Bernie Sanders Can Now Get Stuff Done (In Theory)

It’s just one of the encouraging changes in Washington. From The Guardian:

As Democrats take control of the Senate, Bernie Sanders has taken on his new role as chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee. [Correction: No, he hasn’t. The Republican leader in the Senate is using the threat of a filibuster to stop Democrats from becoming committee chairmen. See “So Much For Unity — U.S. Senate Edition”. I assume this is a temporary problem.]

At the helm of the Budget Committee, Sanders will be in charge of the reconciliation process, which allows Congress to move through legislation without the 60-vote supermajority needed to overcome filibuster. Reconciliation can be used to move through key coronavirus relief measures, including stimulus payments.

Sanders has said that he’d love for a bipartisan effort on coronavirus relief, but he won’t let a desire for bipartisanship delay action.

“We should hear what my Republican colleagues have to say, but we are not going to spend months and months and not address the incredible pain millions of families are experiencing,” Sanders said.

Senator Sanders described his goals in The Guardian today:

In this moment of unprecedented crises, Congress and the Biden administration must respond through unprecedented action. No more business as usual. No more same old, same old.

Democrats, who will now control the White House, the Senate and the House, must summon the courage to demonstrate to the American people that government can effectively and rapidly respond to their pain and anxiety. As the incoming chairman of the Senate budget committee that is exactly what I intend to do.

What does all of this mean for the average American?

It means that we aggressively crush the pandemic and enable the American people to return to their jobs and schools. This will require a federally-led emergency program to produce the quantity of vaccines that we need and get them into people’s arms as quickly as possible.

It means that during the severe economic downturn we’re experiencing, we must make sure that all Americans have the financial resources they need to live with dignity. We must increase the $600 in direct payments for every working-class adult and child that was recently passed to $2,000, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expand unemployment benefits and prevent eviction, homelessness and hunger.

It means that, during this raging pandemic, we must guarantee healthcare to all. We must also end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on Earth not to provide paid family and medical leave to workers.

It means making pre-kindergarten and childcare universal and available to every family in America.

Despite what you may have heard, there is no reason why we cannot do all of these things. Through budget reconciliation, a process that only requires a majority vote in the Senate, we can act quickly and pass this emergency legislation.

But that is not enough. This year we must also pass a second reconciliation bill that deals with the major structural changes that our country desperately needs. Ultimately, we must confront the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality and create a country that works for all and not just the few. Americans should no longer be denied basic economic rights that are guaranteed to people in virtually every other major country.

This means using a second reconciliation bill to create millions of good-paying jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and constructing affordable housing, modernizing our schools, combatting climate change and making massive investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

It means making public colleges, universities, trade schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities tuition-free and forcefully addressing the outrageous level of student debt for working families.

And it means making the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations pay their fair share of taxes. We cannot continue to allow profitable corporations like Amazon to make billions of dollars in taxes and pay nothing in net federal income taxes. And billionaires cannot be allowed to pay a lower tax rate than working-class Americans. We need real tax reform.

There is no reason Joe Biden could not sign into law two major bills that will accomplish most of the goals I listed above within the first 100 days of the new Congress. We cannot allow Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership to sabotage legislation that would improve the lives of millions of working Americans and is wildly popular.

Let us never forget. When Republicans controlled the Senate, they used the reconciliation process to pass trillions of dollars in tax breaks primarily to the top 1% and multinational corporations. Further, they were able to confirm three rightwing US supreme court judges over a very short period of time by a simple majority vote.

If the Republicans could use the reconciliation process to protect the wealthy and the powerful, we can use it to protect working families, the sick, the elderly, the disabled and the poor.


Now all the Democrats have to do is to overcome McConnell’s scheme, so Sanders and his Democratic colleagues actually become committee chairmen.

Trusting Hillary

Last week, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, while admitting that his own political party has gone “batshit crazy”, referred to Hillary Clinton as “the most dishonest woman in America”. He was joking – kind of (video here). 

This week, former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, while attacking one of this year’s candidates, said “a person as dishonest and untrustworthy as Hillary Clinton must not become President” (transcript here).

Obviously, characterizing Clinton as dishonest and untrustworthy is standard song and dance for Republican politicians. What’s been surprising lately is how many Democrats are making similar statements. The Democrats in question are generally the ones who support Clinton’s opponent for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders. 

I bring this up because “73angelD” posted this comment on New York Magazine‘s site yesterday:

73angelD: “There are many middle-aged female Sanders supporters like myself who do not trust Clinton.”

That type of thing from a liberal or progressive voter who should and almost certainly will vote for Clinton in November raises an interesting question. So I asked it:

PersonaObscura [that’s me!]: “I’m honestly confused. What is it that you don’t trust Clinton to do? Do you think she’ll be remarkably less liberal in office than she says she’ll be? Or her voting record in the Senate indicates? She’s always seemed to be more liberal than her husband, but less slippery.”

