Restoring a Vibrant Democracy that Works for Everyone

Bernie Sanders Progressive Movement

The question we are here to ask is why did the Progressive movement, embodied by the Bernie Sanders campaign, seemingly crash and burn after showing so much momentum in early primary states including Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada?

If you are an ardent Sanders supporter, the answer is pretty obvious: The Democratic Party establishment, and the corporate media, fearful that a Sanders’ win would upend the status quo from which they benefit financially, put their collective thumb on the scale for Joe Biden.

But the reality is that Bernie Sanders himself is partly to blame.  Sanders is not your classic politician.  He tells it like it is – and that is in no small part accounts for his why he generates such enthusiasm especially among younger voters.

In speaking truth to power, however, Sanders sometimes creates the impression that his ideas are radical.  He calls himself a democratic “socialist” and talks of “revolution.”  His rhetorical style has the dual effect of giving his political opponents a cudgel to beat him with while alienating more moderate voters.

But the policies Sanders has promoted are not radical or revolutionary.

He is advocating that all Americans, including corporations, pay their fair share of taxes; that we invest more in people to ensure everyone has access to quality health care, gets a good education and is paid a living wage.  And that we fight hard to limit the damage climate change is doing to our plant.  These are common sense policy prescriptions that address some of the most pressing issues facing our country.

Sanders is being branded a radical because he has directly challenged the power and influence of the financial, insurance, drug and fossil fuel industries which collectively spend tens of billions on lobbying, funding Super Pacs and contributing to political campaigns.

What the 2020 Democratic primaries have shown us is that it is going to be a long, tough fight against entrenched interests with huge war chests fighting to preserve what has evolved into a political system that more closely resembles oligarchy than a true democracy.

It is what the founders were most concerned about and tried to prevent – the gradual erosion of representative democracy by demagogues who usurp power from the people.

In this era of huge income and wealth inequality, Progressives must make it clear that policies such as those Bernie Sanders advocates – progressive taxation, universal health care, free college tuition and eliminating carbon emissions – are exactly what is needed to restore a vibrant democracy and a growing economy that works for everyone.

Bernie’s Lasting Victory

Bernie Sanders Lasting Victory

After losing a string of primaries, a lot is being said and written about how Bernie Sanders and his campaign blew it.

He comes across too doctrinaire, calling for a revolution, referring to himself as a “democratic socialist”, and in the process alienating moderate voters.

At the same time, Bernie’s doctrinaire approach may also be his greatest strength.

Unlike many other politicians, including his chief rival, Joe Biden, Sanders has never relied on paid consultants to script his positions based on focus groups and polling data.  When he speaks, you know you are hearing what he actually believes in and is willing to fight for.

In refusing to hold big-dollar fund raisers, Sanders has led the way by example on campaign finance reform.  Taking excessive money out of politics is not revolutionary; it is simply restoring power to the people which is the founding principle of our democracy.

Sanders has been clear and consistent: Health care administered by the insurance industry is a disaster, with the highest costs and worst outcomes of any major industrialized country.  Income inequality is hammering the poor and working class.

Climate change is an existential threat, and the energy industry, with its army of lobbyists, must be held to account.

Many of the positions Sanders has advocated for were not even on the agenda five years ago.  Today, his advocacy for a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition and Medicare expansion have gone mainstream, having been endorsed by most of the Democratic establishment.

He has consistently spoken truth to power; called out our dysfunctional political system, and stood for truth and justice for all Americans.

Bernie Sanders may not win the Democratic nomination, but his ideas and his advocacy for those left behind have changed the course of American politics, and that will prove a lasting victory.

The Democratic View Endorses Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders for President!

Income and wealth inequality are major problems in the US.  The real wages of working people have barely risen in decades.  Our political system is awash in money.  The government is dysfunctional.  Lobbyists increasingly write the rules in the shadows.  Our tax system is regressive and riddled with loopholes that benefit big corporations and the wealthy.

