When You Hear Them Called “Far Left”

Our Republican friends keep saying Democratic presidential candidates represent the “far left”. In the good old days, being part of the “far left” meant you were a communist, or belonged to the Socialist Workers Party, or maybe you planted bombs for the Weather Underground. Today, it means you’re not a rabid Republican.

David Mascriota, writing for Salon, clarifies the matter:

The latest bromide — boring and obfuscating as always — is that mainstream American political figures, most especially presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the four young women in Congress known as “The Squad,” are fringe lunatics arguing on behalf of ideas that they cribbed from the diary of Vladimir Lenin.

Reality is consistently stubborn and subversive toward right wing propaganda. A cursory study of history, or a functional memory, indicates that [they] are merely trying to restore balance to the American experience — a balance that existed in such radical eras of the 1940s and ‘50s. The proposals of Warren and Sanders would make them moderates in most Western European countries…

Although the United States is slow to progress to the status of civilization that residents of counties like Canada, Japan and Australia take for granted, … the social welfare state is not entirely foreign to American life. Similarly, ideas like Medicare for All, public universities with minimal or no tuition, and high tax rates on the wealthy are entirely faithful to the “good old days” that President [Toddler] and his supporters seemingly long to resurrect.

After the creation of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965, the rate of uninsured Americans plummeted below 15 percent. Unsatisfied with the existence of any American without access to quality health care, President Richard Nixon — not exactly [socialist presidential candidate] Eugene Debs — proposed a universal health care program that would have [offered] a buy-in rate closely connected to personal income. The poor would pay no premiums, whereas working class families might pay a marginal fee. Decades before …, President Truman — another militant leftist — proposed a national health care program accessible to all citizens at no cost….

Fox News viewers currently collapsing into convulsions over discussion of the “Green New Deal” and enraged over environmental regulations might want to also contemplate that Richard Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency into law. He also signed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act….

The top marginal tax rate during his presidency was 70 percent. When he was vice president to President Dwight Eisenhower, the top marginal rate was 91 percent….[today it’s 37%, but only 20% on capital gains, which mostly accrue to the rich].

Advocates of debt free higher education face accusations of liberal delusion. Rather than the administrators of a hippie commune, Sanders, Warren, and others are as extreme in their ideology as every Republican governor who presided over their respective states and commonwealths, along with their public university systems, in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. It was not until the 1980s that college tuition began its upward trajectory toward rates of highway robbery.

Many state colleges in the middle of the 20th century charged no tuition, while many others had fees so low that students could pay semester-by-semester with the wages they earned in part time employment. The overwhelming majority of white male college students after the conclusion of World War II funded their studies with the GI bill, while white veterans who did not attend college used the government subsidy to buy their first homes.

For most of the postwar era, robust labor unions ensured that large amounts of full time workers received adequate pay for their work, using the power of collective bargaining and the threat of the strike to create conditions favorable to blue collar laborers, most of whom were low skilled and without advanced degrees….

The right wing … blusters about how illegal immigration — not corporate greed or the destruction of labor unions — is to blame for the stagnation of wages. They have convinced millions of voters that comprehensive immigration plans that include a “path to citizenship” are treasonous in theory and practice. Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of American conservatism, granted amnesty to three million undocumented immigrants while president of the United States….

The illuminative story of domestic politics is not how the … Democratic Party has drifted off the edge of the “far left,” but that the far right has so thoroughly succeeded in moving the country’s political culture away from the center that the moderate policies of the 1970s now apparently resemble Fidel Castro’s revolutionary agenda.

A more helpful and truthful framework would instruct the electorate that the braver and more creative Democrats are making a valiant effort to return the United States to the more balanced and equitable policies of the past — policies that created the largest middle class in the history of the world. In other words, they are conservatives.

Unquote.

By the way, Senator Warren announced a very detailed transition plan this week that would allow us to get to Medicare For All in four years. The main steps in her plan are to take immediate executive action to fix problems introduced by our current president;  pass “public option” legislation in her first 100 days that would permit all Americans to  join an enhanced version of Medicare if they wanted to (legislation that would only require a simple majority in the Senate); and then enroll everyone in Medicare in her third year, after more people had seen the benefits of Medicare over private insurance. It’s a reasonable plan that offers a plausible path to Medicare For All. CNN has more on her plan here.

Who We’re Up Against

The [Toddler] Make America Great Again Committee (“TMAGAC”) is a joint fundraising committee composed of Donald J. [Toddler] for President, Inc. (“DJTP”) and the Republican National Committee (“RNC”). I don’t recommend visiting their site.

