Centrist Democrats And The Politics of Compromise In The Age of Trump, Ryan, & McCain | Blog#42
It seems that a growing number of Democrats are demanding that their elected representatives in Congress compromise with Republicans. This coincides with the race for DNC chair, which will be decided in a few days. This also comes at a time when GOP Senator John McCain is beginning to publicly break ranks with fellow Republicans and openly criticizes their new president for some of the more disturbing comments he has made. At a conference in Berlin, Germany, McCain gave a speech that was widely praised by Liberals.
Donald J. Trump has, without a doubt, presented us with significant challenges, when it comes to living in and maintaining our democratic traditions. Thanks to Trump’s election, America went from being a plutocracy to becoming a full-fledged oligarchy not only on the basis of Trump himself, but also a cabinet full of billionaires. Trump’s views on any given topic have ranged from simplistic, all the way to being based on an ignorant mix of fake facts to outright lies. When it comes to his understanding of our constitutional rights and what makes a democracy democratic, Trump’s share of our common font of knowledge is no better than that of a 10th grader from on of the nation’s least well-funded school districts. That is a rather shameful observation, given that President Trump is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania.
Senator McCain’s criticism of President Trump, as impressive as it may be to many in the media, is really not a high bar to achieve. President Trump will likely be the most intellectually- poor president we’ve ever elected into office, including Ronald Reagan.
Among all the striking comments McCain made in Munich are these:
“What would von Kleist’s generation say if they saw our world today? I fear that much about it would be all-too-familiar to them, and they would be alarmed by it.
“They would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood, and race, and sectarianism.
“They would be alarmed by the hardening resentment we see toward immigrants, and refugees, and minority groups, especially Muslims.
“They would be alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies.
“They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.
“But what would alarm them most, I think, is a sense that many of our peoples, including in my own country, are giving up on the West … that they see it as a bad deal that we may be better off without … and that while Western nations still have the power to maintain our world order, it is unclear whether we have the will.
“All of us must accept our share of the blame for this turn of events. We grew complacent. We made mistakes. At times we tried to do too much, and at others we failed to do enough. We lost touch with many of our people. We have been too slow to recognize and respond to their hardships. We need to face up to these realities, but this does not mean losing hope and retreating. That we must not do.”
These are very noble and righteous statements Senator McCain made, which makes it all the more difficult to pit them against his votes, so far, in 2017:
** Due to his trip to Germany, Senator McCain did not participate in the vote to confirm the Secretary of the EPA.
Those beautiful sentences we heard out of John McCain’s mouth do not jibe with his votes in favor of the very people who will carry out the Trump agenda.
Over the past month, as we were glued to our televisions to watch the high drama of the DeVos, Tillerson, Mnuchin, Price, and Ben Carson, some stealthy appointees were approved:
The nominee for CMS administrator has already implemented a harsh model for the country’s public insurance programs in Indiana.
VANN R. NEWKIRK II FEB 17, 2017
“Verma is best-known for her role in reshaping the Indiana Medicaid program under then-Governor Mike Pence. Despite Pence being an ardent critic of Obamacare, Indiana made the choice to expand Medicaid anyway. But they utilized a pathway known as the 1115 waiver to craft a program that diverged significantly from the guidelines under the standard Obamacare program, and quickly created the most conservative Medicaid expansion program in the country. That program, known as the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, was the brainchild of Verma and her health-care consulting company, SVC, Inc, then recommended as an experienced expert and consultancy firm with knowledge of the minutiae of CMS regulations.
Although many see the creation of “HIP 2.0” as a strange move for a Republican-controlled state, Indiana has suffered from several public health issues for years—not to mention a well-publicized drug epidemic that ballooned into an HIV outbreak under Pence’s watch—and has consistently ranked near the bottom in most state health indices. It quickly became clear that the HIP 2.0 program under Verma did not intend to be a very generous program. The plan sought to eliminate standard Medicaid protections and provisions for vulnerable people, exchanging them for a premium-based program that mimicked private plans. In her defense of those reforms, Verma wrote:
“Medicaid was designed as a critical part of the safety net for our nation’s most vulnerable populations—individuals who are aged, blind, or disabled, and families with incomes well below the poverty line—many of whom possess limited ability to provide for their own well-being. Rules governing the program recognize the necessity of long-term enrollment for those facing serious medical challenges, making it easier for them to get in and stay in the program. Yet many of Medicaid’s enrollment and eligibility policies, which might make perfect sense for certain vulnerable populations, are not always appropriate for able-bodied adults possessing different capabilities and earning potential. Able-bodied adults need coverage, but not the same set of policy protections.”
