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Now or Never: a NEW New Deal
If the Biden administration can dramatically improve the lives of all
Americans before the 2022 midterm elections, Democrats can keep (or swing)
the Senate in 2022 and keep the White House in 2024 and beyond. This
requires rolling back 40 years of neoliberal/neoconservative rule
(i.e. socialism for the top 1%, austerity for the rest of us). Biden's
playbook should be FDR's first term. In short, a New New Deal.
Anything less, and Democrats are finished and the USA will remain fractured
I started researching the New Deal in New York City while
Obama was still president; you can see the
results here. The idea was to remind Americans of
a time when we all (or mostly all) came together, led by a government we
could trust, to rescue the country from disasters caused by runaway
unregulated capitalism and forces of nature:
Depression resulting from the 1929 stock market crash and a severe
starting in 1934. Massive federal spending by President Franklin
Deal, carried forward through World War II, transformed a broken
and impoverished country into the world's greatest economic powerhouse and
ushered in an era of widespread stability and prosperity. Like me, fellow
War Baby Joe Biden lived through the postwar boom and remembers it well.
Unlike the 75% of the population who are too young to remember, Joe knows
what is possible.
Today we have a crisis comparable in magnitude to the Great Depresssion:
Civil-War level polarization aggravated by an economy that works for only
the super-rich, plus a deadly pandemic killing (at this writing) at a rate
of about one 9/11 every two or three days for the past nine months with no
end in sight (and as of December 10th, every day), and a growing
environmental catastrophe of temperature extremes, raging wildfires,
hurricanes, heat domes, tornados, floods, increasingly toxic air and water,
species extinction, and on and on. And a federal government completely
unconcerned with all of it.
How did we get here?
The Obama administration came on the heels of decades of growing economic
disparity, senseless wars, privatization, oustsourcing, decaying
infrastructure, and environmental degradation brought on by a relentless
assault on New Deal programs, laws, and regulations. With his overwhelming
electoral mandate Obama could have been the next FDR, but instead he pivoted
to Wall Street, the insurance companies, big pharma, and the banks, allowing
millions of good jobs to be exported and millions of
families to lose their homes, and he launched an overpriced for-profit
medical insurance program that left tens of millions without medical care
and many more tens of millions with unaffordable medical
It was the last straw. Millions of Americans woke up to the fact that
establishment politicians had never done anything but squeeze them dry.
Hence Trump: the non-politician "outsider" who promised to put everything
back as it was when "America was great", circa 1950. Maybe he even believed
it himself but for whatever reason, it didn't happen.
So what have we learned from the last two presidential elections? Above
all, that a LOT OF PEOPLE are EXTREMELY ANGRY at establishment
politicians. If neither Republicans nor Democrats will do anything to
undo the damage of the past decades, then why not vote for Trump? In 2020,
a vote for Trump — who was running with no platform — was,
for many, a vote to obliterate the whole rotten system.
But Biden won after all, most likely with a hostile Senate and definitely a
hostile Supreme Court. All hopes are pinned on Biden's "humanity" and
"decency" and "compassion" and "bipartisanship" to "heal the wounds" and
gain the cooperation of Republican politicians and restore "normalcy". That
won't happen. There is, however, a way to win over
Republican voters: rather than
mouthing empty platitudes, Biden can take DECISIVE ACTION, following
a script based on FDR's first term, and launch a New New Deal.
Over the past 40 years, millions of people have lost their secure
comfortable lives — union jobs, health plans, retirement plans, and in
many cases even their homes — due to arrogant privileged elites of
both parties selling them out. The real way to "heal the divisions" is
to improve the lives of the angry public by restoring its long-lost
prosperity and security.
The way to do this is with massive federal spending, just like in FDR's New
Deal and World War II. First with stimulus packages so life can go on
until the pandemic is over, and then with public works programs to restore
our crumbling transportation, health-care, and education infrastructure, and
to build a new clean-energy network and everything else that badly needs
doing but that never gets done because there is no profit in it for
investors. And finally to find a way to make health care a right for
every single person in the country, regardless of ability to pay (if the
COVID-19 pandemic taught us nothing else, it is now apparent that if we
deny health care to some, we increase the risk to all).
