Sunday, May 17, 2015

Steer Left with Sanders

With the entry of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic nomination for president, it’s time for progressive populists to show their game.

Sanders, 73, is a democratic socialist who has run independent campaigns as he won elections to serve eight years as mayor of Burlington, Vt., 16 years as Vermont’s at-large member of Congress, where he founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991, and two winning campaigns for the US Senate, where he has served since 2007. In his campaign for president, he will have to capitalize the “D” while his opponents at the center and the right will focus on the “S”, but Sanders won re-election in 2012 with 71% of the vote in a state that still has a lot of hardscrabble conservatives, so being a socialist hasn’t been a bar to his popularity thus far. Sanders has succeeded by translating political and economic issue to languages he can share with blue-collar workers over the kitchen table. He’s not a communist — an important distinction — but he thinks we could take after democratic socialist countries in Scandinavia, such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

While the conventional wisdom is that “socialist” is still a political slur in the US, six years of Republicans calling Barack Obama a socialist have removed much of the sting from that label, and that GOP hyperbole has left youngsters thinking that socialism must not be that big a deal. If it’s socialist to fight for American manufacturing jobs, to put more Americans to work by investing in roads, bridges rail lines and other infrastructure improvements, to make public colleges and universities free, to make health care a right and protect Social Security, Medicare and the Veterans Administration from threatened cuts by Republicans — and even expand those benefits with a restored progressive tax system that soaks the rich — public opinion polls show those socialist policies Sanders promotes are supported in most cases by two-thirds of Americans.

Sanders also has reintroduced legislation to break up the nation’s biggest banks, saying, “If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.” He notes that the largest banks are now 80% bigger than they were before the financial crisis in 2008, making them an even bigger threat to the economy today.

Bankers are confident that they can smother Sanders’ bill in the Republican Congress, but Kevin Cirilli reports in The Hill(May 12) that financial industry leaders are still concerned that Sanders’ rhetoric might impact Hillary Clinton and cause her to “pander to the far left.”

In fact, Bernie’s platform is nothing radical. He is channelling the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal — another program that plutocrats derided as socialism in the 1930s. But that was the sort of socialism that provided relief for millions of unemployed, giving them jobs on public works projects, helping farms and businesses survive, rebuild and eventually thrive, with organized labor empowered to look after the interests of industrial workers when the economic royalists would pay them starvation wages if they could get away with it.

The New Deal set the stage after World War II for the growth of a middle class that was the envy of the world until the plutocrats simply could not stand the broad-based prosperity any more. They put up Ronald Reagan to break up the unions in the 1980s and then eliminated trade barriers in the 1990s so the industrialists could move their factories to Third World nations that allow starvation wages and don’t bother manufacturers with pesky regulations.

Sanders has tapped a deep vein of frustration among progressive Democrats who have watched the party move toward the right over the past 30 years. He raised $3 million in his first four days as a candidate and he promises to build a progressive grassroots campaign to win the nomination.

Sanders will need to run an insurgent campaign because he won’t have the money to flood the airwaves with ads, and neither he nor other progressives can expect any favors from the corporate news media in getting a fair hearing of their agenda. (That is one reason you should support publications such as The Progressive Populist, and get your friends and family members to subscribe too!) But it also is important that President Obama’s appointees to the Federal Communications Commission in February affirmed the principle of net neutrality on the Internet, so corporate Internet service providers cannot throttle independent voices who get the word out on websites, podcasts and other “social media.” Internet service providers and trade groups have sued in federal court challenging the FCC’s net neutrality rule.

It is true that federal campaign finance rules have been grotesquely deformed by the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court, whose Citizens United decision in 2010 struck down the limits on organizations accepting corporate money for electioneering, and whose McCutcheon decision in 2014 struck down aggregate limits on campaign contributions by wealthy contributors. That allows wealthy industrialists such as the Koch Brothers to raise and spend billions of dollars — much of it unaccountable — to try to elect their anointed ones to the White House and Congress in the next cycle. Democrats might as well make a virtue of their poverty and embrace a real progressive agenda such as the ones that are being proposed by Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Don’t complain that we’ve lost our democracy. People still get to vote. (Though whether your vote gets counted can get problematic.) Get to work on taking democracy back. Bernie’s campaign is as good a vehicle as any.

On the other hand, try not to say anything in the primary campaign that you might need to walk back in the general election. In his announcement, Sanders noted that he has never run a negative campaign and he doesn’t plan to start now. The facts should suffice, but he is not operating under the illusion that a progressive “spoiler” campaign that throws the election to the Republicans would do working people any good.

We know some of our readers have no use for Hillary Clinton, but if she manages to overcome Bernie’s challenge, we would vote for her in the general election. Not only has she embraced some progressive principles as she rolls out her agenda; her choice of Joseph Stiglitz as her economic adviser is very encouraging to progressives. We still don’t anticipate she would be much tougher on Wall Street than the Obama administration has been, but Stiglitz has proposed sensible moves, such as raising taxes on capital gains and a push to make corporations less focused on short-term quarterly returns, that we wholeheartedly support, and Clinton is expected to embrace those reforms. She also might remind the bankers who are miffed at the populist talk coming from the Democrats that if Wall Street didn’t like the Dodd-Frank financial reforms in 2010 after they had contributed millions to the campaigns of President Obama and congressional Democrats, they really won’t like what she might do in 2017 if they place all their bets on the wrong team.

Anyway, we believe that progressives will have little choice but to embrace the Democratic ticket if for no other reason than the next president almost certainly will set the future of the Supreme Court.

The high court has done enough damage with Anthony Kennedy providing the swing vote on a 5-4 bench. The next president might get to appoint three or four justices, which could turn the court around, or it could cement a right-wing majority for a generation. You don’t want those justices named by a president who is approved by the Koch Brothers and you don’t want those nominees reviewed by a Senate that is ruled by Mitch McConnell.

In the meantime, if you want the Democratic Party to embrace progressive populist positions and scare Wall Street bankers, support Bernie Sanders for president. See — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2015

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