidates who presented themselves to the public. It was also the party itself. What conclusions should ordinary people draw about what Democrats stand for, other than a thunderous repudiation of Donald Trump, and how they see America, other than as a land of unscrupulous profiteers and hapless victims? Here’s what: a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.”

I do remember thinking “uh-oh” when Kamala Harris joined Bernie in raising her hand indicating she would eliminate private health insurance. (She has since “clarified” that position.) But my thought at the time was, “Listen, for better or worse, most Americans aren’t willing to entrust health care completely to the government. Just not happening.” The night before Warren and De Blasio had taken the same pledge.

It made me think of something I learned the hard way as a church pastor. I called it, “Change by Addition Not Subtraction.”

It goes like this — Say there is a church program or ministry that had once had its day and now is moribund or running on fumes. So you announce we’re dropping this or cancelling that. Suddenly, people came out of the woods to support the threatened program. Instead of eliminating something, you add something that more effectively addresses current realities in that area and after it is up and running then you let the old thing go without much push-back, if any. Change by Addition not Subtraction.

I think of this on health care. I’m not sure that we will ever decide in this country to totally eliminate private health care coverage, but if we are going to move toward more of a public option we will stand a better chance of getting there by adding (as Obamacare did) and not eliminating, or threatening to eliminate, all non-public options.

Besides that, the “Medicare for All” cry seems to be based on the idea that Medicare is just hunky-dory and everyone is super happy with it. That’s not my experience. Medicare doesn’t cover lots of things and cuts off payment when they think a patient has had enough treatment, not necessarily when a doctor or patient think that. Medicare seems to me to function more as a major medical problem coverage plan, which is important but not health-care nirvana by a long shot.

Another issue on which Democrats at the debates were crying “Left-ward Ho!” as rapidly as they could was immigration. There are lots of people who deplore Trump’s family-separation cruelties and don’t support a wall, but who aren’t for open borders. Yet nearly-open borders is pretty much where Julian Castro and others seemed to be driving the party. “De-criminalize” illegal entry. “Provide health care coverage” immediately to all immigrants regardless of legal status.

Again, there may be some idealistic, even practical, rational for such positions, but the majority of Americans aren’t going there. Democrats who insist on driving the bus that far to the left are ensuring Trump a second-term.

There is something about current versions of progressivism that is sanctimonious. Moreover, there is an aversion to incremental change and compromise is anathema. But, listen, politics is the realm of proximate not ultimate solutions. It is the realm of compromise.

Making progress, taking steps in a sound direction is so much more likely to succeed than declaring that everyone who doesn’t assume the most correct (that is, “our”) position is a moral cretin. Alas, there is such moral certainty in the echo-chamber of progressivism that it sometimes seems being correct is more important attaining a governing coalition.

This election is really about getting power not perfection.

I am undecided about Biden, but I do wish that when Congressman Eric Swalwell began to light into him about “passing the torch,” that Biden might of said, “Listen, buddy, you can’t pass the torch if you don’t have it.”

Graphic from Pixabay

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinson
Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.


  1. I don’t disagree with you that there is a rising tide of moralized, manichean sanctimony on the left, but don’t you think there is even more “moral certainty in the echo chamber” of conservatism, and that the left is polarizing in response to the provocations from the right?


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