Last week, a journalist shared one of the committee’s Facebook advertisements. The text reads:

The far left knows that they have NO CHANCE of defeating President [Toddler] in 2020, so they’ve resorted to violence to try to silence the MILLIONS of American Patriots who voted for him.

We need to show radical left that they will NEVER be able to silence us with their violence and their hatred.

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I suppose by “far left” and “radical left” they mean the Democratic Party, not the Communist Party USA or the Socialists Workers. Hatred? You bet. Some hatred is deserved. Violence? Not at all.

This advertisement was paid for by our president’s campaign committee and one of our two major political parties. Facebook let them run it. These are the kind of people we’re up against.

She Made a Mistake, But We Still Need Her

I’ve read Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare For All proposal and think it has some big problems. You can read about it here (there’s a lot to read).

(1) The financing is very complicated. It assumes lots of changes to the tax code. The senator’s 2% Wealth Tax on fortunes over $50 million is a great idea, but raising it to 6% on billionaires, along with the other changes she proposes, makes the whole thing less likely to be enacted and complicates her message.

(2) She says Medicare For All is a long-term goal, but it’s being criticized as if she thinks it could take effect immediately. She has promised to deliver a transition plan, but waiting weeks to explain the transition makes the plan sound too disruptive and even less likely to be enacted.

(3) Although Medicare For All would save the country money overall, nobody is reporting what we would spend without enacting it. It’s simply reported and criticized as the Senator’s very expensive, multi-trillion dollar plan. She needed to emphasize the cost of doing nothing (even though she would have gotten very little cooperation from the press even then).

(4) It isn’t clear how our current Medicare taxes and costs (like deductibles) fit into the plan. Since Medicare costs less than private insurance, it would be reasonable to say Medicare taxes would go up somewhat, but people would save money because they wouldn’t be paying for private insurance? Implying there would be no extra taxes suggests the Senator is again promising too much. Medicare isn’t free now. There is no reason to think it would be free in the future, even with the Senator’s proposals for funding it.

So I think the Senator’s announcement of her Medicare For All plan has been a mistake. Maybe she can get past this by emphasizing that Medicare For All is a goal and would require major changes, and that she supports a public option in the meantime. She has supported a public option in the past. Believe it or not, Joe Biden’s public option plan seems to make sense. (The Bernie Sanders site says you can see the details of his Medicare For All proposal, but when you click on “Details”, there aren’t any.) Somewhere between Biden’s and Sanders’s proposals would be a good place for Senator Warren to be. We need her if we want to replace the Toddler and turn this country around. 

Maybe They Should Try Connecting With Her?

If trends continue, Elizabeth Warren will soon be considered the front-runner among the Democrats running for president. She has been rising in the polls while Joe Biden has been sinking and Bernie Sanders has remained static. So, in addition to the positive press coverage of her campaign and her many plans, we’ll now see stories about what she needs to do in order to win the nomination and the presidency. 

This story appeared in the New York Times today:

NYT

This story appeared in the Los Angeles Times today:

LAT

There is no doubt whatsoever that Senator Warren will try to connect with as many voters as she can. This is a representative democracy, however. Perhaps voters should make an effort to connect with her? By learning who she is and what she’d try to do as president? For example, it’s easy to do a search for “Elizabeth Warren biography” or go to YouTube and look for “Elizabeth Warren speech”. There is plenty of time before any of us get to vote.

Our Next President

12,000 people showed up on a Monday night in Minneapolis to see Sen. Elizabeth Warren, seven months before the Minnesota primary election. After she spoke, she spent three hours taking selfies with anyone who wanted one. I think it’s time to put the “Nevertheless She Persisted” bumper stickers on the cars.

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Correction:  It was at Macalester College in St. Paul, the other Twin City. Still very impressive, of course.

The Creep Wins If You Only Focus On Mueller’s Performance

Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post says what needs to be said about the Mueller hearings. Quote:

“After totally unplugging and being out of the country for 23 days, watching President Trump’s gloat-o-rama in the wake of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s halting testimony on Wednesday was like turning on a soap opera after 20 years. Same plot. Same script. Same actors. But being away from Twitter, the perpetual American news cycle and the insane pendulum ride that is the Trump presidency gave me some much-needed perspective.

