Home > Uncategorized > David Leonard is 100% Right about the Need for a Pro-Government Stance but 100% Wrong About Pre-K

David Leonard is 100% Right about the Need for a Pro-Government Stance but 100% Wrong About Pre-K

January 18, 2020

As is often the case when I read David Leonard, I find myself nodding in agreement with roughly 90% of what he writes and then scratching my head in bewilderment with one or two points. In that respect he is the neoliberal analog to David Brooks who often grounds his thinking in Eastern philosophy but somehow ends up with pro-Capitalist conclusions.

David Leonard’s most recent column, “F.D.R. Got it. Most Democrats Don’t” is a case in point. The column opens with a description of a map FDR distributed in 1936 showing where government spending resulted in tangible improvements to citizens in every corner of the country. He contrasted that kind of government policy and spending with what happened during the Obama and Clinton administrations…. and finds the neoliberal plans wanting.

In recent decades, Democrats have too often forgotten this lesson. They have created technocratically elegant policies that quietly improve people’s lives, like tax credits or insurance subsidies. The problem with this approach is that it does little to build popular support for government action.

Put it this way: How many projects can you name from Barack Obama’s stimulus program? Can you name any project or agency that Bill Clinton created?

The only “project” that I can name from the Obama stimulus program is the reprehensible Race to the Top program and Clinton’s signature legislation was to “End Welfare as we Know It”. Both neo-liberals passed legislation that was based on the Reagan premise that “Government is the Problem” and only the private sector can save the day.

Bottom line: David Leonard is 100% right in identifying the problem.

But Mr. Leonard then goes on to use Elizabeth Warren as the exemplar of advocating the kind of programs Democrats should embrace flagging her desire to create the office of Consumer Finance Protection Office during the Obama administration as a case in point. He then writes:

Warren’s presidential agenda has several other easily understandable ideas, like a $200-a-month increase in Social Security benefits, a price reduction for insulin and other popular drugs, the cancellation of up to $50,000 in student debt and a wealth tax. During a recent interview with her, I mentioned that she seemed to believe that bigger ideas were sometimes easier to accomplish than more modest ones. “I do,” she replied. Big ideas can inspire people; tax credits do not.

This left me with one question: did Mr. Leonard interview Bernie Sanders? If so, why didn’t he give a list of the “easily understandable ideas” Mr. Sanders is advocation? If not, maybe he should sit down with him and give him a chance to tick off the kind of spending he would advocate.

But this omission of Sanders’ ideas was not the real head scratcher. The highlighted section was:

The next Democratic president, whoever it is, shouldn’t repeat this mistake. In climate policy, this would mean putting more emphasis on a green-jobs program than on a hated carbon tax. In education, it could mean creating a “public option” for pre-K. In every area, it also means making sure that government functions well.

As I have written on several occasions in this blog, the worst thing that politicians could do is to create a model for pre-K that incorporates anything that resembles a voucher program. If pre-K is commodified in the name of “choice” and parents who want child care are offered a de facto voucher to pay for child care it will lead to an unravelling of the “government schools” that are charged with the mission of educating all children. In short, nothing could be more wrong-headed than the creation of a “public option” for pre-K. But Democrats have shown a proclivity for wrong-headedness when it comes to public education, sidestepping the need for more funds by doubling down on the reform movements notion that privatization is the way forward… and neoliberal cheerleaders like David Leonard are one of the reasons why this happens.

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