Sanders Drawing Wrong Parallels To Explain Democratic Socialism

Cursor_and_Denmark_flag_-_Google_SearchWhen presidential candidate Bernie Sanders explains why Americans shouldn’t fear his “democratic socialism,” he usually points to Scandinavia.

“I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn what they have accomplished for their working people. In Denmark, there is a very different understanding of what “freedom” means… they have gone a long way to ending the enormous anxieties that comes with economic insecurity. Instead of promoting a system which allows a few to have enormous wealth, they have developed a system which guarantees a strong minimal standard of living to all — including the children, the elderly and the disabled.”

His opponent, Senator Hillary Clinton, who clearly understands American exceptionalism biases, quickly shuts down Sanders’ arguments with a smug shrug: “We are not Denmark.”

By continually citing countries other than America to explain democratic socialism to Americans, Senator Sanders is hurting his case. Instead of pointing to Norway, he should more consistently cite the New Deal.

First, let’s consider the definition of “democratic socialism” offered by Democratic Socialist’s of America:

“Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.”

Truth be told, the United States of America is no stranger to this kind of democratic socialism. It was brought to us during some of the most successful and popular presidencies of the past century. Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower enacted a whole series of popular measures that fit under this definition of democratic socialism.  At the time their ideas were proposed, they were criticized as infeasible, un-American and socialistic, just as Sanders’ ideas are today.

Therefore, Senator Sanders should be explaining his democratic socialism with American examples that a large majority of Americans already know and love. Sanders might say something like this:

You want to know what democratic socialism is? When the great Republican Teddy Roosevelt dissolved 44 corporations to protect the middle class, and when he protected ordinary Americans from the railroad companies and other big corporations, his critics said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.”  But he passed them anyway, because the American people demanded it.

When the enormously popular Franklin Roosevelt used government funding to put Americans to work building community infrastructure, they said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.” When FDR proposed a Social Security system of government-run pensions that lifted millions of American seniors out of poverty, conservatives said “you can’t pass that, because it’s socialism.”  But he passed those things anyway, because the people demanded it.

When Harry Truman enacted Medicare, people like Ronald Reagan called that socialism too.

And you know what? When Republican Dwight Eisenhower invested in an enormously expensive interstate highway system and had 90% income tax rates on the ultra-wealthy, they said it again: “You can’t pass that, because that’s socialism.”  But he passed those things anyway, because the American people demanded it.

And despite the dire predictions from critics, America’s economy prospered under these policies that were all predicted to be catastrophic for the economy.

So in 2016, when the defeatist “no you can’t” crowd tells Americans “you can’t pass bills to provide higher education and health care to all, because that’s socialism,” I get my inspiration and courage from Teddy, FDR, Give ‘em hell Harry and Ike.  Because of them, I know America can overcome the cynics’ name-calling and naysaying to do great things for the middle class now, just as we did then.”

Democratic socialism is already in America, and it is enormously popular. Surveys consistently show that Americans are vehemently opposed to cutting or eliminating democratic socialist programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and the minimum wage.

Americans not only have embraced democratic socialism in the past, they strongly support it for the future. A recent GBA Strategies poll shows that likely 2016 voters overwhelmingly support a whole range of Sanders’ ideas being dismissed as socialist ideas lacking sufficient political support:  Allowing governments to negotiate drug prices has 79% support. Medicare buy-in for all has 71% support. A $400 million infrastructure jobs program has 71% support. Debt-free college at all public universities has 71% support. Expanding Social Security benefits has 70% support. Taxing the rich at a 50% rate — the rate under conservative icon Ronald Reagan — has 59% support, and only 25% in opposition. Breaking up the big banks has 55% support, and only 23% in opposition.

This is hardly a portrait of a nation that opposes democratic socialism.  Overwhelming support for democratic socialism is already there, ready to fuel a 2016 presidential candidate.  But for two reasons, Senator Sanders needs to cite American parallels to explain his approach, not European.

First, citing examples of American policies will help build confidence that bold measures can be enacted over fierce opposition now, just as they were in the days of Teddy, FDR, Truman and Ike.  Second, citing American examples will paint Sanders’ democratic socialism label and his policy ideas red, white and blue, rather than just red.  It will show that such ideas have been embraced in the past by idolized Republicans and Democrats.  It subsequently will normalize democratic socialism.

