Saturday, July 25, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders and America's 'Mainstream'

July 25, 2015, 8:45 a.m.

Like Mark Twain's Mississippi River, the "Mainsteam" Has Shifted


Face the Nation Exchange

Senator Sanders' Uniqueness

The Media's Problem with Senator Sanders

Senator Sanders' Positions

Just Where Is America's Mainstream?


Face the Nation
JOHN DICKERSON: What do you think . . . of Bernie Sanders and his challenge to Hillary Clinton? . . .

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: . . . [H]ere you have got one of the most liberal people in the Democrat Party running against Hillary Clinton . . ..

DICKERSON: What does it say about the Democratic Party?

BOEHNER: That they're out of step with mainstream America.
. . .
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: All right. Well, let me respond to that issue by issue. And you determine who is out of the mainstream.

I want to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. A recent "Wall Street Journal" poll said a majority of the American people want to do that. . . . [M]any of [Speaker Boehner's] members want to do away with the concept of the minimum wage.

I want to see this country expand Social Security benefits, not cut them. John Boehner, his party, want to either privatize Social Security or cut Social Security benefits to the elderly and disabled vets. . . .

I want to create millions of jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. And I have introduced legislation to do that. [The] Republican Party is very reluctant to spend a nickel to rebuild our infrastructure.

DICKERSON: Senator, you ...

SANDERS: I want -- so, I think in terms of who is out of touch with the American people, I would say the Republican Party is. They want to give tax breaks to billionaires, not help the middle class.

-- "Face the Nation Transcripts, July 12, 2015: Boehner, Sanders, Cotton,"
Senator Sanders Uniqueness

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont sent out a letter in June 2015 explaining why is is running for president. This is a serious campaign, make no mistake. But it is otherwise relatively unique among presidential campaigns in general -- and amongst this year's mob of candidates in particular. See generally, "Bernie! Why the 99% Should Support Bernie's Campaign," June 1, 2015.

Sanders is neither someone who runs every four years, nor someone running the first time who has hired expensive, professional campaign managers, media manipulators, pollsters, and fundraisers who tell him what to say and do. For starters, he won't take money from billionaires, PACs, or others seeking to enrich themselves through their campaign contributions. (Years ago I once calculated such contributors get a 1000-to-one to 2000-to-one return on their money; give a million dollars, get a billion dollars or more in return: "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996. I simply assume, with today's $1 billion-plus campaign seasons and unlimited Citizens United corporate contributions, it's probably worse.)

Even more important, he neither engages in new-found, crafted slogans, nor does he change positions with the political winds. Senator Sanders is still saying what he has been saying all his life as mayor, as a member of Congress, and as a U.S. Senator. "Authentic" is a word often used by political junkies who have spent their lives in a world of political "shuck and jive" and are now hearing Sanders for the first time.

He's not a college professor (though he could be). He's a politician running for the presidency. But he believes democracies are supposed to serve the 99%, not just the 1%, and that in order to do that campaigns need to include serious efforts to explore and resolve the more serious challenges facing the people, and to build the multi-million-member political organizations that will make possible the implementation of solutions.

The Media's Problem with Senator Sanders

This poses a double-barrelled problem for the media -- and therefore for Senator Sanders.

First, the media's owners are, by definition, well within the 1%. They have every possible financial, political, ideological, and social motive to try to prevent him being taken seriously. Savvy media employees who wish to stay employed can't help but be aware of the advantages offered them if they will cut back on or eliminate coverage of him (see description of the shameful exclusion of him by "Meet the Press" in "Bernie's Media Challenge," June 19, 2015), and when unavoidable (perhaps because he is getting the largest number of contributors and audience members of any candidate) diminish his reputation with ridicule, marginalization, and dismissal as "a socialist" whose views are "out of the mainstream."

