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“Change Requires More Than Righteous Anger”: How Sanders Can Avoid Becoming The Ted Cruz Of The Left

As it becomes increasingly clear that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic presidential nominee, a lot of people are beginning to talk about what Bernie Sanders should do now. The more interesting question is: what happens to the “movement” he has inspired once this election is over. That is what Brian Beutler attempted to address. Here is a summary of his advice:

Sanders must keep the apparatus he’s built largely intact, but refocused on lobbying for progressive policies and promoting and financing progressive candidates—and making establishment Democrats fear the price of opposing both.

That sounds like good advice to me, with one caveat: don’t become the Ted Cruz of the left.

After the election in November, Bernie Sanders will go back to being the Senator from Vermont. Unless he wants to give up that seat – he will be working from inside the system. As Beutler goes on to point out, if Democrats win control of the Senate, Sanders will be in line to be chair of the Budget Committee. Using that position to advance his progressive agenda means playing the “establishment” game. Unless he wants to become a full-time activist working from outside the system (which would be a viable option), here are some things he could do:

  1. Develop a plan for universal health care coverage that is more than simply throwing numbers at a page that don’t add up. In other words, develop a plan that would actually work.
  2. Submit the Rebuild America Act to address this country’s infrastructure needs and create jobs.
  3. Work with Senate colleague Sherrod Brown to develop a serious proposal to break up the big banks.

I could go on with other things Sanders has advocated for in this primary, but perhaps you get my drift. As a candidate, Sanders has been good at naming and describing problems. Where he has been weak is in developing serious plans to address them. Energizing his movement to maintain the pressure for more progressive policies means providing the country with actual progressive policies. Sanders could then mobilize the army of his young supporters to take up the cause and fight for them. As President Obama said at Howard University:

You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. I’ll repeat that. I want you to have passion, but you have to have a strategy. Not just awareness, but action. Not just hashtags, but votes.

You see, change requires more than righteous anger. It requires a program, and it requires organizing.

The alternative is to become the Ted Cruz of the left – always disrupting but never offering anything constructive that could actually change things.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 10, 2016

May 11, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Nominee, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Narrow Definition Of Socialism Was Always Wrong”: What “Socialism” Means To Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton — And You

Once upon a time, socialists running for president in the United States had to explain that while they had no chance of actually winning an election, their campaigns were aimed at “educating” voters — about socialism.

As a successful politician twice elected to the U.S. Senate and showing very respectable numbers in most presidential primary polls, Bernie Sanders needs no such excuse. He assures voters that he is running to win and there is no reason to doubt him. But win or lose, his campaign nevertheless is proving highly educational for Americans perpetually perplexed by the meaning of “socialism.” Or as Sanders sometimes specifies, “democratic socialism,” or the even milder “social democracy.”

Since the advent of the Cold War and even before then, the multifarious meanings of the S-word were hidden behind the ideological and cultural defenses erected against communism. The Soviet dictatorship and its satellites claimed their authoritarian way was the only true socialism – and conservatives in the West seized that self-serving claim to crush arguments for social justice and progressive governance. American politicians of both parties embraced the blurring of socialism with communism.

But that narrow definition of socialism was always wrong. To accept it meant to ignore fundamental realities, both contemporary and historical – such as the bolstering of the Western alliance by European democracies that called themselves “socialist” or social democratic, all of which had adopted programs, such as universal health care, denounced by American politicians as steps on the road to Communist serfdom. Decades later, of course, those same countries – including all of Scandinavia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom – remain democratic, free, and open to enterprise.

As for the United States, Sanders might recall that this country once had a thriving Socialist Party, which elected mayors in cities like Milwaukee and even sent two of its leaders, Milwaukee’s Victor Berger and New York’s Meyer London, to Congress. Their movement enjoyed not only electoral victories but a strong record of municipal reform and reconstruction. They built sewers to clean up industry’s legacy of pollution; they built public housing; they ensured delivery of publicly owned, affordable water and power; and they cleaned up local government.