Americans are in a very nationalistic, ethnocentric and nostalgic mood. So, rather than continually pointing to the Rikstag, Storting, and Folketing to explain democratic socialsm, Sanders needs to point to the faces on Mt. Rushmore.

Note:  This post was chosen for re-publication in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin feature.

Target Minimum Wage Employee Would Need To Work 1.7 million Hours To Earn What Target Board Is Paying Failed CEO In Severance

Target_Steinhafel Hiding behind a group called Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, Target’s top executives have been vehemently opposing  Minnesota’s recently enacted minimum wage increase.  Much too high, Target executives said.

Today the Star Tribune reported that Target CEO Gregg W. Steinhafel, after essentially being fired due to poor company performance under his leadership, is being given a severance package worth a cool $16,000,000.

Even earning Minnesota’s newly minted minimum wage — the minimum wage that Steinhafel said was too extravagant —  it would take one of Target’s minimum wage workers about 1,684,210 hours , or 210,526 full-time shifts, to earn what the failed CEO is being given as a departing gift from his  Board of Directors.

This all too familiar snapshot of corporate America shows how the U.S. has evolved to the point where we  now have  the most unequal distribution of wealth of any advanced economy in the world.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.

Franken Opponent McFadden Refuses To Confirm Own Existence

invisible_manSaint Paul, Minnesota — Minnesota U.S.  Senate candidate Mike McFadden held a news conference today to announce that he would be announcing nothing.

“Minnesota is great, and I’ll do lots of great stuff in the Senate to make it even greater,” said McFadden, to roaring applause from his supporters.  “Beyond that, I promise that I will not do wasteful ungreat things that keep Minnesota from becoming greater.”

Under questioning from reporters, the wealthy businessman running to replace U.S. Senator Al Franken refused to provide positions  on the national policy issues that are debated in the U.S. Senate.   For example, McFadden declined to state his position on the minimum wage, the Paycheck Fairness Act and a “personhood” anti-birth control measure.

MinnPost reporter Eric Black recently attempted to profile the stealth Senate candidate, but struggled to find anything to profile beyond the over $2 million the former businessman has raised from enthusiastic conservative donors.  Black characterized the McFadden record like this:

I’m not sure what the record is for seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate without disclosing issue positions, but McFadden, who declared his candidacy nine months ago, may be giving it a run.

There is no “issues” section on his campaign website. He skipped the first three opportunities to debate his Republican opponents for the nomination.  On Monday, he appeared at the fourth debate, but that one was closed to the press and public.

The McFadden campaign maintains that the candidate has taken many position stands, such as his desire to “name way more awesome things after Ronald Reagan” and “repeal and replace” the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

When pressed for details about what he would replace the ACA with, McFadden said that announcement would need to wait until he begins his six-year term in office.

“We will help, not hurt Americans,” McFadden  explained.

The campaign did release a 12-page single spaced list of things McFadden would rename after Ronald Reagan.

When asked to name political role models McFadden listed Ronald Reagan, several Reagan impersonators and Chauncey Gardiner.

“By standing for no one, and Mike is appealing to everyone,” said Saul Loes, a conservative political consultant advising the McFadden campaign. “He just might be the most brilliant politician of our generation, if he exists, which we are neither confirming nor denying.”

Note:  This post is satire.

Context Matters in Minimum Wage Debate

Real_value_of_minimum_wage_since_1968-2In 2014, the Minnesota Legislature will enact a long overdue minimum wage adjustment.  A large majority of Minnesotans support an increase and the DFL controls the House, Senate and Governor’s office, so the stars are finally aligned for 357,000 of Minnesota’s workers and 137,000 of their children.  If self-defeating bi-cameral bickering can be put aside, the only real suspense should be about the amount of the minimum wage adjustment.

This year, the House passed legislation to set Minnesota’s minimum wage at $9.50 per hour, but it was rejected due to howls of outrage from the business lobby and Senate DFLers.  They maintained that $9.50 per hour was extravagant.

Compared to What?

