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A Party in Search of a Vision

One thing everyone seems to forget is how close Bernie Sanders came to winning the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 and how much he appealed to the same group of lower middle class Rustbelt voters who deserted Clinton for Trump in the general election.

Bernie Sanders had a coherent message, at least on the domestic and economic front. He wanted to tax the rich more, he wanted to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn the Citizens United decision so that corporations would have less say in politics, he wanted to provide government funded healthcare for everyone, he wanted to pay for free tuition to public colleges and universities, and he unashamedly called himself a democratic socialist and held up the social democracies in some Scandinavian countries as model for the United States.

Led by Senator Corey Booker, a group of Democratic senators, all potential future presidential hopefuls, has embraced many of Sanders’ proposals, including various versions of a “guaranteed jobs” program, Medicare for all, free college tuition, and immigration reform. They don’t label themselves democratic socialists and they are vague on the kind of rethinking of our nation’s way of doing things that their programs would require. This leads them to easily be labeled as unrealistic because they are proposing unaffordable programs.

A major problem for Democratic progressives is that most of their proposals will require a lot of federal spending and that runs counter to the mainstream Dems’ worries about the deficit and their fear of driving away traditionally centrist voters by sounding too progressive. They are willing to promote removing recent tax cuts for the wealthy but unclear what the reason for that is, except perhaps fixing our deteriorating infrastructure and funding a rejuvenated Obamacare. Their mantra is that their aim is to restore the middle class of America to prosperity, primarily through wage increases.

Wages have stagnated over the last few decades, but the problems facing 2018 America are not that the middle class is languishing and needs a break, but that the lower middle class is falling so far behind the upper middle class that they can’t pay rent, buy a house, or have a medical problem without risking bankruptcy. Things are worst at the level of income just above the federal poverty guidelines and below them. Housing assistance meets the needs of less than a quarter of the people who qualify for it, social mobility is at a standstill because low wages are so low, educational opportunities are expensive, jobs for the less educated are either drying up or pay too poorly for anyone to survive without having more than one of them. 

Two things would fix these problems: 1) the progressive programs proposed by Sanders, Booker, Warren, Harris, etc. and 2) greater funding for the programs already in place, e.g. housing assistance, food stamps, Head Start, etc. In order to fund these fixes, it is necessary not just to remove recent tax cuts for the wealthy, but to revise our tax structure more in line with that seen in Scandinavian social democracies so that it is more progressive, i.e. those at the top of the income brackets are taxed even more, including on their investments, which is where the truly wealthy get their money.

To propose such changes in our tax structure requires a degree of boldness only Bernie Sanders, among mainstream politicians, has shown in the past. To embrace the idea that America will become a nation that uses the wealth of its citizens to insure the welfare of everyone, not just a few, requires the strength to redefine our vision of our country. Presently we have the worst healthcare, the shortest lifespans, the greatest poverty and the greatest income inequality and probably the poorest infrastructure of all the developed countries. Anyone who argues that we are doing well following the present system is denying reality. We need not just band aids, but a new vision and plan and we need more Democrats to embrace such a vision and plan.


Reader Comments (4)

If I were running for president (my immigrant status being one of the thousand obstacles), I would put the country to work on fast-speed railways, city-to-town public transportation, burying all the electrical wires underground, revving up the solar and wind industries, building mixed housing so attractively that people of different incomes would want to get into it, and give a huge infusion of funds to education both academic and skilled-trade. That's just for starters. But, unlike Bernie, who's had a lifetime in the Senate with no legislation to show for it and talks a good game, I only talk a good game because I don't have the opportunity to do what I envision. Let us also not forget that despite all the cretinism about "you lost, get over it," despite all the Russian interference, Facebook's complicity, FBI's misogynist intervention, Hillary Clinton won the election. Only an antiquated, pro-slavery system like the Electoral College allowed the Abomination to get to the White House. What would Hillary have done? Since she worked all her career to make life easier for all the marginalized people--children, who don't vote, disabled students, women in the U.S. and in other countries--I suspect a whole lot of programs to improve the lives of the very people who sympathize with Trump and Sanders would have sprung up, even with the pestilent Congress that we have. And no Gorsuch, enemy of working people on the Court.

May 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

Bravo, Anca. And while we're at it, let's change the Constitution so that any American citizen, including immigrants who were born elsewhere, can become president.

May 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

Bernie Sanders was the most hilariously incoherent candidate we’ve ever had. “Free stuff for everyone” was a wonderful pipe dream and even more so when he declared that the one-percent would pay for it all. Never mind the fact that even by taxing the one-percent at one hundred percent, there wasn’t even enough money to pay for one of his nit-wit schemes. College education isn’t a right. Healthcare isn’t and shouldn’t be a right. Housing isn’t a right. These are all things to be achieved through sacrifice and hard work, as they’ve always been. I’m very hopeful the Democrats nominate one of their supposedly progressive candidates. Political progressives don’t seem to know or even care about the difference between people who are “casual takers” and those who are “truly needy.” “Medicare for all” is just about the dumbest idea possible. Why don’t we all just volunteer to return to the Stone Age of medical care.

As for Hillary Clinton, she lost the election by many metrics including the only one that mattered. What a sad and pathetic person she has shown herself to be. I’m not sure why people are still envisioning an alternate reality where Secretary Clinton became president? She lost soundly pretty much everywhere except for in the urban and elite centers of the country which specialize in mindless groupthink and echo chamber harmonies. And if someone is referring to President Trump as “The Abomination,” I think it’s only fair to label him with a different term from the Dune series. President Trump is more akin to the God Emperor, Leto II. Fortunately for Democrats, it appears President Trump’s reign as God Emperor won’t be quite as long as the mythical God Emperor’s 3500 year term of office.

May 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

By the way, if we’re changing qualifications for President, why don’t we change the minimum age required for the President from 35 to age 60? It’s arbitrary and pointless, but certainly a better idea than allowing a person who’s been a citizen of Brazil for fifty years to then be granted US citizenship and then potentially become President in the next election. I’m sure that this newly minted US citizen from Brazil will have no lingering loyalties to the country that birthed and shaped them for the first five decades of their life. The born in the US standard was enacted specifically to avoid these dramatic types of conflict of interest. I know the people on this board possess varying degrees of processing ability, but how in the world would letting a person born and raised in Serbia or Morocco become the POTUS offer the most steadfast assurance that this President would be solely committed to the wellbeing of the US and its citizens?

May 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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