lead jeff zeleny DNT john delaney jake tapper_00004210.jpg
The Dem presidential hopeful running for 2 years, whose name you probably don't know
02:54 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Watch John Delaney answer questions at a CNN Town Hall Sunday at 7 PM ET. John Delaney is a Democrat who is running for his party’s nomination for president. He is a former congressman from Maryland and an entrepreneur. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles at CNN.

CNN  — 

I believe in market-based capitalism. It is the greatest job creation, productivity and innovation machine ever created. The genius of America is that we allowed capitalism to work its magic while also moderating it with appropriate regulation, tax policy, workers’ rights and the building of great societal infrastructure, including a safety net.

The right answer to wealth and opportunity inequality is not to reject market-based capitalism, but to make it more just and inclusive.

The wrong answer is socialism; in its pure form, it is a bad economic model and it’s the wrong political approach. This is something we need to talk openly about because despite the real-world calamity that a Trump White House represents for our republic, we seem determined to fight out this primary in the abstract, debating the need to pursue a fundamentally different economic model for our country.

We need to talk about socialism in 2019, because President Trump is certainly going to talk about it in 2020. It’s a fight he wants to have and if we’re not careful, it’s a fight that we’ll lose – and lose the election with it. Even if “Democratic Socialism” doesn’t aim to eliminate all private enterprise, on important issues like health care, plans like Medicare for All would make most forms of private insurance illegal and implement government-run systems, limiting choice and competition.

According to a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released this week just 18% of Americans view the term socialism positively, while 50% see it in a negative light. For that reason, President Trump would love for the 2020 election to be about socialism, as its one of the few things in the country that has a lower approval rating than he does.

Fresh off Congress roundly rejecting his demands to build a wall, the President used the State of the Union platform to argue that “America will never be a socialist country.”

Sometimes when I say “capitalist” at Democratic events, it feels like I’m airing a family secret. But I believe that it’s important to tell the truth. The truth about where I stand and the truth about what’s best for the country.

For decades the mainstream of the Democratic Party believed in free markets, a healthy private sector and free trade. We understood that you couldn’t be pro-worker without also having places for workers to work, which required innovative and competitive businesses. But we also understood the need to build a strong safety net and a culture of opportunity.

For decades, the Democratic Party made the tough argument that we needed a market-based economy and strong social programs, working in tandem with regulations and worker protections. We called for a social compact to make sure that prosperity was shared and that opportunity expanded with each generation.

Democrats successfully argued that capitalism was stronger when we had top-notch infrastructure, meaningful investments in science and research, great public schools and workers who had the ability to buy the products being sold and the flexibility to start their own businesses.

This wasn’t always easy, either. Democratic presidents fought like hell to raise wages, to make sure more people could go to college, retire with dignity, have health care and access to a safety net in tough times. But remember, President Obama, needed every last vote to pass the Affordable Care Act, a landmark achievement now seemingly dismissed as a half-loaf compromise – or worse – by the far left of our party.

However, the social compact around capitalism has frayed, especially when it comes to health care, education, global warming and opportunity. Relative to inflation, wages have been mostly flat, while the long-term costs of health care, education and retirement have increased.

Stark inequalities have been obscured by rosy macroeconomic data. Over the past decade, 80% of venture capital has gone to just four states. In most counties in the United States, there’s no evidence of any economic mobility and many are being left behind.

That’s because we haven’t made the proper investments or updated our policies. The K-12 model was once an incredible achievement – but it’s not good enough anymore. We need to establish nationwide universal pre-K and offer two years of free community college or technical training, replacing K-12 with pre-K-14. We need to reimagine what education looks like in the 21st century. The interstate highway system was once world class – but it’s not good enough anymore, it’s falling apart. The benefits model that encouraged employer-based health care isn’t good enough anymore when people change jobs and employers frequently. We need to make benefits portable so that people have the freedom to change careers and start their own businesses. In many cases we pushed deregulation too far and we cut taxes too deep. There’s not enough money to invest in the programs that benefit society as a whole anymore. We created a Wild West in many industries and it ultimately meant that people were hurt.

The socialists in our country are right to be upset with how the last few decades have gone – they just don’t have the right solutions. Even Democratic voters recognize this. In a poll last month 86% of Democratic Iowa caucus goers said they would prefer a candidate who will work across the aisle, as compared to only 4% who want a candidate who is less likely to work with Republicans.

For a long time, the Republican message has been “government is the problem.” I don’t believe that’s credible. But I also think that it’s not credible to offer an alternative that says “government is the answer to everything.” We need a strong mixed economy: a healthy private sector with smart public investment and regulations. We need a tax code that is fair, including raising rates on capital gains income and high-earners. Tax rates of 70% aren’t the answer, but neither are the irresponsible rates in Trump’s tax law. And we need to tackle threats to the next generation, like climate change and the ballooning deficit.

Follow CNN Opinion

  • Join us on Twitter and Facebook

    Democrats need to restore capitalism’s promise.

    We’re not going to take back the White House by appealing to 18% of the population. Gifting President Trump a second term in the pursuit of ideological purity not rooted in sound economics or moving the argument further would be a tragedy for working people, for vulnerable communities and for the country as a whole.