At first blush, I understand why a jump from as low as $4.90 per hour to $9.50 per hour could seem excessive.  But Minnesota’s minimum wage hasn’t been adjusted in a very long time, and plenty of successful economies are operating very successfully with a much higher minimum wage.  Here is some context for this debate:

  • $5.15:  Georgia minimum wage (lowest in the U.S.)
  • $4.90-$5.25-$6.15:   Minnesota minimum wage for trainees, small businesses, and large businesses respectively.
  • $7.25: Federal minimum wage.
  • $7.25:  Minimum wage in ND, NE, SD, TX, WV, WI and many other states.
  • $7.75:  2013 Minnesota Senate-passed minimum wage (not enacted).
  • $9.00:  National Democrats’ recommendation:  The federal minimum wage increase endorsed by President Obama in 2013 (accompanied with an automatic annual adjustment for inflation).
  • $9.19:  Washington state’s minimum wage (highest among the states).
  • $9.50:  2013 Minnesota House-passed minimum wage (not enacted).
  • $9.95:  Canadian minimum wage.
  • $10.70:  What the U.S. minimum wage in 1968 would be today if it had kept pace with cost-of-living increases.
  • $10.93:  Dutch minimum wage.
  • $11.09:  Irish minimum wage.
  • $12.09:  French minimum wage.
  • $16.88:  Australian minimum wage.

So, the House-recommended level does look generous compared to the Minnesota’s embarrassingly stingy status quo.  But the 2013 House-enacted minimum wage looks downright miserly compared to what Americans were paid in the Nixon era, what many peer nation employers are paying, and what it actually takes Americans to cover the costs of basic needs.

The Floor for Negotiations

Minnesota’s cost-of-living is 105% of the national cost-of-living, a bit higher than average.  Therefore, Minnesota’s minimum wage should be a bit higher than federal minimum wage to have the same purchasing power.  One hundred and five percent of the $9.00 per hour recommended by President Obama would be $9.45 per hour, almost exactly what the Minnesota House enacted in 2013.

A minimum wage of $9.45 per hour is nowhere near what American workers were paid when in the Nixon era, or what contemporary Americans actually need to make ends meet, but it would represents modest progress.

Given that progressives saw minimum wage adjustments vetoed by Minnesota Republican Governor’s five times over a 14-year span, they also need to push, as President Obama is, for an annual inflation adjustment to prevent effective annual wage cuts in the future.   It makes no sense to fight for a decade and a half to win an adjustment only to watch workers’ wages effectively shrivel year-after-year.

Moving from $4.90 per hour to $9.45 per hour sounds exorbitant to leaders who haven’t done their homework.  In 2014, Minnesota’s working poor need those leaders to do their homework.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs and MinnPost.

5 Crucial DFL To-Dos For The 2014 Session

Minnesota_Legislature_To_Do_List-2The Minnesota DFL is in serious danger of losing ground in the 2014 elections.  A primary reason is turnout – too many DFLers traditionally tend to stay home in years when there isn’t a high profile presidential race.  But there are policy steps that the DFL can take during the 2014 to  improve their chance of bucking the historic trend of Democratic setbacks in off-year elections.

INCREASE  MINIMUM WAGE. Minnesota’s minimum wage is lower than the federal minimum wage, despite the fact that our overall per capita income is the 11th highest in the nation.  Shameful.   Six decades of data show the claims that increasing the minimum wage will increase unemployment are unfounded. Only one-quarter of Minnesotans support keeping the minimum wage this low.  The DFL needs to show its electoral base, and moderate swing voters, that it is helping the most vulnerable workers make ends meet in a shaky economy.  Petty DFL-on-DFL infighting killed a minimum wage increase last year, which was an embarrassment to a party that needs to show that it is mature enough to lead the state.  That can’t happen again.

PASS A MODEST BONDING BILL.  It’s a bonding year at the Legislature, so much of the session’s news coverage will be focused on the bonding bill.    The DFL needs to show that it is a) making job-creating infrastructure investments but b) not breaking the bank, as Republicans will reflexively claim.  Passing a smart bonding bill that costs about as much as average bonding bills in the Pawlenty and Carlson eras will show moderate voters that the DFL can get things done, and be trusted to control the purse strings another couple of years.