Between the triumph of the New Deal and the devastation of McCarthyism, the political space for American socialism virtually vanished. Before they were relegated to the margins, however, the socialists strongly influenced the direction of American social policy.

Long after the various socialist parties had faded, their heirs continued to serve as the nation’s most insistent advocates for reform and justice. Socialists (and yes, communists), were among the leading figures in the civil rights, labor, and women’s movements. It was a remarkable 1962 book by the late, great democratic socialist Michael Harrington, The Other America, that inspired President Kennedy and his brothers to draw attention to the continuing shame of poverty in the world’s richest nation. When Ronald Reagan warned in 1965 that Medicare was a hallmark of “socialism,” he wasn’t too far from the mark – except that 50 years later, the popular program has liberated older Americans, not enslaved them.

Now Bernie Sanders has taken up the old banner in a political atmosphere where more voters – and especially younger voters — are receptive to calm debate instead of hysterical redbaiting.

Certainly Hillary Clinton, whatever her view of Sanders’ ideology, understands social democracy: When her husband was president, the democratically elected socialist leaders of Western Europe were his closest international allies. In her first book, It Takes A Village, she highlighted many of the same social benefits in France, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries that Sanders advocates today.

So Clinton knows very well that “socialism,” as her primary rival uses that term, is no frighteningly alien worldview, but merely another set of ideas for organizing society to protect and uplift every human being.

It is long past time for the rest of the American electorate to learn that, too.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Featured Post, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, November 6, 2015

November 7, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Socialism | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Trump Is Right On Economics”: Jeb Relying On Magic Of Tax Cuts To Double The Growth Rate Is Pure Supply-Side Voodoo

So Jeb Bush is finally going after Donald Trump. Over the past couple of weeks the man who was supposed to be the front-runner has made a series of attacks on the man who is. Strange to say, however, Mr. Bush hasn’t focused on what’s truly vicious and absurd — viciously absurd? — about Mr. Trump’s platform, his implicit racism and his insistence that he would somehow round up 11 million undocumented immigrants and remove them from our soil.

Instead, Mr. Bush has chosen to attack Mr. Trump as a false conservative, a proposition that is supposedly demonstrated by his deviations from current Republican economic orthodoxy: his willingness to raise taxes on the rich, his positive words about universal health care. And that tells you a lot about the dire state of the G.O.P. For the issues the Bush campaign is using to attack its unexpected nemesis are precisely the issues on which Mr. Trump happens to be right, and the Republican establishment has been proved utterly wrong.

To see what I mean, consider what was at stake in the last presidential election, and how things turned out after Mitt Romney lost.

During the campaign, Mr. Romney accused President Obama of favoring redistribution of income from the rich to the poor, and the truth is that Mr. Obama’s re-election did mean a significant move in that direction. Taxes on the top 1 percent went up substantially in 2013, both because some of the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire and because new taxes associated with Obamacare kicked in. And Obamacare itself, which provides a lot of aid to lower-income families, went into full effect at the beginning of 2014.

Conservatives were very clear about what would happen as a result. Raising taxes on “job creators,” they insisted, would destroy incentives. And they were absolutely certain that the Affordable Care Act would be a “job killer.”

So what actually happened? As of last month, the U.S. unemployment rate, which was 7.8 percent when Mr. Obama took office, had fallen to 5.1 percent. For the record, Mr. Romney promised during the campaign that he would get unemployment down to 6 percent by the end of 2016. Also for the record, the current unemployment rate is lower than it ever got under Ronald Reagan. And the main reason unemployment has fallen so much is job growth in the private sector, which has added more than seven million workers since the end of 2012.

I’m not saying that everything is great in the U.S. economy, because it isn’t. There’s good reason to believe that we’re still a substantial distance from full employment, and while the number of jobs has grown a lot, wages haven’t. But the economy has nonetheless done far better than should have been possible if conservative orthodoxy had any truth to it. And now Mr. Trump is being accused of heresy for not accepting that failed orthodoxy?

