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Senator Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the presidency of the United States is in full blossom, on tour with rousing speeches to standing room only extraordinarily motivated crowds. Senator Sanders, the tough-minded Independent with socialists’ tendencies, is labeled a long shot to win the Democratic nomination, especially in the face of the odds-on-favorite Hillary Clinton, whose political machinery is so well oiled that it is dripping.
But, maybe the former secretary of state is in for the surprise of her life as the senator’s message rings loud and clear with people standing on tip toes in lines reaching far outside of auditoriums. Similar to “Fighting Bob” Robert La Follette, a founder of the Progressive Movement in early 20th century America, “His basic aim was to protect the common man from the special interests,” Robert M. La Follette: Progressive Leader, U-S-History.com. History knows him as the most important and recognized leader of the opposition to growing dominance of corporations over the government.
Senator Sander’s speeches are consummately directed at Middle America whereby he declares the necessity and urgency of a political revolution. In all, he is the embodiment of the Progressive Movement 21st Century sequel. The political targets today are the same, and the socio-politico-economic circumstances are eerily similar, as today’s Gilded Age-Part II provides more than enough ammunition to motivate crowds into absolute frenzy. People get it!
Speaking in Minneapolis where more than 3700 people squeezed into a small gym, the senator said he would like to ask people to sit down, but there were no more chairs. His opening remark: “I think it is fair to say we are off to a strong start in this campaign, a campaign which is calling for a political revolution in this country,” a statement that led to thunderous, ear-splitting applause.
Ever the realist, the senator explained: “I heard the chants Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, but this is not about Bernie. It really is about you. And, when I talk about a political revolution, what everybody here has to understand is that the billionaire class and their representatives in Washington are so powerful that the best president in the world cannot defeat them alone. We need a mass movement of millions of people. A movement of people that stand up and say loudly and clearly that this great nation of ours and our government belong to all of the people and not just a handful of billionaires.”
In essence America’s 2016 political campaign is all about Bernie versus the neoliberal establishment. After all, it is neoliberalism’s socio-politico-economic tenets with Supply-side economics, as initiated by Milton Friedman as early as 1951 and brought into prominence by President Reagan and PM Thatcher, that serve as the driving forces behind accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. The epitome of which is the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, granting the uber rich a right to buy the country lock, stock and barrel.
Even the staunchly neoliberal corporate entity Citigroup admits to a privileged class above and beyond the pale, e.g., three Citigroup analysts described the “plutonomy” in 2005 as: “The world is dividing into two blocs— the plutonomies, where economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few—and the rest,” Annalyn Censky, staff reporter, How the rich became the über rich, CNN Money, Feb. 22, 2011. That powerful statement separates the world into two classes, “the one percent” and “the rest.” Or, to put it another way, an oligarchy converted into a plutocracy by the Supremes versus “the rest,” a titanic battleground between the 99% and the 1%.
Unremarkably, everybody knows all about the deep chasm separating the two classes because “the one percent” says it all, as it is now part of everyday jargon, found in newspaper and magazine articles, mentioned on television and scripted by Hollywood. Thus, the one percent serves as a clear and profound demarcation between “haves” and “have-nots.” It separates everybody else from the uber rich. In this way, it may be the biggest political target since Fighting Bob took on the railroads over 100 years ago. This alone gives Senator Sanders enormous leverage in political debate.
The one percent conveniently provides Senator Sanders a dream target. He can’t miss because 99% of the people are on the outside looking in. They empathize with his every word. As for evidence, feedback in Minneapolis and in Iowa was intensely passionate and protracted. They get it!
“This country today faces more serious problems than at any time since the Great Depression, and if you throw in, if you add to that the planetary crisis of climate change, the problems today may be even more serious,” said the senator. “And here is my promise to you for this campaign. Not only will I fight to protect the working families of this country, but we are going to build a permanent movement in this country in which we are going to stand up and fight back.”
As such, by definition, Senator Sanders stands outside of the mainstream political system, but he is running for the Democratic nomination, a very mainstream party. And, herein lies a stroke of political genius. Modern day America has never elected a third party candidate. The senator must recognize this fatal course of political suicide, and he has astutely elected to go mainstream for the nomination, but yet he intends to build a “permanent movement” that goes contrary to everything mainstream politics favor.
For example, the senator’s main issues do not harmonize with the neoliberal Supply-side crowd in Washington. Rather, he is diametrically the opposite. According to the senator, the most significant issue the country faces is the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality. “It is the great moral issue of our time. It is the great economic issue of our time. It is the great political issue of our time. And, we are going to deal with that issue.” Conveniently for Senator Sanders, the former secretary of state is deeply immersed within his main target. She has no escape. She is the target.
How many political candidates dare talk about America’s economy as a “rigged economy”? Accordingly, “This grotesque level of income wealth inequality is bad economics. It is unsustainable. And, this is the type of rigged economy which America is not supposed to be about. This has got to change.”
