These are the prepared remarks for my speech to The Brennan Society on March 7, 2018. You can see a video on the Our Revolution Oklahoma website.
I am grateful tonight to speak as a representative of the Our Revolution movement.
I have pursued the ideas of Democratic socialism for forty years. I want to explain what that means to me and why I believe it is the only platform by which we may hope to save our country’s freedom and democracy.
For decades those of us on the left have called ourselves progressives. We do that because the right-wing propaganda succeeded in making the term liberal a pejorative word.
Acknowledging that consultants and media masters do not want the left to use the term liberal, why do I articulate the need for an openly Democratic Socialist message?
Our nation is weary of inauthentic, poll tested spin masters. Our people will reward us if we say what we believe and justify our beliefs with facts and arguments.
In his post-campaign memoir, Our Revolution, Sen. Bernie Sanders said that he had won the support of millennials, but that his own generation had been less supportive. He attributed that to the fact that we boomers came of age in a time of worldwide polarization and our enemy was described as Godless communists. He suggested the word socialism was frightening to older Americans.
Like many of you, I am of an age when our school day was frequently interrupted while we hunkered under our desks to prepare for nuclear Armageddon. (Our masters apparently believed that the small layer of Formica would somehow shield us from the atomic blast.)
The first thing we know about Democratic Socialism is contained in the only adjective. It is a Democratic process.
My first thesis tonight is that in every election there are fundamentally only two questions.
The first is what role in a free society should the government play in regulating the markets and the economy
And the second question is how much should we invest in maintaining the American Empire.
I suggest to you that the other topics which tend to dominate the electoral debates are really distractive noise. Of course, I hold strong views on choice, LGBTQ rights, gun control, but those are the issues by which the right wing propaganda machine has been able to separate millions of Americans from voting in their own economic self-interests.
The left needs to stand strong against institutional discrimination. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act are among our nation’s proudest achievements.
But the left must be more than a collection of citizens for whom we engage in a bidding war as to which group’s grievances are most immediately deserving of remedy.
The advantage of a platform of Democratic Socialism is that it provides a basis for a good life for all Americans.
Through Democratic socialism at each electoral cycle the citizens have the opportunity to reduce or increase the public sector’s role in protecting ordinary Americans from the effects of unregulated free market economy.
The first question to address is this: Is America in 2018 a capitalist nation.
The French sociologist Thomas Piketey published his bestseller Capital which researched public records from North America and Europe. The evidence suggests that for most of recorded history there has been a steady increase in the accumulation of wealth in the top handfuls of humans.
He writes that an exception to that occurred in the generation immediately following World War II. The war had unsettled the existing order. The years of worldwide depression followed by the privations required by a world war left the world with an enormous pent up demand.
Governments across the west attempted to show gratitude to the veterans of the war, who had largely been recruited from working class families. Programs for college subsidies and home ownership helped to jump start a growing middle class.
With a combination of increasing working class education, and a successful spike in the trade union movement, the period between 1945-1981, according to Piketey’s research, represented an historical anomaly in which the relative economic power of the middle class actually increased in relation to the historic owning classes of the world.
Of course, in the early 80’s with Thatcher and Reagan, there was a strong reaction to the growth of the middle class.
Western democracies began an assault on the trade union movement, and began destabilizing government by huge tax cuts for the wealthy.
With a nearly monomaniacal obsession against what the owning classes called “regulations”, the government frequently sought to eliminate what we would describe as protections against the abuses of capitalism.
Both parties bear some responsibility to coddling Wall Street. The decision to encourage unregulated capitalism led directly to the collapse in 2008. The decision to permit banks to engage in risky investments, sent our nation into the greatest recession since Herbert Hoover.
Specifically the Wall Street greed led to a manipulation of home sales and mortgages, and the traditional American experience of saving up for an affordable home became Securitized, which meant that absent government oversight millions of non-performing mortgages were made as bundles of securities to be bought and sold on Wall Street.
When this bubble burst, the US government came to the rescue and prevented most of the big banks from failing, and as an aside used public money to save the US auto industry.
No one who engaged in this systematic defrauding of the American economy nor the American taxpayer was prosecuted.
At the same time, US law enforcement routinely incarcerated the poor for drug offenses and failure to pay fines, and costs, no plutocrat was summoned to the criminal courts for this enormous fraud on our people.
There is an enormous double standard and it remains dangerous to be poor in this country.
So, again, is America a capitalist country in 2018?
The Koch brothers and their fellow oligarchs would argue that the free market is as much a part of the laws of nature as gravity or quantum physics.
