A Socialist Joins the Presidential Debates
As everyone knows, the Democratic and Republican parties have limited and controlled the political narrative for generations. In this way, they hope to convince people that the only “realistic” choice is between one or another party of the 1%. At no time is this political censorship more pronounced than during the presidential election season. However, through the magic of the Internet, we bring you the real debate: the debate between socialist candidate, Sydney Solidarity, representing the interests of working people—the 99%—versus the stale, stilted defense of the status quo as presented by the two corporate parties.
The first presidential debate of the 2012 campaign took place October 3, moderated by Jim Lehrer. Below are Solidarity’s responses to each of the debate questions. Jim Lehrer’s comments are edited for flow.
A transcript of the actual, limited first debate between Barak Obama and Mitt Romney can be found here.
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Jim Lehrer: Let’s start the economy, segment one, and let’s begin with jobs. What are the major differences between the [three] of you about how you would go about creating new jobs?
Sydney Solidarity: Thank you. The primary difference between socialists and the parties represented by Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, is that socialists tell the truth about the class divisions in our society and all that this implies. Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney would have you believe that there is one America, one team, with everyone in the same boat and everyone pulling toward the same goal. This is a conscious deception. As socialists, we recognize that the 99% and the 1%—those who produce all of the nation’s wealth, as distinct from those who, through various schemes, collect, control and manage the disposition of that great mountain of wealth—have opposing and conflicting interests. The interests of Wall St, the giant insurance companies and corporate conglomerates are different from those of working people.
Socialists argue that our current economic system is fundamentally undemocratic because those that produce all of the wealth have no say in how it is put to use, and those that control most of the wealth had nothing to do with creating it. As such, socialist solutions to current problems take into account the injustice of the current setup and we are not bound by the phony constraints adhered to by the two corporate parties.
Socialists say a job is a right that should be guaranteed to all, at union wages. There is plenty of work that needs to be done and plenty of money to pay for it. To immediately put everyone back to work, we would launch a massive public works program to build and repair infrastructure, schools, parks and neighborhood health clinics; construct fast, cheap, efficient mass transit within and between each of our cities. We would invest massively in research, development and construction of safe, renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and more. To pay for all of this, we would eliminate the three-quarter trillion dollar war budget, which is used by the 1% to defend their interests and impose their will on the 99% at home and abroad. Finally, we would institute a steeply graduated income tax, with working people paying no tax, those earning more than $200,000 taxed at an increasing rate for each additional $10,000 of income, up to a top tax rate of 100% for any income over a million dollars. All types of income, including interest and capital gains, would be treated the same. This may sound radical, but we should remember that the top US tax rate from 1954 to 1963 was 91%.
[Solidarity now responds to the initial statements and cross comments by the other candidates.]
Mr. Obama touted his support for “Race to the Top” as a way to improve American education. Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney claimed to support education. The facts prove otherwise.
The so-called “Race to the Top” program is a cover for high-stakes testing, union busting and privatization of public schools. While socialists stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the striking Chicago teachers in their just fight to defend quality education for all, both of the corporate parties opposed the Chicago teachers’ strike, just as they oppose all struggles of working people to improve conditions in their workplaces, schools, and towns. Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s fellow Democrat and former chief of staff, led the opposition to the Chicago teachers, as did Mr. Obama’s education secretary, Arne Dunkin before him. Pick any recent struggle—from Occupy Wall St., to the fight against union busting and austerity in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere—the Democrats and Republicans give flowery speeches about worker’s rights but always throw the majority of their weight behind the 1% who own and control both parties. Socialists, on the other hand, march side by side with the 99%, fighting for full union rights for all workers, a repeal of all anti-union and all anti-strike legislation, and guaranteed jobs for all.
Socialists support free education for all, from preschool through university, to be paid for by taxing corporate profits and eliminating the huge sums spent annually on the Pentagon, money which is used primarily to oppose the struggles of students, teachers and other working people abroad.