It is one thing to talk about income inequality, which the former secretary of state has also softly alluded to, but it is quite another to label it as a “rigged economy,” implying a loss of the middle class dream of upward mobility. Horatio Alger for Middle America is dead.
In fact, the senator makes clear that America’s great middle class, over the past 40 years, has been disappearing. Neoliberalism’s penchant for “freedom of market determinism,” or the invisible hand of the market dictating policy, has shifted America’s middle class jobs to low paying, low regulatory offshore countries because the profit motive reigns supreme. The result, according to the senator, median family real income is almost $5000 less today than it was in 1999.
“In the last 30 years there has been a huge redistribution of wealth. It has gone from the middle class to the very rich.” But, according to the myth perpetrated by many mainstream economic academics, Supply-side (Reagan) is supposed to trickle wealth down to the masses. Nowadays, the evidence is profoundly clear that the trickle reversed course some years ago into a massive flood upstream. In fact, this is now so blatantly obvious that it is highly probable all the candidates for the presidency will mention more equality, less inequality purely as a political maneuver, however sheepishly.
According to the senator, the Supremes have set the table for neoliberalism’s upcoming zenith power trip. “What the Supreme Court essentially said [Citizen’s United] to the wealthiest people in this country, to the billionaire class, what they said is you guys already own much of the economy. Now we’re going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government… American democracy is not about billionaires being able to buy candidates and elections… The Koch brothers themselves… one family… will spend more money in this election cycle than either the Democrat Party or the Republican Party… That is not democracy. That is a move to oligarchy.”
According to the senator, the central part of a progressive agenda is jobs. He wants a nationwide federal program to create good paying jobs. He proposes a one trillion dollar infrastructure governmental program to stimulate the economy, make the country safer, and more efficient as well as creating thirteen million good-paying jobs. Not only that, he wants to insure that good jobs stay in America. It is why he voted against NAFTA, and why he opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Since 2001, according to the senator, the country has lost 60,000 factories and millions of decent paying jobs. He favors trade agreements that are positive for workers, not trade agreements that are drafted by corporations and Wall Street to flower their enriched gardens with dirt-cheap labor and weak-kneed regulations. As a result, Americans increasingly work more jobs, more hours, and live on lower wages, e.g., the minimum wage of $7.50/hour is a “starvation wage.” By the senator’s standards, this is an outrage.
For workers the minimum wage must be doubled, and include paid sick leave, and guaranteed vacation time with sufficient, universal single-payer health coverage. And, in order to adequately train America’s workforce, public college education must be free for all.
Not only will the senator raise the standard of living for the middle class, he intends to tax the rich: “Let me be very clear, and let me tell all of the billionaires who are watching that TV, if I’m elected president, you’re going to start paying your fair share of taxes.”
Along those lines, the senator obviously knows his history because during the LBJ administration (1960s), the top marginal tax rate for individuals was 70% and corporate taxes were 48% (much higher than today’s rates) when the country’s GDP grew at a robust annualized rate of 5.0%, a rate of economic growth not matched by any presidential administration since. As such, an assumptive president Sanders will likely reverse President Reagan’s famous slogan, “Get Big Government Off Our Backs” restated to “Get Abusive Private Interests Off Our Backs.” After all, this slogan is implicitly interwoven throughout his speeches.
Not only that, but when it comes to debates, it is likely the senator knows history is on his side. Pre-Supply-side economics and well before neoliberalism took hold over the socio-politico-economic landscape, the economy performed beautifully with full employment when taxes for the upper classes were double today’s rates. This, therefore, provides the senator with top-notch debate material supportive of his “tax the rich” create “good-paying jobs” for the middle class argument. LBJ has already done the groundwork for him.
As it goes, the senator will be able to totally discount the Supply-side argument that lowering taxes on the rich enhances the economy, creating more jobs, blah blah blah. After all, by now everybody knows how badly Supply-side economics works, except for lining the pockets of the already rich. Supply-side economics is a virtual debt-creation machine as it reduces taxes for governmental coffers whilst a lower tax base gooses up federal indebtedness. Thus, wealth is transferred to the rich at the expense of all taxpayers whilst taxes as a percentage of GDP are near 50-year lows.
Senator Sanders is likely the coup de grâce for neoliberalism (less government, less regulations, free-market determinism) and Supply-side economics (cut taxes to incentivize the rich to boost the economy as money trickles down). By now, the American public is onto this ruse as the “one percent” epitomizes the virtual destruction of the middle class.
According to the political rumor mill, Hillary Clinton’s people in Iowa told her to get to work ASAP in the state. They witnessed the standing room only crowds and heard the compelling appeal to middle America that only Senator Bernie Sanders can impart with a true sense of genuineness. It is his greatest political asset. He is Genuine Bernie.
Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org