Common Dreams - October 30, 2019

"Taxation of the rich, along with a whole set of universal programs, are very popular among the electorate if not the DC crowd. In a recent op-ed Columbia University law professor Tim Wu points out.

“About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultra-wealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support,” Wu noted. “Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.” One could add that several polls suggest support for Medicare for All even among Republicans."

Is a candidate a centrist? This question matters because many voters like to think of themselves as moderates or centrists. Other voters, not heavily engaged in the political process, are responsive to labels. Therefore the candidate who captures the label in the eyes of the corporate media has a leg up. But before accepting media designations more careful scrutiny of the candidate and the historical context is in order. The question of who is a centrist should be broken down. How do the views of the candidate stack up against grass roots perspectives, consensus views within the beltway, and historic or international norms.

By these standards the Republican Party is as extreme as any major party in our history. Given the unpopularity of its views not surprisingly it has ceased any pretense of practicing parliamentary democracy. And recognizing its own isolation many members of the party are willing to countenance any available means to hold power and promote its agenda. Applying comparable standards one can reasonably conclude that the Sanders campaign stands well within the confines of earlier democratic reform movements. Consider Sanders on Social Security:

Social Security is the most successful government program in our nation’s history. Before Social Security was signed into law, nearly half of our senior citizens lived in poverty. Today the elderly poverty rate is 8.8%…Social Security is not just a retirement program. It is an insurance program that protects millions of Americans who become disabled. Incredibly, the only source of income for about 3 million persons with disabilities is a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit that averages just $35 a day. Today, 28.5 percent of disabled Americans are living in poverty. We have got to do a lot better than that.

Sanders wants to increase the benefits that lifetime low-income workers will receive so that they’ll be higher than the national poverty level. He would finance the provisions by increases in taxation of the income above the current Social Security tax cap.

This of course brings up the question of the popularity of the Social Security system itself and of progressive taxation. Here once again Sanders is not the radical extremist. It is the Republican Party that has abandoned the center. The party has abandoned even its own voters.

Consider the following assessment of Social Security: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” These are the words of Dwight David Eisenhower.

Eisenhower was a fiscal conservative. He viewed government debt as evil. Nonetheless he supported expansion of Social Security. In this sense Sanders carries on the tradition of the moderate Republicanism, which, like much of the New Deal was borne of an effort to preempt more radically redistributive agendas, even Communism. ...
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