Tax cuts for the rich now pass for fiscal policy.  This has put our economy is on a sugar high while the need for investment in infrastructure and people to stimulate real, long-term economic growth is ignored.

Today, our system of governance more closely resembles an oligarchy rather than a true democracy.   Trump, in our view, is a symptom of a much larger malaise that has infected our entire body politic.  To those who argue that it is sufficient to kick Trump from office and everything will return to “normal,” we say: Normal is no longer good enough.  Elizabeth Warren has a point: we need “Big Structural Change.”

Only two candidates have seriously addressed the need for major reforms to our political and economic systems.   Those candidates are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.  Unfortunately, Elizabeth Warren has just ended her campaign, having failed to win a major primary, including her home state of Massachusetts.

The Democratic campaign for President is now down to two major candidates, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.   Sanders is the only candidate who has consistently fought for the rights of the poor and working people his entire career, and he continues to do so.  Without Bernie Sanders, workers’ rights, raising the minimum wage, fighting climate change and the need for universal access to quality affordable health care would not even be on the agenda.   For bringing these issues to the fore, and leading the fight over decades, Bernie Sanders is a “True American Hero.”

Joe Biden’s record is checkered at best.  As Sanders has pointed out, Biden voted for major trade deals, such as NAFTA, that failed to protect workers’ rights and outsourced American jobs.  He supported cuts to Social Security and Medicare and voted for the war in Iraq.  He sided with the credit card companies against consumers.  Remember Anita Hill?

After decades in politics, it is still hard to tell what Biden actually believes in.  He seems to be one of those politicians always hewing to the center, telling voters what he thinks they want to hear, and trying to please his donor base, rather than championing policies that improve the lives of the working people who are the soul of the Democratic Party.  It is no accident that Biden launched his campaign in Philadelphia back in May, then made a bee-line that same afternoon for a big dollar fund raiser hosted by a senior Comcast executive.

Of course, Bernie Sanders is not perfect.  At 78, he is a little old to be elected president.  His approach to politics often comes across as dogmatic, as if he is unwilling to compromise. We very much hope that Sanders works hard over the coming months to reach out to moderate Democrats, including suburban woman and African Americans, to build the broad coalition that will be needed to defeat Donald Trump.

It won’t be easy.  We will hear constant attacks by the Democratic establishment, the mainstream media and Republican SuperPacs branding him a Marxist bent on upheaval and revolution – rather than the FDR Democrat he really is.

If supporting a decent wage for working people, affordable universal health care, free tuition as public colleges and universities and addressing climate change is revolutionary, then the fight is on:

BERNIE SANDERS FOR PRESIDENT!

Flyer Endorsing Bernie Sanders for President

The Impeachment Debacle and America’s Downward Spiral

U.S. Senate Impeachment Swearing-IN

In a recent TV interview, a European Union (EU) ambassador was asked what the Europeans thought of the current U.S. political turmoil. His response: Europeans are waiting to see whether the turmoil turns out to be a temporary phenomenon – or a long-term trend.

We got a sense of the likely answer on Friday – a U.S. Senate that was once lauded as “the greatest deliberative body in the world” today can’t bring itself to call witnesses or subpoena documents in an impeachment trial – the first time is U.S. history that has happened. Senators who once routinely put the interests of the country above party, now want to “let the voters decide” – code language for party comes first.

What brought us to this place? There are a number of contributing factors – including, as we have discussed many times before, too much money in politics and a media that vastly oversimplifies issues and stokes controversy to gin-up ratings.

But another, fundamental problem, is rooted in U.S. democratic theory that goes back to the founding of the Republic – far too much emphasis the libertarian ideal that the national interest is made up of the collective self-interest of its citizens. You saw it in the Republican defense of Donald Trump – he can’t be impeached because he sees his self-interest as synonymous with the national interest.

That argument may have had some salience back when the U.S. was largely an agrarian society. It is dangerous in a modern economy with economic and political ties that span the globe. Trump and his Republican allies in Congress are, in effect, using fringe political theory to fend off critics while cynically advancing their own self-interest.

