Five Ways Progressives Can Do Better in 2021

As years go, 2020 was a dumpster fire. Here are just a few of the year’s lowlights…

  • Senate Republicans decided asking a foreign leader for dirt on his political opponents in exchange for military aid wasn’t enough to put Trump out of office.
  • Our president dallied and downplayed a deadly pandemic for months… even though he’d known how serious it was since February.
  • Moscow Mitch McConnell blocked scores of bills from coming to the Senate floor. Including bills to strengthen election security and to send out $2,000 relief checks.
  • The Republican-led Senate rammed through Trump’s third Supreme Court pick just before the 2020 election. In spite of refusing to consider President Obama’s nomination in early 2016.

And so it went.

While our nation is deeply divided, there’s one thing most of us agree on. We can’t wait to see 2020 disappearing in our rear-view mirrors.

Meanwhile, here are five ways we Progressives can do better in 2020.

  1. Stop Squabbling With Moderates

For the last 20 years – or more – progressive and moderate Democrats have shot themselves in the foot over and over. Need a good example? Bernie Sanders.

In 2016, Bernie drew a large and dedicated band of followers. Moderate party leaders rallied behind Hilary Clinton, fearing Bernie would be “unelectable.” And they may have put their thumbs on the scale just a bit.

The result? Angry “Bernie-or-Bust” voters didn’t turn out… or, in some cases, turned out for Trump. And we all know how the next four years have gone.

I’m not saying the more Progressive elements of the party should cow-tow to moderate sensibilities. I’m saying we have to be honest with one another… and compromise. If we don’t, the next Trump is right around the corner.

  1. Change the Districting Game

How does the minority party control so many state legislatures? And seats in Congress? In a word, gerrymandering.

Austin, TX is full of Democrats, but the Republican legislature has carved it into several districts, diluting Progressive votes in the region’s more conservative outlying districts.

Proportional Representation is just one of many ways to overcome this problem. In one form, a party would get seats in a legislature based on the proportion of the total votes it received. So if Party X received 75% of a state’s votes, 75% of the seats in its legislature would go to that party.

Proportional Representation ensures each party would have representation based on the number of voters who support that party.

The result would be parties that sought to win voters hearts and minds… instead of parties that demanded blind loyalty from voters.

  1. End the Electoral College

We directly elect our Congresspersons. We directly elect our Senators. Why shouldn’t we directly elect our President?

Our current Electoral College system puts a handful of “swing states” in the driver’s seat. And this system hasn’t worked well lately.

George W. Bush won the presidency with a minority of the popular vote. So did Donald Trump. In fact, since 2000, Democrats have won the popular vote twice while losing the Electoral College vote. The result?

Out of six elections, Republicans won the popular vote only once (16.66%). But a Republican was sworn in as president three times (50%). Which means the Electoral College subverted the will of the voters in one-third of this century’s elections.

That’s not how democracy works.

  1. Overturn – or, at Least, Defang – Citizens United vs. FEC

The Citizens United decision was a game changer. In simple terms, the Supreme Court ruled unlimited election spending by individuals and corporations amounted to free speech. And, therefore, it could not be banned or regulated.

As long as big spenders don’t “coordinate” with a candidate’s campaign, they can spend as much as they want. In other words, it’s okay to buy an election.

Since then, the Koch brothers and other wealthy donors have flooded election cycles with cash. Donors are disguised by Super PACs that suggest they are grassroots movements. And that don’t disclose the source of their funding.

Many of these Super PACs also play fast and loose with the truth.

There’s no reason Congress can’t pass laws to require PACs and Super PACs to reveal the sources of their cash. Or to penalize those who publish false or deceptive claims about their opposition.

After all, we may have freedom of speech… but that doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. I’m free to (falsely) claim that Donald Trump murders babies and bathes in their blood. But, if I did, I should expect to face a lawsuit and financial ruin.

Buried under lawsuits, the worst Super PAC offenders would have to dissolve.

