Friday, February 5, 2016

Bernie Schools Hillary On What It Means To Be Progressive

Bernie Sanders makes a forceful point to shatter Hillary's progressive delusions.

"For the Democratic Party is not a collection of diverse interests brought together only to win elections. We are united instead by a common history and heritage--by a respect for the deeds of the past and a recognition of the needs of the future."   -- John F. Kennedy

Last night's MSNBC debate (moderated by Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow)  between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton probably had more fireworks than earlier ones-  as it should - since intensity must increase the more Hillary tries to blur distinctions by painting herself as a progressive. She isn't. She's a "moderate"  or in common political parlance, a Neoliberal right centrist Dem. For those who haven't been around the last 60 years or so - and that is roughly 80 percent of Americans - the Democratic Party has steadily mutated from its New Deal origins and basis into something most of us (Kennedy liberals) no longer recognize. Sen. Bernie Sanders is trying to bring the Party back to its roots, while Hillary wants to take it further to the Right.

In essence, that is what this whole debate was about, irrespective of the particular topic: health care, Wall Street's influence, immigration, corporate campaign contributions, climate change or national security. There IS a correct Progressive or Liberal position on all of these, and anyone who attempts to blur over the differences is an obscurantist pure and simple. So let's not mince words.

In this blog entry I am not going to pick over every issue or segment of the debate, but provide an overarching framework of what it means to be a progressive and readers can DVR wind back the Dem debates - or any parts thereof- and see which candidate's claims and arguments meet the criteria.  

The true progressive or liberal then, will embrace each of the following and do so consistently, not ditch any when it becomes politically convenient:

   1) Taxes are of BENEFIT to Society and Increased Taxes are GOOD not BAD!

Instead, too many progressives flee from the T-word out of political expedience or chicanery, despite the fact it is higher taxes that can support the domestic programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid)  they are supposed to back, as well as allow for mega-projects we need like major infrastructure repair. (The Flint lead -in -the- water incident is just the 'canary in the coal mine' of what lies in wait if we don't act.)

The must-read article ‘The Next Tax Revolt’ (American Prospect, June, 2009, p. 37) held progressives’ feet to the fire by making them partly responsible for playing into the Reepos ‘no new taxes’ bandwagon.  Part of this is the natural desire to try to protect the lower income quintiles from higher taxes, which leads to gamesmanship – in using the tax code for political leverage. Thus, the author notes:

a platform of no tax increases for the bottom 95 percent can win elections but it reinforces rather than debunks the Right’s fundamental view of the tax question: that public services aren’t worth paying for- and merely suggests getting someone else to pay for them.”

Many of us saw this at the time, which is why we vociferously pleaded for the Bush Tax cuts NOT to be extended, period, for ANYONE- both the high fliers, and the lower, middle class tier. The reason is that we knew from several analyses that only getting the wealthy to forego them would not cut the mustard. We needed everyone to sacrifice, since the necessary revenue can’t be found merely by soaking the rich (which also gives the Reepos ammo that the Left always attacks the wealthy)..

But sadly, progressives sabotaged their own cause by arguing for tax hikes only on the richest. Their moral center had thereby been obliterated on the issue because they played right into the Reeps’ mitts. In the most recent manifestation of this tendency we beheld Pelosi denying any increase in taxes would be part of the D-platform this year (thereby undermining Bernie's agenda) and also Hillary vowing she'd never raise taxes on the middle class. But when it comes to cuts to Social Security, you can be your sweet bippy she and Pelosi will be first in line to enable it!

2)     Environmental Threats Must Be Confronted – Not Dodged!

Thus, to forge a coherent moral center and abiding progressive position there can be no divergence of interest regarding environmental threats.  This leads to a series of elementary actions that can’t be disputed - at least not by genuine progressives (as distinct from the situational or 'cafeteria' variety):

-        The Keystone XL pipeline must be permanently mothballed never to arise again

-        Fracking must be cut back given its deleterious effects on  the water supply (especially given how water intensive it is, and 55% is done in the most drought –ravaged states).

-        Carbon taxes, either via front end (e.g. tax on production) or back end (tax on gasoline at the pump) must be implemented to prevent our hitting the 551 gT limit of carbon deposition, which would lead to going over the critical 2 deg C threshold.

-        Deep sea drilling must also be scaled back and much more rigorous regulations must be put into place to prevent a repeat of the BP oil disaster from ever occurring again.