The party that provides decent jobs with living wages and good benefits,
affordable housing, and health care for everybody before the 2022 mid-term
elections (or at least makes credible progress in that direction)
will win large majorities in both houses of Congress and prevent a Trump
resurgence in 2024. Remember, when FDR
delivered for the American people instead of for Wall Street and the
banks, he won four consecutive terms.
How to pay for it
The New New Deal can be funded by some combination of taxing the rich and
large corporations as they were taxed in the prosperous postwar years,
taxing investment income and closing tax loopholes, ending subsidies for
powerful interests such as Big Oil, cutting investment in weapons and war
and repurposing most of the military as a much-needed domestic
disaster-response / reconstruction force rather than a taxpayer-funded
world-domination tool of the multinational corporations, and even (if
necessary) by "printing money" as FDR did... a concept that provoked horror
at the time but in fact works just fine if done right; read about Modern
Monetary Theory; somewhat controversial perhaps, but I'd say that if it's OK
for banks to print money for home loans, it's also OK to print money to pay
real people to do useful work — it flows directly to small businesses
and their workers, and from there it spreads throughout the real
economy, as opposed to the sham economy of Wall Street, the banks, big
investors, and "complex financial instruments". This is not a time to be
screaming bloody murder about the deficit; if Republicans can run up
trillions of dollars of debt in giveaways to the rich, Democrats can spend
trillions on making America functional again, for all of us.
Consequences of not acting
Angry voters vote for Republicans because Republicans offer them
targets — scapegoats — for their anger; it's their entire platform.
Whereas Democrats offer "hope and change" which they never deliver.
But the days are gone when parties can win with happy talk and empty
promises. If angry Trump voters (and for that matter, angry Biden voters)
don't see TANGIBLE RESULTS in the first 18 months or so, we'll have a solid
Red Senate in 2022 (like in 2010 after Obama turned his back on "Main
Street"), and this time probably a red House too. Biden will have no power
to accomplish anything good (assuming he ever wanted to) and Trump or a
clone will be president in 2024. So for Democrats, it's time — as we
used to say in the Army — to shit or get off the pot. The
billionaires and elites have had a nice ride for the past 40 years at our
expense, but time's up.
The Roosevelt Administration lasted 12¼ years, and its domestic
afterglow lasted approximately until Reagan in 1980. But even the "good"
post-FDR years were poisoned by misbegotten wars like Korea and Vietnam plus
CIA sponsored coups in countless countries including Iran, Guatemala, Congo,
the Dominican Republic, Chile, Afghanistan,
and on. In any case, it doesn't seem fair that after just 12 years of
good government, Americans and the world suffered through 35 years of so-so
government with a very dark side, followed by 40 years of uninterrupted
looting and pillage. It can't continue, it's not sustainable, the pendulum
has to swing back. Remember: Republicans will never do anything to take the
pressure off poor, working, and middle-class people, so if Democrats don't
do it either... Next
21 January 2021...
Biden takes office
Biden's first day in office was promising. The past week or two, op-eds in
the major publications were finally saying what I said above back in
November, good. For example,
Repeat After Me: Help People Fast by Ezra Klein in the New York
Times, 21 January 2021, where he examines the mechanics of "helping
people fast" and concludes that all efforts are likely to die in the Senate
unless the filibuster is eliminated. So eliminate it! And then, by simple
majority vote, make Washington DC and Puerto Rico* states to get a slight bit
more balance in the Senate, and for extra safety also the US Virgin Islands,
Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa —
twelve more Democratic senators, payback for all the small-population
red states that wield grotesquely disproportionate power in the Senate.
Fair is fair.
"Una nación, bajo Dios, indivisible, con libertad y justicia para todos!"
—Jennifer López. Of course it remains to be seen if any of these
places would want to be states, and who could blame them if they don't.
