George F. Will: A carnival of unintended consequences

George F. Will: A carnival of unintended consequences

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George F. Will

George F. Will

WASHINGTON — The progressive party's Iowa caucuses were a hilarious parody of progressive governance — ambitious, complex, subtle and a carnival of unintended consequences. The party that promises to fine-tune everything, from the production of wealth to the allocation of health care to the administration of education, produced a fittingly absurd climax to what surely was Iowa's final strut as a national distraction.

Like a toddler trailing a security blanket across Iowa, Elizabeth Warren clung to identity politics with a fervor that suggested desperation and defied caricature. Eventual autopsies of her campaign, and perhaps of the Democrats' presidential hopes, should ponder this promise to Iowans: For the purpose of "restoring integrity and competence to government," she will have "at least 50% of Cabinet positions filled by women and nonbinary people," and a "young trans person" will vet her secretary of education candidates. In the Democrats' ideological auction, Warren bested Pete Buttigieg who, in what counts in today's Democratic Party as Solomonic centrism, promised only that half the members of his Cabinet will have two X chromosomes.

Four days before Iowa Democrats stumbled into futility, Bernie Sanders revealed to The New York Times the genesis of his socialism. Never mind the gulags, famines, Venezuelas and other wreckages, socialism is justified because the Dodgers decamped from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season when Sanders was 16. The Times says "perhaps no single event has proved more enduring in Mr. Sanders' consciousness — more viscerally felt in his signature fury toward the 1%." Well.

In 1955, the Dodgers, with six future Hall of Famers, won the World Series but had an average attendance of just 13,423, barely better than MLB's worst-drawing 2019 team (Miami, 10,016). In 1950, St. Louis, the western-most major-league city, had two teams and Los Angeles had none. In Sanders' cartoonish understanding of reality, his explanation of everything he finds objectionable — other people's "greed" — explains the loss of what he still considers his eternal entitlement to the Dodgers being in Brooklyn. Never mind that many of the Dodgers' fans left Brooklyn, as did today's senator from Vermont who, by the way, when playing a like-minded rabbi for a film said that he despises "free agency crap" — the unionized players' hard-won right to negotiate terms of employment with teams of their choice.

Substituting indignation for information, Sanders' baseball nostalgia is akin to his claim that the average worker "is not making a nickel more" than 45 years ago. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that from 1990 to 2016 the average household's inflation-adjusted income after taxes and government transfers increased 46%, and 66% for households in the bottom quintile.

Fortunately, there is something comparatively serious in America's political future. Super Tuesday, aka March 3, will allocate 1,357 delegates, 68% of the total needed to nominate. They will come mostly from (never mind American Samoa and Democrats abroad) 14 states that include five that the nominee will lose in November (Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Utah), three that he or she will win (California, Massachusetts, Vermont), five competitive ones (Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado) and one (Texas) that might be competitive if the nominee is neither Warren nor Sanders.

If a few early states must initiate the nomination process, they should be unlike Iowa, which has a population just 14% larger than in 1960, compared with North Carolina (130% larger), Georgia (169%), Texas (203%), Colorado (228%) and Florida (334%). Michael Bloomberg, however, is giving a glimpse of another alternative — a national primary, or several regional primaries. His spending — $250 million on television and internet ads in two months; approximately what Anheuser-Busch has spent advertising beer in the same period — will demonstrate either the steeply declining utility of political dollars or the manageable challenge for ordinary candidates to raise large sums from small donors in a nation that spends $8 billion a year on potato chips.

Meanwhile, like startled pheasants flushed from an Iowa cornfield, the surviving Democratic aspirants have fluttered away. The silliest candidates have disappeared (remember Beto O'Rourke? didn't think so) and Iowa has at least clarified the Democrats' clashing theories: Americans are angry and hankering for more turmoil (Warren, Sanders), or Americans are embarrassed and exhausted by today's politics of obnoxious noise (everyone but Warren and Sanders).

Sanders and Warren find billionaires distasteful, and neither they nor their woker-than-thou supporters will graciously accept a rising Bloomberg, so Iowa was just a sample of the Democrats' coming self-inflicted wounds. Donald Trump's smiles usually look strained, like grimaces out of context, but perhaps not today.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

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