Second, with rare exceptions, profit-driven media do not have the space or time, or a sufficient number of highly educated, informed and analytical journalists, to present lengthy print, online, or televised discussions of major public policy issues in a way that will involve, inform, and hold an American audience. (See "Three-Legged Calves, Wolves, Sheep and Democracy's Media," Dec. 1, 2014.) Thus, even if media owners were supportive of Senator Sanders' views, they aren't really set up to present anyone's views at length. Thus, political coverage tends to focus on fundraising (e.g., Senator Rand Paul's mediocre contributions; Jeb Bush's $100 million), poll results (e.g., leading Republicans excluded from Fox News debate), gotcha moments (e.g., Governor Rick Perry's 2012 "oops" moment), the bizarre (e.g., Donald Trump's behavior, characterized by Dan Rather as somewhat similar to "a manure spreader in a windstorm"), physical appearance (e.g., the Donald's hair; women's clothing), and those portions of candidates' past history they'd rather forget (e.g., Hillary Clinton's Arkansas Whitewater, 1990s healthcare efforts, Benghazi, 50,000 emails).

Senator Sanders' Positions

So what is this establishment-bucking Senator Sanders talking about? That brings us back to the June letter referenced above. This is certainly not the only written source, you should also check his campaign Web site generally, (Issues).

For now, here is just a brief summary of the headings for the topics he touches upon: jobs, wages, income inequality, progressive taxation, Wall Street reforms, campaign finance alternatives, climate change, universal single-payer health care, poverty programs, college for all, opposition to endless war, and finally "a political revolution." Here is where you can read a pdf of the entire Bernie Sanders' June 2015 3-1/2-page letter. A more current (yesterday) comparable and updated statement was included in a July 24, 2015, email from the campaign which you can read here.

Just Where is America's Mainstream?

Which brings us back to the question of whether his proposals position him in or out of the mainstream. The problem with conducting that inquiry without data, of course, is that the discussion tends to disintegrate into 'tis-'taint shouting matches.

That's why it seemed to me useful to find out precisely what recent polling on Americans' views actually reveals on the matter. Here are some of those results, either directly from the polling organization or as reported by others:
Josh Hakinson, "America's Views Align Surprisingly Well With Those of 'Socialist' Bernie Sanders," Mother Jones, May 19, 2015 (Wealthy should pay more taxes -- 68%; Close offshore tax havens -- 85% (small business owners); Public funding of elections -- "half" Regulation of greenhouse gas emissions - 64%; Universal single-payer healthcare -- 50%+; Breaking up big banks -- 58%; Free community college (2 years) -- 63%; Oppose fast-track for TPP trade deal -- 61%; Raising minimum wage to $15/hour -- 63%; Make union organizing of workers easier -- 53%; Expansion of Social Security and Medicare -- "majorities")

Philip Bump, "Bernie Sanders Says Americans Back His Agenda -- and He's Mostly Right," The Washington Post, June 12, 2015 (Support infrastructure spending -- 50%; Trade restrictions to support domestic industries -- 50%; High quality preschool programs -- 50%; College student loans, lower costs, longer to pay off -- 50%)

Drew Desilver, "State of the Union 2014: Where Americans Stand on Key Issues," Pew Research Center, Jan. 27, 2014 (Dissatisfied with income inequality -- 67%; One year extension of unemployment benefits -- 63%; Path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants -- 71%). And see, Drew Desilver, "5 Facts About Social Security," Pew Research Center, Oct. 16, 2013 (support for increases varies by party).

"Poll: Most Americans Support Raising Investment Taxes for Wealthy; More Than Two-Thirds Say the Rich Pay Too Little in Federal Taxes, Most Back Obama's Proposed Tax Hike on Investments,"> Associated Press-GfK Poll, Aljazeera America, Feb. 23, 2015.
Senator Elizabeth Warren presented comparable numbers in a recent speech as evidence that a majority of Americans can, in fact, be accurately labeled as "progressives."
• Last November, when Democrats across the country had a terrible day, four -- four -- Republican states voted to raise their minimum wage. In South Dakota, 55% of voters supported a minimum wage increase. In Nebraska, 59%. Arkansas, 66%. And in Alaska, 69%. That shouldn't surprise anyone: 70% of Americans across this country support an increase of the federal minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour. Republicans may vote to keep workers in poverty, but on minimum wage, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that students shouldn't be crushed by debt and the federal government should not make a profit on student loans. And so do 73% of Americans. Beltway Republicans may vote to stomp on people who are deep in debt, but on student loans, the American people are Progressives -- and to them debt-free college sounds pretty darn good.

