Pander to Your Base, Obama

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    Thomas Georghegan, labor lawyer and author of the recently published book Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model can Help You Get a Life has come up with a revolutionary idea for how the Democrats could avoid electoral disaster this November, and  coincidentally save Obama’s bacon and the remarkable achievements of his first 18 months in office, not to mention saving the country as well.  Writing for The Nation, and reprinted in AlterNet, Mr. Georghegan suggests that Obama do something for his base.  I assume Georghegan means, quit complaining about “leftists” who are never satisfied, as  Rahm Emanuel did recently, and Do Something For Your Base, something really clear-cut, simple, spectacular, and easily explained, holding however many feet to the fire as necessary, but just, uh, do it. He has some very interesting ideas of what that could be.

    It has been nearly a half century, says Georghegan, since Lyndon Johnson actually did something for the long-suffering Democratic base.  That was when LBJ rammed through Medicare (“socialized medicine”) for seniors. Medicare cannot by any means be compared to the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.  That complicated, almost inexplicable act “to the public…. seems to benefit only the uninsured, the young or the marginal, few of whom will even vote in 2010.” What about the rest of the base? Many seem to feel it actually penalizes our base by raising their taxes at the very time they’ve lost their jobs, their retirements, even their homes—– these are the same people who helped elect Obama, who feel their plight has been ignored in favor of helping “red state uninsured” who probably won’t vote Democratic anyway. When will the Democratic base get some love?

    If Obama is going to do something for his base, there are three rules he should follow, rules followed by FDR in the Great Depression:

    * Keep it simple: explainable “in a single sentence or two” or, even better, on a bumper sticker

    * Make it universal in the same way that Social Security and Medicare are (if you’re not on it, you will be one day, or your family members will be)

    * Make it add up to a plan. This is more than “the vision thing,” and admit we cannot bring back the golden years of America’s preeminence (FDR did not end the Depression, either, but people were patient because they knew he really had an understandable, doable plan).

    Here are some of Mr. Georghegan suggestions:

    1) Raise Social Security to 50 percent of working income (it’s currently about 39 percent); this is a goal, meant to be achieved gradually and is necessary because private pension plans have disappeared, homes have lost value. Pay for it by:

    a) restoring the estate tax that existed in the 1950’s and ’60’s;

    b) lifting the cap on Social Security tax so it applies to all incomes; and

    c) cancelling the huge tax deductions on “the most wasteful sorts of corporate debt, especially the kind used for speculation and leveraged buyouts” (this deduction has encouraged the looting of corporations by private equity funds, and all the other disastrous speculation by Wall Street).

    The results of these three policies would all be dedicated to Social Security.

    2) Extend Medicare to people 55 to 65; this might be easier than number 1, and would immediately impact a group which does vote (Bush’s prescription drug program won him Florida in 2004, y’know). Besides the electoral advantage, doing this would:

    a) make the US more competitive because it would relieve employers of paying health care for the most medically expensive employees, thus lowering labor costs;

    b) put the 55-65 category on a level playing field, not forced into a no-man’s-land of “early retirement” without health care coverage. This policy would require only a majority vote in the Senate, by the way, and is paid for by an automatic surcharge ( they won’t be paying premiums).

    3) Make it a civil right to join, or not to join, a labor union. Forget trying to explain the Wagner Act, card checkoff, or secret ballot elections, just amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Let’s let people go to court for any employer reprisal, let rank and file get their own lawyers “and start handing out subpoenas,” and “we’ll get a labor movement fast.” Unions may object, but a personal civil right trumps the rights of the union as an institution.  It will include the right not to pay union dues—- it will be a completely voluntary labor movement suitable for our individualistic culture, which has an understandable distrust of organized labor as presently set up.

    4) Put in a usury cap of 16 percent. This would apply especially to credit cards. Like the other 3 suggestions, it’s simple to explain, nearly universal, and it fits into a bigger plan—- the plan to “shrink the returns of a financial sector that’s drained so much of the investment that used to go into the ‘real economy.'” As I point out below, the parasitical financial industry has caused a terrible mis-allocation of investment capital.

    5) Set up small government banks like the German Sparkasse. Since the big banks are simply sitting on their cash and are not making small business loans, such small government banks (replacing the hundreds of failed little banks) will especially help small businesses, making the US more competitive; such sparkasse can even hand out low-interest credit cards.

