The Needs of the Many

We are fourteen months out from the 2016 presidential election. As John Oliver said, there will be children born before then whose parents haven’t even met. And yet there is this sense of … something, isn’t there? If you look carefully you can almost see dogs rouse from sleep, lift their heads, and sniff the air with disquiet, and birds burst from the trees in flocks of confusion and panic. Bunny rabbits are about to stampede but seem unsure about which way to go. There is an apprehension, a low, unheard vibration. Something isn’t right. Or perhaps nothing is right.

So, I guess the time has come to speak of the elephant in the room. And it’s not the GOP or even Donald Trump.

Joe Biden still hasn’t decided whether he will run. Hillary is gradually losing support in the early voting states.   And the Bernie Sanders movement is growing. You’d hardly know that by paying attention to national media, but it’s growing.

Everyone knows, however, that Bernie Sanders can’t win because he’s a (drumroll, please) socialist!

That’s been the boggart in the cupboard all along. We might as well get it out in the open. Raise your wands and repeat after me– Riddikulus!

Socialism is a trigger word. Say socialist and people think communist because Joe McCarthy taught us to do that in the 50’s. We had witch hunts and trials and black-lists. The Soviet Union was a bunch of filthy communists and they were trying to obliterate the United States and Khrushchevsaid that when he banged his shoe on the desk at the UN and said they would bury us and the damn commie actors and writers are trying to help him do it! If your mommy is a commie then you gotta turn her in!

There are a couple of generations of Americans who have no first-hand knowledge of that attempt to scare Americans to the right. But it left its impact on the culture.

On top of that, communism failed in the Soviet Union. The country doesn’t even exist any longer. Communism is a failed economic model and therefore socialism is a failed economic model and therefore Bernie Sanders must fail. It’s all so simple and logical. Ridiculous.

It’s not just the low information voter who has no idea what a socialist actually believes or the difference between a socialist and a democratic socialist or for that matter the difference between either of those folks and a communist. All most people know today is “communist bad,” “socialist bad.” And they don’t just believe this because of the alternative reality machine that is the conservative plan has told them so, but also because the remnants of the McCarthy era hysteria still clings to the edges of society.

That makes this a huge issue for Bernie Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist” to overcome, or it might if people weren’t so tired of business as usual.

Most people think socialism goes back to Karl Marx. Actually, it predates that and has its roots in the French Revolution. The basic idea is that the state should own all means of production and distribution. That way the people could eat bread, not cake, because there would be bread! The government, in its socialist wisdom, would look at the population and go, “Ah, the people are hungry. We should put our resources into baking bread, not making more gold place settings for the palace. Merde!”

Experiments with Marxism and communism, all of which have been mostly failures on any large scale, go a step further and declare that not only should the state own the means of production and distribution, but all social classes must be eliminated and all members of the society must be socially and economically equal.

I should probably just throw in for comparison an equally basic definition of capitalism. In a capitalist scheme, the means of production and distribution are owned by private individuals or groups of individuals. Government is a separate (ideally) matter altogether.

And just to be clear, none of this bullshit actually exists in the real world. Real economies and real governments are a mish-mash of these and many other ideas. But this will serve for now.

So where does Bernie Sanders fit into all this? In all my research I have never read of Sanders calling for government to own the means of production or its distribution. He is not a socialist. And he is certainly not a communist.

But he calls himself a socialist!

Actually, he calls himself a “democratic socialist,” and that’s not the same thing. But now we have to delve into nuances.

A democratic socialist is a socialist leaning sort who has been taught by the realities of the world’s political systems that true socialism is not realistically attainable and may not even be needed. Instead of the government owning the means of production in order to create more economic equality, the democratic socialist wants to see government more actively regulate the capitalist system so that it benefits more people more equally. In the US this is often referred to as a mixed economy or a welfare state. Throughout the rest of the world, this is the definition of the well-thought-of center-left movement.

