As Janis Joplin might sing, “Reform is just another word for nothing left to say.”
Even faster out of the box than the self-nominated Democratic candidates for President are the pundit-prescribers limning out how 2020 the race to replace President Pence (Trump will be gone by then, done in by Robert Mueller and a long ton of evidence of the yellow-haired demon’s uninterrupted criminal career) should be run.
Alas, if Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig’s essay in The Guardian
is any example, voters will have little beyond 45 years of conventional Democratic Party thinking and Pence’s pallid Puritanism to choose from.
Lessig, who claims calls for “reform,” but fails to define what he means, beyond “draining the swamp” and decrying the effects of money on American politics. Oddly, his example of failed reform is Beto O’Rourke, whose first message was, “No PAC $.” And who came close to winning in Texas, less a swamp than a cesspool of petroleum industry waste products!
Clearly, Lessig finds Bernie’s barely updated New Dealism and Warren’s sharper and more selective Newer Dealism “too extreme.”
What’s “extreme” about Medicaid for all (Medicaid gives more and better coverage than Medicare, and universalizing it would eradicate arbitrary distinctions of “class” and money, rather than just segregation by age)? It’s the norm in most civilized polities.
I agree that “abolishing ICE” is a vote-loser and a non-solution, but is it too much to ask Professor Lessig to elaborate on what “reforming ICE,” a far more salable concept, might look like. Clearer presentations of actionable concepts might communicate – in spite of the record of the Obama Administration – that Democrats can govern.
By the way, the big difference between Billie Sutton, another narrow-margin Democratic loser in the race for Governor of South Dakota, Lessig’s idea of a “real reformer”and O’Rourke, has less to do with policies than with authenticity. The rancher Sutton convinced South Dakotans he was “one of us.” O’Rourke, for all his advanced rhetoric, helped launch his political career by marrying a billionaire’s daughter, and when as a local pol, voted to make-over a poor inner city neighborhood, not by publicly financed and popularly mediated projects, but by handing it over to “developers.” The initiative failed, but reportedly left many poor Hispanics in El Paso suspicious of whose interests Beto loved best.
Lessig seems to see nothing extraordinary in the apparent near-miss in Georgia against the most explicit, unscrupulous and well-funded campaign of voter-suppression in recent history, or in Florida, where Bill Nelson (30 years in the Senate and no record to run on) may still beat the crook Rick Scott, who dumped $51 million of his own money (the biggest self-contribution of 2018!) into his campaign. This was money a more alert candidate than Nelson might have highlighted was filched from what Federal prosecutors somehow let Scott keep after his healthcare swindle was forced to pay back $1.7 billion (!!!) in over-charges to his Medicare and Medicaid patients.
Rather than those scary Progressive “radicals,” whom does Lessig propose as viable Presidential candidates? Deponent sayeth not. He does, like other “Liberals” in his geriatric group applaud the “successes” of Nancy Pelosi, while arguing against her replacement as Speaker of the House. Even he seems too abashed to say the same of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
But, hey, their “successes” were mostly collaborations in the same sclerotic corruption of the old, safe, self-preservation-first incumbents in Congress who gave us the catastrophe of the past 45 years: inequality, incompetence and ruinous wars. Not to mention a badly-written, completely compromised and maladministered ACA which — like most Obama policies — was more a botched opportunity than real “reform.”
Then there’s Trump’s charge, likely to be repeated by whomever the Grand Old Party inflicts on voters in 2020, that Obama starved the military. Instead of hiding behind the excuse that the Tea Party made him do it with its mad, mindless “sequesterization,” how about a direct reformer’s challenge? How has Trump’s add-on of $100 Billion a year for defense made America safer?
Most of that money goes for weapons more applicable to the conventional wars of a generation ago, in military configurations designed to defeat Napoleon or Ribbentrop, not ISIS or Al Shabaab.
An estimated $200 million is being wasted in Trump’s deployment of thousands of soldiers to the Mexican border to defend against a non-“invasion” of unarmed civilians, many of them women and children.
My guess is, the strongest suggestion that this initiative is the apotheosis of stupidity will come when the networks and newschannels portray “Thanksgiving dinner” for the men and women idling in tents in south Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Maybe, if it doesn’t rain, DJT and Melania will personally offer up a new carving of G W Bush’s infamous wooden turkey, served up to troops for a military Thanksgiving in Iraq. But Democrats, aspiring candidates and ordinary citizens alike, should be asking, every damn day, what this “border defense force” has gained us.
Also, some Dem might start asking why, instead of working for mutual disarmament, those two lifetime avoiders of military service, Trump and Bolton, are busy implanting dis-diplomacy, gratuitously fleeing the useful mutual restraints of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement for dangerous (and at best, empty) bluster.
Would it be asking too much for some “reformer” of budget priorities to point out, as obnoxious and in some ways aggressive China’s militarization of “artificial islands” in the South China Sea may be, it is more rhetorical than game-changing, more an expansion of a defensive perimeter than a prelude to offensive combat.
In an era of precision guided weapons, fixed targets like the Chinese islets are more canaries in a war-mine than forward operating bases. Yes, adversaries can be as stupid and emptily grandiloquent as we can. Take solace where you can.
So, let’s hear some real ideas for reform: proofs that universal, publicly-financed medical care not only promotes better health and more equality for all, but it can actually SAVE money, by treating problems before they become more life-threatening and more complex and expensive to treat.
And speaking of saving, how about some concrete proposals on how an American national health system would better bargain, not so much with doctors, nurses and hospital staff, but with providers of hospital and other medical services, and, especially with the rapacious manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices?
Another thing we need is fresh ideas for employing millions of Americans whose economic lives, and those of their families, are so endangered by robotics and artificial intelligence. In some ways, this will be the make or break job of American government for the next several generations.
And then there’s the reform most necessary to save the planet. This means a dramatic shift away from fossil fuels, which will inevitably mean painful economic dislocations for some people, places and powerfully rich corporations. This, too, will have to be managed by government.
Look, the oil and gas guys have had their fun, and now they’re killing us.
Moving to renewable energy sources is technically possible and well as ecologically imperative now. Solar and wind technologies have ripened, and their costs have reduced. All that’s needed is political will to make the transition. Henry Ford displaced generations of horses and farriers, but on balance bettered the lives of most people.
Better governance and more morally responsible capitalism might have spared us the terrible costs of Ford’s industrialization of transportation, the literally mind-numbing pollution from leaded gasoline. It only took 50 years of unnecessary exhaust-pipe spew, before that problem was reformed, at least in the so-called “developed world.”
Finally, a proud but honest confession: I’m 76 years old and still lively enough to keep the ambitious HERE & THERE program (and its associated offshoots like Backward + Forward, and From HERE) going, but whenever anyone makes a suggestion of some other virtuous action to pursue, I swiftly reply “I’m not looking for extra work.”
So, it’s from that perspective that I (almost) respectfully suggest to Mssrs Sanders and Biden and the extraordinarily vivacious Ms. Warren: “Give it up!” You are too old to take on the task of not only leading but reforming an angry, divided, and badly damaged America.
And as for the more vivisected than vivacious Pelosi (Hoyer and Clyburn) and Schumer, let me say this, “Get out of the way! It’s time for new people with new ideas and less compromised energies to make political reform in America real and more than just a word.