The consensus of the Washington pundit class at that time was that Sanders would be, at most, a speed bump for the Hillary Clinton juggernaut. The self-styled “democratic socialist” had been mayor of Burlington, Vt., then served 16 years in the House before he was elected to the Senate in 2006.
Sanders, who remained independent but caucused with the Dems, was not well-known.
Sanders has been criticized for running a progressive populist campaign that focused on economic issues such as income and wealth inequality, raising the minimum wage, pushing for universal healthcare, reducing the burden of student debt, making public colleges and universities tuition-free by taxing financial transactions, and expanding Social Security benefits by eliminating the cap on the payroll tax on income above $250,000. He also opposes most “free trade” agreements that move manufacturing jobs overseas and he supports legislation that would make it easier for workers to join or form labor unions. And he identified climate change as a national security issue.
Sanders struck a chord. His campaign raised $1.5 million from 35,000 donors in the first day after his announcement. Through March 2016, he had raised $182.2 million from more than seven million individual donations, as he rejected super PAC assistance. Clinton had raised $182.2 million for her own campaign, but she also raised money for the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee and state parties, and she has super PACs working independently on her behalf.
Sanders admires Scandinavian social democracy but in a speech at Georgetown University last November, he traced democratic socialism back through President Lyndon B. Johnson to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used government power to create jobs and lift Americans out of poverty. “I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down.” Sanders said. “I do believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America, companies that create jobs here, rather than companies that are shutting down in America and increasing their profits by exploiting low-wage labor abroad.”
Sanders is basically a New Dealer and his success in the Democratic primaries shows there is still a groundswell of support for progressive populist democracy in the United States. While Sanders faces diminishing chances of catching up with Clinton for the nomination after the Atlantic primaries on April 26, he should continue his campaign to complete the unfinished business of the New Deal.
As the US struggled to break out of the Great Depression in 1932, Roosevelt committed to government guarantees of social and economic rights for the working class. In a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Sept. 23, 1932, he sketched what would become the New Deal to put millions of Americans back to work.
In a key passage, FDR said, “As I see it, the task of government in its relation to business is to assist the development of an economic declaration of rights, an economic constitutional order. This is the common task of statesman and business man. It is the minimum requirement of a more permanently safe order of things.”
In his State of the Union speech to Congress Jan. 8, 1941, as the US watched the aggression of Axis nations in Europe and Asia, Roosevelt proposed four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world ought to enjoy.” They included freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
In what would be his last State of the Union speech on Jan. 11, 1944, with US military forces leading the Allied momentum against Germany and Japan, Roosevelt proposed a second Bill of Rights, an “Economic Bill of Rights,” which built upon the “Four Freedoms.”
“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,” he said..
“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.”
“Among those are:
“The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
“The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
“The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
“The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
“The right of every family to a decent home;
“The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
“The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
“The right to a good education.
“All of these rights spell security,” he said. “And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
“America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
So, if anything, Sanders is in the mainstream of the New Deal spirit that dominated American politics until the right-wing coalition under Ronald Reagan set about to dismantle the government programs that assisted working families and small businesses.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the right’s attitude toward higher education. After World War II, university tuition was practically free in California and New York and tuition was low enough in most states — the average tuition at a four-year public university in 1965 was just $243, the Sanders campaign noted — that a student could work their way through college with summer jobs at minimum wage.
Reagan, who supported FDR when he was an actor, became a leader in the fight to turn back the New Deal in the 1960s. He attacked state support for higher education, first as governor of California, where he imposed tuition at California universities, and later as president, where he targeted higher education funding and ended up cutting Pell grants and excluded middle-class students from the program. He limited the grants to lower-income families, which made it easier for Congress to cut the program further. Reagan also cut low-interest student loans and restricted eligibility for them. He phased out Social Security survivors’ education benefits, which provided one-fifth of student aid in 1981. Republicans at the state level also reduced their commitment to keeping higher education affordable for the working class, and tuition and other college fees skyrocketed.
If Hillary Clinton wants to win over Sanders’ supporters, particularly his young supporters, and parents who are trying to help their children get a college education, she should discover her inner Roosevelt and adopt Sanders’ progressive populist position on restoring federal assistance for college students at all levels and helping graduates pay off their college debts.
Both Clinton and Sanders should compete over who can finally implement FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights. Dems should force Republicans to answer for making higher education unaffordable for many Americans. Give working people something to vote for. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2016
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