Category Archives: Presidential election

Sanders’ popularity is a warning

THE ISSUE: For 40 years, the majority of Americans have watched their financial prospects fall as the wealthiest added to their fortunes. The rise of Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, suggests the oligarchs who increasingly control our government have gone too far.

The rising popularity of Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate and an independent senator from Vermont, has startled many. He has little of the charisma that marks most politicians. His appearance is unremarkable. His campaign coffers are tiny.

In short, he has none of the attributes that would lead people to overlook his message in supporting him. Which means it is his message that’s attracting massive crowds throughout the nation. It is his message that’s resulting in his growing strength in the polls.

And that’s where the shock really comes, especially in a state such as Alabama where the people are fed on a steady diet of the sanctity of free enterprise. He’s a flaming liberal in a nation that most thought was to the right of center. He describes himself as a democratic socialist in a nation where the term “socialist” is used as an insult.

To be fair, socialism is hardly a foreign concept in the United States.

As used by Sanders, it merely means the people should exercise their ability to regulate the means of production. America long has recognized unrestrained capitalism is dangerous. The 40-hour week, the minimum wage, child-labor laws, laws prohibiting employer discrimination based on race or gender, consumer protection and environmental laws, public utilities and infrastructure and schools — all are “socialist.”

But make no mistake, his ideas are radical. Some may be reckless. He calls for free tuition at public universities. Health care should be a right guaranteed to all through a Medicare-for-all system. The minimum wage should be upped to $15, meaning no person working 40 hours per week would live in poverty.

And Sanders is blunt on how he would pay for these benefits. He would increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations, who he claims are reaping the primary benefits of a rigged political system without paying their fair share.

Sanders has not had to answer the hard questions. Would escalating tax rates chase corporations from the United States, along with the jobs they provide? Would a doubling of the minimum wage result in skyrocketing unemployment and business failures? Would high taxes on billionaires lead them to forego investments in production that benefit all Americans?

Sanders’ growing popularity is a surprise, but it shouldn’t be.

During the 30 years after World War II, the economy doubled in size, and wages of American workers grew with it. Since 1980, the economy has again doubled in size — but wages have remained stagnant, and benefits have deteriorated. Productivity is higher than ever, but since 1980, the increased profits have gone almost exclusively to corporate owners.

And maybe most significantly, wealth now translates directly into political power — the ability to create laws that make the rich richer, at the expense of those who work for them.

Sanders as president would be a disaster for the wealthy, and the consequences of his policies might hurt the nation. His popularity, however, is a direct result of corporate greed and the politicians who are complicit in creating a system that ensures cheap labor and low taxes for their wealthy benefactors.

For those who control our political system with cash, Sanders’ rising popularity should come as a warning. Push the American people too hard, and they will push back.

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Filed under Income inequality, Presidential election

Partisan politics not working

THE ISSUE: Polarization of the electorate and a flawed primary system mean voters should be prepared to vote for the least-objectionable presidential candidate, not the best one.

The dance has begun, and if the stakes weren’t so high, it would be amusing.

The dance steps are most obvious in the Republican Party, which has a larger field of candidates and already has had a debate.

To have a chance at becoming their party’s nominee, each candidate must attract the support of a very conservative base.

This has bizarre results when it comes to the stance they must take on specific issues. Most polls indicate a majority of Americans favor increased gun control, lean toward deferring to women on abortion issues, favor diplomacy with Iran, and support marriage rights for gays.

A Republican candidate who espouses the majority view on these issues, however, has little or no chance of surviving the primaries.

The extent to which this forces the candidates to play to extreme views is evident in their treatment of the proposed deal with Iran. Maybe it’s a bad deal or maybe not, but the issue is too complex to expect every single GOP candidate to have the same opinion of it.

To begin with, the entire goal of the agreement is to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Absent military action — an option most Americans strongly oppose — the U.S. has minimal leverage without the cooperation of Iran’s major trading partners. So while GOP candidates uniformly gripe we did not negotiate the best deal with Iran, our most complex negotiations were with nations — including Russia and China — whose participation was necessary if Iran was to come to the negotiating table.