That is clearly what motivated Trump in demanding Ukraine investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden, in return for U.S. military aid. More broadly, it seems to be the prime motivating factor in virtually everything Trump does as President. In Congress, Republicans appear to have abandoned any notion that they have a duty to advance the national interest and instead seem to focus almost exclusively on their prospects in the next election.

The U.S. Senate had an opportunity, and it failed, to step in and make it clear that no public official, elected or appointed, may use their office to engage a foreign government to interfere in U.S. elections. Trump’s action not only advanced his self-interest at the expense of the national interest – it was treasonous.

The EU official had it right – the dysfunction is American politics may well be a long-term trend – one that, if it continues, will almost inevitably knock the U.S. off it’s pedestal as the world largest economy and the leader of the free world.

Under Donald Trump it is already happening. The U.S. Senate likely just accelerated the downward spiral.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington

It’s 1963. In the spring of that year, Eugene “Bull” Connor, the Birmingham, Alabama police chief, unleashed high-pressure water cannons and police dogs on civil rights marchers, including children. By early June, George Wallace, the Governor, was standing on the steps blocking the admission of black students to the University of Alabama. After watching the scene at the University unfold on television earlier that day, President Kennedy addressed the Nation on his intent to introduce Civil Rights legislation guaranteeing African-Americans equal voting rights and an end to segregation. Sadly, the same night the President spoke to the Nation, Medgar Evers, one of the leaders of the NAACP, was shot dead in the driveway of home returning from a civil rights meeting.

African-Americans began mobilizing as never before. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders, including A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, black leaders planned a massive protest in Washington in support of civil right legislation and economic opportunity. They met with President Kennedy, who initially was cool to the idea of a March on Washington because he was concerned, as were many, with the potential for violence and thought it would jeopardize passage of civil rights legislation.

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on August 28, 1963. A quarter of a million people jammed the Mall, streaming in by bus and train, walking up Capitol Hill from Union Station. At the Lincoln Memorial, Joan Baez, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary and Mahalia Jackson performed for the massive crowds while millions more watched on television. Baez sang “We Shall Overcome” while Dylan sang “Only a Pawn in their Game” about the death of Medgar Evers.

But it was Mahalia Jackson, the “Queen of Gospel” who sang just before Martin Luther King’s famous speech and who rocked the crowd with her famous rendition of “How I Got Over,” referring to the struggle of African-Americans to conquer slavery, racism, discrimination and injustice down through the centuries.

YouTube recording of Mehalia Jackson’s “How I Got Over” at the March on Washington on in 1963

The recording powerfully takes you back in time. You can see, hear and feel the enthusiasm of the crowd as it sways and claps with Mahalia to the rhythms of “How I Got Over.” And you begin to understand why, just a short time later, as Martin Luther King delivered his famous speech, he hesitated a moment, and from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just below the podium came a voice. It was Mahalia exhorting Dr. King to:

“Tell Them About the Dream, Martin”.

And so he did. In one of the most eloquent and enduring speeches in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King, departed from his prepared text, and clearly feeling the enthusiasm of the crowd, infused with the rhythms of righteousness in Gospel song, as if the Mall in Washington was grand church which is was on that day, lifted his voice and proclaimed:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

YouTube recording of Martin Luther King’s I Have and Dream Speech at the March on Washington in 1963

Later that year, in November, President Kennedy was assassinated, but his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, secured passage of the Civil Rights Act passed in June 1964. Even after passage of the Act, King continued to work on issues related to economic justice, housing segregation and poverty, and famously spoke out against the Vietnam War in a 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam.”

Dr. King himself was tragically assassinated in April 1968 around the time he was planning the “Poor People’s Campaign” to include an occupation of Washington, DC.