The reaction to Mueller’s testimony brings a key lesson to light. If y’all are focused on the 74-year-old lifelong Republican’s performance rather than the substance of what he actually said, you’re playing Trump’s game on Trump’s turf. Here are three of the bombshells from Mueller:

  1. The Russians are still interfering in U.S. politics. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” Mueller told congressional lawmakers.
  2. The FBI is still engaged in a counterintelligence investigation. When pressed by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) about how his report did not address false statements made by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Mueller said, “I cannot get into that mainly because there are many elements of the FBI looking at that issue.” Notice the present tense? Krishnamoorthi did and asked, “Currently?” To which Mueller replied, “Currently.”
  3. The Mueller report does not exonerate the president on charges of obstruction of justice. “The finding indicates that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” Mueller told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), using a $50 word (exculpated) to say the president was not declared not guilty of obstruction of justice.

The first two points are clarion calls for us to pay attention to things that are happening in the here and now that we’re not paying attention to because of Trump’s distraction industrial complex over at the White House. The third point is bound to have folks dismiss it because it’s something we already knew. And while that might be true, it’s always good to have the words said out loud again, since most folks haven’t read the 448-page Mueller report.

Since the start of Trump’s candidacy four years ago, we know that optics mean everything to Trump. How someone looks, how he or she sounds is paramount to the man who views every day as an episode of the “Apprentice” scripted television franchise that made everyone think he was a successful businessman instead of the grifter he really is. What should be important to all of us is that the world heard (again) that the Russians continue to undermine our democracy, that the Trump campaign was not averse to accepting Russian help in the 2016 presidential election and actively sought to cover up its actions, and that there was convincing evidence the president of the United States obstructed justice. And those are just some of the things that were discussed at the hearings.

On a related note

The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, blocked two election security measures yesterday, arguing that Democrats are trying to give themselves a “political benefit” (i.e. the opportunity to have a fair election without foreign interference in 2020).

Something Positive for a Change: They Read

Quoting a background article about our next president from Huffington Post:

When [Elizabeth Warren] was elected to the United States Senate, she wanted to solve a growing problem: student debt.

… So, as her Senate office began to staff up, [she] wanted to roll out a policy proposal to bring down the cost of student loans. Her staff did what they always did when working for Warren: They looked for the best existing plans and the best data to show her the root causes of the problem. What they found was lacking. The number of ideas floating around to fix the problem was minuscule.

Policy development in Washington normally runs through think tanks. Think tanks need to raise money for policy programs. But since there was no money devoted to developing a policy to relieve student loan debt, there were relatively few experts in Washington on the issue at the time. So Warren hired a top academic expert to develop student loan debt relief policy on her staff.

In the seven years since, Warren has become the most active politician in America when it comes to investigating, transforming and eliminating student debt. As the problem has grown, her proposed solutions grew. She started by fighting to lower interest rates and pushing the Obama administration to investigate for-profit colleges with high default rates, and she slowly reached the point where it was time to push for the near-total elimination of student debt.

This is how Warren has pushed the boundaries of progressive policy since coming to Washington. Instead of relying on the traditional D.C. think tank world, she made her office into her very own think tank. This vast, over-qualified policy team then consulted with a kitchen cabinet of legal academics, economists and other scholars outside the Beltway. Her goal all along has been to craft and sell policies to help solve one overarching problem: inequality in American society.

“It looks like we’re trying to solve a lot of different problems, but we’re only trying to solve one problem,” said Jon Donenberg, who is now the policy director for Warren’s presidential campaign. “It’s the rigged system; it’s the corrupt government and economy that only benefits those at the top. Every solution flows from that.” 

Now Warren’s policy-first politics is the unlikely fuel for her bid for the White House. Her steady release of detailed yet easy-to-digest policy papers became a meme [“Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that”]…. She now sits among the top tier of contenders in the polls and fundraising — all while eschewing big-money fundraisers. 

It’s no surprise that her focus on policy has catapulted Warren back into serious contention. Digging into policy solutions for overlooked problems and explaining it in digestible soundbites is what she has done since the publication of her first book, “As We Forgive Our Debtors,” an empirical study of bankruptcy that completely changed how academics viewed the issue. 

“This is what she’s been doing her whole life,” said Georgetown Law School professor Adam Levitin, a former Warren student at Harvard Law School.

Other presidential candidates have highlighted their policy advisers…. But Warren’s approach is unique. If elected president, she won’t be testing out a new policy process in office. She’ll bring one that’s been tried and tested in her offices for nearly a decade.

She’s been doing it since even before her Senate run. A decade ago, she ran the Congressional Oversight Panel overseeing the 2008 bank bailout. It was a temporary post on a hot-button issue likely to anger powerful figures in both political parties. That made it hard to attract staff from the typical pool of Washington applicants. But Warren attracted policy experts to work with her. She connected them to her world of policy-oriented legal academics.