It is very important to note that capitalism, in its purest form, exists apart from government. It therefore exists apart from democracy and the will of the people as expressed through government. Capitalism relies on a voodoo concept called “the market,” as a self-regulating mechanism. This is a strictly economic construct. It doesn’t care if you eat bread or cake or if you eat at all, really. It only cares whether you labor for wages (the lower the better) or invest your money in it, and whether you consume products with what little you may earn. (OK. OK. All MBAs are now apoplectic, but this isn’t Econ 404.)

In the real world, once government engages with capitalism in any way, the result is socialism. Socialism is simply the influence of government on the means of production and distribution.

Remember the old joke? A guy says to woman in a bar, “Would you make love to me for $1 million dollars?” She thinks for a while and finally says, “OK.” Then the guy says, “How about for 20 bucks?” “The woman says, “Hell, no, what do you think I am?” He says, “We’ve already established that, now were haggling over price!”

So whether you like the idea or not, you live in a socialist country. The government makes sure your food is relatively safe through the FDA. That’s socialism. It makes sure workplaces are relatively safe through OSHA. That’s socialism. It regulates how dangerous materials are transported on the highways. That’s socialism. It runs a tax program called Social Security to help you save for retirement. That’s socialism. It runs healthcare programs like Medicaid and Medicare, socialist programs. And it created the EPA, one of the most loathsome organizations to capitalist interests, to try to keep your air and water clean enough so you could continue to live in the country, maybe on the planet.

And the proponents of capitalism HATE all that because it cuts into their profits.

Why should anyone object to a candidate who simply admits he’s in favor of what we already do?

But you also live in a democratic country. One where the people vote for a representative government that supposedly listens to the will of the people and acts accordingly. There is no conflict between democracy and democratic socialism here. They can and do exist side by side no matter what the right wing alternative reality machine would have you believe. Socialism is not fascism. Socialism is not totalitarianism.

But when capitalist interests run amuck, both wealth and power can become concentrated in the hands of just a few. If no one stands up and says, “No, you make enough profit, no more until everyone else is better off too,” you end up with a plutocracy. And if the plutocracy gets rich enough, it can not only control production and distribution, but it can influence the government itself by buying politicians and rigging elections. Then we no longer have a democracy because we no longer have people in government listening to the people. They listen only to the rich who keep them in office.

And this is where we find ourselves as we go into the 2016 election.

With all of the hated socialist programs that have been put in place by the “welfare state” government which the corporations and financial institutions blame for cutting into their profits and ruining the country, we now see that 99% of all income created in the “recovery” between 2009 and 2012 went to just 1% of the population. [1] This is a difficult fact to wrap your head around. In a world of political bullshit, this seems like just so much more bullshit.

It isn’t. It’s true. And the implications for this country’s future are staggering.

Figures vary from source to source, but a conservative estimate would be that the top 1% of this country’s population owns over 40% of all its wealth. Just before the revolution in 1905, Russia’s top 1% of households is estimated to have owned only 20% of the country’s wealth! [2] You don’t have to be a serious student of history to see that 40% might be just a tad on the high side to be safe.

One family in America owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans. [3] For comparison, the city of New York has a population of 8.5 million people. The ten largest cities in the country have a population of only 22.7 million. The number of people at the bottom of the economic scale who have a combined net worth equal to this one family would match the population of California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. One family!

Adjusting for inflation, young workers in the auto industry today take home less than their grandfathers did in 1931, during the worst days of the Great Depression, before the founding of the UAW. [4]

Whether you identify as a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or an organ grinder’s monkey, these numbers should see you determined to seek change.

Here are four more numbers to consider: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (81), Antonin Scalia (79), Anthony Kennedy (78) and Stephen Breyer (76).

At one time, turning to a man who calls himself a socialist for solutions would have been considered outrageous, and still is by those who want to perpetuate the status quo. But the fact is, times have changed.

It is clear that the Republican Party has nothing new to offer. They are still fighting the culture wars, emulating the know-nothings by building walls, waiting for the apocalypse, and praying to St Reagan to finally make things trickle down. Meanwhile, they are taking the proffered millions from the corporate plutocrats in a desperate bid to stay in office and then abdicating their office to the lobbyists once elected. The one man who has distinguished himself in that crowd has shown himself to be a racist and a misogynist with a poor grasp of foreign affairs, tapping into the fear of the aging white Republican base.