30 April 2022...
Nothing happens, nothing changes
Progressive Democrats backed off and allowed their Green New Deal package to
be split in two. The first part (the "American Rescue Plan") passed and 1.9
Trillion Dollars was appropriated for infrastructure improvements. The
second part ("Build Back Better")
passed. Now, well into the second year of Biden's first term and mere
months away from the midterm elections, virtually nobody has seen the
benefits of the first package because "the money must make its way through
city councils and contract-bidding processes; in some states, the path to
deploying funds has been even longer as governors wrangle with conservative
legislatures"*. FDR knew that a "business-friendly" approach would
backfire, as would letting each state administer the programs. So he
implemented his New Deal directly by having the Federal Government
itself hire the workers and contractors and purchase the materials and in
Civilian Conservation Corps) he put the Army in charge. That's
how the New Deal was able to start so quickly — just three months from
inauguration day! — and that's where the Biden administration went
wrong; it sent the money to state and local authorities where politicians
and bureaucrats could argue about it, sit on it, misdirect it, and, in the
end, block progress indefinitely.
Alexander Burns, "If Biden's Plan Is Like a
'New Deal,' Why Don't Voters Care?", New York Times, 21 April 2022.
29 March 2023...
Maybe it's not "The Economy, Stupid" any more
...which says that Americans are motivated more by racial and cultural
factors (resentment, hatred, fear) than by economic factors such as
income and prices. Those feelings were always there but suppressed for
decades, and then unleashed in 2016 by Trump. Couple this with the fact
that neither major party will ever do anything real to turn the tide in a
significant way towards economic or any other kind of justice, and that one
of the parties is openly fanning the flames hatred. Divide and Conquer, it
works every time. What does "woke" mean? Basically not to disparage,
ridicule, insult, attack, or discriminate against others based on race,
color, gender, nationality, immigration status, ethnicity, or any other
characteristic. Now that politicians feel free to rant openly against
"wokeness" we can see what "Make American Great Again" really means. It's
not a great leap from here to actual fascism (and from there all the way
back to concentration camps and/or slavery). I'm not optimistic.
Commentary (from reader comments on articles in The Nation):
William Miller writes in The Nation magazine, December 7, 2020:
I think you're right on the mark Frank. In
retrospect, it seems Trump was little more than a hand-grenade, thrown into
the system by those who felt it had left them behind, without hope.
The obvious solution is to once again give them
something to hope for. Redirect the policies that work primarily to benefit
phony corporate "persons" and instead directly benefit actual living,
breathing, flesh-and-blood persons.
Thanks also for also bringing up the Modern Monetary
Theory in your Kermit article. One of the greatest and most harmful
illusions is that "debt" at the federal level means the same thing as in
consumer and commercial debt. The latter are loans that need to be repaid
whereas the former is simply the national money supply. Since we have a
debt-based currency system, federal debt doesn't (and is not supposed to)
get repaid - otherwise there'd be no circulating money. Instead it is
recycled as old T-Bills etc. are retired and new ones issued.
Victor Sciamarelli writes in The
Nation magazine, December 9, 2020:
Lobbyists, private equity, finance, corporate think
tanks, and military contractors did not dominate FDR's administration. ...
Most Americans still don't believe either party represents them; they are
correct. The corporate and political elites can accept the Left or face a
worse form of Trumpism in 2024.
Valerie Hayden writes in The
Nation magazine, January 10, 2021:
Spot on as to the solution. These people have been
brought up in highly abusive, authoritarian families, in abject poverty,
with little chance of escaping and they have been angry as hell. The rates
of domestic abuse (spousal and child) are the highest in the country as are
alcoholism and drug addiction - all the symptoms of poverty and lack of a
proper education creating a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair
of anything ever changing. With a jobs program, a livable wage, medical
benefits, etc. they will feel heard. But I disagree with you that it is the
liberals who have caused their conditions though they haven't helped much
either. However, I believe it is their own leaders who bear most of
responsibility for the condition of their people and who have redirected and
their stoked anger against the liberals. In at least one state (TX) I know
of (and probably many, if not all, of the deep red states) the Republican
platform states that it doesn't want their children being taught "higher
order thinking skills." They have been used as pawns to serve the interests
of their leaders and brainwashed into believing that it isn't their leaders
who are to blame. H.G. Wells once said, "History becomes more and more a
race between education and catastrophe" — and here we are. We need to
provide an escape for them - especially the youth. We could immediately
expand the Job Corps program where they would live on campus, receive a high
school diploma while learning a trade, and find out what it's like to live
among adults that aren't abusive. If we progressives truly believe in equal
justice for all it's time for us to start putting money where our mouth
is. We can't afford to harbor grudges. Our destinies are inextricably linked
and understanding that is going to be critical if we are to achieve the kind
of justice we claim we want for everyone and prevent these continued
assaults. Trumpism won't go away until we do. I know several republicans
that switched parties before the 2016 election because they were afraid to
lose their newly gained medical benefits under Obama. If we advocate for the
rest they are likely never go back to the republicans. What will the
republicans be able to say to attack us on that? And their lies about us
taking over the country will be revealed for exactly what they are. Biden
needs to go big on all of these things.