Simply put, that absent government regulation, we would always have exactly how much of everything we demanded because of the invisible perfection of the market.
Of course, that is rubbish.
The market as it exists in America is a construct of legislation, court rulings, and bureaucratic orders.
The government determines how contracts are made and enforced, how debt is paid or discharged in bankruptcy,
How property is owned and sold or condemned.
Does anyone doubt that the parties creating this artificial market do so largely at the bidding of their corporate masters?
We know the great menace to democracy is the corrosive influence of campaign contributions.
The laws of this country are molded and shaped for the benefit of the owning classes and in disregard to the interest of working class Americans.
The Republicans claim to be the party of states’ rights. California passed a law prohibiting credit card companies from prohibiting class actions in the event of a dispute.
The Republican Supreme Court held that the state could not provide this benefit to its citizens, as an impairment to contract.
Then the Consumer Protection Bureau adopted a rule for the entire country permitting class action resolution of disputes with credit cards, but the Republican Congress forbade the new protection.
Why? Because they are more beholden to MasterCard and Visa than to the people.
Even though we are now flush with petroleum and are in fact a petroleum exporting nation, we continue to encourage the growth of more cord than we can environmentally sustain.
We use it to produce ethanol. We use the corn to create unhealthy cattle which can survive to market not on the grass they were evolved to eat, but with corn and antibiotics. Why because Archer Daniels Midland and the other agricultural behemoths demand it.
We have not been a capitalist country during my lifetime.
We control the cost of money through the federal reserve.
We control the cost of labor through restrictions on immigrations and government hostility to unions.
We control who can be relieved of debt through a very pro-creditor bankruptcy code.
And when big business gets in trouble, we crank up the printing presses to print money to save those entities we declare too big to fail.
So why do we let this happen?
The Democrats at their high point as the party of working people were led by Franklin Roosevelt. His policies saved democracy by injecting a dose of democratic socialism.
The American Dream which came into being at the end of his presidency was short-lived. But millions of people expected to own a home, to have steady employment, and to assume their children would be better off than they.
I remember those times, and I never fail to reflect that those good old days largely ignored the needs and expectations of women and people of color in the work force.
The next leap forward was at the hands of Lyndon Johnson who tried to make the American dream available to a broader group of Americans.
So why has the country gone to Hell in the past forty years.
The Democrats have quit emphasizing the economic issues which unified working people of all races and genders. It has become more a grievance party, and instead of railing against the injustices of a rigged economic system, we emphasize our differences and seek piecemeal remedies rather than economic justice.
The Republicans do an even greater disservice. Instead of presenting policies of economic justice, they essentially emphasize religion and patriotism as a substitute for addressing things which specifically affect people’s lives, such as health care, pensions, dependable jobs. Instead they talk about the national anthem, and flag burning, and abortions.
My friends, I promise you that whenever a politician drapes himself in the flag and utters words of glory, honor and the United States, those are really only symbols for the bank vault.
If we on the left want to win, we must start speaking to the Trump voter. I keep hearing that many of them feel disrespected and talked down to. The elitist view of them is some strange creature holding a Bible, a shotgun and a bottle of oxycontin. In fact, millions are hard working Americans who have been sacrificed by both parties commitment to globalism and failure to protect the American worker.
If the Trump voter is racist, sexist, xenophobic or homophobic, then he or she may be beyond our reach, but most are ordinary Americans who know that the political system is behold to its corporate masters and not to the individual lives or our people. They know that to both parties they are disposable cannon fodder. We on the left can get them back.
We can protect democracy with a fairly straightforward plan:
1. We can reduce the cost of health care by guaranteeing it as right to all Americans.
2. We can pay for an American infrastructure program which will improve the quality of life and provide jobs for Americans. It can be paid for by greatly reducing the cost of maintaining the American empire.
3. We can guarantee that every American seeking higher education may do so without a lifetime burden of debt.
4. We can fund our campaigns, permitting vigorous debate and dissent, but by prohibiting private campaign contributions. That would require either a constitutional amendment or generous appointments to the US Supreme Court.
Until we get the pernicious effects of big money out of crafting policy, we will continue to risk our democracy.
I read that millennials are not so committed to the concept of democracy as previous generations of Americans. Why should they be? Who among us believes we have a system of one person/one vote?
We now have a corrupt system in which the Koch Brothers, and the Mercers, and a collection of plutocrats are buying the American political system.
We as grassroots activists may have at most a couple of more election cycles to stop the bleeding. Our American democracy is in peril and the only thing which will save it is to adopt a platform of Democratic Socialism which once again allows the government to serve the people and not be a wholly owned subsidiary of the billionaire class.