Joseph Sabino Mistick: Politicians should listen to what the people want | TribLIVE.com
Joseph Sabino Mistick, Columnist

Joseph Sabino Mistick: Politicians should listen to what the people want

Joseph Sabino Mistick
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AP
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during a fundraising fish fry for U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, Nov. 2 at Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

There have been times when politicians from both parties have listened more than they have talked. Lately it has been the other way around. You know what they sound like. They claim to have all the answers, and they assure you that only they know the way out of whatever predicament we find ourselves in.

That attitude first went out of style in the 18th century, when the Age of Reason led to the Enlightenment and put an end to the absolute authority of monarchs and religious leaders across Europe. And when those ideas made their way to America, a nation was born that recognizes the right of individuals to have a say in their own future.

It was a big change for average folks who finally got the chance to think for themselves and tell their leaders what they wanted. Since then, when our leaders listen, they do OK. But when they move too fast or think too big, ignoring the counsel of the people, they stumble.

Some of the Democratic presidential candidates are stumbling over health care, the No. 1 issue for many voters who are looking to 2020. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed mandatory Medicare for all, but neither can explain how we will pay for it.

And both senators are telling the voters that they know what is best for average Americans, which is the wrong impression to leave when your likely opponent has a pitch-perfect connection with his own base.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, over 150 million Americans are covered privately through the “employer market.” Warren is right in saying it’s not perfect, but those who have it don’t want to be forced to give it up.

As AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka recently told Reuters, “There’s no question that ultimately we need to establish a single-payer system, but there has to be a role for those hard, hard-fought-for, high-quality plans that we’ve negotiated.”

“You can’t ask the American worker, who sacrificed wages and everything, to simply say: ‘Okay, I’ll accept this plan here,’ ” Trumka added.

Warren and Sanders have also taken “I know best” positions on energy policy and the environment. Both Democratic candidates have vowed to banish fracking if elected, dashing their chances in critical election states like Pennsylvania and Ohio that need the jobs that come with Marcellus shale deposits.

Sanders has proposed “a full fracking ban on public and private lands.” Not to be outdone, Warren has promised that on her first day as president she would put “a total moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases for drilling offshore and on public lands. And I will ban fracking — everywhere.”

There are plenty of experts who can design a better health insurance system or improve fracking, and that should be the focus. Anything else is just a re-run of the mistakes the Democrats made in 2016. And it invites defeat.

Big problems sometimes lead politicians to come up with abrupt sweeping solutions. Maybe it would be better to slow down and listen to the people first, and then try your best to give them what they believe they need.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at [email protected].

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