It’s becoming increasingly hard for a progressive to like the current run of Democratic candidates. So many of the candidates running for Congress, Senate and statewide offices are centrist or right-wing whose politics are not even barely acceptable to the traditional progressive wing of the Democratic party.
So why should progressives, liberals and traditional Democrats vote if their choices are such pro-business, right-leaning centrists Dems as Andrew Cuomo (New York), Andre Romanoff (Colorado) and Ann McLane Kuster (New Hampshire) or obnoxiously right-wing Republicans?
For one reason—making the Democratic party beholden to progressives is the first step to re-instilling progressive values into our political system.
The right wing didn’t build the conservative fortress that is the contemporary American political scene in one day or one decade. They started whittling away at basic Democratic ideas from the time of Reagan and before—taking a few steps at a time: first one tax cut for the wealthy, then another, and then another. First crushing the air traffic controllers, then weakening rules that help unions organize, then going after public school teachers and the pensions of all public workers. Flooding the media with misleading studies falsely claiming that lowering taxes on the wealthy increases employment; falsely claiming that extending unemployment makes people want to stay home; falsely claiming that businesses don’t need regulation to do the right thing regarding safety and the environment; falsely claiming that moving to renewable fuels will shrink the economy; falsely claiming that returning the minimum wage to its buying power in the 1970’s would cost jobs. Bit by bit, ever so slowly, the right wing pushed the country to the right.
And it’s only this gradualist approach that’s going to work if we are to return the country—on a 35-year binge of bad ideas—back to on the progressive path of the 1930’s-1970’s.
And it starts with this November’s vote: Politicians care about two things and two things only—money and votes. The more progressive the position, the less money the 1% will put up, but we can still beat them by getting out the vote.
If we can achieve the voter turnout of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, the Democrats will keep control of the Senate and eat into the Republican House majority (gerrymandering after the 2010 elections may make the House a lost cause until 2016). Everyone will know that it was turn out of traditionally Democratic groups such as the poor, young and minorities that swung the 2014 election to the Democrats.
In short, the Dems will be beholden to progressives.
Then comes the second step—insisting that every Democrat in office or running for office in 2015 and 2016 espouse basic progressive principles. It is imperative that progressives start a letter-writing program to all their elected Democratic officials giving them an ultimatum: support these causes or else we will vote for someone who will.
It would be wonderful it the most progressive government officials such as Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio should steal a page from New Gingrich circa 1994 and put together a new Contract with America and make a public display of asking every Democratic candidate to sign it.
If I were to write The Progressive Contract for American, it would contain the following basic legislative and regulatory demands:
- Pass laws that overrule the Citizens United decision that unleashed the ability of large corporations and wealthy individuals to turn elections through massive infusions of money.
- Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour
- Develop regulations that make it easier for unions to organize workers and harder for companies to stop them.
- Raise taxes on incomes of more than $250,000 and place an annual wealth tax on all personal assets over $10 million, including fine art and real estate.
- Add a small transactional tax to all stock trades.
- Raise tariffs on select foreign goods so that they get no price advantage because their countries of origin have lower worker wages or lower safety and environmental standards.
- Pass legislation that ends harmful corporate practices, including pretending the company is headquartered in another country, reclassifying U.S. income as foreign income and outsourcing basic operational jobs to lower wage and benefit costs.
- Begin a massive investment in repairing our roads, bridges and public school buildings.
- Begin a massive investment in solar and wind energy, advanced technologies to increase energy efficiency, technologies to mitigate the most severe effects of global warming, space exploration and medical research.
- Go to a single payer system for purchase of prescription drugs for Medicare and Medicaid.
- Create an immigration policy that includes a road to citizenship and lifts quotas across the board and not just for high-salaried workers.
- Invest in vocational training programs at public high schools and community colleges so that those who are not suited for jobs that require college degrees can get low-cost training.
- End all federal and state aid to charter schools that do not perform better than their neighborhood equivalent in two years or who lose 30% of their teaching staff within any 12-month period; put a cap on what charter school executives can make and a floor equal to the pay of public school teachers in the region on what charters school teachers make.
- Pass federal and state laws permitting gay marriage and protecting the right of a woman to have an abortion.
- Stop allowing arms sales to any foreign governments and stop loaning foreign governments money to buy U.S. arms.
Progressives may not agree with everything I am proposing, but there is plenty of time to hash over those details. The main thing now is to vote on November 4 and vote for the only party that listens to the 99%—even though at the current moment it is listening with one ear closed and the other also hearing hedge-fund billionaires.