It's been a couple weeks since Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for president. And while many democrats are firmly in her camp, others have raised concerns and speculations have been in the air about who might challenge her.
A few potential candidates have been rumored to be posturing to announce and others who firmly denying any intention to run (not that this means much at this point).
And as anticipated, Senator Bernie Sanders is now the first to challenge Hillary with announcement that he too is running for president. I along with others (though I wish there were more) have a real soft spot for Sanders. I first became aware of him while living in Vermont, where I attended graduate school. And later fell in love with him during his eight and a half hour filibuster in opposition of an extension of the Bush era tax cuts in December of 2010.
As a member of the senate budget committee, Sanders has a lot to say about how the United States allocates its resources. His is a pragmatic approach but too often pragmatism has been overtaken by the interests of those with the most money in this country.
I had the opportunity to attend one of the several town hall meetings that Sanders has been holding in recent weeks about the budget. And I'm going to share with you some of my notes and take-aways from that meeting. As these are notes from a meeting, I am not offering sources to back up these assertions but direct you to Sanders' webpages: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/ and https://berniesanders.com/ for your reference.
Constructing a budget is an exercise in ascertaining needs and figuring out how to address them. A budget it a theological statement of what matters to you and capitol hill is quite seriously out of touch.
Sanders lists 3 issues that he deems most pressing for Americans today. 1) A diminishing middle class. More and more people living in poverty, where opportunities are limited and resources are illusive. 2) Income and wealth inequality. As our wealth becomes more and more concentrated, the United States has the worst income and wealth disparity in the world and the worst in this country since the 1920s. 3) Limited access to health insurance. We still have millions of people in this country who can't afford health insurance. And no health insurance means people are postponing care, which leaves them with fewer and more expensive options and increased mortality rates. So what do we need to combat these issues? What we need is jobs, an educated population, healthcare and food. And we need to address income and wealth inequality.
The Republican budget would effectively kick 27 million people off their health insurance and make cuts to head start, nutrition programs (like school lunches and food stamps), affordable housing and earned income tax credits. And at the same time, prioritizing tax breaks to the wealthy and repealing estate taxes. In short exacerbating the problems of diminishing middle class, growing wealth disparity and limited access to health care. The republican budget serves multinational corporations, not the citizens. Campaign finance contributes to this problem. Since the Citizens United decision, politicians are being bot to benefit the special interest of those with the ability to spend the most.
Now that the problems have been identified, let's talk about solutions. Sanders suggests the following solutions to the 3 problems he's identified. 1) Extend mandatory overtime pay to all making less than 55k. Currently the federal laws allow employers to avoid paying managers overtime even when these managers are making less than $55,000 per year. This adversely affects many managers of fast food businesses and is pretty simply resolvable. 2) Pay equality for women. This may not be so simply solved, but is an issue that requires attention. 3) Fix the tax code to to insure that those who are the wealthiest pay their fair share. This means busting up tax havens and reexamining loopholes that exist in the current laws. 4) Raise taxes to pay for our wars. We simply can't afford to fund wars from the deficit. And 5) Expanding social security. By lifting the cap, social security can become solvent and we can increase benefits.
So, I am left to wonder, Is America ready for a socialist president? I doubt it. There are a lot of reasons for this. For one, people get weird about the label socialist. I think it conjures images of bread lines in Russia, but that is just one example of socialism. Other countries have dabbled in socialism with remarkable success (see most of Europe). And perhaps, there's something deeper. I wonder if it has to do with our reactions when see someone hold out their hands or receiving help. It makes a lot of us uncomfortable. Why is that? Why are we so quick to assume the worst? Perhaps this is just our human nature. Perhaps we fear that with finite resources, there just isn't enough to go around. But, are we not all beggers? In this current economic climate, something has got to give and I think we'll find that we're richer than we ever knew. Bernie Sanders is giving us a glimpe of what a socialist president could look like. Someone who champions using our resources to make America better for all of it's citizens. He might just be exactly the kind of president that we need and exactly the kind of president that we'll never get.