SPOTLIGHT GOP SUPPORT OF SHUTDOWNS.  The federal government shutdown in 2013 and the Minnesota government shutdown in 2011 have left Republicans’ approval ratings at historic lows.  Government shutdowns are a very toxic political issue for Republicans right now.   But in politics, time heals all wounds.  Therefore, the DFL needs to find new ways remind moderate voters that GOP legislators still are stubbornly refusing to swear off of their reckless government shutdown fetish.  Maybe that means holding votes on legislation to require a supermajority vote for the enactment of shutdowns.  Maybe that means requiring votes on legislation to dock the future pay for legislators who support shutdowns.   Those votes can be used in the 2014 election to breathe new life into the Republicans most damaging political baggage from the 2011 and 2013 shutdown debacles.

GIVE THE REPUBLICANS THE MICROPHONE.  The DFL legislators’ best electoral weapon remains Republican legislators.  When it comes to appealing to swing voters, there are a group of Tea Party-supported GOP legislators who tend to be their own worst enemies.  For instance, they compare food stamps to feeding wild animals and use the floor to drive their anti-gay obsessions.  For a party that tends to keep digging their hole deeper, my advice to the DFL is to refrain from taking their shovel away.  In fact, give them a backhoe.   Don’t unnecessarily limit debates.  Don’t interrupt.  Give their radical bills hearings.  All the while, keep the video recorder on, and share their extremeness via social media and the news media.

GET WORK DONE ON TIME.  Voters don’t pay attention to 99% of the legislative machinations during sessions, but they do notice when legislative gridlock causes missed end-of-session deadlines.   For swing voters, a missed deadline is an easy-to-understand symbol of immaturity, irresponsibility and incompetence.  The father of the modern Democratic party, Franklin D. Roosevelt, advised “be sincere, be brief, be seated.”  Modern DFLers should take FDR’s advice to heart.  Imagine how pleasantly surprised swing voters would be to read a spring 2014 headline reading “DFL Leaders Quietly Finish Legislative Business A Day Early.”  Easier said than done, I know, but it should not be underestimated how symbolically important making that deadline is to middle-of-the-road swing voters.  An early adjournment should be a top priority for DFL leaders.

Most of the moderate swing voters who will determine the 2014 elections don’t pay close attention to legislative minutiae.  They simply want state leaders who are passing a few constructive and popular bills, avoiding embarrassments, and  keeping the government  running on budget and on time.  In the 2014 legislative session, that’s what DFL leaders should strive to deliver.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured by MinnPost’s Blog Cabin and Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs.


5 Reasons the DFL Will Hold Their Ground in 2014

Yesterday, I made the case for why the DFL may lose ground in 2014.   For my DFL friends who are now out on the ledge staring into the inky abyss, here are five reasons to not jump.  Yet.

DFL Has A Broader Base.  Minnesota is a fairly solid blue state these days.  According a recent Public Policy Polling survey, there are significantly more Minnesotans who say they are Democrats (38%) than Republicans (27%).  That’s a big reason why the polls show that DFL state legislators have a significantly better, though not good, approval rating (36% approve) than Republican state legislators (23% approve).  It also probably explains why the DFL starts the campaign season ahead in generic head-to-head races, with a generic DFL candidate preferred by a six point margin (47% for the generic DFLer and 41% for the generic Republican).   Again,  the DFL’s seasonal voters have to be energized get off the proverbial couch to vote in a non-presidential year, but an average DFL legislative candidates does start the race with a significantly broader base than their Republican opponents.  That’s a big deal. Continue reading

Can Minnesota Leaders Stop The Death of the American Dream?

If the new DFL-controlled Legislature dares to raise the minimum wage, strengthen the social safety net or make the state tax system more progressive, reporters will surely characterize the moves as political payoffs to DFL constituencies.  Mainstream news reporters have fallen into a habit of covering policymaking like it is nothing more than a politically motivated auction of gifts for special interest.

To be sure, those policies help traditional DFL constituencies, and political motives are very much in the mix.  But beyond crass vote-buying, there is also a pretty darn good reason  to help low- and middle-income Minnesotans.

Minnesota is increasingly becoming a land of haves and have nots.  From the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that poorest Minnesotans have seen their incomes decrease by 3%, the middle quintile has experienced a 2% decline, and the wealthiest have enjoyed an increase of about 6%.  Therefore, Minnesota’s income inequality gap has been growing. Continue reading