What Verna ends up doing as head of CMS will impact tens of millions of Americans. Why haven’t we heard from leading Democrats about her hearing? Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey sits on the committee that held a three-hour confirmation hearing:
BY JESSIE HELLMANN – 02/16/17
“President Trump’s pick to lead the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) cruised through her confirmation hearing Thursday, though Democrats showed frustration at her refusal to offer specifics.”
Frustration? That is rather mild, considering who it is that was under the committee’s review! Given her track record in Indiana, why didn’t the media cover her front and center? Surely, on a matter of life and death to millions of poor, elderly, and disabled, Seema Verna could have been sandwiched in between the Flynn scandal and, say, Trump’s press conference? Where were the Democrats? Where was their outrage? Who was urging voters to jam their senators’ phone lines? Email inboxes?
Here is another example of Democrats not coordinating and letting an important position go to the GOP:
Come again? The Trump administration chose not to fight the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for only one reason: the immigration executive order case would have been litigated in front of 8 U.S. Supreme Court justices – before Trump’s nominee for a 9th justice would have been seated. The current 8-member court was too much of a gamble to risk losing. Deadlock, in these times, is the best option and Ms. Ravel, by giving into her lassitude, just handed Trump an easy way to worsen corruption of our elections. Have any Democrats attempted to dissuade her? Does the leadership, whoever that is, even know she’s quitting? This article didn’t say.
** ADDENDUM: Ms. Ravel wrote an op-ed in the New York Times' February 20th edition, in which she says: "It pains me to report that the agency remains dysfunctional, more so than ever, as I prepare to depart at the end of this month as my term nears its end. This is deeply worrisome, because the F.E.C.’s mission is to ensure fairness in elections. One of its core responsibilities is to make sure that all money in political campaigns is disclosed. As Justice Louis Brandeis said, sunlight is “the best of disinfectants.” This quotation graces the street-facing window of the F.E.C." Eric Lichtblau's article specifically mentions Ravel as quitting her post early, with no other details.
Speaking of leadership, the DNC chair position will be voted on this coming week. One of the many candidates running for the coveted job has ended his campaign and endorsed Keith Ellison:
“New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley dropped out of the race for the Democratic National Committee chairmanship on Saturday, endorsing Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison in a move that shakes up the contest to lead the party.
If Ellison wins the vote in Atlanta next week, Buckley — who currently leads the Association of State Democratic Chairs — is expected to play a large role in helping lead the state parties’ operations. The move, long rumored among the 447 voting members of the party, gives Ellison new strength heading into the homestretch as he campaigns against fellow front-runner Tom Perez, the former Secretary of Labor.
“From the moment I stepped into this race, I made it clear that the top two priorities of the next DNC Chair must be to strengthen state parties and reform the DNC. Now, many candidates have spoken about these issues, but Keith’s commitment to the states and a transparent and accountable DNC has stood out,” Buckley said in a statement. “He knows elections are not won and lost in the beltway, but on the ground across the country. His plan, in fact, shared many of the same ideas and principles as my own.””
Indeed, those must be the party chair’s top priorities, for without those two issues resolved in very short order, Democrats will not make any gains in 2018. The party’s infrastructure, particularly in the Deep South, is nonexistent.
According to a new Pew Research article:
“More than half (56%) of minorities in 2015 were Millennials or younger. While minorities (who include everyone except single-race non-Hispanic whites) made up just 38.4% of the U.S. population last year, that figure is up slightly from 38.0% in 2014. The minority population grew at a faster pace (2.0%) than the white population (0.1%) during that time. Minorities’ higher growth rate is expected to continue, and the minority population will likely surpass whites in the next several decades. Today, Americans under the age of 5 are already “majority minority,” though by only a small margin.”
America is browning and the Democratic party is neither ready nor willing to prepare accordingly, not that such preparations should have been necessary. Yes, a Black Democrat just ended two terms as president of the United States, but the racial balance of power at the top of the party structures has remained virtually unchanged, with older whites representing the party’s top leadership in both houses of Congress, across state parties, and in the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
But there is another very urgent problem for the DNC leadership, if a progressive Democrat, Keith Ellison, wins: polling is now showing that voters want Democrats to strike bargains with the GOP:
“A strong majority of Americans say Democrats should look to cooperate with President Trump to strike deals, according to the inaugural Harvard-Harris poll provided exclusively by The Hill.The survey found that 73 percent of voters want to see Democrats work with the president, against only 27 percent who said Democrats should resist Trump’s every move.The findings are significant as Democratic leaders in Congress are under growing pressure by their liberal base to obstruct the president’s agenda. The poll shows the party is divided on how to deal with Trump: 52 percent of Democrats polled say they should cooperate with him on areas of agreement and 48 percent saying they shouldn’t.”