Today, much of Dr. King’s work remains unfinished, particularly on the economic front. More than a half century after his speech, far too many African-Americans and others continue to live in poverty, particularly in major cities of this country, denied basic rights to decent housing, education and health care, and often unjustly incarcerated because they are forced to live in poverty-stricken environments where crime and drugs prevail. We can address these issues, but it won’t happen with politics as usual. It will take another movement reminiscent of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, one that picks up where Dr. King left off.

The greatest tribute we can pay to Dr. King is to carry on his work.

(This article was originally published on January 18, 2016)

Progressives are Crying While Billionaires Rejoice

Progressive Tears

Elizabeth Warren’s campaign offers a coffee mug with the catchphrase “Billionaire Tears” plastered on the front in bold red and blue letters.  It is a reference to Leon Cooperman, a billionaire hedge fund manager, who became emotional during a television interview over Warren’s proposed wealth tax.

The mug resonates with Progressives.  We believe that after decades of wage stagnation and the benefits of economic growth flowing to the very top of the income scale, it is time for billionaires to pay more in taxes.  We can use the proceeds to invest in people, in education and job training, and infrastructure, and we can build a strong, fair economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy.

But Progressives now also have a reason to cry, while the Billionaires are rejoicing.

Warren and Sanders refusing to shake handsIn Tuesday’s Democratic debate on January 14, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the friendship and cordiality that seemed to characterize the relationship between Warren and Sanders vanished.  During the debate, the two parried with each other over who said what about whether woman can win the election.  Elizabeth Warren appears to be guilty of publicizing something said in a private conversation.  The feud may have been exacerbated by reports that the Sanders’ campaign was talking down Warren as being more in tune with highly educated voters.

Any way you slice it, it is a bad omen for Progressives looking to unite behind the one with the most momentum and the best chance of beating Trump.

So here is a little advice for both Bernie and Elizabeth – No infighting.  Work together.  Cooperate.  Help unite a strong, energetic Progressive movement that takes down Donald Trump.

Maybe then we can give the Billionaires something to really cry about – an election that returns power to the people, restores a fair economy, and requires Big Corporations and Billionaires to finally pay their fair share.

An Economy on a Sugar High

A lot has been written lately about how great the U.S. economy is doing.  But don’t believe it.  The media parrots the latest government statistics on GDP, employment and wages, but is clueless about longer-term economic trends and their impact on the lives and livelihoods of average Americans.

The fact is the U.S. economy is on a sugar high, with asset prices artificially inflated by a Federal Reserve Bank that has lowered interest rates three times in the past year and has re-instituted its bond buying program.

But the Federal Reserve is not the main problem. The Fed is focused on helping ensure the economy does not slip into recession and, by most measures, it is doing a reasonable job with the limited tool set it has available.

The real problem is the lack of a coherent fiscal policy (i.e., the Federal budget) – and for that we need to blame both Congress and the Executive branch.  The Trump tax cuts enacted in 2017 with Republican backing were a total disaster – a bonanza for big corporations and wealthy investors.

Despite Republican rhetoric, and the failure of the mainstream media to see the bigger picture, the tax cuts have been counter-productive.  They have been used mainly by large corporations to buy back shares or increase dividends to gin up stock prices.  Meanwhile, the resulting deficits actually discourage the kind of investment in  infrastructure, education and job training that is needed to foster real, sustained economic growth that benefits all Americans.

Remember candidate Trump, the so-called “master builder”, who promised an infrastructure investment program.  How did that work out?

And in the meantime, an army of lobbyists are working closely with Trump-appointed Treasury officials behind to scenes to write regulations that allow multi-national corporations to continue to transfer profits offshore and avoid taxes.  And so, the Federal deficit, currently estimated at more than a trillion dollars in 2020, just gets larger and larger with no real investment in economic growth.

Eventually, likely sooner rather than later, the bubble will burst.

But it is not just Congress and the President that are to blame.  It is “We the People” who have failed to address the corruption inherent in our political process that has led to policies that benefit the rich and powerful while putting our entire economy at risk.

The time for change has come, and not just some little tweaks here and there, as some Democratic presidential candidates argue.

