Democratic Candidates, Pressured by Party Base, Split on How Liberal to Be

Presidential aspirants test waters on health care, environmental policy; ‘bring on the tension’

Looming over the intraparty debate is the question of how best to beat Mr. Trump. Former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, an ally of Mr. Biden and several governors considering entering the race, said “the only way that Trump can win is if the nominee is too far to the left.” Asked his definition of “too far left,” Mr. Markell said it is “the giving-everything-away-for-free lane.”

The contest already is being framed by ideas to the left of those that Hillary Clinton campaigned on in 2016. The biggest names of the party’s opposition to Mr. Trump—Ms. Warren, Ms. Harris, Mr. Sanders and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York—all support a single-payer health care system, free college at public universities and the Green New Deal.

Mr. Biden and Ms. Klobuchar represent a continuation of the politics that elected Mr. Obama. Both have spoken of the need to either restore the former president’s policies dismantled by Mr. Trump or build upon them.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Mr. O’Rourke are staking out space between the party’s two poles.

Ten of the 16 announced candidates have endorsed Mr. Sanders’s Medicare for All proposal, and six back his proposal for free public university tuition. Six co-sponsored legislation to provide federal paid family leave, and eight support the Green New Deal.

Some Democrats are endorsing multiple solutions without ruling out any. Several candidates who support Medicare for All also are calling for incremental health-care improvements. Ms. Warren also has called for a public option to buy into Medicare, and for simply improving the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Booker, who has said he would work with Republicans when possible, has proposed a “baby bond” program in which the government would create savings accounts which would provide $1,000 at birth, and up to $2,000 annually, to every child in the U.S.

.. Enough hard feelings remain from that fight that one of the biggest applause lines for Mr. Booker on a recent swing through the state was his pledge not to attack fellow Democrats.

.. “The Democratic platform already leans progressive. Our candidate doesn’t necessarily have to blow that horn,” said Marjie Foster, the Decatur County Democratic chairwoman. “We need to allow the American people to catch up with the progressive mind-set. If we try to push too hard, we will lose those who are slowly working their way left.”

.. “The litmus test is we need a candidate who can build a coalition to win,” said Mr. Scholten, who is considering a Senate bid in 2020. “If Klobuchar can do it with her message, that’s great. If Bernie can do it with his message, that’s great too. I think it could be someone from either side.”

Netanyahu Rivals Team Up Against the Prime Minister for Israel’s Elections

Centrist candidates strike an alliance in a bid to unseat the prime minister

If elected, Benny Gantz, a retired Israeli army chief, and Yair Lapid, a former TV anchor turned parliamentarian, agreed to take turns at running the country, they said in a statement Thursday. Mr. Gantz would serve as prime minister for the first 2½ years, and Mr. Lapid would take over for the rest of the four-year term.

The agreement between the centrist politicians is a result of several weeks of discussions amid questions over whether the two men could put aside their personal ambitions to unite against Mr. Netanyahu.

It also comes at a vulnerable moment for Mr. Netanyahu, who is expected to be indicted on corruption charges later this month. He will have a chance to defend himself in a hearing before charges are formally filed, and he has vowed to stay in power and to fight them. He doesn’t have to resign unless convicted. Mr. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing..

Opinion polls project a tight contest, but some indicate that Mr. Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and Mr. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party could together secure more seats in Israel’s parliament than Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud.

“The new ruling party will bring forth a cadre of security and social leaders to ensure Israel’s security and to reconnect its people and heal the divide within Israeli society,” the parties said in a statement.

The two parties also said they would add former Israeli army chief Gabi Ashkenazi to their slate. Mr. Ashkenazi is seen as an important player in attracting votes from the right, which will be important if Messrs. Gantz and Lapid are to unseat Mr. Netanyahu.

Both Mr. Gantz and Mr. Lapid are running as anti-Netanyahu candidates, while emphasizing a commitment to addressing social problems in Israel like education, housing, health care and traffic.