At three-quarters of a trillion dollars (not counting spending on veterans and military retirement) the total budget for war for fiscal 2013 is more than 12 times the amount allocated for education. And if you consider that the $248 billion annual interest payment on the national debt is primarily due to past military spending, the ratio of war to education spending is more than 16 to 1. Something’s wrong with this picture!
As quality education is a right and a vital national priority, we support smaller class sizes, increased logistical support and increased pay for teachers. We think it’s obscene that politicians, corporate executives, and corporate lawyers receive more pay, prestige and respect than teachers, healthcare workers and childcare providers. This picture is completely upside down.
In their remarks, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney spoke in favor of cutting corporate taxes. That’s their way of currying favor with those who finance their campaigns and bankroll their parties. Notice that their argument for cutting corporate taxes—that this is needed to create jobs—is just trickle down economics in another form. Mr. Obama chides Mr. Romney for supporting trickle down economics in supporting the Bush income tax cuts for the rich—tax cuts which Mr. Obama signed off on repeatedly himself. But Mr. Obama’s support for corporate tax cuts amounts to the same thing: tax cuts for the rich, with the assumption that the benefits will trickle down. This is why socialists say that the main difference between the Democrats and Republicans is not in whether they support the 1%, but how they go about doing it.
Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney said they support increased domestic oil and gas exploration. Mr. Obama has bragged in public speeches about his record of increasing domestic oil and gas production. Mr. Romney has said that, if elected, he would approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline on his first day in office. Mr. Obama has already approved the lower half of the pipeline, and appears poised to approve the rest if he is reelected. Have either of these guys heard of global warming? Do they think they know more than the world’s leading climate scientists? Apart from occasional lip service, both men and their parties carry on as if human triggered climate change doesn’t exist. Despite Fukushima, and problems associated with poisonous nuclear waste at all nuclear power plants, Mr. Obama has been a steadfast nuclear booster, perhaps because has received substantial campaign funding from the nuclear industry. Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Romney is serious about reducing greenhouse gasses nor protecting the environment. Why? Because both the Democratic and Republican parties prioritize corporate profits over human needs and the needs of the planet. Both put the needs of corporations ahead of the needs of people. Both the Democrats and Republicans are pro-capitalist parties, and cheerleading for policies that yield the greatest corporate profit, regardless of the consequences, is fundamentally what supporting capitalism means.
Socialists are for putting human needs before profits. We’re for putting the needs of the planet ahead of those of Exxon, BP, Westinghouse, Peabody Energy and others. We would immediately invest in clean, renewable energy production and heavily tax oil, coal, and nuclear industry profits to pay for it.
LEHRER: All right. Let’s talk—we’re still on the economy. This is, theoretically now, a second segment still on the economy, and specifically on what to do about the federal deficit, the federal debt.
SOLIDARITY: The focus by the two corporate parties on the national deficit is a sham and a diversion. Working people didn’t create the debt, working people do not benefit from the policies that caused the debt, and working people should not be responsible for one cent of the debt. The debt was accumulated knowingly, purposefully by the Democrats and Republicans as both parties allocated huge sums for wars of aggression that only benefit the 1%, while both parties regularly approve huge tax breaks for the richest corporations and individuals at home. The $248 billion annual interest payment on the debt is nearly four times what we spend on education. A big chunk of this goes directly to the richest “too big to fail” banks that played key roles in the latest financial crash.
The debt is also used as a propaganda tool, to try to convince working people that there’s no money for education, healthcare, housing, food, transportation, parks, infrastructure and other vital services.
We too are for erasing the national debt, but we propose to do it with an actual eraser rather than a checkbook. Nearly half of the debt is owed to various US government and state agencies—in other words, to ourselves! They took money from social security, federal pension funds and the Medicare Trust Fund, and used it to fund the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
Payments to banks, insurance companies and other institutions that contributed to the recent financial collapse should be cancelled outright. Funds stolen from social security, Medicare, pensions, and small individual investors should be paid back by heavily taxing the so-called defense contractors, all of which have made obscene super profits off war spending.
