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

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.

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.

Bernie Sanders: A True American Hero

Truckers For Bernie

I was filling my car with gas the other day when a truck driver saw the “Bernie 2016” sticker prominently displayed on my back windshield and yelled out, “Will Bernie win?”

“No”, I responded. “I think he’s a little too old.”

To which the truck driver shot back, “Bernie has already won. His ideas have won.”
And, of course, the truck driver is spot-on.

Whether Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination in 2020 or not, he is a genuine American hero whose willingness to fight for progressive ideals over decades has completely upended the political debate: Medicare for all, free college tuition, a $15 minimum wage – we wouldn’t even be talking about these issues today if it weren’t for Bernie Sanders.

The wages of working people in this country have stagnated over decades. Poverty levels in the U.S. are among the highest in the industrialized world. Our politics has descended into chaos. And we have hugely regressive tax system and a federal budget that prioritizes defense spending over the needs of real people.

Bottom line: we need more people, like Bernie, willing to stand up and fight for the right of all people in this country to a decent job, a livable wage, debt-free education, and quality health care.

To so-called “moderate” Democrats, like Joe Biden, “here’s the deal, man”: cozying up to radical right-wing Republicans, holding big-dollar fund-raisers with the very monopolists you are supposed to be regulating, and tinkering around the edges of public policies that are heavily skewed in favor of the wealthy and big corporations may have been acceptable in decades past, but it is no longer good enough.

We need to fix our broken economy and dysfunctional political system, and to do that you have to get down in the trenches, as Bernie has done for his entire career.

So fight on Bernie (along with other progressive Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren) for truckers like the one I talked to, and working people everywhere.

The Real Debate Over Health Care: the Role of the Insurance Companies

A lot is being written over the fissures within the Democratic Party on Health Care. Some, like Bernie Sanders, unequivocally support Medicare-for-All. Others, like Amy Klobuchar and Sherrod Brown, both Midwest senators with more conservative constituencies, want a more incremental approach, a Medicare buy-in option for example, or lowering the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 50.

Sounds good, right. Medicare-for-All is way too radical. A more moderate approach stands a better chance of getting the broad-based support needed to get through Congress and be signed into law.

Except that the insurance companies, with their web of campaign contributions and armies of lobbyists, will pounce on any compromise and turn it into a variation of what we have today – a system with huge overhead and administrative costs that rewards waste and inefficiency over positive health outcomes.

Sound familiar – that’s essentially what happened with Obama Care. State-by-state exchanges just to make sure there are no incentives to create national plans that operate more transparently and efficiently.

So Progressive Democrats are right – it is time for universal health coverage in a nationwide program that takes the insurance companies out of the mix, thereby saving U.S. economy and the American consumer huge amounts of money that today are wasted on a system that rewards administrative inefficiency over the health of the American people.

Voices from the Past: FDR on the “Economic Rights” of All Americans

RooseveltPictureEconBillofRights… Including the right to a living wage, housing, and health care.  More than 70 years later, Bernie Sanders says he is a “Socialist”, but he sounds a lot like Franklin Roosevelt in arguing, in effect, for a new “New Deal.”


It’s January 1944.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt is nearing the end of his third term.  He is just back from the Cairo and Tehran Conferences where he met with the leaders of Britain, Russia and China.  The purpose of the meetings was to discuss strategies for defeating Germany and Japan and how the Allies would manage the peace once the war had come to an end.

Returning home, FDR is concerned that, once the war is over, the country may repeat the retrenchment and isolationism that followed W.W. I.  He uses the occasion of his 1944 Annual Message to Congress, his first major speech after returning from the Mideast, to argue that Americans need to pull together not just to win the war, but to build a strong and robust post-war economy.

But that can’t happen, FDR believes, if large segments of the population are left behind, as they were in the Great Depression, an era of massive unemployment and poverty that marked the initial years of Roosevelt’s presidency.

To ensure that doesn’t happen again, FDR proposes an Economic Bill of Rights to supplement the political Bill of Rights handed down from the founding of the Republic.  He envisions the U.S. as an economic powerhouse second to none in the world – a country in which no one lives in poverty or wants for the necessities of life, including a living wage, a decent home, quality medical care and education.

Normally Roosevelt would have delivered his speech in person before Congress.  However, FDR was apparently ill with the flu and chose instead to deliver the speech by radio as a fireside chat from the White House.

The following excerpt speaks directly to Roosevelt’s call for an economic Bill of Rights:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.”

People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Today, we are experiencing some of the slowest economic growth in modern history.  Wages are stagnating and people are finding it increasingly difficult to find decent jobs.

This is the type of economy, Roosevelt warned, that is “the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

Of all the candidates,  Bernie Sanders in particular has been unequivocal in his call to tackle poverty and wage inequality in the tradition of FDR and the New Deal.

Sanders writes:

Let’s be clear, it is a national disgrace that 46.5 million Americans are living in poverty today, the largest number on record. It is a national disgrace that at 21.8 percent, the U.S. has the highest childhood poverty rate of any major country on earth … Here in the United States, significant progress has been made but much more needs to be done to provide dignity and opportunity to all Americans regardless of income.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt has a “Special Place in Heaven” among liberal Democrats.  And from that special place,  we strongly suspect that FDR is cheering Bernie on and praying that he will finish the work that FDR began more than 70 years earlier.