 

Medicare for All – Or Progressive Overreach?

Bernie Sanders Medicare for All

Elizabeth Warren is right: “We must be willing to fight.”  Politics in this country is totally dysfunctional.  The economy isn’t much better.

We absolutely need “Big Structural Change,” starting with reforming a political system awash in money. A system where wealthy individuals and big corporations write the rules, while middle class wages stagnate; where the rich get richer, not by investing, but off of inflated stock prices and asset values that somehow passes for economic policy.

The thing is – if we are going to fight – let’s make sure it is the right fight.  Medicare for All isn’t going to happen in four years, as Bernie Sander’s Senate bill stipulates.  The health care and insurance industries are a huge part of our economy.  You can’t just upend the system overnight.  You risk major political and economic disruption.

Medicare for All is absolutely the right approach, in our view.  But we have to figure out a way to do it without scaring the hell out of more moderate voters, and handing Republicans a cudgel to beat us with.

How about we keep it simple – a public option that expands Medicare to include prescription drugs, vision and dental.  One that is administered by the Federal government and that anyone can buy into at cost with no insurance companies in the middle making money by denying health services to people in need.

Just to be clear.  It is not Pete Buttigieg’s “Medicare for All who Want it,” or Joe Biden’s “Medicare-like” plan, code language for insurance-company administered “Medicare Advantage” plans.

It is a government-administered, nation-wide public option.  Full-stop.  It allows Medicare for All to be phased in over time as more and more people become aware of its benefits vis-a-vis private insurance including lower costs and higher quality services.

Yes, taxes will still have to go up to cover the additional services, but not nearly as much, at least in the early years, as Elizabeth Warren has advocated in her proposal to pay for Medicare for All.  And, of course, total costs go down because you have a more efficient, nation-wide network without insurance company profits adding to costs.

We can still raise taxes on the wealthy and big corporations, to make our regressive tax system fairer and more progressive.  Let’s just use some of the proceeds to pay for other priorities including education, job training and infrastructure investment.

A true Medicare public option is still a heavy lift.  Just being willing to fight won’t cut it;  we are going to have to fight like hell.  Just as it did during the Obama Administration, the insurance industry is going to attack a public option with everything it has – and it has a lot of money and paid-in-full political influence.

But at the end of the day – or make that the election cycle – we have a lot better chance to bring about real change if we don’t get carried away with over the top rhetoric and set unrealistic goals and timeframes.

Let’s fight to make our system fairer and more progressive, and ensure everyone has access to quality health care.

But let’s do it in a way that brings people along and doesn’t scare the hell out of moderate voters who may need more time to get their head around the idea, despite an onslaught of Republican propaganda, that “We are Not Socialists; We are Progressives” who care about people; who prioritize quality health care over insurance industry profits.

On the Need for Big Structural Change

Big Structural Change

Elizabeth Warren has staked her campaign on the need for “Big Structural Change” and her point is well taken.

Our government has been captured by major corporations and the wealthy.  They exert huge influence behind the scenes, on everything from government regulations, to writing legislation, to the make-up of the court system.

Moderates argue, in effect, we just need to defeat Donald Trump, tweak some policies here and there, and everything will be OK.

Except that long before Trump took office, everything was far from OK.  Trump is merely the latest manifestation of a larger structural issue that undermines the foundation of our democracy – the undue influence of money in politics and a consequent tilt toward Oligarchy.

Joe Biden has it right in this sense – it would be nice to go back to some bygone era when legislators were willing to compromise, to reach across the aisle and come to agreement even on highly contentious issues like busing.

Memo to Joe: bi-partisanship and collegiality in Congress disappeared decades ago as politics grew from a public service vocation into big business: When money and lobbyists started flooding Washington in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  When actors like Newt Gingrich and, more recently Mitch McConnell, began setting a much more partisan agenda effectively dictated by big money interests.

The other problem is that once big corporations and the wealthy take control it is extremely difficult to regain control and restore democratic processes that truly represent the will of a majority of people and not just special interests.