Iran is suffering from multi-national sanctions; U.S. sanctions alone provide inadequate leverage to compel Iran to make concessions. And however problematic the proposed agreement is, it provides for monitoring of the Iran nuclear program. Without the agreement, there is no monitoring.

The issue is complex, and involves negotiations to which the GOP candidates were not privy. The idea that every candidate would have the exact same view of the agreement defies logic. Rather, they are pandering to a base that is invested in the idea that anything President Barack Obama touches must be bad.

There are plenty of smart folks vying for the Republican nomination, and it’s a fair bet most recognize the Iran deal is not susceptible to simplistic evaluation. They probably also recognize the complexities of abortion, gay marriage and other hot-button issues that are contentious precisely because rational people can come to different conclusions on them.

But intelligent, nuanced views are toxic to candidates of either party. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton know they need moderate views to win the general election, but they also know those same views will prevent them from surviving the primaries.

In his farewell address, President George Washington famously warned of the “continual mischiefs of the spirit of party,” making it the “interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.” Party politics, he said, would “enfeeble public administration.”

As the nation heads toward the 2016 elections, Washington’s wisdom is increasingly apparent. Our nation no longer attracts the best candidates, but the most malleable ones. The political dance requires them to pander to extreme views in the primaries, and then shift to centrist views in the general election. Where they truly stand — and whether they have any principles at all — remains a mystery to voters until they enter office.

The likely end result: Americans will not be picking the best candidate in 2016. They’ll be picking the least-objectionable one.

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Filed under Partisanship, Presidential election

Money overwhelms votes in presidential elections

THE ISSUE: Most Americans are spectators as presidential candidates of both parties jockey for the corporate financial support they need to be serious contenders. This creates a sense of powerlessness that is devastating to an effective democracy.

Democrat and Republican presidential candidates present vastly different platforms, but the process by which they become a viable contender for the presidency requires that they pander to interests that often are in conflict with most Americans.

Democrats tend to present a more populist platform, but they still must run a corporate gauntlet that determines whether they can finance a campaign.

The difficulty of running a campaign that does not appeal to big-money donors was evident last week. Candidate Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, received donations from 35,000 supporters in his first full day as a candidate. Does that mean he will be the Democrat’s nominee for president?

Not a chance. The average size of the donations was $43.

At the same time, operatives for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign were working with Priorities USA Action, a “super PAC” that pursues big-ticket donations.

Each Republican candidate, of course, must do the same thing. The candidate must court corporations and billionaires, convincing them that they’ll get their money’s worth. Jeb Bush got an early start with a fundraising dinner that had a $100,000 per guest admission fee. Texas Sen. Ted Kruz already is bragging he’s collected more than $40 million from super PACs, and billionaire Texas industrialists have said they will contribute close to $1 billion during the election.

In the 2012 election, incumbent President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney each spent about $1 billion. Applying that to Sen. Sanders’ candidacy, he would need $43 contributions from 2.3 million people. Experts predict total spending for the 2016 race will top $5 billion.

As candidates seek the approval of those who can afford to bankroll their political aspirations, voters are awkward bystanders. The typical voter’s interests are not inherently at odds with the interests of billionaires and mega-corporations, but often they are. Most voters want a decent-paying job with benefits, protection from workplace and environmental hazards and a tax code that recognizes they have little disposable income. Those with the money to invest in candidates typically want none of these things, as they would hamper profit margins.

On the many issues where the voter of moderate income has interests that conflict with the extremely wealthy, the voter is left with the lame hope that one of the candidates still standing on election day fooled his or contributors.

The end result is not just that voters must choose between candidates who already have been pre-approved by large corporations and the very rich, but that voters have an increasing sense that they are powerless.

Citizens who believe they have no power through the political process are inclined to vent their frustrations in less productive ways, a fact that was all too apparent in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. Citizens need an effective voice in American politics. Their voice is now smothered by wads of cash.

(Published May 2015)

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Filed under Campaign finance, Presidential election