Photos: Getty

If you’re a politician who’s willing to tell primary voters that they can’t have the things that they want and deserve—such as a healthcare system that isn’t irreparably broken—you’re “blunt” and just giving them a “reality check.” If you’re a politician who thinks that voters should have those things, well, that’s just demanding “ideological purity.” This is objectivity, or at least it is according to the New York Times.

The Times has a piece out today about the “fault lines” around healthcare in the 2020 primary, which are becoming even more visible now that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the foremost proponent of single-payer healthcare in the U.S., has announced his second run for president. But the way Times writer Alexander Burns handles this debate—which he frames through the lens of the divide between Sanders and fellow Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Sherrod Brown, two midwestern liberals who don’t support Medicare for All—makes it painfully clear which approach he thinks is abnormal (emphasis mine):

In a field stocked with charismatic liberals, there is considerable risk for any candidate who attempts to deflate the grandest hopes of the left. Even voters who do not demand Sanders-like ideological purity could opt for any number of alternatives if they are put off by a reality check of Klobuchar-like bluntness.

Yet for Ms. Klobuchar — and Mr. Brown, if he runs — giving unwanted news to the Democratic base may amount to a bet that voters will reward them for their candor. There is some reason to believe that wager might pay off in an election when Democratic voters appear less concerned with ideological litmus tests than with defeating Mr. Trump.

To start, there’s no evidence indicating that Democratic primary voters are actually less concerned with what their nominee believes and wants to do than they are with beating Donald Trump. This might feel like it’s true to pundits because the average Democratic voter has a visceral hatred of Trump, but Trump is not a Democratic primary candidate, and it sets up a false dichotomy between “beating Tump” and “bold ideas to make people’s lives better,” ignoring that a central argument for Sanders’ candidacy is that the Democrats lost to Trump by failing to promise or deliver on those bold ideas.

More from Burns (emphasis again mine):

In his announcement interview, Mr. Sanders offered scant acknowledgment of the practical and political obstacles to implementing his vision. He cast all impediments as the products of a corrupt political system that could be overcome through a mass mobilization of the popular will.

[...]

Mr. Brown, who has proposed opening the Medicare program to people as young as 50, suggested that a European-style system would be unsettling for people who “would have their insurance plans canceled and move into a government plan.”

Ms. Klobuchar, a more traditional moderate, highlighted a similar set of alternatives to a single-payer system on Monday, including greatly expanding access to the Medicaid program. She also pushed back on Mr. Sanders’s proposal for free four-year college, calling it unaffordable and calling for expanded economic opportunities for people who do not attend college.

Advertisement

Conveniently left out of the descriptions of Brown’s and Klobuchar’s healthcare proposals are that there are also “practical and political obstacles to implementing” their visions. They’re the same forces opposing Sanders’ vision: the GOP, which has steadfastly refused Medicaid expansion at every step of the way, and the healthcare lobby, which has already come out in full force against the plan proposed by Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Tammy Baldwin to lower the Medicare age to 50.

The more pressing issue, however, is how these fights are once again being framed as “ideology versus pragmatism.” All of these approaches—whether it’s between Sanders and Klobuchar and Brown or other candidates who’ve endorsed Medicare for All but favor other plans to eventually get there—are ideological. Socialism is an ideology. Capitalism is an ideology. Social democracy? Liberalism? Leftism? Centrism? Yep, all are ideological.

Advertisement

Politics is about what people believe their communities, their country, and the world should look like. As long as the Times continues to push the narrative that it’s instead a choice between what’s “realistic” or normal and what’s not, its coverage is always going to naturally slant toward the Klobuchars and the Browns of the world.