politics

The Berning Platform

If you’re trying to produce meaningful social or political content and someone hasn’t called you either a communist or an elitist, then you’re probably not trying hard enough.  If you’ve managed to be called both, then you’re getting somewhere. That’s what happens.  If you’re going to explore the boundaries of things that matter in an objective way, then someone somewhere is going to be offended-or confused.  Confused is better than offended. It’s the first step towards understanding something interesting.  Like Samuel Goldwyn said, “If I look confused, it’s because I’m thinking.”

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of that going on in some of our political spaces these days-more specifically around the words socialism, communism and capitalism. If you’ve been paying attention to the the Democratic presidential primary race though, you might be thinking that perhaps we ought to start. Because there’s a bit of a movement afoot.

Senator Bernie Sanders (D) of Vermont calls himself a Democratic Socialist. And he just missed winning in the Iowa Caucuses by a fraction of a percent over one of the great shoe-in nominees in recent history, Hillary Clinton.  Because 84% of all caucusers under 30 voted for him.  Progressive kids sat through hours of caucusing to vote for a white Vermont Senator who was born three months before America entered World War II. It’s not because he’s cool.  He’s a grumpy old man who is audibly indistinguishable from Larry David’s George Steinbrenner caricature on Seinfeld.  It’s not because they identify with him either, unless he reminds them of their curmudgeony grandfather. It’s because of his maniacally consistent message that is striking a chord with young progressives.  And though the political windsock that is the mind of the young progressive tends to blow towards whatever new message wanders into their Twitter feed, there’s something else to acknowledge here. These kids seem to have no instinctual fear of the word socialism. And that’s different.

When I was younger and more impressionable, socialism and communism and the Cold War and the nuclear arms race and Olympic Hockey all wrapped up into one massive package of horrible un-American-ness. America is-was-ever shall be synonymous with unmitigated capitalism. And socialism and communism are basically the same thing, right? At least in as much as they’re not capitalism.

I remember the movie Red Dawn (the original). The second “S” in USSR is Socialist. The Nazi’s were the National Socialist party. That’s the message I grew up with. And depending on who you ask today, it’s still true. So why in the world would anyone support a person who openly admits he’s a socialist? Well, it turns out, it may be someone who has a more firm understanding of the economic reality that has existed over the last 230 years in America than those of us who grew up hating the Russians.

America is a democratically elected socialist republic . Unarguably, shamelessly, a democratic republic that has democratically chosen to socialize many aspects of our life for centuries. I know that is contrary to many of our beliefs. But it’s true. And it’s absolutely fine. Because capitalism, in its purest form is so miserable for most people and so slanted towards those with concentrations of capital, that it becomes impossible to make good on the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” promised by our founding fathers.They never promised capitalism. They promised liberty.

So we socialized things. They did it 80 years before Karl Marx began to write of communism.Public education is socialism.  Professional police and fire services are socialism.  Federal highway systems are socialism.  Social security…the military..the post office…all socialism. Anything that is supported by tax dollars from the public, to support the broader population independent of their contribution is socialism.  So unless you are willing to debate the existence of these foundational, centuries old institutions in America, then you are actually not willing to debate that we are a socialist democracy. The more appropriate debate, is how socialist are we and how socialist ought we be?

Contrary to popular belief, becoming a more socialist society does not make you a communist society any more than smoking more makes you an alcoholic. Too much isn’t good.  But one doesn’t on-ramp to the other simply by doing it more.  Communism is when no one owns anything except the government. Socialism is when government provides services for the greater good of society, based on some collective investment of the society. And when you’re a socialist democracy, the people actually get to vote on what the greater good ought to be and what the acceptable cost of that greater good is.  Communism aims to eliminate the working poor at the expense of any notion of personal property.  And it doesn’t work. Because it ignores the one thing that our founding father’s knew out about the nature of mankind.

We are beings who crave liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Which really means we are beings who crave choice.  We crave it so badly that when we run out of it we’ll walk across the desert to lands unknown, build canoes and sail over the horizon, cross thousands of miles in covered wagons with our family to find it.  We want choice.  And with communism, you have to surrender it.  But mankind refuses unless it’s forced by oppressive, self serving autocracies that eventually, like the earth’s frontiers and bounds of gravity, surrender to the will of mankind’s craving for choice. We are defined by our intellect. Our intellect is our ability to think. The outcome of our thoughts is our choice.  Mankind is choice.

Never is our craving for choice more powerful then when we are young. And what the Sanders movement is shouting in it’s throaty Brooklyn accent is that they’re losing it. But why?

Because the most dangerous problems of America today, the ones that are going to impact us for the next fifty years are not because government is growing too much or because our economy is failing.  It’s not because we’re losing world influence. It’s because we’re starting to lose our choice. Because capitalism is starting to devour our democracy.

