I want to take this opportunity to announce my candidacy for president of the United States and to explain why I have reached this decision.
Let me start by giving you some background on my political career. Unlike other members of the Senate, I have always run as an independent and as a socialist, a term that I am more than willing to defend in debates with other candidates in the race for president. In 2009 one out of five Americans stated a preference for socialism over capitalism. Given the opportunity to speak to the millions of people who have been victims of unemployment, foreclosure, polluted air and water, and a host of other problems caused by corporate greed, I am sure that we can begin to move toward majority support for a system that puts human need above private profit.
In the 1970s I ran as a candidate of the Liberty Union Party in Vermont for the US Senate and for Governor in four different races. While most of you probably haven’t heard of the party, the issues that led to its formation should be familiar. It was against the war in Vietnam and the despoliation of the environment, positions that reflected majority opinion in the United States at the time. I hope to remain true to my roots by stressing the need for peace, Green values, and social justice in my campaign for president.
In 1981 I became the candidate of the Vermont Progressive Party for Mayor of Burlington, Vermont. I won the election and served three more terms. The good people of Burlington kept returning me to office because I tried as best as I could to use city hall for the betterment of the citizenry. I am proud that Burlington became the only city in the USA that funded community trust housing, a program for affordable housing with access to essential services such as medical care and education. If I am elected president, I will fight to extend that program everywhere on a scale that hasn’t been seen since LBJ’s Great Society. It is high time that government became an agent of change once again. This will not only benefit people in need of affordable housing but the unemployed construction workers and young people desperate to become wage earners for the first time.
Now you will hear from the usual rightwing sources a complaint about how this program and other programs that benefit the middle-class and the poor can be afforded. My answer is simple. As president I will push for restoring the tax rates to what they were under President Eisenhower, a Republican president who had the good sense to understand that a healthy and well-educated population is a resource more precious than gold. Under President Eisenhower, the marginal tax rate was 91 percent; under George W. Bush it dropped to 35 percent. For the country to begin to fulfill its obligations to the neediest and to fund programs that benefit everybody including the rich, we need to return to the norms of the Eisenhower presidency when this country enjoyed an economic expansion that was the envy of the world.
On foreign policy, my goal first of all is to solve the most costly and the most dangerous conflict in the world today, the one taking place in the Middle East. Over the past few months I have come to the conclusion that there is no alternative to reestablishing the Israeli-Palestinian relationship on an entirely new basis. For far too long, the USA has allowed Israel to expand beyond its borders creating new settlements in the West Bank while depriving the people living in Gaza elementary rights, including the right to fish in the waters close to home and to import goods such as medicine and building supplies without interference.
We know that Israel would not stand for such violation of its rights; so should we not expect people living in Gaza to do so. Israel will benefit from a new policy as well as the Palestinians. A reduction in military expenditures that goes hand in hand with peaceful relations with its Arab neighbors will allow the government to spend more on the general welfare just as we hope to do in our nation. As a corollary to changes in the Israel-Palestine relationship, we would naturally expect an easing of tensions in the surrounding countries. For too many years the USA has treated the Middle East only as a source of oil and even turned a blind eye to repressive governments that were seen as critical to preserving the flow of oil to our refineries. We will no longer allow foreign policy to be dictated by oil company profits. Our priority going forward will be respect for other nations and fair treatment for its citizens. This was the original promise of the United Nations and we hope to realize them fully under a Bernie Sanders administration.
I will begin organizing a campaign committee very shortly that will help organize the balloting required to put the Progressive Party on the ballot. The name of our new party is not only a salute to the Vermont Progressive Party but to the great 3rd party campaigns of 1924 and 1948 waged by Robert La Follette and Henry Wallace. Even though they were not elected president, they set an example I am proud to follow.
The NAACP supported La Follette for president in 1924, just as I hope it would support me next year. He earned their support because he was opposed to “discrimination between races” and because he repudiated the Ku Klux Klan that had been making inroads in the Democratic Party. Let us never forget that a Democratic president Woodrow Wilson screened “Birth of the Nation” at the White House, a film that was a recruiting tool for the KKK. La Follette’s outspoken opposition to racism led the Grand Wizard of the KKK to declare that he was “the arch enemy of the nation.”