Just think about the audacity of these two gentlemen: Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, with the full cooperation of their colleagues in their respective political parties, stole money from social security, Medicare, federal pensions and state budgets, and used it to pay for imperial wars and tax cuts for the rich. Then they say that social security, Medicare, retirement programs and state budgets are broke and that all these programs must be cut! It’s as if they first pick your pocket, then pointing to your reduced means, claim that you obviously can’t manage your money, and argue that , therefore, you ought to be paid less. This is bold! This is brash! They’re playing the American people for suckers. They call this being fiscally responsible. The proper term for it is highway robbery!
LEHRER: All right? All right. This is segment three, the economy. Entitlements….Do you see a major difference between [any] of you on Social Security?
SOLIDARITY: Mr. Obama said that he and Mr. Romney have a similar position on social security. I agree. Using slightly different language, they’re both for reducing the benefits for some groups. I am opposed to this. The socialist position is that every working person has a right to a full, secure retirement. The Democrats and Republicans pretend that Social security is facing a crisis. It’s not! It’s currently one of the only government programs that’s running a surplus. The solution to securing and expanding Social Security for the future is to remove the $107 thousand cap and make the richest Americans pay social security taxes on all of their income. Problem solved.
Regarding Medicare, we support expanding it in two ways: 1) Expand it to cover everyone, not just those 65 and over. 2) Expand it to cover all health care needs, including dental and preventative care, with no gaps and no co pays. We would use Medicare-For-All to completely replace Obama/Romney care. Taking the profit out of healthcare, and eliminating the bloated administrative cost associated with private, for profit, insurance-based healthcare would more than pay for itself in savings and would greatly improve everyone’s standard of living.
LEHRER: All right. So to finish quickly, briefly, on the economy, what is your view about the level of federal regulation of the economy right now? Is there too much?…[S]hould there be more?
SOLIDARITY: Regulations like Glass-Steagall and Dodd-Frank slow down certain types of overt corruption under our capitalist economic system, but they don’t get to the heart of the matter. The biggest corruption is one that occurs every day and is part and parcel of capitalism itself. Namely, that workers are not paid the full value of what they produce. Adam Smith understood this. Workers and employees negotiate a wage—let’s say $20 and hour. It’s plain as day under the current system, that no boss is going to pay someone $20 an hour unless each hour of labor is worth much more than that amount to the boss. The unpaid labor of millions of workers is siphoned off as “profit”, trickled upwards and concentrated at the top. This is the primary way in which the 1% exploits the 99%. The rest is just details.
Today, our economy is a dictatorship of the 1%, where maximizing profits comes before human needs. Socialists favor organizing the economy democratically, where those who produce the wealth are the ones who decide how it should be used; where human needs come before profit. That is the kind of regulatory reform we advocate.
LEHRER: All right. I think we have another clear difference between the [three] of you. Now, let’s move to health care where I know there is a clear difference, and that has to do with the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.
SOLIDARITY: We say that healthcare is a right. Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Romney agree with this. To them, healthcare is something you should have access to only if you can afford to pay, as if it were a luxury. The US has worse health outcomes, higher healthcare costs and more people without access to the care they need than all other industrialized countries. And quite a few underdeveloped countries outdo us in this regard as well.
We support single-payer, Medicare-For-All as the solution to our healthcare crisis. Obamacare is really just Romneycare rebranded, since it was based on the plan Mr. Romney instituted as governor of Massachusetts, and both plans are based the same right-wing Herritage foundation position papers. Obamacare is a multi-billion dollar gift to the insurance companies, who have no business profiting from or being involved in healthcare in any way. Far from adding any value to the end product, the involvement of insurance companies in healthcare has only served to enrich their shareholders and increase costs for the rest of us. Again, Mr. Obama paid lip service to single-payer before he was elected, but in a speech to the AMA shortly before the passage of Obamacare, he assured his audience, “…when you hear the naysayers claim that I’m trying to bring about government run healthcare, know this: they’re not telling the truth.”
