Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Progressive Agenda

Our two failing political parties have led America into a dead-end. The Republican Party – in control of the US federal government and many states and in the hands of ideological and religious extremists – has been captured by an immoral egotist with no capacity for governing. In pursuit of elite interests and “conservative values,” Republicans have launched an assault on everything good in how our government has come to serve the common welfare since the days of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. Democrats have not been on the playing field. They threw away the 2016 election by passing the presidential nomination through a politically correct form of primogeniture. She threw it away through own goals and writing off voters in certain groups and states. Lacking any coherent vision to address the economic and social effects of globalization, the Democratic Party instead played to niche politics and now has no program beyond waiting for Trump to crash and the Republicans to burn.

Democrats do have some heart. That most clearly beats with Bernie Sanders. But there is no cohesive progressive agenda to go with that heart. Presenting voters with one could begin the process of putting the country on the right path again. A progressive agenda must begin with embracing the progressive income tax. Government needs money to serve the common good. Our tax system must be made more fair and taxes sufficient to meet needs. (The Republicans have sought to subordinate needs to cutting spending and a regressive taxing system favoring the owners of capital.) It need not be confiscatory but should treat the fruits of labor and capital equally with progressively higher tax rates on individual and corporate income no matter where it comes from and with very limited exemptions.

With adequate funding, the federal government can attend to the chief challenges facing American society in the 21st Century: healthcare, jobs, inequality and education.
  • Healthcare should be treated as a basic right as it is in other advanced Western societies. It need not be done through a government entity but perhaps with needs-based expansion of Medicare, a non-profit public option and/or payments to purchase insurance on open markets. 

  • In the 21st Century, technology and globalization have conspired to reduce the need for human labor. There simply may not be enough good paying jobs for everyone. A reduction in the work week from 40 to 32 hours plus an increase in the minimum wage may help in opening job opportunities to a greater number. Federal funding to pay for some of the increase in the minimum wage could help reduce the burden on small businesses. Insofar as training will help prepare workers for new roles, government needs to fund that as well.
  • Inequality undercuts democratic community through making life for many nasty, brutish and short. The federal government should ensure some minimum income for those unable to work and those for whom jobs do not pay enough to rise decently above poverty.
  • Federal funds should support quality, free public education by focusing on providing modern facilities and adequately paid teachers and staff for all local public school systems. Federal oversight of local schools should be kept to the minimum required to ensure equal access.
Some elements of a progressive agenda need not require additional funding:
  • Money’s role in politics needs to be removed through campaign financing reform. A national commission on redistricting should oversee the drawing of congressional districts. Each vote should count equally.
  • A pathway to citizenship should be created for those now in the US “illegally.” A cross border agreement should be made with Mexico (and possibly with the Central American countries) so seasonal workers may go back and forth legally.
  • The role of contractors and lobbyists in the budgeting process – especially as concerns the military – should be subject to tight limitations.
Progressives need to develop such an agenda and present it to the American public over the next 18 months focusing on the upcoming 2018 and 2020 elections. Waiting for the Republicans to march lemming-like over their cliff may not be enough and would still leave the country without a clear direction forward.

Friday, June 2, 2017

It is Class Warfare, Just One-sided

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: The German Ideology

We citizens of the United States may be divided into two groups: the elite and the non-elite. (Peggy Noonan has labeled these the “protected” and the “unprotected.”) The elite own capital and use it to earn further capital and reap profit. They do this through the control and utilization of the means of production, labor and – to an ever increasing degree – advanced technology. (The non-elite own little outright beyond their own bodies.) From the very foundation of our republic, the elite has also sought to control and use government to serve and protect its interests. The “Founding Fathers” gutted the Articles of Confederation, which were built upon the popular control of state governments. They put the federal government as far from the people as possible through an elite body to choose the president – an “electoral college” – and a “representative” congress that almost from the start tended to over-represent empty, rural areas – easily controlled by the local “gentry” and car dealers – over populous urban ones. But the most effective method of control was the ability of the political agents of the elite to convince many of the non-elite to follow them against even their own best interests. Since the early part of the 20th Century, the party of the elite has been called Republican.

The Republican Party has been the political front of the elite minority in its class war against the non-elite majority. Make no mistake, it is a class war even though there is only one side fighting it. This was clearer in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries when the big owners of capital set their goons and strike-breakers on early attempts to unionize workers. But the efforts to deny worker rights, limit wages, reduce or deny basic social services and health care and send other people’s children to police the cities and fight the wars are cut from the same cloth. Republican ideology – no matter how gussied up in the rhetoric of patriotism, religion, “lower taxes” and trickle down economics or hidden behind barely veiled expressions of white privilege – demands no government “interference” in the profitable deployment of capital while selling government every bill of goods it can. Fox News has become the “ministry of truth” for this ideology. Riding victories in empty “red” states and gerrymandered congressional districts, the Republicans have been able to win majorities in the Senate and House as well as elect two recent presidents despite having lost the overall popular vote. Seems you can fool enough of the people all of the time.

The non-elite has few champions, no organized party and no coherent expression of its own self-interest. The Democratic Party sometimes appears to be onside with the unprojected majority but it also serves the interests of the elite because that is where the money is and when money talks, nobody walks. Some Democrats do seek to present more egalitarian and balanced approaches to governing and they have done some good over the years, especially when there were moderate Republicans to work with. But today’s Republicans and their media allies have been successful in demonizing anyone who offers alternatives to their “conservative” ideology as injecting socialism or class-warfare into traditional, “pure” American politics. This while continuing to wage their own one-sided war to protect their privileged position.

America needs a new beginning. Not sure when that might happen. Meanwhile, we are in the hands of our still free press seeking to provide facts and truth even to those who refuse, for now, to hear. The Republican majorities in Congress have made their deal with “their” president and will use him to front their efforts to roll back even more of the government protections built up so painfully since FDR. It is still too early to know whether, in whatever time they have left, they will be able to inflict irreparable harm to our social fabric and international relationships and to the environment. The key question is whether enough of the non-elite will come to resist this class warfare through more understanding of how its own interests differ from those of the elite.