    6) Give everyone the right to 6 consecutive paid days of vacation. This is rather European-sounding, true, but, it  seems to me I’ve been hearing a lot lately that pushing employees ever harder to raise productivity has suddenly turned counter-productive; you can whip the wage-slave only so far. Productivity actually rises when you treat people as human beings. What a concept. Ought to get a lot of voters’ attention, eh?

    7) Let employees sue corporate officers for breach of fiduciary duty to the corporation. Evolution of the modern corporation has resulted in self-perpetuating boards of directors, lazy shareholders (most shares are owned by disengaged mutual funds anyway), and greedy CEO’s, which has short-circuited the old way of enforcing accountability.  Instead of pursuing the best interest of their firms, they loot them, the “firms go belly up and workers end up on the streets,” reducing American competitiveness. Solution: give the workers the same right to sue officers who loot their firms that stockholders have. This will make the firms more competitive, and it may also end up limiting corporate political contributions when workers can force managers to use money only for “legitimate” corporate purposes, “the ones that are set out in the articles of incorporation.” Hmmm.

    8) Pass a College Bill of Rights. Make colleges accountable. “Why Race to the Top so that colleges can soak these kids and let them drop out,” especially the kids of working families, leaving them deeper in debt and no better prepared for jobs? Make colleges advertise dropout rates, tell which courses actually help students improve skills, have outside auditors make public reports.  Create a kind of Federal Trade Commission that goes after colleges that demand high tuition but do not ensure a student gets a degree.  Not everyone needs to go to college. Democrats should “tell people we will create an economy in which a high school degree will mean something.”

    9) End the filibuster. “Or else, as to all the rest, there really is no point.”

    10) Get the country out of debt. Doing this is “the only way to bring back a fair and just economy that lifts the middle class.”  Much of the debt Washington has accumulated has little or nothing to putting people back to work—- indeed, stimulus money from deficit-spending creates jobs in China or India, not here, and ends up increasing our foreign trade deficit, which we must cover with more borrowing. This is a vicious circle which very soon will put our country’s fate in the hands of central bankers in foreign countries. Items 1 through 9 (above)

    “are all parts of a bigger plan to get us out of…. every kind of debt. We have to bring back exports, so consumers and Washington don’t have to keep coming up with the cash to pay for the trade deficit. That’s the “plan.” We have to punish investment in the financial sector…. And we have to reward investment in manufacturing by lowering labor costs in what is left of our globally competitive industry….. by taking over nonwage labor costs….. That’s the plan—- to sell more abroad so we can all get out of debt.”

    To accomplish all this, the Democrats must stay in power, and actually do something for their base. That’s how to save the country from further looting by the Republicans and their sponsoring corporotist oligarchy.

    Along the same lines, it is interesting to note that the World Economic Forum (WEF), which puts on the annual elitists’ meeting in Davos, surveyed 13,500 people in 139 countries to establish which countries are better for business. Two years ago, the United States was still in its customary number 1 position. Last year, Switzerland was number 1, and this year the rankings ran:

    1) Switzerland

    2) Sweden

    3) Singapore

    4) United States

    5) Germany

    6) Japan

    7) Finland

    8) Netherlands

    9) Denmark

         10) Canada

    We lost ground primarily because of weakening public and private institutions, especially financial. It is better to do business in socialistic Sweden than here. Andy Xie, former whizkid at Morgan-Stanley, says it bluntly on his blog:

    “As financial services industry loses value-added to customers and the real economy, it is increasingly dependent on gaming the system and profiting from customer ignorance…. In the last financial crisis, the financial sector survived by holding the real economy hostage.  Unless policymakers understand that the financial industry isn’t necessary for the real economy anymore, and that it should scale down dramatically, the sector will remain a gigantic parasite on top of the real economy” (emphasis added)

    If we are to restore production of real things, and thus restore jobs, we must invest our capital in production, not speculation.  Create jobs, not bonuses for financiers shuffling money around unproductively. That is the message. There is enormous rage against Wall Street among voters, including in the Democratic bsase. We are in danger of having that justifiable rage co-opted by the very financial institutions so deserving of that hate, and seeing it turned against the Democrats.  

    Yet, this issue is a perfect Democratic issue—- why not seize it and take it for our own, using Mr.. Georghegan’s 10 suggestions, or something similar? Sure, it won’t be easy, given those gigantic parasites whose tentacles have wormed their way into the Democratic Party almost as much as into the Republican. Once more, grassroots, it’s up to us. We can make the national D’s do it, to save their own skins if nothing else. So, Obama, pander away. Pander to your base. Be a Democrat!