They have struck a more moderate tone than Mr. Netanyahu on handling relations with the Palestinians. Before the agreement, Mr. Lapid’s camp said it was unsure whether Mr. Gantz supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing at least one in his party who has opposed it in the past.

Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party said the election would be a choice of “either a left-wing government of Lapid-Gantz with preventative support from the Arab parties, or a right-wing government with Netanyahu at its helm.”

As an alliance became more likely, Mr. Netanyahu issued statements and videos painting Mr. Gantz and Mr. Lapid as weak and leftist, while describing himself and his party as strong and right.

.. Israeli politicians must submit their party lists to Israel’s Central Election Committee by Thursday. Those lists must disclose whether the politicians will run as one ticket.

.. “For the first time since 2009 we have a competitive race for the premiership,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute. “The main question is whether this new list can lure or be attractive enough for some center right and soft right voters. This is probably the question that will determine the outcome of the election.”

Mr. Gantz entered politics late last year, brandishing his security credentials but saying little about his policy positions to try to lure a broad swath of the electorate. He has consistently polled second to Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud party.

Mr. Lapid’s party finished second in the 2013 elections, the first contest after it was created, but has slid in the polls ever since. Mr. Lapid served for a year as the finance minister in Mr. Netanyahu’s government.

Reading Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” as a Motherhood Memoir

In some ways, Obama’s desires for a stable home and family are quite conventional, and she uses the conventionally feminine, domestic metaphor of knitting to describe them. “We were learning to adapt, to knit ourselves into a solid and forever form of us,” she writes of the first months of her marriage to Barack. It isn’t easy: in the Robinson-Obama union, the South Side power-walker meets the Hawaii-born ambler; the meticulous planner and striver with an “instinctive love of a crowd” and a desire for family must adapt to the messy, cerebral dreamer who loves solitude and books at least as much as he loves people. Later, the woman who loathes politics must throw her life into her husband’s pursuit of the Presidency.

Things are complicated long before the campaign, as children both complete and unsettle the Obamas’ carefully cultivated “us.” Once Obama gets pregnant, through I.V.F., her resentment at Barack’s distance from the pain of miscarriage and needles gives way to feelings of maternal pride. Upon Malia’s arrival, she writes, “motherhood became my motivator”—yet, three years (and almost twenty pages) later, she is most galvanized by her new full-time job, at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Although she considers staying home when Sasha is born, she instead takes the job, which “[gets her] out of bed in the morning,” though Barack’s comparative absence, as a commuting state and U.S. senator, gets her home in time for dinner. Then, just as Sasha is about to start elementary school and Obama is “on the brink of . . . [firing] up my ambition again and [considering] a new set of goals,” it is decided that Barack should run for President.

Michelle is still driven, but now by a desire not to fail Barack’s growing base of supporters. In an effort to “earn” public approval, she talks a lot about her kids while campaigning—a safe subject for a black woman who was framed in negative contemporary press accounts as an unpatriotic shrew. As the Obamas near the Iowa primaries, Michelle’s growing commitment to Barack’s cause is reflected in her language. Her pronouns shift from “him” to “we”—“Our hopes were pinned on Iowa. We had to win it or otherwise stand down”—and she adopts Barack’s own sermonic listing mode, describing meetings with voters “in Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs . . . in bookstores, union halls, a home for aging military veterans, and, as the weather warmed up, on front porches and in public parks.” Her rhetoric itself knits her and Barack into a “we.”

The book as a whole, however, represents a different moment, and announces her ambition to tell her story in her own way. A long memoir by any measure, “Becoming” not only matches the length of Barack’s first book, “Dreams from My Father,” but it also shows Michelle to be a better storyteller than her husband—funnier, and able to generate a surprising degree of suspense about events whose outcomes are a given (the results of Barack’s first run for President, for instance). Having devoted herself to strategically remaking the office of First Lady, through such initiatives as the White House garden and Let Girls Learn, she now reflects on what she has done and who else she might want to become.