  1. Bring Back the Three-Martini Lunch (for Congress)

This may sound crazy, but hear me out…

Once upon a time, both Houses of Congress lurched awkwardly forward on an idea called “compromise.”

Compromise is the crazy notion that you’ll give me some of what I want, if I give you some of what you want.

Is it perfect? No. But does it work? Yes. It’s not a direct path to anybody’s goals. But our nation’s history is riddled with progress made via compromise.

Sometimes compromise sucks for everyone. But, more often than not, it makes one side pretty happy… while not making the other side totally miserable. That’s hardly ideal. But look at the mess we have now.

In the 1980s, House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill was famous for hammering out compromises with his opponents. O’Neill even got Ronald Reagan to compromise on the president’s plan to hamstring Social Security.

O’Neill and Reagan are also said to have regularly shared a few post-negotiation beers.

Alcohol is known to cloud judgement. But it’s also known to lower inhibitions. Based on past experience, this may include resistance to compromise.

Maybe – just maybe – a few lubricated lunches are exactly what our government needs to end the current gridlock.

Republicans Adore Socialism… But Only for the Rich

You hear the Right’s new battle cry all the time now – even from the President… “America will ever be a socialist country!”

Yes, evil socialism has raised its ugly head once again. And the Democrats are trying to force it upon us. Except we’ve had socialism for generations. And it’s mostly the rich who now benefit.

Don’t believe me? How about we deal in a few facts… instead of the fear-mongering the Right likes to use?

“Keep Your Goddamn Government Hands Off My Medicare!”

The rise of the Tea Party brought us plenty of forehead-slapping moments. But none quite as idiotic as these limited-government fans defending their most precious rights.

At multiple rallies, Tea Partiers displayed crude handmade signs reading “Keep Your Goddamn Government Hands Off My Medicare!” – or something similar.

Except Medicare is a government program. And a socialist one. If you’re over 65, chances are you love socialism. Because Social Security is alsoa socialist program. Medicaid? Socialist. Most veterans’ benefits programs? Yup… socialist.

My dad had a government-issued vets’ life insurance policy. It was only $10,000… but it was cheap. And the annual dividend – for every year I oversaw his finances – was larger than the premium.

As a WW II vet, he also qualified for government-sponsored healthcare. After the war, he and his young family lived in housing just for vets – and built with government subsidies. Uncle Sam underwrote education benefits for vets. If he’d wanted a civil service job, the government would have given my dad extra points on the civil service exams.

I’m not opposed to any of these benefits. Our vets deserve plenty of consideration. But veterans’ benefits are a good example of socialism at work.

But there’s a darker side to socialism. The side Republicans don’t want you to see.

The Handouts the Right Doesn’t Want Cut

To pay for Trump’s tax breaks for corporations and the rich, the GOP wants you to accept cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. But they’re not farm subsidiestalking about cuts to corporate welfare. And corporate welfare is huge.

Take the fossil fuel industry. Vox News reports that direct federal subsidies to fossil fuel companies come to $14.7 billion dollars every year. State subsidies add another $5.8 billion to the total.

And those are just the direct subsidies. The International Monetary Fund estimates indirect subsidies to fossil fuel producers are many times higher.

That’s billions in corporate welfare the Right not only accepts… but jealously protects. Even as they call for cuts to retirees’ health coverage.

Here’s another interesting fact: 17% of fossil fuel subsidies are for “remediation.” That is, Uncle Sam paid up the bill for cleaning up the environmental mess fossil fuel companies left behind.

Another great socialist program benefitting the rich? Farm subsidies.

Starting in the 1930s, Washington used subsidies to keep struggling farmers afloat through such disasters as the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Since then, much of the money poured into these programs has benefitted the rich.

Forbes Magazinereported on data showing just how far the abuse has gone.

