Change: It’s Up to Us

The current conservative narrative revolves around the imagined horrors of Socialism. Apparently without awareness of the many socialist programs upon which they depend, the reactionary segment of the U.S. voting population has taken up the latest incarnation of the old Red Scare.

A “Red Scare” is promotion of widespread fear by a society or state about a potential rise of communism, anarchism, or radical leftism. The term is most often used to refer to two periods in the history of the United States with this name. The First Red Scare, which occurred immediately after World War I, revolved around a perceived threat from the American labor movement, anarchist revolution, and political radicalism.  The Second Red Scare, which occurred immediately after World War II, was preoccupied with national or foreign communists infiltrating or subverting U.S. society or the federal government…

…the Red Scare was “a nationwide anti-radical hysteria provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent—a revolution that would change church, home, marriage, civility, and the American way of life”…[1]

If any of this sounds familiar within the context of current political debate in the U.S., well, it should. The same argument has been fomented now for 100 years. Hysteria about the creeping plague of socialism undergirded the Cold War, our disastrous policies in Latin America, and the war in Vietnam. The hue and cry of those terrified of socialism and its big brother communism has motivated the expenditure of trillions of U.S. dollars and spilled the blood of tens of thousands of our young men. The damage worldwide is incalculable.

So what exactly should we fear about these philosophies of social order? For one thing, we should avoid conflating the differing ideas. Socialism is not communism. Democratic Socialism is not Socialism. All Societies employ socialism to some degree. For example as a minimum in the United States: the public library, public works, social security, the military, the fire department, police, health care (state hospitals, Medicaid, and Medicare). All of these functions and more can operate quite well under a capitalistic democracy.

Countries that have a strong central government tend to exhibit more acceptance to social programs. The idea that people can do more as a group rather than as individuals is accepted by the population under a strong central government and are more willing to surrender certain personal rights. In North America, two similar countries can be compared. Canada, for example, has a strong central government as evident in her national gun laws and criminal codes applied across all provinces and territories, and at the political level a healthy socialist political party…

The United States, on the other hand, has strong state rights over a central government resulting in various gun laws and criminal codes across the country, and does not have a party with socialist leanings (although the Democratic Party is often referred to as liberal). Therefore, individualism is a characteristic in the United States that is highly regarded and individuals are less likely to surrender certain personal rights. Social programs greater than the absolute minimum are considered charity at best and at its worst seen as diluting individualism and reducing personal wealth.

Americans, therefore, view socialism as a threat to their individualism and coupled with the McCarthy Era’s effective propaganda have developed an unrealistic definition between it and communism supported by fear.[2]

Face it. We’re no longer a society dominated by small close-knit communities where caring neighbors or a church provided care for those in need. Many of us don’t even know our neighbors. Neither churches nor charitable giving offer systematic methods of determining whether someone is truly needy or simply playing on sympathies. Nor do local charities have a method to ensure that assistance is available to all who might need it rather than the select few who appear at the church house door. Nor is there any assurance that the amount of support provided by a charity is appropriate to the need at hand. Charities themselves are often cookies jars raided by their operators.These are the exact reasons a federal system became vitally important as our nation grew beyond its early days of small rural communities.

While we thumb through our Twitter feed or view video from around the world, why do we expect that despite all the advances in technology and global economies that we’re somehow able to exist socially in a previous century? We are not what we were in 1850 or 1900 or even 1950.

As for that mythical freedom to pursue our fortunes, it’s time to recognize that those days are long gone – if, indeed they ever existed. There is no free land given to veterans of war or government projects, no expanses of virgin timber, no undiscovered gold. Our population in 1800 was 5,308,483. Now it’s 291,421,906.

If a rich man can afford five houses, two yachts, and countless other luxuries, why is it a hardship to take enough of his money so that he can only afford two houses and one yacht? Chances are high that he didn’t create that wealth by himself but rather workers hired at the lowest possible rate of pay in order to profit off their labor. Or he inherited his fortune from someone who did the same.

If a poor man is homeless, what do we do about it—let him die on the street?

If a newborn is the one out of 33 born with a medical problem like a heart defect, spina bifida, cleft palate, clubfoot, or congenital dislocated hip, and her parents have no medical insurance, what’s the right thing to do?

If people don’t have enough to eat, do we feed them?

If we are faced with a life-threatening illness, should we lose our home and everything we own to get medical care?

Is it truly our morality as a nation to allow the pharmaceutical industry to gain billions in profits while forcing the poor to die without the medication they need to survive? To allow doctors to live like royalty? To allow hospitals to generate profit off the sick and dying?

What is socialism, anyway? By its old definition, a socialist economy was owned by the people. Factories, offices, and industry in general were either worker cooperatives or government owned. No one in the U.S. except perhaps the extreme left advocates for such a system. The problems of this approach included worker apathy and potential for corruption, not that capitalist systems don’t suffer similar downsides. The benefit was that everyone had means of support and a job to do.

A new approach to social problems is called democratic socialism. Let’s look at what that means.

