Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why Bernie Keeps Winning -- Reclaiming the Legacy of the New Deal

One of the reasons Bernie keeps winning is that the Democratic Party has lost its roots. At the close of the primary, we need to get back to the promise of the New Deal. John Nichols writes:
About last week’s reports that Clinton was soliciting support from Republican donors who were unsettled by Trump, Sanders said on Friday, “Those are the kinds of things that make not only my supporters, but millions of Americans, nervous.”
Sanders argues that Democrats must recognize that, in many states, the dynamics of a fall race against Trump will not follow classic Democrat-versus-Republican or left-versus-right calculations. There’s an up-versus-down dynamic, as well, and the senator says Democrats must build a broad coalition of Americans who are angered by economic inequality. Noting reports that Clinton “is now reaching out to Jeb Bush’s fundraisers in order to raise money from them,” Sanders says “that really casts a doubt on the parts of millions of Americans.”
“Are you really going to stand up for the middle and working class when you’re collecting millions from Jeb Bush supporters?” asks the insurgent contender.
The argument that Sanders makes is that Democrats must mount a fall campaign that addresses the concerns of the great mass of Americans who are on the downside of the economic-inequality divide. “We are in this campaign to win, but if we do not win, we intend to win every delegate that we can so that when we go to Philadelphia in July, we are going to have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any political party has ever seen,” says Sanders, who wants to see that agenda spelled out in a platform that calls for “a $15 an hour minimum wage, an end to our disastrous trade policies, a Medicare-for-all health care system, breaking up Wall Street financial institutions…”
The reason that the Democratic Party loses elections is that they have lost sight of their roots. It’s just like a sporting contest; if you’re struggling, you’ve got to get back to the basics. We need to go back to the basics of the New Deal and unite around its principles.
That doesn’t mean that we return to the Southern Democratic model, which upheld Jim Crow as a way of life. The New Deal had its dark side, and that was it. But what it does mean is that we have to create an alternative to the “conventional wisdom” that we have to have austerity to protect ourselves from the Big Bad Terrorists or a massive swarm of immigrants and to get rid of the deficit.
The problem with the Clinton model, created after the loss of 1984, was that it watered down the New Deal in an effort to maintain southern votes which were going to the GOP in increasing droves. The winning model, crafted by Obama, was based on building on the Civil Rights era and making Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and others a part of a winning coalition. The fact that a Black man became president will be an inspiration to millions of young Black men who will see him as a role model and who can think of something beyond themselves. And to be fair to the Clintons, Hillary will inspire millions of young women in a similar way if she closes the deal and beats Donald Trump.
And not all of the problems with the New Deal coalition can be laid at the feet of the Clintons. The 1968 Convention, which represented a clash between the Union Democrats and the 1960’s youth who were inspired by the Kennedys, showcased the moral bankruptcy of a muscular foreign policy that sacrificed good will in the name of fighting communism. We honor and respect those who served in that conflict; we should never attack our friends and neighbors. However, we should always oppose our government when it pursues policies which are morally bankrupt and unsustainable.
Instead of the unworkable Neoliberal policies that arose during the Cold War, we should return to Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policies:
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office determined to improve relations with the nations of Central and South America. Under his leadership the United States emphasized cooperation and trade rather than military force to maintain stability in the hemisphere. In his inaugural address on March 4, 1933, Roosevelt stated: “In the field of world policy I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others.”
Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, participated in the Montevideo Conference of December 1933, where he backed a declaration favored by most nations of the Western Hemisphere: “No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another”. In December Roosevelt stated, “The definite policy of the United States from now on is one opposed to armed intervention.” In 1934 at Roosevelt’s direction the 1903 treaty with Cuba (based on the Platt Amendment) that gave the United States the right to intervene to preserve internal stability or independence was abrogated. Although domestic economic problems and World War II diverted attention from the Western Hemisphere, Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy represented an attempt to distance the United States from earlier interventionist policies, such as the Roosevelt Corollary and military interventions in the region during the 1910s and 1920s.
I would add a qualifier to this — we cannot have free trade agreements that do not protect workers and their jobs and that do not transition workers from displaced jobs. I accept that the TPP may be better than previous agreements; however, it does not go far enough. Instead, it pits working people against each other; it pits the farmer against the worker, who will be fired through no fault of their own. 
We lost sight of our roots when we intervened in Korea and Vietnam, and we lost sight of our roots in the 1980’s, following the Reagan years. And we lost sight of our roots during the dozens of times when we fomented regime change around the world against countries that we didn’t like. Bernie Sanders finally developed a credible alternative to the “conventional wisdom” created by Henry Kissinger, whom Hillary Clinton embraced publicly.
I submit that neither Bernie nor Hillary has gone far enough in returning to our roots. Contrary to popular belief, New Deal politics did not involve paying millions of able-bodied people not to work. We all know the type of person who feels they should not have to work and games the system so that they won’t have to. That is why Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” meme stuck. But Roosevelt’s social safety net was based on work, not welfare. Case in point — The Works Progress Administration:
While FDR believed in the elementary principles of justice and fairness, he also expressed disdain for doling out welfare to otherwise able workers. So, in return for monetary aid, WPA workers built highways, schools, hospitals, airports and playgrounds. They restored theaters–such as the Dock Street Theater in Charleston, S.C.–and built the ski lodge at Oregon’s Mt. Hood. The WPA also put actors, writers and other creative arts professionals back to work by sponsoring federally funded plays, art projects, such as murals on public buildings, and literary publications. FDR safeguarded private enterprise from competition with WPA projects by including a provision in the act that placed wage and price controls on federally funded products or services.
The Peace Corps and Americorps were attempts to build on this. After Vietnam, we have moved away from the concept of national service. We need to return to this concept. Rather than give people 3-5 years to find work and then kick them off welfare, we need to offer more opportunities like this for people who want to work, but who can’t find it. Given the reality of technological unemployment, we need to consider stuff formerly considered too radical such as Basic Income. Roosevelt did not stop there. He proposed an Economic Bill of Rights:
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.
Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. That means that we have to unite, not behind Hillary right or wrong, but behind the economic principles that brought our country back from the brink following the Great Depression. That means that if Hillary does something right, we have to give her credit. If she does something wrong, we have to hold her accountable. We have to create a permanent revolution in which we force our politicians to listen to the people, rather than the corporations. There is no place for violence in this process because we lose our legitimacy; rather, it is a matter of participating in the process so that our voices are heard. Hillary can be pushed; however, if we don’t push her, her default position will be the neoliberal positions that her corporate donors are pushing.
This means that we have to insist on complete transparency in everything, which is why I am adamant that Hillary should release her transcripts (just like I think Trump should as well). What is she telling Goldman-Sachs that she is not telling us? I don’t object to her making a lot of money from that; I don’t object that she is doing it. I object that she is keeping her speeches secret, as though they were classified information. She is a public figure; if she doesn’t want us to know what she is telling them, she shouldn’t be running for office. Our Republican friends would be a lot more likely to get on board with some of our ideas and even pay more taxes if the process is completely open and transparent. 
We cannot demagogue our way to victory, even against the likes of Donald Trump. We can, however, win by finding common ground with people of all faiths and political persuasions if we can do so without sacrificing our principles. The preceding is a good example. We have to be able to unite the country, not divide it and break the logjam that has been part of our process. We can suggest alternatives to Trump’s plans that would accomplish the same goals. Don’t want illegal immigration? Let’s crack down on corporations who hire them; don’t attack our friends and neighbors who come here to live a better life. If the word gets out that there’s no work here because employers would get in trouble, people won’t come and others would leave. 

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