French has been unfairly caricatured — but the caricature is worth defending.
Near as I can tell, the David French controversy revolves around allegations that the man is too much of an accommodating pragmatist on social issues. The charge is amusing to me, given that one of my defining experiences here at NR occurred when French denounced a column I wrote last year about the need for conservatives to pragmatically accommodate transgender Americans.
Joe Biden is offering a return to normalcy. Elizabeth Warren aims to bring big corporations to heel and prop up the working class. Bernie Sanders wants a political revolution.
Kamala Harris’ one-sentence rationale for wanting the presidency is less clear.
Harris, who has now begun fleshing out her policy agenda, told POLITICO in an interview that she’s looking to offer something tangible to voters. She’s pitching herself as the kitchen-table realist of the field, the candidate who eschews lofty speeches and understands the day-to-day financial struggles of regular Americans and, bottom line, wants to put more money in their pockets.
Harris’ plans include big raises for public school teachers, a proposal to pay women equally to men and a tax plan that calls for a $500 monthly credit for families earning less than $100,000 a year. Her paycheck agenda, which one adviser described as a platform of “big tangible solutions,” centers on how Americans are experiencing the economy and is aimed at people whose wages aren’t keeping pace with the cost of living. She’s trying to reach voters who are too often left out of the conversation, with an emphasis on women — and women of color.
Harris said she thinks about the issues she’s taking on in the context of “literally looking at people through the prism of their lives—not some plate glass windows.”
“It’s about solving the problems that keep people up at night,” she said.
“It’s about the value of work and dignity of work and paying people their value — understanding that people are working hard, but they still aren’t able to get through the month and make it with dignity,” Harris added. “And it’s about meeting people where they are.”
Another adviser compared her positioning with the other Democratic candidates more bluntly: Harris is calling for direct payments to families to ease their paycheck-to-paycheck burdens. It’s a simple message they hope will set her apart as a proactive “doer” focused more on delivering immediate results than waiting around for broad, systemic overhauls. “She’s not creating liberal trickle-down policy,” the adviser said. “She’s focused on bottom-line economics, not abstract economics.”
Harris’ big challenge will be breaking through on policy in a way that captivates voters and tells a broader story — about herself, but also what she’s trying to accomplish. Ben LaBolt, a veteran of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, credited Harris’ tough stance against Trump, calling it smart. “Democratic voters are looking for a candidate that can take the fight to Trump and win,” LaBolt said.
He noted that Harris had breakout moments during Judiciary Committee hearings when she grilled then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Attorney General William Barr to the point that they appeared to trip over their answers.
But LaBolt suggested it won’t be as easy for Harris to stand out on policy. “As the Clinton campaign learned, it is difficult for pragmatism to match or drown out Trump’s provocation in the headlines — and driving powerful and memorable moments to communicate our message will be more powerful than white papers this cycle,” he said.
Harris is betting that her focus on issues people worry about at “3 a.m.” — “when you wake up in a cold sweat”— will pierce the noise. Her next opportunity in front of a national TV audience comes Tuesday night in an MSNBC town hall in South Carolina. Her faith that the approach will catch on is based partly on her own experience and partly on what she’s heard over and over on the campaign trail.
The teacher pay idea, for example, wasn’t planned as a standalone proposal but turned into one because Harris heard from so many educators.
Harris’ platform has taken shape over several months. She laces her stump speech with statistics and anecdotes diagnosing economic disparities: Nearly half of American families are one unexpected $400 expense away from financial distress, she often says, and in 99 percent of the counties in America, a minimum-wage worker can’t afford market rate price of a one-bedroom apartment.
She describes how her late mother, a breast cancer researcher, sat at the kitchen table and shuffled through bills after Harris and her sister had gone to bed. “She was focused on the demands of what it means to keep all the trains moving on time,” Harris said of her mother, who split with her husband early in her daughters’ lives and took charge of raising the children.
Harris’ policy remedies take a page from Democrats who ran during the 2018 midterm election cylce, when pocketbook issues such as jobs, health care, prescription drug costs and infrastructure resonated with voters in swing districts. Her pitch aims to strike at primary voters who want direct action more than changes that could take generations to bear fruit. She’s keeping it simple and avoiding talk of radical change even when the plans include significant changes to government.
In the interview, Harris sought to ground her policies in a broader governing philosophy. She stressed that Americans’ hardships are largely the result of policies written over many decades and designed to favor the wealthy at the expense of working people. She blamed those in power for the lack of meaningful commitments on more affordable childcare, universal pre-K and paid family leave. Even the tax overhaul Trump signed, Harris said, was pushed by Republican lawmakers and interest groups that long pre-dated Trump.
“The spirit behind the tax bill—that is not new. It’s not an aberration,” Harris said.
“A large part of what I do, and I try to do, is to actually see people,” she added, turning her attention to Trump. “And that requires having some curiosity and concern about the condition of the lives of people other than one’s self. And then when you ask the questions and you hear the stories, seeing what the opportunities are to actually bring solutions.”
But a rough consensus emerged over Mr. Trump’s two-day visit that his administration had shown itself to be more pragmatic than advertised. Many were inclined to view the president’s most extreme positions as just aggressive bargaining postures.
.. “There’s a very constructive mind-set in the Trump administration to find the best path forward,” said Vas Narasimhan, global chief of drug development for Novartis
.. He left the impression that he was above all eager to woo foreign investment, as if he were leading some amped-up American Chamber of Commerce.
.. Economists note that the American economy is into its ninth year of expansion, a trend that speaks to how the aftermath from the 2008 financial crisis has finally run its course.
.. And he gained the unbridled endorsement from the man who heads the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, whose eagerness to flatter his interlocutors is legendary.
.. Whatever the optics of the head of an institution dedicated to reducing economic inequality offering his unqualified support for Mr. Trump’s tax cuts, Mr. Schwab was indeed speaking for business.
Mr. Muzinich, a 39-year-old newcomer to Washington, has emerged as a central player in the Trump administration’s tax overhaul effort. The former investment banker and hedge fund manager is the Treasury point man on taxes, accompanying Mr. Mnuchin into “Big Six” meetings with top Republican lawmakers drafting the tax plan and laying out the administration’s positions on which taxes and deductions to cut or preserve.
.. He fits the mold of Mr. Trump’s top economic advisers, Mr. Mnuchin and Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, both of whom made a career on Wall Street. While not a Goldman Sachs alumnus, as they are, he brings an extensive background from the world of finance, having been a banker at Morgan Stanley and the president of Muzinich & Co., an international investment firm founded by his father.
.. His Wall Street brashness sometimes shines through when he gets into deal-making mode.
.. Mr. Muzinich, who holds an M.B.A. from Harvard and a law degree from Yale
.. In a 2007 Op-Ed article in The New York Times, Mr. Muzinich and a co-author, Eric Werker, called on Congress to offer tax credits to companies that build factories in developing countries and to offset the lost revenue with reductions in foreign aid.
.. “I think that he is pragmatic,” said Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia Business School, where Mr. Muzinich taught before joining the Treasury Department. “He’s looking for good policy solutions, not policy positions.”
.. Some economists have scoffed at Mr. Mnuchin’s promises that tax cuts would more than pay for themselves because of the robust economic growth he says they will create. The department came under fire for removing from its web site an economic study that contradicted the secretary’s analysis of the benefits of corporate tax cuts.