So am I saying that Mr. Trump is better and more serious than he’s given credit for being? Not at all — he is exactly the ignorant blowhard he seems to be. It’s when it comes to his rivals that appearances can be deceiving. Some of them may come across as reasonable and thoughtful, but in reality they are anything but.

Mr. Bush, in particular, may pose as a reasonable, thoughtful type — credulous reporters even describe him as a policy wonk — but his actual economic platform, which relies on the magic of tax cuts to deliver a doubling of America’s growth rate, is pure supply-side voodoo.

And here’s what’s interesting: all indications are that Mr. Bush’s attacks on Mr. Trump are falling flat, because the Republican base doesn’t actually share the Republican establishment’s economic delusions.

The thing is, we didn’t really know that until Mr. Trump came along. The influence of big-money donors meant that nobody could make a serious play for the G.O.P. nomination without pledging allegiance to supply-side doctrine, and this allowed the establishment to imagine that ordinary voters shared its antipopulist creed. Indeed, Mr. Bush’s hapless attempt at a takedown suggests that his political team still doesn’t get it, and thinks that pointing out The Donald’s heresies will be enough to doom his campaign.

But Mr. Trump, who is self-financing, didn’t need to genuflect to the big money, and it turns out that the base doesn’t mind his heresies. This is a real revelation, which may have a lasting impact on our politics.

Again, I’m not making a case for Mr. Trump. There are lots of other politicians out there who also refuse to buy into right-wing economic nonsense, but who do so without proposing to scour the countryside in search of immigrants to deport, or to rip up our international economic agreements and start a trade war. The point, however, is that none of these reasonable politicians is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.


By; Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, September 7, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Supply Side Economics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“This Promises To Be Fun”: Christmas Comes Early This Year — The Gift Of A Trump-Fueled GOP Debate

I feel like a kid the week before Christmas. There’s just one present under the tree, but it’s all a columnist could ever hope for: the first Republican debate!

How could Thursday night in Cleveland fail to be one of the most entertaining political spectacles we’ve seen in a long time? There are, far as I can tell, 17 candidates for the GOP nomination. Nobody’s quite sure which 10 will qualify for the prime-time clash, with the rest relegated to an earlier also-rans debate. Fox News, which is organizing the festivities, says it will use an average of national polls to make the cut, but won’t say which polls.

One hopes the poor candidates at least hear the good or bad news before they arrive in Cleveland. Imagine the phone call Rick Perry’s campaign might get: “Um, has the governor’s plane landed yet? Because it turns out we need him on stage quite a bit earlier than we thought.”

That would be a shame because Perry gave arguably the most memorable debate performance of the 2012 campaign, though not in a good way. But if Fox News were to go by the RealClearPolitics polling averages, as of one week before the debate Perry would be bounced out of the main event. A late entrant, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, would take his place.

Mind you, Perry is at 2.2 percent in the polls, on average, while Kasich is at 3.2 percent. In a recent Post poll, Perry actually led Kasich by 4 percent to 2 percent; in other surveys, the difference is within the margin of error. On such small or perhaps nonexistent distinctions may hang political careers.

So for the candidates on the bubble, life must be fraught. But we already know who’s going to be the star of the evening. Are you ready for your close-up, Mr. Trump?

Every recent poll of Republicans has put Donald Trump in first place. The RealClearPolitics average has him at 19.8 percent, trailed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at 13.6 percent, establishment favorite Jeb Bush at 12.6 percent and everyone else in single digits.

When I look at the Trump phenomenon, I can’t help but recall something Gen. David Petraeus said to my Post colleague Rick Atkinson as they surveyed the battlefield during the early days of the Iraq invasion: “Tell me how this ends.”

