Voters may not like Trump, but they can see what the Democrats’ ideas look like when put into action.
Don’t be fooled by the dozen people on stage for Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate. For now, this is a two-person contest between Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, who have distanced themselves from the rest of the pack in national polls and in the early-voting states.
We know that many liberal elites, particularly in the media, would prefer to replace President Trump with a hard-left Democrat like Ms. Warren. But if Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 taught us anything, it’s that the political preferences and sensibilities of the Washington press corps don’t always jibe with the rest of the country’s. That Mr. Biden has led this primary race from the moment he announced his candidacy suggests that the electorate might not be as progressive as liberals hope. And even a cursory glance at what’s been happening recently in the most progressive regions of America could explain voter skepticism.
Millions of California residents were left in the dark last week, and it wasn’t because of an earthquake or storm or terrorist attack. It was the result of government mismanagement of a state utility, which intentionally cut off power to avoid wildfires caused by outdated electric lines. Instead of upgrading its equipment, Pacific Gas & Electric has been spending billions to fight global warming at the behest of state lawmakers. Californians already pay electricity bills well above the national average and nearly double what customers pay in neighboring Oregon. In return they get rolling blackouts reminiscent of the Third World.
Los Angeles made news earlier this year because of a typhus outbreak. Rat infestations, linked to homeless camps, were discovered at City Hall. In June the city reported that its homeless population had grown by 16% over the past year. Since 2017 it has risen 17% in San Francisco and 43% in Alameda County, which includes Oakland.
California’s homelessness rate is the nation’s highest, and its growth in recent years has coincided with a conscious decision by the state to go easier on criminals—a disproportionate number of whom are homeless. Thanks to a ballot initiative that passed in 2014, the theft of goods valued at less than $950 is considered a misdemeanor rather that a felony and usually results in no punishment.
“While misdemeanors, in theory, can bring up to a year in county jail,” a news report explained, “Fresno Police Sgt. Mark Hudson said it’s not worth it to issue a citation or arrest a suspect who would likely be immediately released because of overcrowding.” Republicans don’t run Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco or California. Liberal Democrats do. And voters in the 2020 presidential race might think twice about scaling up this progressive approach to public policy, even if the alternative is four more years of Donald Trump’s excesses.
New York is another state where progressives call the shots and where progressivism has been disastrous. Earlier this month, a homeless man in New York City was charged with beating four sleeping men to death with a metal rod. Less than a week later, another vagrant was arrested for body-slamming a 6-year-old boy who was waiting in front of his grandparents’ home for a pizza delivery. Both suspects have histories of crime and mental illness, but progressive policy makers are loath to institutionalize such people. The rights of the homeless and mentally unstable trump the rights of others to walk the streets safely.
Or consider upstate New York, an economic dead zone for decades. The region had much to gain from the fracking boom because it happens to sit on the Marcellus Shale formation, one of the largest sources of natural gas in the country. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo takes his orders from antifracking environmentalists, not upstate voters, so the region continues to suffer.
Residents of California and New York have made their bed, but progressive Democrats are assuming that the rest of the country wants to sleep in it. They’re interpreting anti-Trump sentiment as support for single-payer health care, radical environmentalism and giant middle-class tax hikes. Second-tier candidates are trying to break through by tacking ever further left. Beto O’Rourke wants to confiscate guns and tax churches that oppose gay marriage. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker muse about slavery reparations. Inside of four years, the Democratic Party has moved further left than Barack Obama, arguably the most liberal president in history.
Unless nearly all the polls are wrong, Mr. Trump is a deeply unpopular president and is likely to stay that way. But it doesn’t follow that any candidate pushing any left-wing fantasy can beat him. Americans have seen progressive governance at work in our largest states and cities. They could be forgiven for not wanting to nationalize it.
This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal (paywall)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images