Bernie Sanders has a point:  It will take something akin to a “political revolution” to bring about real change and to pry the Oligarchs from the levers of power.

So how do we fix it?  As Democrats we need to stop arguing incessantly about the minutia of public policy and start talking much more about the overriding issues of our time including the outsized influence of money in politics.

That starts with full disclosure of all political contributions to candidates, labor unions, Super PACs or any organization engaged in political activity.  Full transparency is an absolute cornerstone of democracy.

Then, we should tighten laws so that Federal officials and legislators, after leaving government service, are prohibited from going to work for the very people they are charged with regulating.

And we should fix the electoral system so all people have an equal vote, starting with abolishing the electoral college and fair and non-partisan re-apportionment of congressional districts after each census.

And let’s acknowledge that bringing about real structural change is challenging and stop pretending that all we really need to do is defeat Donald Trump and everything will return to the way it was in the good old days.

It is not going to be that easy; we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

We are Not Socialists; We are Progressives

The Progressive Democratic Flag

“Socialist” – the word is fraught with history, of upheaval and revolution.  In its standard usage, it defines a government in control of the means of production and suggests, perhaps not so subtly, a tilt towards totalitarianism, a rigid adherence to doctrine and an unwillingness to compromise.

In today’s environment, the term “Socialist” is easily weaponized by those who support the status quo and oppose change. Donald Trump, most Republicans, and even some so-called “moderate” Democrats, have already begun to use the label to smear all Democrats calling for substantive political and economic reform.

But the truth is, notwithstanding Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, self-styled “democratic socialists,” most reform-minded Democrats identify as “Progressives.”

In the tradition of the Progressive reform movement in the early 1900’s, and the New Deal led by Franklin Roosevelt, today’s Progressives believe in government and an economy that works for all people, not just big corporations and the wealthy.

Progressives believe government should identify and serve the “public good.”  As Elizabeth Warren has argued, there should be rules in place to ensure markets work for the good of all and are not skewed to advantage mega-corporations.

Progressives believe we should have a fair system of taxation in which corporations and individuals pay higher rates in proportion to their ability to pay and the benefits they have received.

And, as Progressives, we believe in growing our economy and creating jobs and opportunity for all through investment in infrastructure, education, job training, affordable housing and health care.

Bernie Sanders, in a speech recently at George Washington University, reaffirmed that he is a ”democratic socialist” while likening his philosophy to that of Franklin Roosevelt.

Except that Roosevelt was not a Socialist, democratic or otherwise.  He was, in effect, a Progressive who saw his duty as restoring faith in our system of government following the ravages of the Great Depression and W.W. II.    He adamantly disavowed Socialism while proposing an “Economic Bill of Rights,” part of a “New Deal,” in which all Americans were entitled to a living wage, a decent education, housing, and health care.

Sound familiar?

Today there are obvious parallels to the original Progressive era in the early 1900’s, Roosevelt’s New Deal and today’s Progressive movement.  Major reforms are needed now, as they were in earlier times, to ensure that the big banks and monopolistic corporations don’t again take down our economy and that the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.

And yet instead of reform, what we are getting is the exact opposite: a government that is lowering taxes on major corporations and those with high incomes; rolling back regulations designed to protect consumers and the environment; failing to constrain big banks from overly aggressive lending and failing to limit the size of corporations to ensure we have real competition in the marketplace.

Rhetorically, Bernie may have a point that, in today’s dysfunctional, indeed corrupt, political environment, it may take something akin a socialist political revolution to bring about real and lasting change.

But while, as Progressives, we aspire to meaningful reform that lifts people out of poverty and provides economic opportunity for all people, perhaps we should dial back the “Socialist” rhetoric just a bit and not hand our political opponents a cudgel to beat us with.

Rather, let us reaffirm our commitment to a true Progressive agenda that, in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, builds a strong and robust economy, second to none in the world, one that works for all people, not just big corporations and the wealthy.