A gaffe that might have ended a normal campaign — derisively questioning the war record of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was shot down over Vietnam, held as a POW and tortured — seems only to have made Trump stronger (as, ahem, I had predicted). The lack of any relationship between his wildly slanderous allegations about Mexican immigrants and the factual record seems not to bother his fans one bit. The fact that he supports universal health care, when opposing any such thing is a Republican article of faith, seems a minor detail far outweighed by the loud and irrepressible Trumpness of his being.

Maybe Trump will somehow self-destruct in the debate. But who among his rivals is more skilled at projecting a persona on television? Trump knows how to filibuster and won’t hesitate to turn an inconvenient question back on the questioner. Even if he brings nothing to the lectern but bombast, he might emerge unscathed.

The question becomes whether the others go after him. Perry, if he makes it to the big dance, surely will. But what about the rest? Will they throw proper punches, legal under Marquess of Queensberry rules, against an opponent who kicks, bites and gouges?

And how will the non-Trump candidates seek to present themselves in the most positive light? Will Walker refute Trump’s allegation that Wisconsin is “doing terribly,” or will he just brag about his victories over organized labor? Will Bush break into Spanish? Will Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), drowned out of late, try to crank up the volume? Will retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson again compare the Affordable Care Act to slavery?

Can Mike Huckabee come up with an even more offensive Holocaust analogy for the Iran nuclear deal? Can Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) remind voters that, you know, he’s still in the race? Will Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) help Mr. Trump with his jacket and ask if he’d like a glass of water? Will Kasich make himself the flavor of the month? Will New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie punch somebody?

Going out on a limb here: This promises to be fun.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 30, 2015

August 5, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, GOP Primary Debates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bait And Switch”: Introducing Obamcare Lite; What The New GOP Health Reform ‘Alternative’ Really Tells Us

Plainly wounded by the Plum Line’s mockery, some congressional Republicans have finally unveiled a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with their own health care reform. Is it serious? It’s certainly serious enough to examine and judge on its merits. Will it become the plan around which Republicans will unite? I doubt it, just because it’s hard to imagine Republicans ever uniting around a plan to do anything proactive on health care, though that’s always possible.

What’s really remarkable about this plan is that for all the claims we’ll hear about how it undoes the tyrannical horror of Obamacare, the Republicans’ version of health care reform has accepted most of the fundamental goals and regulatory paths of the law they so deeply despise. This plan — authored by Senators Richard Burr and Orrin Hatch and Rep. Fred Upton — is little more than Obamacare Lite. Though the devil is in the details — and there are some devilish ones — this tells us that Barack Obama has for all intents and purposes won the health care argument, at least as far as it concerns government’s role in health care.

Here are some of the provisions, which I’ve copied from their synopsis:

  • Ensure NO ONE can be denied coverage based on their pre-existing condition;
  • Prohibit insurance companies from imposing lifetime limits on a consumer;
  • Adopt an age rating ratio that limits the amount an older individual will pay to no more than five times what a younger individual pays (5 to 1) as a baseline, unless a state affirmatively elects to have a different ratio;
  • Require health plans to offer dependent coverage up to age 26, unless a state opts out of this provision;
  • Ensure guaranteed renewability for patients to be able to renew their coverage;
  • Create a new “continuous coverage protection” that rewards individuals moving from one health market to another — regardless of whether in the individual, small group, or large employer markets — by allowing them to get a similar plan at a similar cost and not be rated on health status.

In addition, they would reduce the availability of subsidies from their current 400 percent of the poverty level to 300 percent of the poverty level, and repeal the Medicaid expansion but allow poor people not on Medicaid to get subsidies. The subsidies also would no longer be tied to the actual cost of insurance, and they’d be a tax credit instead of a direct subsidy at the point of sale. There’s also a provision replacing the “Cadillac Tax” on high-value plans with a provision removing the deductibility of employer health care plans that cost over a certain level.

