The revolution is here — Democrats ignore it at their peril
Despite the yammering by the mainstream media and the neoliberals running the Democratic Party—not to mention Republicans and Fox News—the overwhelming majority of voters support progressive issues on a case-by-case basis, and the majority support the candidates who espouse them. Doubt that? See here, or here, or here, or any poll based the issues, not on political labels that—as a result of a four decades-long branding effort funded by the oligarchy—have ceased to represent any real political perspective.
As for the majority supporting the progressive candidates, Sanders’ and Warren’s combined share of the voters exceeds Biden’s by a factor of two, and both poll far better than Trump.
So you would think that Democrats would embrace progressivism and progressive candidates, but you’d be wrong. Instead, they’re mounting a campaign against them with misinformation, distortion, innuendo, and that old time favorite—fear.
Neoliberal centrists and their allies in the mainstream media are using three main arguments in their combined assault on progressives.
First, they say we can’t afford the programs progressives are advocating.
The two programs neoliberals most love to criticize as too costly are The Green New Deal and Medicare for All.
The notion that we can’t afford the Green New Deal is as ludicrous as it is dangerous. If temperatures are allowed to increase by 3.7 C—about what full implementation of the Paris Agreement would accomplish, and about what the centrists are pushing—climate change would still impose some $551 trillion in damages. So-called moderates are essentially saying we can’t afford to prevent $551 trillion in damages. This is madness, pure and simple, and there’s nothing “moderate” about it, with climate change already causing unprecedented flooding, wildfires, droughts, storms and heat waves.
In essence, the moderates are trying to portray policies allowing for the destruction of our planetary life support system as prudent. The one thing science and reality is telling us is that climate change is here, now, and it will get worse far sooner than we’d previously predicted.
With the cost of renewable energy now less than fossil fuels in most cases, and with electric vehicles being as cheap as internal combustion cars, solutions are not only available, they’re cost effective. Combined with aggressive tree-planting and land management, we could dramatically cut carbon in the near term, at relatively little cost.
But somehow, avoiding $551 trillion in damages while working to assure the transition to clean energy creates jobs and prosperity isn’t “prudent” to moderates.
How about Medicare for All? Well, as Stephen Marks showed in a recent article, it’s pretty easy to pay for it without imposing additional costs on low and middle-income Americans. In fact, the cuts Marks outlined came up with a surplus after paying for Medicare for all. Marks’ approach involved expanding the payroll tax above the current cap, and applying it to capital gains. Others have shown how a more rational defense budget could make us safer while freeing up substantial amounts of money for M4A. By the way, if you doubt that we can safely cut our Defense budget, consider this: the US currently has military troops in 138 nations, or about 70 percent of the countries in the world, and it’s spending hundreds of billions on weapons even the military says it doesn’t want. We don’t have a Department of Defense, we’re funding a Department of Offense.
The point is, by cutting costs, taxing the wealthy and corporations at levels they’ve historically been taxed, and adjusting bloated budgets for defense, there are many ways we could fund M4A without impacting the poor and middle class.
At the end of the day, the reason progressive policies such as free tuition, M4A, and the GND are portrayed as unaffordable is because the vast majority of income and wealth in this country now goes to the ultra-rich, who have a lower tax rate than the rest of Americans. And the so-called centrists want to keep it that way, even if it means 30 million Americans go without medical insurance, and the planet withers in a life-threatening permanent heat wave.
Second, they say the way to win is to get some centrists back from Trump. No. Real centrists are a rare breed, and pinning your hopes on getting a few to switch sides will be futile, for two reasons.
First, they’re not about to go from Trump to an elitist neoliberal who calls him or herself a moderate. It was the policies and the hypocrisy of the neoliberals that drove them to Trump in the first place. He’s their protest vote; their Molotov cocktail tossed in the face of Democrats who promised the moon around election time, then represented Wall Street, corporations, the ultra-rich and big banks the rest of the time. The fact is, Sanders and Warren are more likely to win back a few disgruntled centrists precisely because they understand this and back policies that matter to the people.
Second, there’s simply not enough of them. If you add up left-leaning Independents and Democrats they equal about 48 percent of the electorate, while right-leaning Independents and Republicans add up to 39 percent of the electorate. Real centrists comprise only about 7 percent.
The real key to victory in electoral politics is the no shows. And with the majority of people holding progressive views, the way to get no-shows to show is not to back centrist policies, it’s to run on values that favor the people, and that are supported by the majority of Americans.
But this brings us to the next shibboleth raised by neoliberals and centrists.
Third, they say that progressives need to focus—they are all over the place, and that’s not how change happens. Here, Democrats need to take a lesson from Republicans, who managed a sweeping change in our national political dialogue in a few short decades.
They did it by focusing on values and principles (albeit ones that favored only the rich and powerful for the most part), not specific policies.
As Kevin Drum put it:
Every American over the age of ten knows what the GOP and the conservative movement stand for. Sing it with me now: low taxes, small government, strong defense, traditional families. See? You know the tune, and the harmony line, too…Everybody knows what the conservative brand stands for, because the conservative leadership has spent four decades nurturing a consistent brand identity for themselves.
And it delivered results.
If you go back to the early sixties, about half the people identified as Democrat, and only about a quarter Republican. At the same time, about 80 percent trusted government to do the right thing most of the time. Today, only about 17 percent do, and only 3 percent believe government "does what’s right" just about always, and Democrats make up only about 31 percent of the voters.
Today’s neoliberal Democrat is ideologically closer to yesterday’s Republican, and Republicans? Well, they’re the new know-nothing party, immune to facts, impermeable to truth, and consumed by hate, fear, greed, anger, xenophobia and racism.
That’s change. That’s a virtual revolution. And the failure of Democrats to confront the Republican narrative by embracing values that put people first explains a big part of why their party has shrunk by 40 percent over the past five decades.
Wait, did someone say revolution? Isn’t that exactly what Sanders has been calling for? In fact, he’s already started it. Back in 2015 when he was advocating Medicare for All, the press ridiculed him and said America wasn’t ready for "happy dreams." Today, the majority of Americans favor it, as well as the GND, free tuition, a $15 minimum wage, sane gun laws, a repeal of Trump’s tax cuts for the rich, overturning Citizen’s United and getting money out of politics and a host of other "socialist" priorities.
The Revolution, it seems, is here. Democrats ignore it at their peril.
John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, both available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson