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.

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.