One reason why the Democrats and Republicans resist single-payer Medicare-For-All is that it would dissociate healthcare from the work place. This is a big deal. With single-payer, everyone would be covered, whether or not you are employed, whether or not you are on strike. Employers could not play health benefits off against improvements in wages and working conditions during contract negotiations. This would give working people more power, more freedom and more control over their lives, something corporate America and the two corporate parties do not want to see.
LEHRER: That is a terrific segue to our next segment, and is the role of government….And the question is this. Do you believe…there’s a fundamental difference between [any] of you as to how you view the mission of the federal government?
SOLIDARITY: Today, our government is owned and controlled, lock, stock and barrel, by the 1%. That’s a fact. Most Americans understand this. At home, government agencies and police do their utmost to protect the property and interests of the1%. Abroad, our State Department and military are used to defend and extent corporate profits and the interests of our 1% overseas. Occasionally, when working people mobilize in large numbers, concessions are made, wrists are slapped and some of the worst abuses are tempered. Because the 1% owns the government, every major progressive advance in history—from winning the eight hour day, to union rights, to social security, Medicare, women’s suffrage, abortion rights, the end of Jim Crow segregation, and ending the Vietnam War—came about not by electing this or that politician, but by working people mobilizing independently, in massive numbers, in the streets.
Working people, working farmers, students, blacks, Latinos, other oppressed nationalities need to band together and challenge the 1% for political control. As a step in this direction, we should form our own political party, a labor party based on our unions, to run our own candidates for office rather than supporting one or another candidate of the 1%. A labor party—a party of the 99%–would fight for a government of, by and for the 99%, a government that would put human needs before profits and would be an ally of the 99% in fighting for a just world, at home and abroad.
LEHRER: All right. Let’s go through some specifics in terms of what — how each of you views the role of government. How do — education. Does the federal government have a responsibility to improve the quality of public education in America?
SOLIDARITY: Yes. Again, socialists assert that quality education is a right and should be free and accessible to all, from preschool through college. We should demand that our government fully fund this vision, using money from the war budget and the taxing of corporate profits.
LEHRER: …[W]e only have three — three minutes left in the — in the debate before we go to your closing statements. And so I want to ask finally here, and remember, we’ve got three minutes total time here — and the question is this. Many of the legislative functions of the federal government right now are in a state of paralysis as a result of partisan gridlock. If elected,…what would you do about that?
SOLIDARITY: Unlike the Democrats and Republicans, socialists do not pretend that the solution to our problems lies in electing us or any other politician. The power of the 99% lies in our numbers and our proximity to production. We are the overwhelming majority. We produce all of the nation’s wealth. No amount of Washington gridlock can stand up to working people mobilized in our workplaces, in our towns, in the streets.
While we do not claim that electing us will solve any problems per se, we do want to be elected. If elected, we would use our office as an organizing platform, a resource and a tool to help working people mobilize and fight. Fight to replace the current undemocratic, minority government of the 1% with a democratic government of the majority—the 99%.
LEHRER: That brings us to closing statements….
SOLIDARITY: Thank you. We are grateful for having had an opportunity to outline our views. The difference between us and the two corporate candidates is stark. They are the candidates of war, of Wall St., of corporate America, of environmental destruction, of the super rich, and of putting profits above all else. They are candidates of the 1%.
We support bringing all the troops home now! We support the guaranteed right to a job for all, at union wages; single-payer Medicare-For-All, free quality education for all; a massive public works program to build infrastructure, schools, mass transit, renewable energy, and other things we badly need; full support for immigrant rights. We would fund all of this by using the war budget and by taxing corporate profits. We oppose all forms of racism, sexism and exploitation which serve only to divide us and strengthen our opponents. We support building a system that puts human needs before profits. We stand with the 99%.
Bruce Lesnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.