“That’s kind of where you can start to see her build a policy shop,” said Levitin, who also worked for Warren on the oversight panel. “And then she was able to build on that model when she went into the Senate.”

Warren’s Senate office was built entirely around policy, with the largest such team in Congress. She hired an investigations team to research issues she was considering pushing or to continue to build the case for legislation she had introduced. The team, whose members had sterling academic credentials — one of the office’s first health care staffers had a doctorate in pharmacology — consulted with academics that Warren read and talked to to help guide her policy thinking.

“They were a conduit for people who had 50-year careers working in whatever the field was and had literally written the textbook on it,” said Graham Steele, a former staffer to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)…. 

Other Senate offices would consult with her staff on policy development because they knew it was the best team around, according to Steele. Or sometimes her office would hear from Warren’s kitchen cabinet of academics about a particular bill. “There’d be a D.C. consensus, and then her office would come to you and say, ‘Hey, we’ve heard some concerns about this particular bill, and I’d love to put you on the phone with this person who’s like the foremost expert on whatever this issue is,’” Steele said.

Warren doesn’t totally eschew the D.C. think tanks … But it’s relatively rare for her staff to think the ideas emerging from think-tank land are the best ones out there.

The goal of think tanks is to prove their worth to donors by having politicians adopt their ideas. That means they mostly assemble and pitch ideas politicians are likely to adopt, and it can be hard for them to push the type of ideas that have been banished from polite conversation in Washington, even if that’s where the data leads them….

What really sold Baradaran on Warren and her policy team was something very simple.

“They read,” she said. “That’s something that can’t be overemphasized enough because it really contrasts starkly to me with the rest of the members of Congress all over the spectrum. People just don’t engage with or read, not only just not academic work, but other work in general.”

Take special counsel Robert Mueller’s “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election,” which lawmakers have said they didn’t read because “It’s tedious,” “It is what it is,” and “What’s the point?” Warren read it. She came to the conclusion that President Donald Trump obstructed justice and followed the clear message of the report: that only Congress can do something about a president breaking the law. She called for the House to launch an impeachment inquiry [she was the first presidential candidate to do so].

She also read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2014 article for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” and reached out to the author to discuss it. “She had read it, she was deeply serious, and she had questions, and it wasn’t like, ‘Would you do XYZ for me?’” Coates told The New Yorker in June. Warren is the only 2020 candidate to talk to him about the issue, he added — and he thinks she’s the only candidate who is really serious about it. 

Warren’s plan to levy a 2% tax on fortunes above $50 million stems from reading the work of University of California economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Their research found that the current wealth inequality in the U.S. is the result of the growth of wealth among the top 0.1% of households caused by policy choices in Washington. Warren’s team reached out to Saez and Zucman in January to help craft her wealth tax. The two economists also worked on her corporate tax proposal and her plan to reduce overseas tax avoidance by the wealthy.

“She is really ― and I want to contrast this with every other member of Congress I’ve worked with — she gets it, she gets down and dirty in the weeds like nobody else,” Levitin said.

Sometimes Warren gets her policy from her own reading, but other times it bubbles up from her staff’s research. She makes sure to direct them toward answering the questions she always asked herself in her academic career.

“The two questions Elizabeth asks the most often is: ‘What’s driving the problem?’ and ‘What does the data say?’” Donenberg said. “If you don’t have answers to those two questions, it’s time for you to go.”

When all the research is complete and the policies appear done, Warren has one final task. It must be possible to explain every policy that comes out of her office in practical language to anyone.

She asks staffers to consider, “How can I tell the story about this that people will understand?” according to Levitin.

When she ran the Congressional Oversight Panel, every 100-page report her office put out first went to her desk, where she would write a one-page plain-language explanation for the press and the public.

“Her unusual strength is being able to translate really complex problems into a way that an ordinary person can understand them,” Levitin said.

She rocketed to political stardom by deftly explaining why the 2008 financial crisis happened in appearances on “The Daily Show.” And she’s using her policy plans not only to show what she’ll do as president to shrink the yawning inequality gap in the country but also to reveal her character and seriousness to voters.

Note: As more voters are paying attention, the two best-known Democratic candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, have both gone down in the polls. Elizabeth Warren has gone up, to the point where some polls show her in second place.

Warren is the opposite of our current president in several ways. She has an excellent chance to become the Democratic nominee. If she is, I think the Democrats will do very well in the next election. I want to say more on that soon.