Henry Wallace showed the same kind of courage and principles. Early in the campaign Wallace went on a tour of the south. True to his party’s principles, he announced in advance that he would neither address segregated audiences nor stay in segregated hotels. This was virtually an unprecedented measure to be taken at the time by a major politician.
Their example will be my guiding star. As a key component of my election campaign, I have invited Cornel West to organize an African-American campaign committee that will identify the issues most important to Black America and that will be reflected in a program for the socialist renewal of America. There have been too many young Black men and women shot down in the streets, far too many others sent to prison for drug offenses that victimize Black people disproportionately, and other forms of racist mistreatment that a new civil rights movement has been taking on. I am dedicated to making the White House an integral part of this new movement and appointing an Attorney General who is committed to achieving racial justice.
In addition to the Progressive Parties of our own history, I will be looking to other new parties of the left as examples of the direction we should be moving in. Over the past few years I have been looking closely at Syriza in Greece, a party that has been on the front lines fighting austerity and fascism. I am particularly interested in seeing what lessons can be learned from the ways in which the Greek left has challenged racist attacks on immigrants. All across the world, including the USA, immigrant workers have become scapegoats blamed for the economic suffering caused by the irresponsible behavior of financial elites. It was not Latin American and Mexican immigrants who were responsible for unemployment. It was Wall Street banks that turned the stock market into a gambling casino, not impoverished workers from other countries.
One of the primary goals of our campaign will be to fight for a reversal of the free trade agreements that have benefited American corporations at the expense of our Latino brothers and sisters. Nobody wants to leave their home for an uncertain future in a foreign country where you do not know the language and lack the rights citizenship affords. If we treated our neighbors to the south as partners in a mutually beneficial economic relationship, people will only leave their homeland as a matter of choice rather than out of desperation. That is the outcome we seek.
Our new party will not just exist for winning election campaigns, although we do plan to be winners. We aspire to be an organizing center for peaceful protests such as the Occupy movement and the marches for racial justice in Ferguson, Missouri. Twenty-four hours after Election Day in 2016, our campaign offices will remain open for business. We will serve as a transmission belt for organizing campaigns that fight for peace, social justice, a clean and healthy environment, trade union rights, civil rights, equality for women and gays, and any other causes that require solidarity and material aid. For far too long, activists have been urged to forsake peaceful protests and concentrate on electing politicians who make empty promises. Our campaign will be the first to urge those fighting for social change to keep the pressure on all politicians three hundred and sixty five days a year, including me.
Some may object to me running because I will be taking votes away from the Democratic candidate. My response is to remind them that it has been the failure of the Democrats to carry out programs traditionally associated with the New Deal that has forced me to declare a new party that will honor not only FDR’s ambitious reform agenda but also the democratic promise of his forefathers, from Thomas Paine to Abraham Lincoln.
Keep in mind that Abraham Lincoln ran as the candidate of a new party, just like ours. The Republican Party was formed in 1854 because the Whigs and the Democrats were incapable of addressing the evil of slavery. The evil we face today is of a different nature. While slavery has been abolished, we are facing a host of problems that hearken back to the late 19th century and that have only deepened in the past 125 years or so.
The Robber Barons of the 1880s and 90s were determined like the Koch brothers today to reduce the workingman and woman into a status just a notch above slavery. When workers went out on strike, they were gunned down in the streets. The police and the military were at the disposal of corporations that were determined to extract every last bit of profit from a workforce that was free to be hired and fired but little else. Today we are rapidly moving toward a replay of the Gilded Age when billionaires bought and sold politicians like goods in a department store. The power of the lobbies on Senators and Congressmen has reached a point of no return. The only force capable of resisting this wholesale retreat into a world of misery and woe is an aroused American citizenry. I hope not only to tap into this well of discontent but to stoke it until it reaches the status of an irresistible force capable of transforming the USA into a land based on equal opportunity and justice for all.
Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.wordpress.com and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.