Here’s the picture that young America is looking at.  The middle class is shrinking.  Wage growth is stagnant. The top 10 percent of earners received 46.5 percent of all income in 2011, the largest slice of the pie since 1917. The top one tenth of one percent of earners earned 11.3% of all income in America.  In 1972, they earned 3%.  The bridge to financial independence for American youth is starting to look too far. Not because of our president-or the last one-or the one before him. But because automation and globalization are eliminating our working class and the capital it is making is moving to the rich. And staying there.

As it stands, corporate profits are higher then they have ever been in our history as a country.  Corporate taxes are the lowest they have been since we entered into the modern economy of the 20th century.  And no one dare force corporate America to make choices that hurt growth-no matter how much growth is costing us. So they are sitting on unprecedented piles of cash, not investing in the American workforce.

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So if you’re a kid these days, you’re starting to feel like your power of choice is not what generations before you had, you may be right. And if you haven’t been brainwashed by your parents or aren’t interested in blaming the destruction of the middle class on the break down of “traditional values” and immigration, then you might be interested in Bernie’s message.

At least some part of that message is this. At the core of our massive American problem today is the fact that our capital markets are controlling our democratic process. And though economic considerations should be a part of the democratic discourse, they should not control it. Right now we have unlimited corporate participation in our political process as a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. We have a 285 Billion dollar media market that follows ratings and clicks to provide us with our consciousness.  And we have a belief that our country’s economic success is completely dependent on creating as much friction-less capitalism as possible. Anything else is unimaginable.  And as much as we feel like “kids these days” are overly entitled, as just about every generation in history has felt about the one after it, the data shows that they’re in for a steeper climb than what you and I grew up with. And that’s a legitimate beef that Bernie Sanders is giving voice to.

Here’s the hard truth though.  I’m probably not voting for Bernie Sanders.  His tone is likely too divisive to usher in the era of compromise we so desperately need to govern more effectively than we are now. But one of the harmful things we do in politics, and life in general, is dismiss an idea because of what’s wrong with it instead of taking the time to consider and build on what’s right with it. There’s a lot right with Bernie’s message.  And the problems we’re going to face in the next 50 years will need to include solutions to the problems his movement points out. Inequality, segregation and the general marginalization of the democratic process by the unchecked forces of capital are all very real problems.  Shouting down their existence in the name of American capitalism is uninformed at best, dangerous at worst.  Our founding father’s didn’t promise lubricated capitalism. They promised choice and participation in governance.  Capitalism isn’t going anywhere. Democracy is far more fragile.

 

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15 replies »

    • An excellent essay completely undermined by your statement that you probably won’t vote for Sanders. Why on earth not?? If it’s the question of “electability,” then all I can say is that if everyone who says they won’t vote for him because he’s “unelectable” ACTUALLY VOTED FOR HIM, he’d be elected. Please consider it.

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      • Thank you for reading and for the feedback. I think the point I am trying to make is that though I understand his message and appreciate parts of it, some more than others, I believe he will be a divisive force as the head of our government. Actually to no fault of his own. His views are honest and have merit. But we have had such division, we need someone to rise above it and even sacrifice policy for unity. That’s probably not Bernie.

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      • Wonderful essay. One of the past I’ve read in some time, and especially on this issue. But I agree that if we don’t vote for him this, all of the good points, will get sweep under the rag as a ‘cute’ movement the kids were into.
        Division within the party isn’t so bad, only the way to do it. If you’re envisioning someone to rise above then that feels to much like the Democratic choice recently to give up momentum in order to find some agreement with those who never will agree.

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  1. This piece is so brilliantly written and worded. As a teenager, I can say that this article perfectly captures my ideas when I choose to support Bernie Sanders. I also love that this piece is written very objectively instead of choosing a position.

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    • But you need to realize that you taking your parents retirement away from them. So hopefully then you’re going to have the money to pay for the retirement and medical bills. Because otherwise if they don’t own their home, they could be out on the street. Berne knows & has said in all his time in Congress, he has no success at getting anything done. But he does know that he needs his own retirement & that’s why he is running on the democratic ticket. Surely you know he has always been an independent socialist. Let your parents keep their retirement and Medicare.

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  2. Thanks for the great article…very informative and well-written. I’m curious though, do you think Hillary would do any better with regard to unity/divisiveness? It seems to me that the current Republicans won’t allow any unity to happen regardless who the Democratic President is; they made that quite clear throughout the Obama administration. They don’t care who won the election, they don’t care about the needs of the people and they refuse to compromise. I think it’s time for a more forceful, “bully-pulpit” type of President who will rally the masses to take back our quality of life, our choice. Just my two cents. ; )

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    • Thanks for reading Niki. I don’t think there will be much compromise either way. But it would be interesting to see if electing Bernie would drive change in the GOP party. I think there’s a chance to do that with Hillary too. As an independent I’m generally disappointed by having one viable party for the executive office.