There's plenty of blame to go around. The "Liberals", just as much as the
"Conservatives", have been taking stuff away from the entire sub-elite
population for decades while raising the cost of the essentials of life. The
main difference between Democrats and Republicans is messaging: as I noted
in the article, Democrats offer "hope and change" and Republicans offer
scapegoats. Clearly the "hope and change" never materialized ("How's all
that hope and change workin' out for ya?" — my favorite Sarah Palin
quote), so that's why so many people listen to Republicans and vote for
Trumps. Of course you're right, education or the lack of it plays a role but
both sides are responsible for wrecking public education. I got a great
public education in the 1950s and 60s — and some of the best of it in
an Army high school in Germany — and that just doesn't happen anywhere
any more except the richest school districts. So yes, Biden NEEDS to go big
because if he doesn't we're all cooked.
Of course the offshoring of American jobs started before Obama, e.g.
with Clinton and NAFTA, and before that with a steady trickle of
manufacturing jobs to Asia and elsewhere. The point is, why did our
government do nothing to protect good manufacturing jobs in this country?
Obama presents his side of the story in a 16-page New Yorker
article, Nov 2, 2020, pp.24-29: "The Health of a Nation". Yes, he met with
massive opposition from the insurance industry, the AMA, Big Pharma,
Republicans, and all the other vested interests, but it appeared to me that
he was too ready to cave; rather than "reaching across the aisle" he might
have fought harder and made his case directly to the people, perhaps
fomenting a progressive answer to the all-powerful Tea Party.
Even if the Georgia Senate runoffs don't yield two Democrats,
there are other legal ways Biden could achieve a Senate majority.
Republicans have been playing hardball for 40 years, why should they be the
only ones? If the Biden administration allows Republicans to obstruct
all its initiatives, Democrats and democracy itself are doomed.
Obviously that's not a comprehensive list; other items would include
funding states and cities and localities impoverished by the virus and/or
Trump; canceling college debt; helping veterans of recent wars like we did
after WWII; refunding and reforming public education so students are taught
to think, analyze, and evaluate, rather than believe every crazy thing they
hear; reopening the many hospitals that have closed during the pandemic and
hiring back the laid-off doctors and nurses... The list has no end.
do we avoid future authoritarians? Winning back the working class is
key, The Guardian, 24 November 2020. Two weeks later, this is
the first article I've seen that says substantially the same as I said
above: namely that there's no point fretting about why nearly half the
country still backs Trump; the Biden administration must give working
people a reason to trust and appreciate the government, as they (mostly)
did during the Roosevelt administration. This requires action, not talk.
Robert Borosage, Trump
Will Be Gone Soon. Now Comes the Hard Part., The Nation,
13 January 2021. A more thorough treatment of the "How did we get here"
section above, concluding with "the survival of this democracy depends not
on whether Trump is impeached or disgraced but on whether it can actually
work for working people again. If it can’t—and change won’t be easy,
because it requires challenging the elites and the entrenched interests of
both parties—then Trump is likely to be seen merely as an amateur opening
for the full horror show that is yet to come." In other words, Mad Max.
is facing a mental health crisis, Bernie Sanders, The
Guardian, 13 June 2023. Bernie is one of the very few American
politicians who explains why everything is so awful and to find out what
he says, you have to go to a British publication. He is a national
treasure, banished from the news by the corporate media and thwarted at
every turn by politicians at every level who are in thrall to corporate
interests and don't care about the hopelessness, chaos, mass shootings,
suicides, drug overdoses, fires, floods, tornados, evictions,
outsourcing, racism, homophobia, hatred, anger, book burning, and all
the other completely preventable ills that are sweeping the USA. Our
situation mirrors that of the early 1930s, with the difference that the
Roosevelt admistration mobilized the country to put things right;
apparently something like that can never happen again.