• Progressives believe people should be able to care for sick family members without fear of losing their jobs, and so do 80% of Americans. Republicans may pander to their big business pals, but on paid sick leave, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that millionaires and billionaires should pay the same tax rates as their secretaries, and so do two-thirds of all Americans. Republicans may support special breaks for the rich and powerful, but on tax fairness, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that after a lifetime of work, people deserve to retire in dignity and that means a commitment to strengthening and expanding Social Security -- and 79% of likely voters in last year's election also supported increasing Social Security benefits. Republicans may try to cut benefits, but on Social Security, the American people are Progressives and they are ready to take on the retirement crisis in this country.

• Progressives believe in trade, but not the kind written behind closed doors by corporate lawyers that leave American workers eating dirt. Nearly two-thirds of Americans favor some sort of trade restrictions, and more than half oppose fast tracking trade deals. Republicans -- and some Democrats -- may want to make it easier for multinational corporations to ship jobs overseas, but on trade, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that powerful corporations and billionaires have far, far too much influence over our politics and their stranglehold over our government rigs the game. Nearly three-quarters of America agrees. Republicans may cozy up to their billionaire sugar-daddies, but on campaign finance and Washington reform, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher legal enforcement -- and that, five years after Dodd-Frank -- it's time to stop pretending and really end "too big to fail" with rules like the Glass-Steagall Act. And 79% of Americans believe Wall Street should be held accountable with tougher rules. Beltway Republicans may be willing to let the biggest banks break our economy again, but on Wall Street reform, the American people are Progressives.

• And finally, I want to make one more very important point: Progressives believe that it shouldn't take a revolution on YouTube to drive a revolution in law enforcement. It shouldn't take a hurricane in New Orleans or a massacre in Charleston for Americans to wake up to what is happening -- what is still happening -- to people of color in this country. And it sure as heck shouldn't take poll numbers to unite us in our determination to build a future for all our children. House Republicans may still want to fly the Confederate flag and Republican leaders may cower in the shadow of Donald Trump, but the American people understand that black lives matter and America is not a country that stands for racism, bigotry or hatred. To build an economy that creates real opportunity, that doesn't lock up millions of our fellow human beings and that uses the talents of all our people, Americans must prove that on equality and justice, the American people are Progressives.
Amber Ferguson, "Elizabeth Warren's Message At Netroots Nation," Huffington Post, July 17, 2015 (as prepared for delivery).


Of course, merely because a majority of your fellow Americans hold one view or another doesn't mean that it is "right," or that you are obliged to follow. Clearly, most who number themselves in the establishment's wealthiest 1% disagree, and you may be among them -- or agree with them even though you are not so financially blessed. Nor does it mean that no one should be elected who is not "in the mainstream."

But these polling results, and others that are comparable, should at least put to rest that, whatever else Senator Sanders may or may not be, he is clearly waist deep in the mainstream.

Today's "radicals" who really are out of the mainstream, as he has pointed out, are those who want to hold down, or even eliminate, the minimum wage; continue endless wars in the Middle East; deny climate change; oppose universal single-payer health care, federal jobs programs to rebuild infrastructure, increases in unemployment benefits, and want to repeal "Obama Care;" want to reduce taxes on the wealthy, continue college student debt, cut back on Social Security.

Wherever they may be on the river bank, it is they who are clearly not in the mainstream. Senator Bernie Sanders is.
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1 comment:

R F Latta said...

I agree with this analysis and I would take it one step further to explain the low voter participation rate in the US and the current nature of the Democratic Party establishment. There are two activists groups that form the core of the party at the local and state level; the small business lobby and social activists with concerns formed around identity politics i.e. sixty year old hippies. Those groups have the time and motivation to organize year round and they have formed an informal alliance to support each others goals in these terms; social activists will agree to support Chamber of Commerce nominees as long as those nominees vote to maintain foundational socially liberal rights like abortion and gay rights. The people who are left out are economic populists, that is working people. They are the folks who are too busy to be politically active year round but whose main concern is providing for their families while wages have stagnated. They are the progressives that Elizabeth Warren talks about. They are the working class that have also been divided and demoralized by the racial politics of the Republican southern strategy. This is the mainstream of the population and they have been disenfranchised because they are simply not represented within the current body politic as it is defined by the party establishments of either party and the media.