  • A quarter of farm subsidies are now paid to farms earning over $250,000 a year.
  • “Farms” in locations such as New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia receive millions in subsidies every year. From 2015 through 2017, $140,000 went to zip code 90210. Yes… that’s Beverly Hills!
  • 6,618 agricultural enterprises have taken in at least $1 million in federal subsidies every year since 2018.
  • The owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves received $116,502 in farm subsidies in 2017. He’s #350 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans.
  • In 2017, Uncle Sam paid farmers $1.8 billion to notfarm their land.

Here’s the kicker: In 2017, farm subsidies went to a dozen members of Congress. Their haul? $637,059. And that’s on top of their Congressional salary.

All of this is socialism. It’s the government pooling tax money to pay out to those “in need.” Except, with corporate welfare, there’s often no need. Just greed.

Keep in mind, these are just some of the payouts in only two categories of corporate welfare. Payouts members of Congress seem unwilling to talk about – let alone cut.

And then there’s the Trump tax “reform.”

Handouts for the Rich… Benefit Cuts for the Poor

If you’re under 60, you probably don’t remember Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was a war hero. The Supreme Allied Commander in Western Europe during World War II. A career military man. Wildly popular at home. And the 34thpresident of the U.S.

Eisenhower – a Republican – served two terms.

He also warned Americans against “the Military-Industrial Complex” and served when the highest marginal tax rate was 90%. Yes… 90%. And he made no moves to lower it.

Eisenhower also saw the minimum wage increased… the creation of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW)… and an expansion of Social Security. Eisenhower wasn’t perfect, but he certainly saw the benefits of socialism.

That’s a far cry from today’s Republican Party. Trump’s tax cuts benefitted mainly the rich and big corporations. Middle class voters saw cuts to withholding… but often discovered their tax bills hadn’t gone down at all. In fact, many found their tax liability was higher.

Meanwhile, corporations poured most of their new-found riches into boosting share value by buying back stock. This made shareholders richer. But the promised “trickle down” pay increases for workers were few and far between.

The rich became richer. The dwindling middle class now struggles to keep their heads above water. And the poor have been all but abandoned.

Yet socialism is alive and well in the Trump era. It’s just that the Republican version of socialism benefits the rich, while making the rest of us poorer.

****************************************************************************************************

Cesca, B., “Keep Your Goddamn Government Hands Off My Medicare!” HuffPost(dot)com. Dec 6, 2017.

Roberts, D., “Friendly policies keep US oil and coal afloat far more than we thought,” Vox(dot)com. Jul 26, 2018.

Andrzejewski, A., “Mapping The U.S. Farm Subsidy $1M Club,” Forbes magazine. Aug 14, 2018.

“Entitlement” Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Word

The Right likes to lump all social welfare programs together… and label them “entitlement programs.” The implication is that people feel entitled to giveaways.

Food stamps, Medicaid, welfare, Medicare, and Social Security. According to the Right, these entitlement programs are draining money needed for other important programs. So, it’s only fair that when America feels the pinch, those on entitlement programs should, too.

But – as so often is the case – the Right has misrepresented the situation. Here’s the truth they don’t want you to know…

Social Security Is Really a Government-Backed IRA

Most of today’s adults have been paying into the Social Security system their entire working lives. It’s a legal requirement for most of us. And if you’re self-employed, you’ve been paying double what others pay.

You’ve been setting aside money for your retirement. But, in this case, your “IRA” – your Individual Retirement Account – is with Uncle Sam. When you retire, Uncle Sam is supposed to pay you back for all those savings… with interest. Just like an IRA would.

This is a true entitlement program… because you are entitled to that money. That is, you earned it… you set it aside… and you should get it back when you retire. It’s not that you feel you should get something you didn’t earn. You have a right to that money. Because it’s yours.

Medicare is similar. You’ve been paying to fund your Medicare coverage for most – or all – of your adult life. You’ve been making regular payments against an insurance policy for your retirement years.

Medicare isn’t a government handout. It’s an insurance policy you bought and paid for during a career that probably spanned 45 years or more.

