Populists Keep Fighting

The election is over, but the battle continues over What It All Means. As far as we're concerned, the election of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate is a mandate for economic populism and a call for the Democrats to protect the interests of working- and middle-class Americans against the depredations of Big Corporations.

As David Sirota wrote at InTheseTimes.com on Nov. 28, "Candidates all over the country talked about how corporate lobbyists have manipulated our trade policy to crush workers, our energy policy to harm consumers and our health care policy to hurt families. Polls show populism (a.k.a., challenging corporate economic power) is the 'center' position for the voting public, even though it may not be the 'center' position in a K-Street-owned Washington, D.C."

Since the election, Sirota noted, Washington's elite have tried to deny progressives credit and to downplay a mandate that threatens their agenda. But Sen.-elect Jim Webb, D-Va., who has been billed as a "conservative," wrote in a Nov. 15 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "Class Struggle":

"The most important -- and unfortunately the least debated -- issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century," Webb wrote. "America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. ... The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes."

Now corporations that thrived on Republican ties with lawmakers such as Tom DeLay and lobbyists like Jack Abramoff are scouring K Street for Democratic glad-handers.

After six years of letting the Republicans run riot over the federal budget, Wall Street, represented by former treasury secretary Robert Rubin, would like Democrats to return to "budget-balancing entitlement reform." That is, no big plans.

The liberal Brookings Institution has joined the Concord Coalition, the Government Accountability Office and The Heritage Foundation in the Fiscal Wake-Up Tour, "a series of public forums designed to focus attention on our nation's daunting long-term fiscal challenges." Or, as populist economist Max Sawicky notes, the coalition is spreading alarms about "Deficits of Mass Destruction."

During the Clinton administration Rubin convinced the Big Dog to embrace free trade and agree to China's admission into the World Trade Organization. Labor unions were assured that any damage to workers would be minimized through worker retraining and other safety-net measures.

Those assurances proved meaningless during the Bush administration, when corporate profits grew at the expense of the working class. Even Rubin admits that globalization has not brought job security or rising incomes to millions of Americans, Louis Uchitelle noted in the Nov. 26 New York Times.

Now Dems owe the unions, who played a key role in getting out the vote in battleground states such as Ohio. The unions and the Economic Policy Institute and other progressives in the "Shared Prosperity" coalition are arrayed against Rubin and the party establishment, billed as the "Hamilton Project."

Both groups agree on legislation to increase the minimum wage to $7.25 over three years, reduce interest rates on student loans and expand the earned-income tax credit to subsidize the working poor. Both would let the government negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare's prescription drug plan.

But populists are pushing for government-subsidized universal health care. They also favor expanding Social Security to offset the decline in pension coverage in the private sector.

We think Democrats should expand Medicare to cover all Americans -- and get it going as soon as possible. They should not phase it in. Workers who get sick should not worry whether their employer has enough of a social conscience to provide insurance. But a survey done by USA Today, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health, released Nov. 20, found that one fourth of households affected by cancer used up all their savings treating the patient. Some 13% ended up going into debt and being hounded by collection agencies. One in 10 were unable to get health insurance because of their cancer and 6% lost insurance they already had.

The Bush administration proposes to cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits, while the insurance industry, hoping to head off meaningful reform, has proposed that Congress help the working poor buy private health insurance when their employers are unwilling or unable to afford it.

Instead, Medicare should give every American his or her choice of health care providers. It's good for General Motors, which complains that it is at a competitive disadvantage with cars made in Japan, where national health care takes the burden off manufacturers. It's good for small businesses that find it increasingly hard to find affordable health plans for their workers. And it's good for workers, who won't have to worry about their skinflint bosses shoving more health care costs onto them. It's also good for hospitals and clinics that no longer would have to negotiate with insurance company bean counters or worry about absorbing the cost of uninsured patients who show up at emergency rooms for primary care.

Perhaps Medicare For All would run health insurance companies out of business. That is a risk we are willing to take.

The best part is that the insurance companies have it coming. The midterms demonstrated that Dems can win despite the opposition of the deep-pocketed insurance companies, health professionals, pharmaceutical companies and other industrial groups, most of which gave two-thirds or more of their contributions to Republicans in the 2006 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org. Insurance executives spent $24 million in this cycle, with 66% going to the GOP. They might bump their bribes to 80% GOP in 2008 if Democrats pass a Medicare expansion, but the Dems would gain more than that in goodwill from working-class families who would find out there is a reason that they should bother to vote Democratic next time. And, to be realistic, the corporate lobbyists will still give enough to the Dems to hedge their bets, so that they can get face time after the election if they need it.


Defend the 'Net

This election also showed the potency of the Internet as an organizing tool as well as providing alternatives to the corporate media monopoly. Anyone with an Internet connection can browse samples of The Progressive Populist and other progressive sites on the World Wide Web (see our links at populist.com). If you have a broadband connection you can listen to progressive radio such as the AirAmerica network or Democracy Now! even if you are in a remote area. Web sites such as DailyKos.com, MyDD.com and MoveOn.org can help insurgent progressive candidates get early support -- and they helped many of the populist Democrats who won Nov. 7.

That is why it is critical that the new Congress reaffirm the principle that networks -- generally telephone companies that carry Internet transmissions -- may not provide better service to Internet providers or Web sites that pay a premium to the telecom. Nor may they block customers from accessing Web sites. Phone companies may claim they are simply trying to regulate service or allow Internet providers to block pornographic sites, but the issue is whether corporations can control access to sites such as Populist.com.

If "net neutrality" sounds arcane, that's what the telecoms are hoping you will think as they work on their long-term plans of putting toll-booths on the Information Highway. But net neutrality is about ensuring a free press for the next generation. -- JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2006

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