The danger to the progressive moral center will come-  as it usually does – from unions -   objecting to “loss of  jobs”. But they have to be made to see that these jobs are worthless if people later pay a higher cost in untreatable cancers, or disasters that can affect large swaths of population.

3)     Wars Must Never Be Launched Unless the Nation is Truly At Risk

The obvious standard here is World War II and the threat from the Axis Powers. In other words, if there is no threat comparable to that threatening our immediate security, we do not ramp up the war machinery nor do we launch or instigate invasions, occupations or even cruise missile attacks- because we understand the consequences of those actions can only lead to more violence. Nor does a real progressive vote on war and invasion as Hillary did back in 2002.

This is also why none other than Chalmers Johnson noted it was our aggressive policy decisions, including keeping militarized bases in Saudi Arabia, that provoked the “blow back” of 9/11.  In other words, neither Afghanistan or Iraq ought to have been entered into – the first was misplaced, since it was 19 Saudis that were responsible for 9/11, the second was entirely contrived based on flawed WMD information from an Iraqi defector named “curve ball”.
In the judicious application of a coherent liberal-progresive ethics no war would be casually conducted by a random presidential edict, or pseudo-doctrine (i.e. 'Bush doctrine'). Instead, we’d have an actual declaration of war by congress. This would give congress the opportunity to exercise its constitutional duty, while imparting moral and ethical authority in rendering a war truly just. In this light, we'd have no more Vietnams, Iraqs, Afghanistans or other adventures of choice, finagled outside the parameters of congressional authority. For too long wars have been waged through the back door  at great financial and moral cost to the U.S.  The Iraq invasion, for example, never would have been allowed had an actual declaration of war been demanded by congress, as opposed to it meekly rolling over for the executive branch.

4)     The National Security state as it is presently configured is inimical to constitutional rights
This is  based on the Snowden- released files, hence we need to scale back the intrusiveness because no truly progressive person can defend or justify a mammoth dragnet sweep program that essentially renders everyone guilty. This disrespects the cornerstone of our republic – the 4th amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Thus, no true progressive ought to have been in support of the NSA PRISM, Xkeyscore, Muscular or other programs. If you're a  right wing militarist, pro-security state fetishist, it's understandable you'd hump for security over liberty, but not as a progressive. And bear in mind any of those rights lost today will not be recovered later.

5)     Multinationals Must be Checked – Starting with GMO Foods.

Author and academic George Lakoff was quite correct  a year or so ago when he wrote that GMO foods are “horrible” so why is this even an issue for some progressives? You mean because they’ve bought the codswallop that GMOs will “help feed the world”. They need to do more research, and grasp how a tiny bump in larger crops – but which later lead to a range of cancers- is no gain. Not at all.  You’re exchanging 50 million hungry people for 500 million with terrible cancers in 30-40 years. How does that help the overall picture? Oh wait, yes! Immediate gain trumps the future pain! The mantra of Neoliberal capitalism!

6)    Wall Street Influence in Political Campaigns and 'Dark Money' Must Be Checked

Bernie has been all about this in every town hall meeting and in the D- debates. He invokes it because it is critical. So long as Wall Street money infects the political process it will be corrupted: the endless cycle will continue whereby citizens vote and instigate the latest money power coup for putative "leaders" (benefiting from the campaign largesse) and then those allied powerful interests redirect the government to their own ends as opposed to the citizens'.

Douglas Rushkoff, in his superb book, Life Inc. - How Corporations Conquered the World and How We Can Take It Back, has a special chapter on money (Chapter 6, 'To Whom Credit Is Due') and ought to be required reading for every citizen. As he points out: "Money is not a neutral medium - it favors some types of behavior while discouraging others."    In the case of the influx of money from Wall Street  the dynamic favors behaviors such as: weakening of banking laws (making it more likely citizens will again bail out banks, credit agencies, insurers etc.), greater advantage to select traders at the expense of ordinary investors, and lower corporate and other taxes accompanied by less regulation - making us more supporters of corporate welfare than the general welfare mentioned in the Preamble of the Constitution.  

 NO progressive worth his or her salt should therefore be taking money from Wall Street - whether for speaking fees or direct campaign donations via Super Pacs.

One wonders if indeed Americans, even most who claim to be progressive Democrats, really have the moxie and courage to follow that path to the hilt: the one Bernie Sanders advocates. Sometimes I wonder when I hear so many yapping about "pragmatism" or "Sanders can never get it done". If we adopt that mindset we never will, but then we can't bellyache about the deplorable condition of the country we're left with if we can't summon the will for real - as opposed to cosmetic - change!

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