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EDITORIAL: Third Democratic debate reveals rifts on health care

The crowded race for the Democratic presidential nomination has thus far been noteworthy for its heavy emphasis on “free” stuff, particularly health care and college. Thus it was appropriate when tech billionaire Andrew Yang opened Thursday’s debate by promoting his own sweepstakes intended to draw attention to his foundering candidacy.

“My campaign will now give a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for an entire year to 10 American families, someone watching this at home right now,” he announced on stage in Houston. “If you believe that you can solve your own problems better than any politician, go to yang2020.com and tell us how $1,000 a month will help you do just that.”

Mr. Yang’s gimmick represents an apt synthesis of the dominant Democratic theme to this point.

From that highlight forward, there were few other revelations, as the 10 far-left candidates who made the cut for the third debate discussed a variety of issues, including health care, immigration, education, race relations and trade policy. The candidates got in their canned shots at President Donald Trump, of course, calling him a “white supremacist” and a “racist.” Beto O’Rourke handed the GOP a ready-made campaign ad on the gun issue when he roared, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

There was only cosmetic disagreement on most issues. The exception was health care, and it was on this topic that Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg distinguished themselves as the adults in the room. The former vice president — and the lone moderate still standing — wasted little time assailing the progressive pipe dream of “Medicare for All,” favored by both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

“Thus far … the senator on my left (Warren) has not indicated how she pays for it,” Mr. Biden said. “And (Sanders) has, in fact, come forward and said how he’s going to pay for it, but it gets him about halfway there.”

Tellingly, Sen. Warren responded by dissembling on the cost matter, claiming “middle-class families are going to pay less” while directly ignoring a follow-up question about the massive taxes necessary to provide “free” health care. Meanwhile, Comrade Sanders trotted out the same old fantastical nonsense, claiming that a government takeover of the health care industry will save money by eliminating private insurance companies.

Mr. Buttigieg picked up where Mr. Biden left off, pointing out that Medicare for All would throw almost 150 million Americans off their private insurance plans and make criminals out of doctors and patients who went outside the government system.

“The problem, Sen. Sanders, with that damn bill that you wrote, and that Sen. Warren backs,” the South Bend mayor said, “is that it doesn’t trust the American people. I trust you to choose what makes the most sense for you, not ‘my way or the highway.’ ”

On guns, Mr. Biden was the only candidate who seemed to understand that American presidents have limited authority and can’t simply impose their will by fiat. “Some really talented people are seeking the nomination,” Mr. Biden said. “They said, ‘I’m going to issue an executive order (on guns).’ … You can’t do it by executive order any more than Trump can do things when he says he can do it by executive order. … Let’s be constitutional. We’ve got a Constitution.”

When the discussion veered to the public schools, there was distressingly little attention given to student achievement and performance. Nor was there any conversation at all about the importance of a vibrant private sector to create jobs, prime the economy and generate the money necessary to pay for a cradle-to-grave welfare state progressives envision. As far as most of the Democratic candidates are concerned, tax revenue comes from evil rich people and garden gnomes that sneak into the Treasury each night with bushels of greenbacks.

Aside from Mr. Biden calling Sen. Sanders a “socialist,” the most amusing moment of the debate came when Sen. Amy Klobuchar lit into President Trump, saying, “And if we are not careful, he is going to bankrupt this country.”

Perhaps she was confusing Mr. Trump with all those men and women standing on the stage alongside her.

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