The New York Times reported Monday that Hillary Clinton has moved on from running for the Democratic presidential nomination to running against the Republican field. Those who are in the business of constantly analyzing the state of the horse race and predicting its future seem to think she is on solid ground, strategically, in doing so.
Barring unforeseen and unforeseeable developments, these poll-and-focus-group-analyzers and future-gazers say, Clinton is now on a glide path to the nomination and has the considerable advantage of starting now to position herself for the general election, while the 14 still-vying members of the Republican presidential field must say ever-crazier things in their quest for the honor of being her opponent next year.
I don’t particularly doubt that these seers are right, although I often wish they would spend a little less of their time on future-gazing, about which they are often wrong. Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders has declined thus far to quietly accept his fate. He is still campaigning and last week gave a major hourlong address at Georgetown University explaining his view of what is going wrong in America and what he would propose to do about it. It’s kinda pitiful that the speech got very little coverage, but I suppose it reflects the consensus among the great deciders of “news value” that Sanders is no longer relevant.
Sanders’ talk was great, according to your humble and obedient ink-stained wretch. Unlike a great deal of the words being emitted elsewhere in the presidential race, Sanders’ facts check out. Also, he is expressing views which are mostly consistent with what he has been saying throughout his political career, so it’s easier to convince oneself that he means what he says. He describes, with accurate statistics, the problems that he believes beset our country, and describes policies he would favor to deal with them.
If you have any interest in watching the talk, it is embedded in this link from Reader Supported News. The talk is an hour long, followed by 30 minutes of Q-and-A. So, if you are inclined to watch it, be advised that it is the equivalent of more than 100 30-second ads, and without the music and the scary voices and doctored images that some cynics might say are designed to keep you from thinking.
Sanders advertised the speech in advance as one more effort to explain what he means when he calls himself a “democratic socialist.” On this score, for me, it failed.
Although he often said during the talk that he was describing “what democratic socialism means to me,” and although he throws around the concept that America has a “ruling class” more easily than most politicians do, he comes across to me less as a “socialist” than as a brave, strong liberal who isn’t trying to apologize for wanting to do the things liberals generally have done: raise taxes progressively and use the proceeds to help the nonwealthy on issues of health, education and welfare. He just goes a bit further than most liberals (who perhaps for fear of being called socialists) are willing to go, and he doesn’t apologize for it.
In fact, he makes the point that when Franklin D. Roosevelt was pushing his New Deal programs — which practically defined liberalism in the 1930s — FDR was often denounced as a “socialist.” Same for LBJ and his Great Society programs and the War on Poverty. Maybe they were socialists too, but they didn’t use the term. Sanders goes out of his way to specify that he doesn’t favor government takeover of the “means of production.” What he favors is the use of government to improve the lives of the great majority of the U.S. population.
He also makes the point again and again that the kind of programs he recommends are not something that is limited to the few Scandinavian countries that Americans think of when they hear about democratic socialism. As in:
Health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege. Now I know that there are some people out who think this is just an incredibly radical idea. Imagine, in the United State of America, all of us having health care as a right. But I hope all of you know, this is not a radical idea. It is a conservative idea. It is a practice that exists in every other major country on Earth. Not just Denmark, Sweden or Finland or Norway. It exists in Canada — I live 50 miles away. It exists in France, Germany and Taiwan. All over the world, countries have made the determination that all of their people deserve health care, and I believe the time is long overdue for the United States to join the rest of the world. … A Medicare-for-all single-payer health-care program, which I support, would radically improve the lives of all Americans.
I also appreciated Sanders’ effort to take the concepts of “freedom” and “liberty” back from the right-wing campaign to own them. The marketing team of the Republican Party — especially its right wing — has succeeded in recent years at defining “government” and “freedom” as polar opposites. It’s true that in some extreme sense, every law that is passed, every tax that is levied, every program that is adopted compromises the “freedom” that cavemen had not to pay that tax, not to obey that law, not to benefit from that program. But the concern for the possible consequences of too much government must surely be weighed against the consequences of too little.
But we also have a long tradition of using government to secure freedom and liberty. Sanders reached into FDR’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech for this (the quote below is from FDR):
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men — and we would add women [that’s a little aside by Sanders] — are not free men and women.
Which Sanders explained, and elaborated, thus:
In other words, real freedom must include economic security. That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time that we did.
Rich getting richer
Sanders, of course, deployed his favorite and most-hated fact:
Unbelievably, and grotesquely, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent … that is not the kind of America that we should accept.
This has been fact-checked, and unlike many other claims made by many other candidates, this one checks out. You can, if you want, reduce its impact or even explain it away. Sure, many or even most American in the bottom 90 percent have little net worth or owe more than they have.
But the staggering concentration in the top one-tenth of 1 percent is not normal; it is the product of recent trends and policies. The 29 percent that is owned by the top one-tenth of 1 percent is the highest concentration since the great crash of 1929. And it is rising sharply over recent years. The 29.6 percent that is owned by the 90 percent is falling sharply.
According to this Washington Post piece, as recently as 1986, the bottom 90 percent had 36.4 percent of all wealth and the top one-tenth of 1 percent had 9.3. If you would like to see that on a graph, it’s in the same link as just above.
Sanders says this has come about because the rich have controlled government and used it to become richer. As in:
The truth is that for the last 40 years — 40 years, under Democratic and Republican leadership — the great middle class has been in decline, and faith in our political system is now extremely low. … The very rich get richer. Almost everyone else gets poorer.
SuperPACs, funded by billionaires, buy elections. The Koch brothers and a few of their friends will spend more money in this election than either the Democratic or Republican parties. Ordinary people, working people, young people, don’t vote. We have a political and economic crisis in this country and the same-old same-old politics and economics will not effectively address those crises.
If we are serious about transforming our country — and I hope all of you are serious — if we are serious about rebuilding the American middle class, if we are serious about reinvigorating American democracy, we need to develop a political movement which once again is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation.
Now I know that terms like “ruling class” are probably not talked about all that often here at Georgetown. Not too often on CBS or NBC. But that is the simple fact. And in my view, the billionaire class must be told loudly and clearly that they cannot have it all. That our government belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.
In the last few minutes of his talk, Sanders turned to the foreign/military crisis of the moment, the threat represented by ISIS, thus:
Let us be very clear. While the United States and other Western nations have the strength of our militaries, and our political systems, the fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam. And countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations with the strong support of their global partners.
He praised the king of Jordan for calling for more effort by the countries of the Middle East and called for oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar to do more. He also, like President Obama, believes the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad should be a priority, but the destruction of ISIS must be “the highest priority.”
Thanks to anyone still reading this post. And have a happy Thanksgiving.