The Best Defense
“The best defense is a good offense.”
There’s been plenty of squawking from the left and even from progressive Democrats about the Democratic Party. Obama is seen as a centrist or a pragmatist or… well, pick your own label. The bottom line is that he has done virtually nothing to advance any semblance of a progressive agenda. Washington and the media seem to enjoy telling Americans what is “on the table” and what is “off the table”. Perhaps it is time for an entirely new table.
The scope of discourse in the US is painfully narrow. The entire framework of debate, often couched in dire terms about deficits and debt, has become focused on sacrifices Americans must make. We’re told Social Security will go bankrupt and that Washington is here to help us avoid that by making painful, yet necessary, cuts. We’re told that Medicare and Medicaid, while good programs, must be squeezed due to cost increases.
We’re told that America’s corporate taxes are the highest in the world and that they must be reduced for the US to remain competitive. We’re told that massive subsidies to Big Oil must be preserved so that our energy needs can be met. Hidden behind these and other corporate welfare programs, of course, is the not-so-subtle threat that your job will be exported if you raise any objections about them.
Democrats are playing on a table selected and controlled by right-wing Republicans. When the question becomes “how much should we take away from the elderly, the poor and just common working folks” instead of “how much should we take away from Wall Street and its investors, from the military-industrial complex and from Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Pharma and the rest of the corporate welfare state”, there can be no progress on the progressive agenda.
So, let’s spend a little time talking about just what “going on offense” could mean.
The wars, unpaid for of course, ran up a $5 trillion (that’s trillion with a “t”) tab. Who benefited from the great fear campaign? Military contractors made a bundle. Oil companies have seen record profits too. If debt and deficits are a concern, that seems like the most sensible place to recoup (uncoup?) the money. Declare both wars over; shut down foreign military bases; make deep… very deep… cuts in the military budget. Why is no one in Congress discussing 25% cuts… 50% cuts… 75% cuts… even 90% cuts? Could it be that those we elect are fearful about the political fallout… or worse? I mean, we’ve all heard the phrase “guns or butter”. Wouldn’t it seem reasonable to call for an honest national discussion about which priority Americans prefer? The discussion is not even on the table.
Instead of subsidizing greedy multi-national industries that provide “necessities” to Americans, let’s talk about nationalizing them. It is nothing less than propaganda to argue that “greed is good” and that the profit motive makes these companies successful. What they’re doing is blackmail. You can’t live without your food, your meds, your oil, so we can charge you anything we like and you even have to subsidize our efforts. That’s the perfect case for nationalizing these industries. Throw the banks in there, too, while you’re at it.
Instead of talking about the amount of Medicare cuts, suppose we talked about providing Medicare for all Americans and expanding what is covered. Even those on Medicare incur huge medical bills or are forced to buy supplemental coverage. Let’s put an end to that. Before we spend trillions “defending Americans” by fighting unnecessary wars around the world, how about defending the health of Americans right here at home? Until all Americans have the opportunity to obtain quality health care at an affordable price, we have no business pumping our tax dollars into the military-corporate state. That’s the priority I would establish; you won’t hear the issue discussed on the Sunday morning propaganda shows. Such themes are “off the table”.
And let’s not leave Big Pharma out of the Medicare discussion. If Medicare were allowed to negotiate prices using its massive buying power, the US could save roughly $130 billion per year. To their credit, some Democrats raised this issue several years ago but it was defeated by the Republicans in Congress. This issue, however, should have been the first words out of Obama’s mouth during the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Perhaps he said something about it; I didn’t hear a word. He certainly didn’t rally the American people to demand lower prices for Medicare drugs. Another issue off the table.
Obama allowed the fiscal cliff discussion to wallow into a discussion of taxing the wealthy “a little bit more”. Well, why not a lot more? I had a chance to watch Richard Wolff on C-Span about a week ago. He pointed out that FDR called for a 100% tax on all income above $25,000 (equivalent to about $350,000 today). Think about that! A 100% tax. That’s called going on offense. And taxing income isn’t good enough regardless of the rate. We also need to start talking about taxing wealth.
Look, we’re in a class war and we’re losing very badly. Our government does not represent our interests. You can’t call it democracy, or even a republic, when we, the people, are not being represented. The “get money out of politics” meme, while well-meaning, is a dead-end. You can’t “get money out of politics”, or frankly do anything, unless you first demand leadership that represents you. And, you can’t have leadership that represents you unless that leadership is willing to make a 100% commitment to engaging the class war. That’s what going on offense means.
When Democrats, even liberal Democrats, are willing to fight against cuts but aren’t willing to truly engage the battle against concentrated wealth, corporate welfare and the corporatizing of our lives and our culture, the difference between Republicans and Democrats becomes very slim indeed. Fighting against cuts, without a major realignment of our economy, inevitably leads to austerity measures. Put another way, without going on offense, our future is a lost battle.