The Struggle for the Soul of America: Is It All About Being Safe?

America is in panic mode. The coronavirus is spreading rapidly. The stock market is plunging. Oil prices are collapsing. And, our president plays golf while the country is falling apart. Meanwhile, Americans are dying and the rest of us are pretty scared. What are we to do?

The best advice seems to be: play it safe. People are taking various precautions: avoiding crowds, canceling travel plans, working from home, keeping their kids home from school, washing their hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, wearing face masks – getting out of the stock market – whatever one can do to be safe.

Politically, the Democrats have turned to Joe Biden to be their presidential nominee. They believe he is their safe choice. “Uncle Joe” has been around for a long time. The American people know Joe. They contend that we can trust him to do the right thing and keep America safe. The Democrats consider Biden to be their safe bet to beat Trump next November.

According to conventional wisdom, nominating Bernie Sanders is too risky. Democrats see Sanders as too radical for American voters. They believe the people would reject his democratic socialism which offers Medicare for all, free public college, a living wage and the wealthy paying their fair share in taxes, among other things. This despite the fact that a majority of Democrats support many of Sanders’ policy positions. (See https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2020/feb/25/pete-buttigieg/polls-show-most-democrats-many-americans-back-key-/.)

Sanders contends that his policy proposals will bring a huge wave of new voters to the polls. However, primary results have not proven him right. Biden has won most of the recent primaries with his more centrist policy agenda and his more moderate tone.

Consequently, as a longtime Bernie supporter, I’m beginning to realize that it’s not only his policies that is the problem for some Democrats. It’s also the messenger. It’s Bernie.

Bernie yells a lot. That makes some people feel afraid, not safe. He might be more effective with the voters he needs to persuade if he modulated his tone a bit.

Bernie has praised some aspects of Communist Cuba.  That makes some people, especially in the vital swing state of Florida, afraid, not safe. He had nothing to gain politically and much to lose by bringing Cuba into the campaign debate.

Bernie has grand proposals with little detail of how they will be paid for. That makes some people feel afraid, not safe. He could be more specific about the financial aspects of his policies.

Bernie does not have much support in Congress, which raises the issue of whether he will be able to muster the votes in Congress to pass his initiatives, particularly in the Senate where he will need to overcome Republican filibusters. That makes some people feel afraid, not safe. His campaign could have cultivated more Congressional backing for his proposals to demonstrate his ability to work with Congress on his agenda.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Bernie calls himself a Democratic socialist without clearly explaining what he means by that term. That makes some people feel afraid, not safe. He has failed to simply and plainly demonstrate to the American people that the United States already is, to a significant degree, a democratic socialist country. Most Americans support Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the federal highway system, public schools, the police and fire departments, and many other government programs, all of which are democratic socialism since they are funded by taxpayers’ dollars for the common good. Moreover, federal farm subsidies, oil subsidies and the like are also democratic socialism at work. If the American people understood that they already support and believe in democratic socialism, then they would probably not be afraid of it.

That is not to deny that the corporate media, the Democratic establishment, Big Money and others desperate to hold onto power, have done their utmost to bring Sanders down. Nevertheless, Bernie has made a number of serious missteps. If he had been a better messenger, a better politician, I believe he could have been our next president.

What do you think? Is it too late for Bernie to make up for his mistakes? Is there anything he can do at this point to improve his chances of winning the nomination? Any and all comments are greatly appreciated.

Bruce Berlin

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

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Where has the incrementalism that Establishment Democrats support gotten most Americans?

Before I try to answer this question, I apologize for my absence from this blog for the last few weeks. My father was in the hospital which required that my attention be directed first and foremost toward him. Now that he is back home and improving, I can deal with other issues like the one in the title of this piece.

The short answer to the question in the title is that the Democratic establishment’s support of incremental change has maintained the status quo and done very little for most Americans over the last 30 or more years. According to Slate.com, income for the top 20 percent of Americans has increased since the 1970s while income for the bottom 80 percent declined. In the 1970s the top 1 percent received 8 percent of total income while by 2007 they were receiving 18 percent. Now it’s an even greater amount. During the same period income for the bottom 20 percent had decreased 30 percent.

As I point out in my book, Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America, “between 2009 and 2012 the incomes of top 1 percent of citizens climbed 31.4 percent — or 95 percent of the total gain –while incomes of the other 99 percent grew only .4 percent.”

Since members of the Democratic establishment, for the most part, are in the top 20 percent which have seen their incomes increase over these last 30 years, they don’t feel an urgency for bold initiatives like Sen. Sanders proposes to reorder a system that has served them well. Like Secretary Clinton, they are fine with incrementalism. While many of them recognize various degrees of unfairness in the status quo, they don’t want to rock the boat too much for fear it might spring a leak or even capsize, causing significant harm to their relatively safe positions.

As Brent Budowsky writes for The Hill, it is Sanders’ growing popularity that seems to have ignited the establishment’s backlash against him: “Virtually the entire Washington and Wall Street establishments are now in a state of panic about the possibility of a [Sanders] victory in the Iowa Democratic caucus next Monday,” Budowsky writes. “What the insider Washington Democratic establishment fails to understand is that the issues Sanders raises have great appeal to the broad nation.” Moreover, the establishment’s pushback exposes their lack of conviction for a truly fair and just society.

The great majority of Americans who represent “the broad nation” and are on the lower decks of our economic ship feel they are in danger of drowning as their financial boat takes on more water. Incrementalism will not save them or their children. Sen. Sanders’s calls for strong measures to redirect America’s economic and social policies gives them hope that they can yet land on solid ground.