Which someone else tried to answer: 

Madapalooza: “We don’t trust her irresponsiblity due to the email scandal, her being a Goldwater Girl, her taking hundreds of thousands from the institutions she “claims” she’s going to regulate, withholding the wall street transcripts, the fact that she not once but twice dismissed black protesters who simply asked her to explain her racial remarks on television, her husband sabotaging the voting polls in Massachusetts on super Tuesday, ect, ect…”

Resisting the urge to comment on those particular “offenses” (and the more powerful urge to correct the “ect, ect”), I replied:

PersonaObscura: “You listed things you don’t like about her or her husband, but trust has to do with what you expect her to do as President. Based on everything she’s said and done in her life, and what we’ve gone through as a nation in recent years, it’s reasonable to expect her policies will be to the left of Bill Clinton’s and to the right of what Bernie’s would have been. This will be our choice in November: a relatively liberal Democrat vs. some right-wing goon.”

The discussion probably went on from there (my policy in these matters is to say one or two things and then exit, often pursued by an angry elephant or donkey).

As we traverse the next eight months, we should all keep in mind that casting a ballot in a Presidential election amounts to making a prediction. Who do we predict will have the most success carrying out policies we endorse? We can’t be certain, so we need to make an educated guess.

In Hillary Clinton’s case, it should be obvious to everyone that she will tend to do her job like President Obama has done his. She won’t govern like a democratic socialist or a reactionary Republican. There is no reason to think she has been hiding her real intentions for the past 50 years. Therefore, we can trust her to govern like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, not like Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush or his feckless son.

She will try to reduce income inequality, create middle class jobs, move us closer to universal healthcare, reform our immigration policies and protect the environment. She will pay attention to science. She will take a particular interest in issues facing women and children. She will be pro-market but not necessarily pro-big business. She will nominate reasonable people to be judges.

Likewise, she will allow the CIA and NSA to stay in business, authorize drone strikes and allow Israel to get away with very bad behavior toward the Palestinians. We can trust her to do these kinds of things, the good and the bad. That’s the kind of trust that’s relevant.

Saying you don’t trust Hillary Clinton is an easy way to criticize her without bothering to explain what you don’t trust her to do. As President, she will often disappoint us, but who knows? She could turn out to be almost as progressive as the Republicans fear. It’s about time they got something right.

The article referred to above is here. The author’s thesis is that some conservatives are voting for Sanders because they don’t like uppity women. I don’t recommend the comments!

PS:  A few words about Hillary Rodham back when she would have been Feeling the Bern:

In her junior year, Rodham became a supporter of the antiwar presidential nomination campaign of Democrat Eugene McCarthy. In early 1968, she was elected president of the Wellesley College Government Association and served through early 1969. Following the assassination of MartinLuther King, Jr., Rodham organized a two-day student strike and worked with Wellesley’s black students to recruit more black students and faculty. In her student government role, she played a role in keeping Wellesley from being embroiled in the student disruptions common to other colleges. A number of her fellow students thought she might some day become the first female President of the United States….

That summer, [after graduation] she worked her way across Alaska, washing dishes in Mount McKinley National Park and sliming salmon in a fish processing cannery in Valdez (which fired her and shut down overnight when she complained about unhealthful conditions). [Wikipedia]

Evangelical Christians for Sanders, the Left-Winger?

Two articles about Christianity and American politics caught my eye this week.

The first was a New York Magazine interview with someone named Jim, an alumnus of Liberty University, who now works as a pastor and therapist. Liberty University is the Southern Baptist school in Virginia founded by Jerry Falwell, the well-known televangelist and right-wing troublemaker. Jim posted some anonymous remarks on Reddit in response to Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s recent speech at Liberty. Here’s the part New York Magazine quoted:

As I heard Bernie Sanders crying out to the religious leaders at Liberty University, in his hoarse voice, with his wild hair — this Jew — and he proclaimed justice over us, he called us to account, for being complicit with those who are wealthy and those who are powerful, and for abandoning the poor, the least of these, who Jesus said he had come to bring good news to.

Jim grew up supporting right-wing politicians, as so many evangelical Christians are taught to do. But he eventually realized that his politics conflicted with the Bible. He says that Bible study convinced him:

that the gospel of Christ is what he says it is in the Book of Luke. He says the messenger comes to bring good news to the poor, to heal the sick, and to set the captives free. If our gospel is not good news to the poor, to the captives, to the indebted and the broken, then it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ…

The Bible talks about God destroying those who destroy the Earth and standing for the weak and the penniless. That same God was being displayed on our flags and in our songs as this warrior king who doesn’t like the Muslims and who doesn’t like the poor and who wants us to have free-market capitalism and no regulations. I thought that was inconsistent. This is the same God who designed … his theocratic government in Israel so that the poor were cared for. This is the same God that designs into the concept of ministry a tithe of 10 percent to care for others…