This is a problem. The GOP is hell-bent on destroying every bit of progress that has been achieved since the New Deal. By the time Democrats are able to regain a majority in either or both houses of Congress and then, maybe, the White House in 2020, they will face both a monumental task and a once in a lifetime opportunity: completely rewriting and updating the last 100 years of social progress. After either two or four years of unchained neoconservatism and Trumpism, the Democratic electorate will long have forgotten about this poll and will no longer be in the mood to forgive anything that vaguely smells of compromise.
The Democratic leadership, so far, has not demonstrated an ability to lock down its membership in strict parliamentary discipline. Senators of a specific neoliberal bent have broken away from the Democratic pack to vote in favor of Trump cabinet nominees and, in the case of rolling back Obama-era coal regulations, Senators Manchin and McCaskill voted with the majority. There are others whose first votes, this new session, were against other Democrats’ legislation and in favor of the GOP version. Aside from the optics right on the tail end of a horror of an election cycle, this kind of behavior is intolerable and one of the reasons why there are so many left-leaning independent voters who will not commit by belonging to the Democratic party. Voting against one’s party is not a form of diversity. It is political suicide and the Democratic party has been committing it, slowly, for years.
Automation will take away millions of jobs within the next 20 to 30 years, and our nation should be preparing for the next big economic bang. How will workers earn a living in a world in which robots will do a lot of the work humans now do? There are ongoing discussions about instituting a ‘universal basic income.’ Such a policy will be a necessary one, along with new ways for humans to be productive and innovative. Under the current social contract and these new economic conditions, millions of Americans would be doomed to a life of deprivation. Obviously, under the current political atmosphere, with the GOP in control of our government, it is unimaginable that there can be any serious discussion of instituting a new social contract with a basic income included.
As of right now, there are 95 million Americans who are underemployed and unemployed – some have been in that situation since the start of the Great Recession and have been living off of the occasional gig and their life savings from twenty and thirty years of careers that ended abruptly.
If they get lucky and the bubble that the Trump administration and Congress are engineering is big enough, these older workers may get a brief second chance at resuming interrupted lives. Maybe. But Trump is no friend of the precariat and it is unlikely that any more effort will be made to put them back to work, than was done by the previous administration.
Sadly, the mentality described above also exists on the centrist left. During the election, as emails were being published by WikiLeaks, it was clear that Hillary Clinton thought poorly of progressives who were proposing free higher education. While we have no information what Clinton thinks of a universal basic income, one can assume it most likely is anathema to her. But that is the direction we will necessarily have to go in as we come up with Capitalism 2.0.
The next Chair of the DNC should work assiduously to rebuild the Democratic party everywhere, but particularly in the Deep South and Rust Belt states, where it has practically vanished, if there is any hope of regaining control starting in 2018 and 2020. At the same time, that Chair, hopefully Keith Ellison, will need to begin the task of reorienting the public discussion to the construction of a map of our collective future. Such a discussion would best begin by reminding us all of FDR’s idea for a Second Bill of Rights, which he proposed during his State of The Union address in 1944. Among the items proposed were:
- Food, clothing, and leisure by enough income to support them
- Farmers’ rights to a fair income
- Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
- Medical care
- Social security
Over the next two years, it is clear, the GOP will dismantle nearly 100 years of social progress our nation has made since FDR. The Democratic party, if if reforms itself in earnest, will be in the unique position of both rolling back everything the GOP dismantles, and update FDR’s Great Society for the next industrial revolution. This will not only take a progressive view of the future, but also a committed, unflinching leadership that isn’t beholden to the special interests its establishment is now indebted to. Those special interests are what, in the end, caused the party’s current predicament and Democratic voters’ revolt in the 2016 election.
Our society is now reaping the corruption of values it has been sowing over the last decades. What comes next will come at a very high price but will also present opportunities to make a radical departure from the polarizing political morass we’ve been mired in. It is disappointing that nothing short of disaster prevented our nation from going down the path we are on now. As divided as we are, there is still room to insist on a return to values we know have benefited our society and served it well.
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“Basic income is designed to give people more control over their lives. It is not just the cash sum that is important but the security and certainty provided; a more predictable platform on which to make life choices. Should some of the fears over the rapid impact of new forms of automation driven by artificial intelligence and robotics come to pass, then this certainty will become even more crucial as people strive to adapt.
Will people be lazy if given a basic income? One might say this is a fundamentally, and worryingly, negative view of humanity. Notwithstanding that, models of basic income systems such as that outlined by the organisaton I work for – the RSA – do not offer a level of income which would remove the necessity of work, but rather one which would address some of the issues of insecurity. This basic level would allow for greater work choices for individuals than the current system offers, with a chance to move away from dehumanising short-term roles. The current welfare bureaucracy offers little such choice, instead forcing people into insecure work where they face effective tax rates approaching 80%.”
Read the rest of this article on TheGuardian.com