Social Security and Medicare are true entitlement programs. They aren’t a giveaway from a benevolent government. You’ve earned the right to collect by investing your hard-earned income in these programs.

But here’s where things go wrong.

Your Retirement Fund Has Become Congress’s Personal Piggy Bank

Members of Congress have a sweet deal. They earn an above-average income. They’re vested in their pension plan after just 5 years. And the average annual Congressional retirement benefit is over $60,000 a year. But it’s not Social Security.

Of course, since the system is rigged to favor incumbents, many members of Congress pad their pension payouts for decades. In 2014, CNN Money found 617 former members of Congress collecting pensions.

Meanwhile, what has Congress been doing with your retirement fund?

Using it to cover budget shortfalls. That’s right: Congress has been spending your retirement nest egg to make up for their inability to make tough budget decisions. And to curry favor to ensure re-election. (To earn bigger pensions for themselves.)

How else do you explain Alaska’s infamous “bridge to nowhere”? Or programs like the Osprey – an aircraft the military never wanted?

And – in their ultimate display of cynicism – the Right wants to cut the retirement benefits you’ve already paid for to make up for the tax breaks they’ve given to America’s wealthiest individuals.

Warren Buffet once pointed out he paid a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. Even though his earnings were in the billions. And that was before the crippling Trump tax cuts!

It’s All About the Racism… and Greed

Here’s a shocker: The beneficiaries of programs like Medicaid and food stamps are overwhelmingly white. More than twice as many white families get Medicaid benefits than black families… and they collect food stamps at a 50% higher rate than blacks, as well.

A report from NBC News suggests Trump isn’t able to wrap his head around this. After one proposed cut to welfare programs, a member of Congress told Trump the cuts would harm non-black constituents. His response? “Really? Then what are they?”

Forty years after the Reagan presidency, his “welfare queen” myth still persists on the Right.

Some Americans may have advanced since Reagan took office… But it seems pretty clear his racist ideology is alive and well on the Right today.

Congress ensured their own retirement while throwing away the average American’s savings. Then, the Right blamed it all on African Americans.

Now they’ve screwed you again by giving big tax breaks to the rich… while saying they need to cut the retirement benefits you’ve already paid for.

If that sounds obscene… it’s because it is. Enrich the already rich… and blame any pain on non-whites. This scenario has worked well for the Right for so long.

It’s why the wealth gap has grown to such ridiculous proportions. Congress has helped the rich grow richer at your expense… and then gone along with the story that it’s all because of racial minorities getting a few bucks to feed their kids.

The truth is… Rightists in Congress have won re-election by wasting your retirement fund on questionable projects. Then blaming a relatively small number of people of color for the financial shortfall that results.

Here’s the bottom line: You’ve earned your retirement by paying into it year after year… Any shortfalls are due to Congress using your retirement fund to pay for their own boondoggles… And blaming social welfare programs as a cover for Congress’ failure to act in your best interest.

Dock the Thieves; Not the Victims

Members of Congress stole your retirement fund… not members of some ethnic group. When CNN Money reviewed Congressional pensions in 2014, they found 617 former members were collecting an average of $60,250 a year.

Why should these clowns – who enjoyed perks and benefits throughout their time in Washington – live a lavish lifestyle at your expense? Especially when they stole your retirement to make up for their inability to make tough budget decisions.

Now these crooks expect you to make do with macaroni… while they enjoy filet mignon.

You earned your retirement benefits. You paid faithfully into a system that Congress systematically raped. It’s time for a reckoning.

Demand your rights – and your retirement. Don’t let the Right rob you again… to fund their own cushy retirement.

Let your representatives in Washington know: You’re sick of their B.S. You’ve invested in your retirement for decades. If anyone should pay a penalty, it should be those who stole your savings.

Find out how to contact your Representative and Senators at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials. Then tell them how you really feel.

Because, if you don’t, you can kiss your retirement investment good-bye.