If all that’s making your eyes glaze over, consider it this way: Again and again in the Republican plan, what they do is take a provision or principle in the Affordable Care Act and essentially say, “We want to do that too, we’ll just do it a little less generously.” No denials for pre-existing conditions? It’s in there, but there are some important caveats (which I’ll get to in a moment). No lifetime limits on coverage? In there. Young people up to age 26 can stay on their parents’ plan? Yes, but a state could opt out. Subsidies for middle-class people? In there, just up to 300 percent of the poverty level. Coverage for the poor? Yes, just up to 100 percent of poverty instead of 138 percent. Tax on high-value plans? Yep, just in a different way. Government-set limit on how much insurers could vary premiums by age? Yes, but the ratio would be expanded from 3-1 up to 5-1. A mandated list of “essential health benefits” for all plans? Yes, but the states would determine the list instead of the federal government, with more flexibility.

In all these cases, they aren’t looking for some free-market alternative that will supposedly deliver even better results. They’re accepting government’s role in both regulating insurance and in helping people pay for it; they just want to make the benefits not so attractive.

There are a few exceptions. They would repeal both the individual and employer mandates, which by now even Democrats are not particularly enthusiastic about (at this point I think most Democrats would be happy to junk the employer mandate if they got something in return, though the individual mandate could be a different story). And most significantly, the plan abandons the fundamental coverage guarantee the Affordable Care Act provides, while essentially trying to convince you that’s not what it does.

This is a critical point. Under the ACA, no one will ever be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Ever. Medical underwriting, in which insurers comb through your history to see if they don’t want to cover you or if they should charge you huge premiums, is over. The Hatch-Burr-Upton plan is presented as though it does the same thing. Note that bullet point above: “Ensure NO ONE can be denied coverage based on their pre-existing condition.” In their executive summary, this point is the one sentence in the document that is highlighted in bold.

But actually, it’s not quite true. Their plan has a one-time open enrollment period for the uninsured; if you don’t get coverage during that time, you’re out of luck, and insurers will be free to deny you coverage. If you have coverage now but lose it, say because you lost your job, you’d have a limited amount of time (they don’t specify how long) to enroll in a new plan; if that time expired, you’d also be out of luck.

They would probably argue that they’re putting the responsibility on individuals, and all they have to do is take advantage of it. But that’s a very different thing from a guarantee. And that may be the biggest difference between the Affordable Care Act and this plan. The ACA tries to achieve universal coverage, and this plan doesn’t.

Frankly, that isn’t all that surprising, because universal coverage was never a goal conservatives had for health care. In recent days some of them have been arguing for something similar to this plan — see Michael Strain or Ramesh Ponnuru — and what they say about the subject is that they want universal catastrophic coverage, meaning everyone should have access to a bare-bones plan that will cover them not for ordinary medical expenses but only when a major illness or accident brings those expenses to a level that almost no one could afford. Those catastrophic plans are usually paired with Medical Savings Accounts for people to pay for everything else — a more market-based approach.

But the Hatch-Burr-Upton plan says nothing explicitly about catastrophic plans, and it doesn’t claim universal coverage as a goal. Its approach is that coverage will be there if you’re on the ball enough to get it at the right time. And if you aren’t, tough luck.

So there is something of a bait-and-switch going on. On provision after provision, this Republican plan promises to give all the benefits of the ACA, at least the ones that score highly in polls. It accepts that government will regulate health insurance and help people pay for it, even if that help is substantially less helpful. Looking at that, we might say that Republicans have accepted the ACA’s foundation, and that part of the health care argument is over. But they still aren’t willing to move substantially toward universal coverage. The ACA doesn’t achieve universal coverage either (the reasons why are a topic for another day), but it tries much harder to move down that road. So the new GOP “alternative” to Obamacare tells us that some Republicans, at least, have ceded a whole lot of ground in the broader debate over government involvement in health care, but it appears that’s one bridge they aren’t yet willing to cross.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 5, 2015

February 7, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Health Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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