You know how the ads go. They have THAT music. Some somber narrator comes on and announces that during these “uncertain times” given “what’s going on” that some corporation that never cared about you actually does.
In the 1970s, when I was a kid, I asked my mother to explain the difference between the two major parties. “Democrats,” she explained, “are the party of the working man. Republicans represent big business.”
She was a Democrat, obviously. Still, I’m sure Republican families had their version of my mom’s binary, perhaps something along the lines of: “Republicans believe in less government and more hard work. Democrats want high taxes and welfare.”
The two-party system was easy to understand.
Now it’s a muddled mess — especially if you’re a Democrat.
Today’s Democratic Party relies on big corporations, especially big Wall Street investment banks, for campaign donations. The old alliance between the party and labor unions is dead. Democrats support trade deals that hurt American workers. When the economy tanked at the end of the last decade, President Obama left laid-off workers and foreclosed-upon homeowners twisting in the wind; he bailed out the banks instead. Hillary Clinton, who supported the TPP trade deal before she was against it, promised bankers she’d be their friend if she won. Whatever the Democrats are now, they’re not the party of working Americans.
So what is the Democratic Party now? What does it stand for and against?
I honestly don’t know. I’m obsessed with politics. So if I don’t know what Democrats want, it’s a safe bet no one else does, either.
“It’s all well and good — and really very satisfying — to harp constantly about the terribleness of Donald Trump,” observes New York Times columnist Gail Collins. “But people need to see the Democratic line on the ballot and think of something more than Not as Dreadful.”
Yes they do.
Failure to articulate an affirmative vision of what she was for, not just against, was largely to blame for Hillary Clinton’s devastating defeat. Trump Is Evil and Dangerous wasn’t enough to win in 2016. It probably won’t be enough for 2018 either. Yet party leaders still haven’t begin to say how they would address the problems voters care about.
Like healthcare. The Clintonistas, still in charge of the Democrats despite their incompetent stewardship, believe that Obamacare will survive because the Republicans’ Trumpcare alternative is unpopular even with Republicans. But they’re wrong. In one out of three counties, there is only one insurance company in the local healthcare “exchange.” Zero competition guarantees skyrocketing premiums and shrinking benefits. The collapse of Obamacare makes healthcare the #1 concern for American voters.
What would Democrats do about healthcare if they were in charge?
As far as I can tell, nada.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s website brags about Obamacare and its achievements. “House Democrats,” it says, “continually work to implement and improve health care reform to ensure that the best healthcare system in the world only gets better.” Newsflash to Ms. Pelosi: Actually, the U.S. has the worst healthcare system in the developed world.
When it comes to healthcare, Democrats are just like the Republicans on global warming. They won’t admit there’s a problem. So how can they offer a solution?
The wreckage of deindustrialization in the nation’s heartland is widely viewed as key to Trump’s surprise win. So what is the Democrats’ plan to create jobs, increase wages and help victims of the opioid epidemic?
Aside from “Trump sucks,” Democrats don’t have much to say.
“We will create jobs that stay in America and restore opportunity for all Americans, starting with raising the minimum wage, expanding Pell grants and making college tuition tax deductible,” the party said in a statement a few days before Election Day 2016. Sounds great! But details are hard to come by.
Last year when it mattered, $225,000-a-speech Hillary asked workers to settle for a $12/hour minimum wage. Now, finally, Democrats are officially endorsing Bernie Sanders’ $15/hour. But it really should be at least $22/hour. And anyway, how would a minimum wage increase, or Pell grants, or tax-deductible tuition, “create jobs”? They wouldn’t. We need a big WPA-style federal hiring program. A law mandating that evil outsourcing companies like Facebook start hiring Americans wouldn’t hurt. But the Dems won’t get behind either.
When Democrats do have something to say, it’s trivial and small-bore, like making college tuition tax deductible. Why not go big? Did you know that the U.S. could make four-year college tuition free for the price of the ongoing war against Iraq?
Why are the Dems so lame? Suspect #1 is the lingering rift between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the party. “There is this grassroots movement voters’ arm of the party, and the more corporate, institutional part of the party. And the movement arm is tired of the institutional part telling us the only place for us is in the streets,” says Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb, a Sanders supporter. A party split by a civil war between a populist left and a corporatist right can’t articulate an inspiring platform of exciting solutions to American’s big problems. A purge, or a schism, would fix this.
Trump is already one of the most unpopular presidents in history. Going against him ought to be easy. But Democrats are about to find out — again — that people won’t vote for you unless you give them a good reason to get off their couches and drive to the polls.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Full disclosure: If New York’s primary were held today — not that it typically has a significant electoral impact, since it’s relatively late on the calendar — I’d vote for Bernie Sanders.
Why Bernie? Because he’s the best this system has to offer: a flawed candidate whose overall message is important enough, and his record free enough of corruption and evildoing, that I can overlook the things I don’t like about his record and fill in the bubble next to his name on the ballot without feeling like a terrible person.
