Reagan’s Ruins

Barack Obama got in trouble for mentioning Ronald Reagan in a way that could be construed as complimentary when he told the editorial board of the Reno, Nev., Journal Gazette that “Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. ... He tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want, you know, a return to that sense of dynamism and, you know, entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

Bill and Hillary Clinton saw their opportunity to rain fire upon the Illinois senator, who looked like he was still on the learning curve, which is one reason why Democrats should be wary about putting him at the top of the ballot this year.

Not that the Clintons are much better. They have praised Reagan in the past and deferred to Wall Street when they were in the White House.

John Edwards had the right reaction when he said Reagan “openly fought against the union and the organized labor movement in this country. He openly did extraordinary damage to the middle class and created a tax structure that favored the very wealthiest Americans and caused the middle class and working people to struggle every single day. The destruction of the environment, you know, eliminating regulation of companies that were polluting and doing extraordinary damage to the environment.” Edwards added, “I can promise you this: [I] will never use Ronald Reagan as an example for change.”

Democrats should never miss a chance to repudiate the nearly 30 years of “supply-side” economics espoused by Reagan and the neocon movement, which preached that tax cuts for the rich and deregulation of industry would stimulate economic growth. George H.W. Bush derided it as “voodoo economics” in 1980 but embraced the voodoo in order to become vice president and later to succeed Reagan as president. His son, George W., finally got a Congress to go along with the Voodoo and look what a mess we’re in now.

If Democrats want working people to vote for them this fall, the Democratic Party should rededicate itself to fight for economic democracy and social democracy as well as political democracy. It must believe that people are more more important than corporations and that government should protect people from corporate wrongdoing and monopolists.

Democrats must fight for strong unions and worker rights at the workplace. The free market only works if employees have rights and corporations have responsibilities to their workers and their communities. Without unions and enforceable worker rights, as we have seen, corporations take advantage.

Democrats must fix our broken health-care system. We cannot claim the world’s best health-care system as long as 47 million Americans do not have access to that system because they lack insurance and hundreds of millions of other Americans are at the mercy of insurance company bureaucrats who decide what, if any, treatment they are entitled to. National health care would relieve one of the major headaches for small business owners and allow them to compete on equal footing with skinflint owners who refuse to provide benefits for their employees. Also, it would remove a major sticking point in contract negotiations.

The current Democratic Congress with some GOP support took a good first step this past year by passing a bill to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but Bush vetoed it and right-wing Republicans sustained his veto. Too often working people whose employers don’t offer insurance coverage are forced to choose between their jobs and taking their sick kids to an emergency room because they can’t afford a private physician. Too many Republicans profess that the lack of access to health care is not a problem the government should be concerned with.

The three major Democratic candidates have proposed to work toward universal health care by enabling more workers to buy insurance. We think they’re too timid, but at least they are steps in the right direction. Perhaps if the Democratic House would pass a single-payer national health insurance bill it would embolden the presidential candidates. House leaders have not brought up HR 676, “The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act,” sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., because they don’t believe they have the votes to pass it. But if they don’t have the votes, we think rank-and-file Dems deserve to know which Democratic representatives will vote against it.

On globalization, we believe “free trade” allows multinational corporations to move factories overseas to countries that offer low wages and little or no labor rights and environmental regulation. Democrats should insist on fair trade agreements, under which corporations that move jobs overseas must comply with international labor, health and environmental standards that are enforceable, or else the multinationals should not be allowed to import their products into nations that maintain those standards. Unfortunately, Democratic leaders have allied with Republicans to pass free-trade agreements, from NAFTA in the Clinton administration to the Peru Free Trade Agreement last year.

Progressive populists might end up with another choice of the lesser of evils this year. But the last seven years have proven that there is a difference between the two major parties and the Democrats are still a lot closer to working-class interests than the GOP.

To summarize:?The Democrats won’t go to war with the insurance companies over national health care but they will provide health care for lower-middle-class kids — and Republicans won’t. Democrats won’t stop funding the war in Iraq, but they wouldn’t have started the war in the first place. Democrats would remove troops from Iraq — or at least start withdrawing them — while the Republicans would remain there as long as it takes to get Iraqi oilfields producing for multinational oil companies. Democrats support workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively while Republicans, as a practical matter, do not. Republicans support free trade deals that allow multinational corporations to export manufacturing jobs overseas, then complain when displaced Mexicans move north looking for work. Democrats support enforceable labor and health standards in trade deals while Republicans do not. That’s a start.

Send Rebates Where They’re Needed

President Bush said he would like to send rebates to taxpayers to stimulate the economy but he does not want to send checks to the one-third of Americans with the lowest incomes who did not pay pay any federal income tax — even though they paid payroll taxes. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argues that stimulus legislation must be “temporary, timely and targeted.” If anything, the checks should go to low-income families, who are far more likely to immediately spend any extra money they receive in the form of a tax rebate or extended unemployment insurance. Higher-income people are more likely to put extra money in the bank. And Bush’s plan to extend tax cuts for the rich make no sense. As Martin Feldstein, former chief economic adviser to President Reagan, noted, the Bush tax cuts do not expire until the end of 2010; extending them could not possibly do anything to counteract a recession taking place today.

Congressional Democrats should proceed with rebates to all working Americans and extend unemployment insurance while they’re at it. Republicans are in no position to balk or deny rebates to anybody. President Bush has promised payments of as much as $1,600 per family. A hundred million households are expecting that check and they’ll be watching the progress of that legislation. If the Republicans filibuster the bill that appropriates it, America’s families will rightly blame the Republicans. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2008

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