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  3. Wonderful article, brilliantly written. I actually feel the same way about voting for Bernie. His candidacy has many merits, but I think he’s maybe ultimately too divisive, and too liberal for many Americans, which is concerning when the actual election rolls around. Do you think if Bernie wins the democratic nomination it could drive more conservative or moderate votes to choose the GOP candidate? Anyway, thanks for this article!

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    • So you’re saying if Bernie gets elected as the democratic nominee, people will flock to Trump? I honestly think it’d be the other way around. If anyone in this election is divisive, it’s Trump. Republicans are generally close minded, greedy and selfish individuals who seem to forget that they had help to get where they are and have forgotten that everyone should reach back and help someone who needs it because that’s how they got where they are. If we all just followed the golden rule, we’d be living in a better world.

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  4. You mentioned in the article that “The top 10 percent of earners received 46.5 percent of all income in 2011” & “The top one tenth of one percent of earners earned 11.3% of all income in America.” but income inequality appears trivial when we compare it to the wealth inequality

    Just let this sync in: “Richest 62 people as wealthy as half of world’s population” http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jan/18/richest-62-billionaires-wealthy-half-world-population-combined and even more earthshattering: “ & 20 People Now Own As Much Wealth as Half of All Americans” http://www.thenation.com/article/20-people-now-own-as-much-wealth-as-half-of-all-americans/

    Basically while it still takes tens of millions of American earners to take half of its income, it won’t even fill a classroom to fit the people that control half of its wealth!

    And the reason wealth accumulates so much faster among super rich was in depth discussed in such books like “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by the economist Thomas Piketty: “When the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of economic growth over the long term, the result is concentration of wealth, and this unequal distribution of wealth causes social and economic instability. Piketty proposes a global system of progressive wealth taxes to help reduce inequality and avoid the vast majority of wealth coming under the control of a tiny minority.”

    And we clearly need to elect people like Bernie to save the capitalism from itself !

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  5. I can only suppose that you will cast your vote for Sec. Clinton, if only because you feel that Sen. Sanders will be divisive. I urge you to reconsider. 8 years ago, we chose a young supposed firebrand in the person of Sen. Barack Obama. I regret not voting for Hillary then, because I had read as much as I could about Obama, and I knew in my gut that he was far more conservative than people assumed because of his age and resume. If you read some of his writing from his days at the Harvard Law Review, you may have felt this way too. This time, it’s a “no-brainier” for me. We need reform, and we need it soon. Our country is in great peril, and from my perspective, it isn’t from ISIS. It is from the massive inequality of wealth, political influence, and in the foreseeable future, climate change. For the life of me, I cannot feel certain about Sec. Clinton’s resolve on these issues, but I do about Sanders’. The potential gridlock is a concern, but just look at what they have done to Obama’s tenure! My God, Guantanamo is still open, and the wealth gap has accelerated! I am not looking at this through rose colored glasses…my father taught at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and I grew up around a table steeped in corporate conversation. (Yes, he is voting for Bernie as well, I believe, as are most of my family and friends.) I firmly believe that Sanders has the best advantage against the clown car that is the Republican slate this time around, if only because of the hateful feelings that Hillary elicits from the Reactionary Wing. I have waited my whole 56 years to vote for a woman for president, and I remember the excitement when Geraldine Ferraro ran for V.P. well. If Sen. Warren were running, I would kick Bernie to the curb. But she is not, and the time is at hand to elect someone who sees how corrupt it is to take 22 million dollars in honoraria, and complain about not being accepted as a progressive. It doesn’t help to have hired your own daughter to run the family foundation either. Nepotism rears its ugly head again with this family. She single handedly botched health care reform 23 years ago too. I can at least credit Obama for offering us some relief on that score. In short Mr. Hughes, I would not choose between voting with your heart, or with your brain, as the new tag line says…vote with both…vote for Sen. Sanders. I’m begging you.

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  6. I think you underestimate Sanders’ power to convince people; he may win some republicans over to get things passed, as he did with the veterans bill. He has not been a divisive figure in Congress and he knows how to make compromises; he is a pragmatist as well an idealist. He will get things done and hold onto his ideals more than Obama and way more than Hillary. Free health care and education are really not radical ideas. With the power of the army of newly politicized millennials on his side, he will win some battles and get some more progressives elected. Obama’s attempt at “bipartisanship” and everyone getting along hasn’t worked. We need a fighter in there!

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  7. Making do on rich people’s money is typical of compromising losers. Americans don’t want compromized society while they remain idle.

    Losing capitalism in America created global success but has left America feeble!

    If not during Presidential elections, when is debate appropriate on direction of America, and how weak it has become?

    Weak countries fail regularly and are overtaken by stronger countries.

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