Hillary Clinton is nowhere close to acceptable. She has no message, other than the dead end of liberal identity-politics tokenism: sure would be neat (for her) if there were a first woman president. Her corruption is spectacular: served on the board of Wal-Mart, where she signed off on union-busting, was paid by Goldman Sachs, ran a charitable foundation like a money laundry. Voted for both of Bush’s wars, which killed hundreds of thousands of people, then destroyed Libya and Syria.
A vote for Hillary is a vote against working people, for the plutocrats, and for genocide.
However, just because I plan to vote for Bernie — even though I wrote the book on him— doesn’t mean I can’t see ideological and tactical flaws in his campaign. With that in mind, here’s my report card on the insurgent from Vermont’s bid to date.
Paris and San Bernadino aside, any political scientist will tell you that pocketbook issues — voters’ feelings about the economy, whether or not they’re prosperous, and how they perceive their future career prospects — usually determine the outcome of American presidential elections. Assuming there isn’t another 9/11-scale national security threat, the 2016 race will be about Americans’ sense that they’re working harder while earning less, and their anger that they’re still digging out of the 2008-09 financial crisis while the banks who created it are making bigger profits than ever.
No other candidate, left or right, can touch Bernie’s credibility on the economy. For decades, while no one paid attention, he shouted that the American economy was rigged in favor of the billionaire class at the expense of everyone else. Now most people agree.
Bernie owns the number one issue in the campaign.
That, as Donald Trump would say, is yuuuuge. Neither The Donald’s newfound openness to tax people like himself, nor Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s awkward attempt to co-opt Sandersism with words instead of policies, stands a chance at denting the Bern on the number. One. Issue.
The other major metric for voters is character. Love him or hate him, everyone knows Sanders has integrity, which is why the Clinton camp’s cut-and-paste attempts to portray him as an NRA shill are falling flat. “Sanders may be a dreamer, but he’s not dishonorable. Trying to sully him in this way only sullies her,” columnist Charles Blow of The New York Times observes.
For an American politician, being widely perceived as honorable is virtually unheard of. It’s worth a billion dollars in attack ads.
The biggest danger to Sanders’ campaign isn’t failing to get enough black votes in Southern states. (If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, voters down South who haven’t paid much attention to the race yet will check him out — and he’ll do fine.)
Sanders’ third rail is being perceived as a Johnny One Note candidate obsessed with economic justice at the expense of everything else.
I’ve read everything written about and by Bernie Sanders. But his foreign policy prescriptions are as thin on the ground as U.S. troops in ISIS-controlled Iraq. Whether he’s disinterested in foreign affairs or simply cares more about all matters domestic, he doesn’t talk much about America’s role in the world. Big mistake. Voters expect a robust foreign policy agenda from their president.
As far as I can tell, a Sanders Doctrine is neither militaristic nor isolationist, deploying ground troops and aerial attacks more sparingly than either George W. Bush or Barack Obama. He told me he’d even continue Bush-Obama’s drone assassination program, which is illegal since it has never been authorized by Congress.
If I were running his campaign, I’d spin Sanders’ views as “real pragmatism” to take some air out of Hillary’s hawkish tough-broad sails. But I long for something more.
By 2016 measures Bernie’s foreign and domestic policy agendas are inconsistent. A self-described Scandinavian-style “democratic socialist” doesn’t usually favor wars of choice like Afghanistan (which Sanders supported) or drone killings. Voters assume he’s a pacifist or wish he were — why not become one? I wish he’d align his laudable desire for justice and equality at home for Americans with a push for freedom and self-determination abroad for citizens of other nations. Like: we don’t attack any other countries unless they go after us first.
Sanders is hobbled by some major communications problems. Hillary has exploited his failure to fully explain his healthcare plan by accusing him of wanting to increase taxes, outright lying. “If I save you $10,000 in private health insurance and you pay a little bit more in taxes in total, there are huge savings in what your family is spending,” Bernie tried to rebut at the fourth debate. Not clear enough.
Here, let me help: “Under my plan, your health insurance will be free. Free! The average American will save $10,000 a year. Your taxes will go up, but that tiny increase will be so much less than you’ll save. It’s the same deal almost every other country has, people all around the world love it, and you’ll love it too.”
Capitalism is less popular than most pundits know; socialism and communism are more popular too. In a general election campaign, however, it is true that Republican SuperPACs will air so many anti-Bernie attack ads featuring hammers and sickles you’ll think you’re at an old May Day parade in Moscow.
Bernie has to do more than explain his “democratic socialism.” Post-Hillary, he has to own it. And sell it to the American people.
“[Democratic socialism] builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor,” Bernie said in November. Nice start, but can he erase a century of anti-communist propaganda in 10 months?
To me, the term is political self-mutilation. Sanders isn’t a socialist. He’s a old-school liberal Democrat, like George McGovern was in 1972. It’s ridiculous to have to defend something that you said about yourself when it isn’t true.
Next week, I critique Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is being released today.)