Of course, the choices she makes throughout—to focus more and less on work, more and less on family—are a function of privilege. It is a privilege to decide how much or whether to work, and a privilege to have children, whether through I.V.F. or otherwise. The ability to steer one’s own ship also relies on the sheer luck of evading any number of American disasters: layoffs, mass shootings, prison, domestic violence, lack of health care. Then there are the disasters perpetrated by the U.S. surveillance state, which can undo black women, such as Sandra Bland, or their children, such as Kalief Browder. Under these conditions of hypervisibility, no amount of strategic maneuvering can guarantee one’s safety. And, in light of this, the Obamas’ faith in the American system, and in electoral politics, can seem woefully insufficient.

It comes as something of a relief, then, that, even as Michelle seeks to bind her own story to that of her husband and, through him, to that of the nation, the story of her mother, Marian Robinson, hints at an exit. Robinson is a willfully marginal figure in the text, as she was in the White House—famously reluctant to move in, and evasive of its basic security protocols. She gave everything to her kids (“We were their investment,” Michelle writes of her parents’ devotion to their two children) and stood by her husband, Fraser Robinson III, while multiple sclerosis drained him of strength. And yet, it turns out, she harbored fantasies of leaving. It is here that Obama’s portrait of her mother grows most vivid: “Much later, my mother would tell me that every year when spring came and the air warmed up in Chicago, she entertained thoughts about leaving my father. I don’t know if these thoughts were actually serious or not. . . . But for her it was an active fantasy, something that felt healthy and maybe even energizing to ponder, almost as ritual.” Obama sees this ritual as an internal renewal of vows for Marian, akin to how doubts about God might be said to bolster one’s faith. But the fantasy also represents a wholly other possibility: not a knitting-together but an unfurling, a quiet dream of escape.

‘Medicare for All’ Will Terrify Voters

It sounds good until people realize it means losing their existing plans.

Medicare for All becomes less popular when people hear more about its possible effects. Support dropped to 37%, with about 60% opposed, when respondents were told it would “eliminate private health-insurance companies” or “require most Americans to pay more in taxes.” Support fell to 32% when respondents were alerted it would “threaten current Medicare.” And it crashed to 26% if those polled heard it would lead to “delays in people getting some medical tests and treatments.”

.. Names matter, too. A November 2017 Kaiser poll found that, without mentioning negative effects, “Medicare for All” drew a 62% favorable rating. But labeling the same idea “single-payer health insurance” dropped support to 48%. Calling it “socialized medicine” produced a nearly even split, 44% favorable to 43% negative.

Medicare for everyone may sound good to voters at first. But after sustained reflection—and Republican attacks—it will likely be soundly rejected. Most Americans do not want to surrender control of their health-care decisions to an impersonal bureaucracy in Washington.

.. And the $32.6 trillion figure could be low. Mr. Blahous says the tab may “be substantially greater,” since his analysis accepted both the “significant administrative and drug cost savings” estimated by Medicare-for-all advocates and reimbursement rates 40% less than what private health insurance pays today, on average. Mr. Blahous, a former public trustee for Social Security and Medicare, believes the savings would not materialize fully and the cuts in reimbursements are unsustainable.
.. Congressional supporters of the plan fear that nearly doubling the federal budget could sink their proposal. That’s why Sen. Bernie Sanders, the father of Medicare for All, refuses to say how much it will cost.
.. Still, Republicans could lose the public-opinion battle unless they prepare an organized offensive. This will require the persistent involvement of a White House that has shown itself ill-prepared for extended campaigns of explanation and persuasion. It also requires Republicans to highlight the proposal’s weaknesses. For example, they should find a way to stage a Senate vote on abolishing private health insurance to show how few Democrats are willing to back that—isolating that party’s hard-core Sandernistas.
.. Nor can Republicans merely stand on opposition to Medicare for All; it’s hard to beat something with nothing. The GOP also must lay out ideas to make health care better, more affordable and more accessible with choice, competition and markets.The rush by Democratic presidential candidates to embrace Medicare for All—and measures like “free” college, guaranteed jobs and universal basic income—may make the 2020 election a contest between promise-them-anything democratic socialism and free enterprise. The stakes don’t get much higher than that.