Sunday, October 18, 2015

Editorial: Dems Strong in Debate

Hillary Clinton was poised and demonstrated her command of the issues, Bernie Sanders made his populist points about inequality and Wall Street’s excesses and he appealed for a political revolution. Martin O’Malley reminded voters of his accomplishments as governor of Maryland. And Democrats won the Democratic Debate Oct. 13 in Las Vegas.

The Republican debates have drawn higher ratings as they descended into name-calling, fearmongering and xenophobia, but the Democrats drew 15.3 million viewers who watched five candidates talk about issues such as guns, college debt, living wage, paid sick leave, Syria and Social Security. As Heather “Digby” Parton wrote the day after, “If there’s one thing that was made obvious last night, it’s that the GOP is one big heaping mess of a political party right now. The contrast between it and the Democrats couldn’t be sharper and not just in the presidential race. After all, the backdrop of last night’s event was a drama happening in the Capitol in which House Republicans can’t agree on who should be Speaker. How do they expect, then, to bring the entire country together under one president? It’s laughable. They’re laughable. The candidates on the stage last night in Las Vegas, on the other hand, were serious.”

Sanders needs to work on explaining the difference between his brand of “democratic socialism” and the predatory capitalism that Republicans support. Telling voters he believes in the same political philosophy as the rulers of Denmark and other Scandinavian countries, even if they do provide a much better standard of living for their working class than the United States does, won’t help as much as Sanders explaining that he believes in the same things that Franklin Roosevelt did when he was setting up the New Deal, which regulated Wall Street while taking care of workers, small businesses and family farmers and ranchers. The predatory capitalists want to return us to the Gilded Age, when the government didn’t presume to interfere with the robber barons of industry.

We count at least four Presidents of the United States who expanded socialist programs in the 20th century: FDR, Harry S Truman, who protected New Deal programs after Republicans gained control of Congress in 1947; Dwight Eisenhower, who commanded the Allies in World War II and then, as president, worked with Democrats to expand the New Deal programs, particularly Social Security, and championed the interstate highway system; and Lyndon B. Johnson, who browbeat Congress to expand Social Security to include Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for low-income Americans, as part of his Great Society initiative.

Barack Obama earned the socialist title (as bestowed by Republican critics) by pushing an economic stimulus program in 2009 to put millions of people back to work on infrastructure projects and the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which regulates health insurance, provides subsidies to help small businesses and lower middle class workers gain insurance and expands Medicaid to provide health coverage for the working poor.

So Sanders isn’t such a radical when he calls for strengthening and even expanding Social Security and Medicare, increasing the minimum wage to a living wage and regulating predatory capitalists who nearly ran the economy into ruin during the Bush administration. Republicans who prevent the working poor from getting the health care that Medicaid would pay for, just to spite Obama — they are the radicals.

Sanders got off the two best lines of the debate. First, when asked about Clinton’s emails, he told Hillary, “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails. ... Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.” Later, when Clinton suggested that Sanders focused too much on the big banks, he replied, “Congress does not regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”

In fact, focus groups including CNN’s group of undecided voters in Nevada, Fox News’ group of Florida Democrats and Fusion’s group of millennial voters in Miami all thought Sanders won the debate.

While the consensus of pundits seemed to be that Sanders stumbled in response to questions about gun control, we’re not sure that his mixed feelings about federal gun regulations are a negative for him. Yes, in 1993, as a House member, he opposed the Brady Bill, which mandated that anyone who wanted to buy a handgun had to wait five days while local law enforcement ran criminal background checks. (After 1998, the firearm dealers became responsible for conducting the checks with federal officials, which allowed instant background checks).

Sanders explained that gun control was not popular in his rural state. At the time of the vote, he said he believed the national waiting period was federal overreach and he had promised Vermont voters that he would oppose a federal waiting period. (Liberal Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also voted against the Brady Bill.) However, in 1994 both Vermonters voted for a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

We note that many rural Democrats supported the Brady Bill and the later assault weapons ban, and they were relentlessly pounded by the National Rifle Association and many were retired by their constituents in 1994. (The NRA tried and failed to defeat Sanders because of the assault weapons vote.) Republicans picked up 54 House seats and eight Senate seats as they gained the majority in both chambers and put an end to Bill Clinton’s progressive initiatives.

Sanders has compiled a moderate record on gun control. In 1996, while still in the House, he voted against repealing the assault weapons ban, in 1998 he voted to increase minimum sentences for gun crimes. In 1999 he voted to impose a three-day waiting period for guns purchased at gun shows and in 2013, as senator, he supported bills closing the gun show loophole, restoring the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and he opposed a bill to require states to honor concealed handgun permits for private individuals from other states.

In 2003 and 2005 Sanders voted for a bill to prohibit lawsuits against firearm makers for unlawful misuse of a firearm. We think it is reasonable to protect manufacturers from liability for the misuse of their product after it leaves their control — and the bill, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005, allows lawsuits against a person who transfers a firearm knowing that it will be used to commit a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime; a seller for negligence; a manufacturer or seller who knowingly violates a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the firearm; and for death, physical injuries or property damage resulting from a defect in design or manufacture of the firearm, except during a criminal offense.

Sanders has indicated that he is reconsidering his opposition to holding manufacturers liable for gun deaths in the wake of school shootings. But gun control is not a liberal or conservative issue; it is a libertarian issue and it has been cynically manipulated by Republican fearmongers.

Some political analysts have disputed the role of the Brady Bill and the federal assault weapons ban in turning over Congress in 1994. But in East Texas, which was still marginally Democratic at that time, Republicans were said to be telling people that then-Gov. Ann Richards (D), who had vetoed a bill to ease the permitting of concealed handguns, was going to send the gays to seize their guns. Texas voted George W. Bush into the Governor’s Mansion and the state hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since then.

No less an authority than former President Bill Clinton said that passing the assault weapons ban “devastated” more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers in the 1994 midterms.

Martin O’Malley is justifiably proud of the gun controls he signed into law after the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown Conn., when he was governor of Maryland. But until gun control forces start unseating Republicans, particularly in the suburbs, over their resistance to commonsense gun reforms, Democrats shouldn’t demand orthodoxy over strict federal gun controls. However, Dems should demand more debates. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2015

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