The corporate democrats seem on the surface to be more economically and socially engaged, but they offer little more than the status quo and are beholden to the same corporate plutocrats.

What should matter most as we approach 2016 is that we find someone with a plan to solve problems who can be trusted by the majority of the people; someone who can face down the 1% and let them know things have to change and then change them.

And that’s where the guy who calls himself a democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, enters the picture. He’s the one guy, and the only guy at the moment, who is actually saying, “No, you make enough profit, no more until everyone else is better off too.” And he has specific policy platforms to help make everyone else better off. And if he can do that, he can call himself the Queen of England for all I care.

Back in the 1930s there was another man who was called a socialist and a communist. FDR’s New Deal was attacked by Republicans as “undisguised state socialism.”

And back then FDR understood that it was the failure of the free market to provide the average American with basic economic security—in other words, a decent job at a decent wage—that created crisis in the first place. [5]

William Randolph Hearst threw the entire weight of his considerable newspaper resources against Roosevelt in the 1936 re-election, calling him a socialist and the New Deal the Raw Deal. Hearst was most upset by Roosevelt’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy. Hearst papers claimed communists had infiltrated the New Deal and that communism was un-American and undemocratic.

Roosevelt’s response is as appropriate now as it was then, “The American people will not permit their attention to be diverted from real issues to fake issues which no patriotic, honorable, decent citizen would purposefully inject into American affairs.” [6] Roosevelt won re-election, but the American people have allowed their attention to be diverted since.

America got back on its feet under FDR. The New Deal wasn’t perfect, but it worked. It was what was needed at the time.

In the 60’s Martin Luther King led the equal rights movement down the streets of Selma. One of the lesser known facts about King is that he was an advocate for the poor no matter what their color and an “uncompromising opponent of American capitalism.” [7] He, too, was called a communist by his opponents, but he, too, was in fact a democratic socialist.

In 1966 King told his staff, “[W]e are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism…. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism. Call it what you may, call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.” [7] That was nearly 50 years ago, and the poor have gotten a great deal poorer since then and the middle class is a disappearing breed.

When Bernie Sanders marched with Martin Luther King in the 60s they both wanted a better life for America’s poor and middle class. They both wanted to reduce economic and social injustice for America’s people.

Bernie Sanders has never wavered in his quest for that goal.

He is also the only candidate so far who has made it clear that electing a president by itself cannot solve the problems we face. No matter how effective a plan a president has, it serves no purpose if it cannot be implemented. Barak Obama’s presidency proved that. If the Republican Party retains the house and senate, change is impossible. The rich will continue to siphon off the majority of this country’s resources, leaving the dregs to the middle class and the poor. This isn’t about electing a president; it’s about electing a government.

If you aren’t familiar with the Sander’s platform, you really should educate yourself. [8][9]

If you think he can’t win because of all the money that will be spent against him, reread the history of European revolution. How much good did money do Marie Antoinette? When enough people get angry enough, money is just good tinder. People are more powerful than money. History has always shown that when people come together, moneyed interests cannot stand.

The 2016 election isn’t about parties and it isn’t about money spent and it isn’t even about individuals. This is an election about the idea that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. It could very well be about the possibility of needed change happening peacefully.

The many sleep soundly, sometimes for generations. They are hard to rouse. But they are stirring across America now. They are coming out to speeches and rallies by the 10’s of thousands. They have lit up the social media.

And they have found a leader. He is urging them to create a political revolution. Trust me, that is the preferred kind.

If the many can come together: white, black, brown, poor, middle class, it doesn’t matter; change can be accomplished. If they cannot, it will be very interesting to see what sort of life we have here by 2020.

Enough is enough.

Your Humble Servant,
Roger A. Shipley, The Willowbrook Curmudgeon

2 thoughts on “The Needs of the Many

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