…in many of the societies of Western Europe which have adopted progress toward democratic socialism, productivity, standards of living, incentives, and markers of personal happiness and security are very high. Social democracy is a kind of socialism that tries to mix parts of socialism with capitalism. In this system, the government takes wealth (money) from the rich and gives it to the poor… but despite there being more government control and less chance to make a very large amount of money, people can still run their own businesses and own private property. Unlike communism, where all private property is taken to be owned publicly, people and businesses pay taxes on their property, and this money is spent on public services after taking out the costs of running the government and collecting the taxes. [3]

We as a democratic nation have an ongoing opportunity to craft a society that allows for entrepreneurship while also providing a safety net for those who need our help. We’re already pretty far along this path but much more work remains to be done. The question is, do we go backwards now, undo laws governing labor (sick leave, vacation time, 40-hour work week, workplace safety, retirement benefits)? Cancel policies providing food, medical care, and minimal living support for the disabled and poor? Do we go back to subscription schools where only those who can afford it are able to educate their children?

Or do we make clear-eyed decisions about how to best provide an equitable existence for our fellow man? Because, yes, we are our brothers’ keepers. We live in a nation still rich in opportunity. We’re not stupid. We need to approach these questions with open minds and do what we as Americans do best – move forward with meaningful solutions. That’s what will make America great.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Scare

[2] https://www.quora.com/Why-are-Americans-so-scared-of-socialism

[3] https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism

 

Further reading: Saving Capitalism, by Robert Reich 

“Perhaps no one is better acquainted with the intersection of economics and politics than Robert B. Reich, and now he reveals how power and influence have created a new American oligarchy, a shrinking middle class, and the greatest income inequality and wealth disparity in eighty years. He makes clear how centrally problematic our veneration of the “free market” is, and how it has masked the power of moneyed interests to tilt the market to their benefit.

“Reich exposes the falsehoods that have been bolstered by the corruption of our democracy by huge corporations and the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street: that all workers are paid what they’re “worth,” that a higher minimum wage equals fewer jobs, and that corporations must serve shareholders before employees. He shows that the critical choices ahead are not about the size of government but about who government is for: that we must choose not between a free market and “big” government but between a market organized for broadly based prosperity and one designed to deliver the most gains to the top. Ever the pragmatist, ever the optimist, Reich sees hope for reversing our slide toward inequality and diminished opportunity when we shore up the countervailing power of everyone else.

“Passionate yet practical, sweeping yet exactingly argued, Saving Capitalism is a revelatory indictment of our economic status quo and an empowering call to civic action.”


“What Causes Poverty” by Mike Sosteric

July 8, 2015

“…Poverty causes nothing but hardship and struggle for the people. Children who grow up in poverty have poor health, poor hygiene, poor diet, poor housing, lousy experiences at school (as evinced by higher absenteeism and lower scholastic achievement), more behavioural and mental problems, and long term employment difficulties. Adults who are poor have the same difficulties as their children, getting sicker more often, being unemployed for longer periods, taking more time off work, living shorter lives, and so on. There is no doubt about it, being poor is a liability: it causes disability, disease, and even death…”

Dear DNC

I am in receipt of your letter (undated) and the “Urgent Annual Renewal Statement.” I thought this would be a good opportunity to communicate with you about my concerns with the party.

The only chance in hell of uniting progressives is for the leadership of the DNC to start immediately with an outreach to enfranchise new voices. That means real grassroots outreach. Do you actually know how to do this? Because if you don’t, you need to hire some new people.

Grassroots outreach means not deciding what you’re going to do until you listen to what people are saying. How do you do that? The national party depends on local and state affiliates to do their own thing, and many are doing a great job. But appropriate leadership from the DNC means ensuring that all state and local affiliates are building strong grassroots participation. You don’t do that by sending out donation form letters with a token mention of what the party stands for.

You missed an opportunity with this mail-out soliciting my donation. Why wasn’t there a questionnaire seeking input on issues ranging from how to improve the DNC to how to address the problems of domestic terrorism? Such a questionnaire should be formulated by the best strategists money can buy, people with experience in building grassroots campaigns and in dissecting big problems into identifiable components. Why aren’t you thinking about things like that? Involve the people in constructive dialogue about the future of the party and money will follow.

Create a national forum on social media. Once you’ve organized a method of outreach, the responses in turn will inform leaders and help frame the party’s platform. With a coherent plan of questions/topics, the national party then provides those questions to state parties who present these questions on their Facebook pages, soliciting feedback and engaging with persons who post comments.

Maybe you think you already know the answers, and that’s a big problem. You’re missing the point. It is the process that matters, developing a dialogue, listening, negotiating, arbitrating. Building consensus among those who desperately want to move the nation forward and don’t know what to do next. You have to tap that energy, help funnel it toward constructive action.

Right now liberals are arguing among themselves, pro Bernie, anti Bernie, pro Jill Stein, revolution, stay the course. It’s sickening.

Plan for two questions/discussions per month, no less. On alternate weeks, present a new face with background info on the person. Once a month, the new face is a potential presidential candidate. For the other once-a-month person, state parties plug in a potential candidate for state office. Include links to each potential candidate’s Facebook page.

