I won’t bother critiquing the Republican Party in this post. In fact, I usually make it a point not to bother. This is not because I sympathize with them (because I don’t). I don’t have any right-leaning tendencies. It’s because the right isn’t worth the time and effort to criticize. The liberal left and the Democratic Party, however, is. And the latter is what I will briefly focus on. And while some liberals like to in order to improve their image I got two (rhetorical) questions: why do you think comparing yourself to the lowest common denominator is good? Could it be that you have nothing to show for yourselves than to say “we are just a bit better than the worst”?
Liberal leftists usually over-emphasize partisan politics and voting. Noam Chomsky said it about as well as it can be said a couple of years ago: "sensible choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome." Liberal leftists don’t help in this regard. They think playing in the rigged political system will somehow alter the game. It won’t. If the game is altered in our favor it will depend on the popular movements that exist outside of the electoral system. We won’t vote in change or hope. We build it in our communities and we use it to pressure our government and the Lords of Capital (the true constituents our elected officials hook for) to respond favorably.
As it stands the candidates with the most funds available to them have the best chances to win (re)elections. Because we allow private donations we pervert the electoral system. A system we should call “market elections.” Because like markets in other economic transactions, you vote with your dollars and those with the most dollars get the most votes to sway the end to reflect their interests. If you ever wonder why plastic surgeons are everywhere in Beverly Hills the answer is the same as to why the candidates with the most corporate funding have the highest chances of winning elections: their customers have the cash to buy their services. The candidates will use the money they receive from their "customers" to stage elaborate PR campaigns and to saturate the minds of voters so when it comes time to vote you will be more familiar with and likely to vote for Mr. X who has branded himself in your mind.
It’s a lot like what John Dewey, the American philosopher, said “As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.” You can try to attenuate the shadow by voting but you’re not changing the substance. If the rules of the game are rigged, and they are, then playing by the rules won’t unrig them. This is why movement building is absolutely essential to progressive change.
If the Democratic Party were a working class party; if they were responsive to the needs of the general population and not the ruling class elite then these following ten things would be the bedrock of their economic policies. That they are not really shows how antithetical they are to us, the working class. And if any party is going to adopt these economic policies that are necessary to begin improving and building a sustainable and equitable economy then it will take a fierce and dedicated popular movements to compel government and the business community to genuflect to us and not the other way around as things currently are (I added an emphasis to the word “begin” because we need to go further in a number of areas, especially if we want to build a participatory economy, which I think is a necessity) :
- Raise the income tax rate for the rich back to 91% like it was during the Golden Age of Capitalism. I happen to agree with Thomas Jefferson when he said, “Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.”
- Tax investment income as earned income. Not only is investment income rates often lower than earned income rates but they are not taxed for programs like Social Security. Building wealth through investment is often a tool and luxury of the wealthy to pay lower taxes and to contribute less to vital social programs.
- Tax derivatives. There is a $600 trillion derivative market and guarding against risk taking is necessary since if this bubble explodes it will do much worse than the $13 trillion housing bubble that has put us in the position we are currently in.
- Pass singlepayer healthcare reform. Let’s get something straight: what the Democrats passed was corporate welfare, not healthcare reform. It leaves in place the private insurance companies and their stranglehold over our country. The bankruptcies will continue. Catering to the insurance industry by mandating we buy their overpriced products adds to the problem, not resolves it. We spend twice as much than the rest of the developed world (per capita) and what do we have to show for it? Over half of all bankruptcies are for medical bills (and over half of those have insurance). Hundreds of Americans die each day due to lack of care. We need singlepayer reform now. It would cover all, would be cheaper. No more bankruptcies, no more needless deaths.
- Allow the government to negotiate with the drug companies. Outside of the military, the government has prohibited itself from negotiating with drug companies over the prices of their products and the result is we are getting ripped off. Many elderly people can relate. Maybe they are years passed the retirement age and still finding themselves working full time in order to afford prescriptions they need.
- Remove the cap on Social Security. While politicians on both isles like to play with fear about this program they don’t like to point out that the program will still be bringing in more revenue than giving out until the late 2030’s and that’s with no changes. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. There are. For starters, the benefits are not enough for those who rely on them as their main source of income – which is over half of the recipients. The solution is not to raise the retirement age or to cut benefits or to privatize. These are “solutions” proposed to favor the Lords of Capital, not the most vulnerable among us who rely on these programs. The solution is to remove the cap for individuals and big businesses. Currently the cap is at just over $100,000 of earned income. This means if you make $220,000 a year then only half of your annual earned income is taxed for the program. Remove the cap, and remember to tax investment income as earned income, and not only will the program be rock solid well beyond the late 2030’s but we could increase the benefits for those who need it.
- Lower the military budget by a factor of ten. We are 5% of the World yet we account for nearly 50% of the World’s military expenditures. This is outrageously wasteful. Even if we did reduce it by a factor of ten we would still have the highest military budget (per capita) but of course all of our foreign wars, foreign bases and covert operations that are fueling anti-imperialist sentiment against us would dissipate. I can hear the Masters of War doing their Wicked Witch of the West impersonations right now: “Oh what a world, what a world!”
- Sign a binding international cap and trade treaty that is built on the Kyoto Protocols, that auctions off 100% of the permits and rebates them back in a progressive manner, and that has no grandfathering in it. Resolving Global Warming requires an economic policy that puts a price tag on our carbon emissions, that is fair and that will reduce our carbon to tolerable levels. If we keep on with business as normal the working class will take the brunt of our ecological crimes. The revenue we generate from this could not only go back to the most vulnerable of us but to investing in sustainable technology. Already MIT is making leaps and bounds in solar technology but with only a fraction of the tax breaks the oil companies get or that we spend on war and imperialism.
- Stop outsourcing our manufacturing base so some capitalist cronies can benefit from exploited third world labor. Our trading deficit is a bigger problem than our spending deficit. We need wage-led growth to build and sustain our economy and we can’t do that if the bosses are sending our jobs elsewhere.
- Pass an economic stimulus package that completely funds the state and local governments. In President Obama’s/the Democrats economic stimulus package it was too little and went to the wrong places. For example, we gave $13 billion to Spain to build a rail system while we are in dire need of a mass public transportation system and have unemployed autoworkers who would gladly build it. Our economic stimulus package should be aimed at job creation. All this talk of “jobless recovery” are just cheap euphemisms for catering to the rich. If the banks are too big fail then what are we?
You will be hard pressed to find a single Democrat that endorses all ten of these policies. Even officials like Dennis Kucinich will fold when it comes time to tote the party line. It’s a truism that liberals are only progressive when critiquing their opponents (I have in mind how Markos Moulitsas called Kucinich a “little prick” for his position on healthcare reform but put on a recent progressive robe when going after the “radical right”). Don’t expect the Democrats to unite around these unless we build a movement that sends them a clear message that they better or else face the wrath of a mass uprising.
Will it come to that? I don’t know. I hope not. But what if it does? If things continue to get worse; if the working poor continue to take the brunt of our governments “reforms” and the government shows no willingness to do anything beyond carefully staged PR campaigns pretending to enact change when it’s the same old song and dance (? Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss ? – The Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again), then will liberals stop putting an emphasis on voting for these clowns as if they have our interests at heart, and help the radical left organize into an unstoppable force to reckon with?