Jim is remaining semi-anonymous for the time being. He says he doesn’t want his patients or congregants caught up in controversy. Nevertheless, he’s going to continue explaining why it makes sense for an evangelical Christian to support Senator Sanders:

I’m calling my fellow Evangelicals to raise their eyes and to pay attention, to read their Bibles carefully, as I was taught to do in an Evangelical school. So many get their faith points from [right-wing TV personalities] Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, but if they would get their faith from Jesus, they would be surprised at how he does not fit into any box and flips the tables of the money-changers and stands with the adulterers and prevents the death penalty…

Bernie at Liberty, for me, struck such a nerve because he treated us like grown-ups. He presented the message thoughtfully, politely. He was warmhearted, he was jovial, he didn’t play any political games. He didn’t tell us what we wanted to hear. He was just plain, and it reminded me of John the Baptist.

But why does someone like Jim seem like such an outlier? Aren’t evangelical Christians the natural ally of right-wing politicians and Big Business?

No, not according to One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, a book by Kevin Kruse, Professor of History at Princeton. As explained in a review at the website of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Kruse argues that there was an organized effort in the 1950s to link religion and corporate capitalism. For example, a group called:

Spiritual Mobilization sought to rally clergymen to fight liberalism, arguing that the only political position compatible with Christianity was laissez-faire. They aimed to counter the ideas—summed up as the Social Gospel—that good Christians might have obligations to help the poor, that there was something spiritually problematic about the love of money, and that working to create a better and more egalitarian social order might be necessary to live a righteous life. In his first inaugural address, Roosevelt had celebrated the expulsion of the money changers from the “temple of our civilization,” and called for replacing the “mad chase of evanescent profits” with a return to more noble social values. Spiritual Mobilization begged to differ, insisting instead that profit could be the cornerstone of a moral vision.

Spiritual Mobilization was funded by conservative businessmen and a number of corporations, including General Motors and Gulf Oil. Its leader “embraced his identity as a man who preached to the rich: “I have smiled when critics of mine have called me the Thirteenth Apostle of Big Business or the St. Paul of the Prosperous.”

Kruse says that:

 … long before the 1970s, religious leaders … and the businessmen who backed them sought to politicize the country’s churches, seeing them as a natural and sympathetic base. Their concern was not social or sexual politics, but rather economics—they wanted to advance a libertarian agenda to undermine the economic program that became ascendant during the New Deal. This top-down Christianity in turn provided an image of the United States as an explicitly religious nation, creating a rhetoric that inspired the populist Christian conservatives of a later generation. When the men who built the religious right in the 1970s—such as Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority—issued their jeremiads about the United States as a fallen nation, they made the implicit case that the country had hewed more closely to faith before the 1960s. But in fact, Kruse suggests, the pumped-up image of America as a Christian nation had gained popularity only a decade before.

Before Jerry Falwell, there was the evangelist Billy Graham:  

… one of his major concerns [was] the encroachment of the liberal state… Graham opposed the Marshall Plan and the welfare state, and attacked the Truman Administration for spending too much on each…  [In 1951] Graham warned the audience at a North Carolina crusade that the country was no longer “devoted to the individualism that made America great,” and that it needed to return to the “rugged individualism that Christ brought” to humankind.

America has been a Christian nation for a long time in the sense that most Americans have thought of themselves as Christians and still do. The question is: what role should Christianity play in a our democracy? The Constitution requires separation of church and state, but people have the right to support politicians who share their religious ideals. This makes me wonder what America would be like if there were more Christians like Jim.

We Need to Pay Attention, But That’s Not All

Senator Bernie Sanders was in Iowa at Drake University a few weeks ago. This paragraph from an account of his visit caught my eye:

At first it was unclear who the bigger enemy of the people were to Sanders — the Kardashians or the Koch brothers.  The Kardashians, or rather our public fascination with them, represents America’s apathy. Sanders was clear that nothing progressive can happen until people start paying attention.  Sanders told his audience that Americans are getting screwed, and that we had better pay attention and get off our asses.

What the Senator said about paying attention brings to mind one of his colleagues, Senator Elizabeth Warren. The journalist Matthew Yglesias wrote this about her under the heading “What Makes Elizabeth Warren So Great”:

At Janet Yellen’s monetary policy hearing, Warren took aim at the Federal Reserve’s General Counsel, Scott Alvarez. Alvarez is one of the people with the highest importance-to-fame ratios in the whole American government. His existence — to say nothing of his work — is incredibly obscure. But Warren used her considerable celebrity and her dorky charisma to shine a light on it.

And she has a unique knack among today’s elected officials for seizing on things that are languishing in obscurity and making them blow up. The greatest trick the special interests ever played was getting the world to stop paying attention. Warren makes people pay attention, and it’s great.

Senator Warren is terrific. We need more politicians who speak truth to power and are heard when they speak. But Senator Sanders makes a key point in an image on his Facebook page:


We need to both pay attention and get organized.