State Democratic Party Facebook pages should include postings from any local chapters in that state even if such material is being posted on individual local committee FB pages. Minutes of meetings would be useful posts, local and state. Nationally, the DNC should also post on state FB pages any news from their various committees. Let the state parties be the active link that voters come to rely on for news about local, state, and national Democratic Party plans, ideas, and activities.

This is a starting place.

Surely I don’t need to list all the topics in need of discussion, but here are a few to get you started.

How do we develop clear recommendations about how to make the Affordable Care Act more viable? We need to present that in opposition to the Republican efforts to repeal and replace.

We need to solicit effective statements on why climate change threatens our future – specifics for each locality and when those changes can be expected.

We need to develop clear data on domestic terrorism and how it is tied to white supremacy and racism and outline how this parallels the rise of groups like ISIS. We need to develop creative ways to dismantle extremism in all its forms, understand the role of poor health and lack of education and other factors that contribute to a person’s sense of threat that underlies prejudice.

We need to have a thorough vetting of the school voucher idea and lay out the ways such programs violate the First Amendment as well as how they undermine public schools. Address the problems with public schools that cause parents to want vouchers – how do we make schools better?

These are but a few of the many pressing issues facing us. Elected officials current and future need to hear from the grassroots, not only concerns and ideas for solutions, but also the roar of their support as Election Day nears. This is the ultimate task of the national party, to develop effective ways to hear from the people. Everything else follows from that.

You may say that social media is easily infiltrated by trolls who would disrupt and spread false information. Well, that’s already going on. As long as we have public appearances by Hillary Clinton and Tom Perez rehashing old news, we’re going nowhere. Enough already!

Here are some potential presidential candidates for the next election. Warning up front: no women appear on this list. Let me point out that I am a woman, have been active in NOW, and believe women are in many ways the future of politics in this nation. But my objective is to elect a Democratic president in 2020. A female this time around is like shooting yourself in the foot and then a week later shooting the other foot.

Among the men I’m listing are very few minorities. Please refer to the last sentence of the previous paragraph.

Current governors:

Jay Inslee, Washington State. Governor since 2013, 20 years in the U.S. Congress, state legislature before that. Born 1951.

Roy Cooper, North Carolina governor since January this year. Attorney general from 2001-2017, previously state senate. Born 1957. **Extra points for beating an incumbent Republican.

Steve Bullock, governor Montana since 2013. Attorney general 2009-2013. Born 1966.

John Hickenlooper, governor Colorado since 2011, mayor of Denver CO 2003-2011. Born 1952.

Currently in U. S. Senate:

Michael Bennett, Colorado. Born 1964. Long track record in government office.

Chris Murphy, Connecticut. Born 1973. Long track record in state government.

Cory Booker, New Jersey. Born 1969. Previously Newark mayor, active outreach ongoing.

Sherrod Brown, Ohio. Born 1952. Long career in elected positions.

Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island. Born 1955. US Attorney 1993-1998; attorney general 1999-2003

Bob Casey, Pennsylvania. Born 1960. Government office since 1996. ***Extra points for defeating a Republican.

Mark Warner, Virginia. Born 1954. Lots of elected positions

House of Representatives:

Tim Ryan, Ohio

Jim Crowley, New York

Eric Swalwell, California

Ruben Gallego, Arizona

Joe Kennedy III, Massachusetts

Seth Moulton, Massachusetts

State Offices:

Pete Buttigeig, Mayor South Bend, Indiana

Joaquin Castro, Texas

Julian Castro, Texas (twins)

Jason Kander, Missouri

Of all these, I’ve seen only a few mentioned in media or Facebook posts. This is the point in time when voters need to consider possible candidates and rule them in or out. These decisions need to come from the bottom up.

Speaking for my home state, our Democratic Party Facebook page has seen about twenty posts since Trump took office. I’ve not seen any potential 2018 candidates put forth. Our local party is active, and in our region we’ve seen one potential Congressional candidate throw his hat in the ring. This is completely unacceptable. MORE!

As far as Bernie supporters go, the bitching needs to stop about what happened last year. That’s a good example of living in the past. It’s over. Now what? Let’s realize that plans to forge ahead as a Bernie/Independent Party has about as much chance to get a president elected as the success enjoyed by the American Independent Party candidate George Wallace, Reform Party candidate Ross Perot, or last year’s Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

The DNC must make a bigger demonstration of how it is incorporating Bernie ideas and people into the party. Bernie has a responsibility to bring his supporters to engagement with the Democratic Party. Where are his innovative ideas about how to do that? What ideas do his supporters have that could move the Democratic Party closer to positions they could embrace? It can’t just be about big banks and warmongering and money from billionaires and all those other old worn-out leftist rants. What are concrete, realistic steps that party needs to make to get Bernie supporters on board?

My hopes for the future remain invested in the Democratic Party. It hurts me to see how much we’ve lost over the last several election cycles. It’s the DNC’s job to figure out why and develop solutions to reverse this trend. You won’t figure that out with consultants or policy wonks. The PEOPLE have the answers. Ask us.