Voting My Interests on Super Tuesday
Bernie? Liz? Joe or Amy? The List Grows Long. It’ll Drive Us Crazy!
For a number of years I’ve subscribed to the daily, online SchwartzReport, a data-centered digest of a few media stories each day which reveal what’s trending in the real world of science, technology, politics, culture, and just about any other tag line you can think of.
The report is posted by Stephen Schwartz, a native of the Hampton Roads, VA, region, where I met him, but who now lives on an island off the coast of Washington state. I’ve come to depend upon the SchwartzReport for my daily dose of reality, as opposed to the latest scandalous scoop or war of words among clench-jawed Titans battling for ideological control.
In Kansas, for instance, in 2012 newly elected Governor Sam Brownback, an ambitious conservative — heavily backed throughout his political career by the infamously regressive brothers David (now deceased) and Charles Koch — consciously set out to make his state a showcase for supply-side economic theory. This free-market philosophy holds that cutting taxes and decreasing government regulation creates economic growth because consumers have more money to spend and producers have fewer hurdles to jump to produce marketable new products. These and other streamlining measures allow an economy to grow, sometimes by double digits annually, which of course is very good for everyone, especially the American middle class worker and consumer.
Or so the theory goes, one of the most persistent of the right-wing’s claims to greater economic competence than those tax-and-spend Democrats on the “left.” The problem is . . . it’s not true. Bownback’s Kansas Experiment left his state with a $900 million shortfall over two years. The state became an embarrassing and very public Exhibit A for the failure of supply-side theory.
On June 6, 2017, as reported in Slate, the Kansas legislature finally voted itself the authority to start all over again. With enough votes to override the governor’s veto, it restored the taxes Brownback’s policy had cut and even added some. The general consensus in Kansas seems to be that supply side economics doesn’t really work.
So why did people vote Brownback to a second term in 2017, even though his programs were a disaster for many Kansans? And why is the Trump administration now following suit by copying the Kansas failure?
Schwartz has reported many similar stories from other deep red states: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, the Dakotas. Compared to other developed nations, the social-outcome data from these states all trend toward third-world equivalencies for just about every measurement of well-being there is, including shorter life expectancy, higher rates of obesity, poverty, teen pregnancy, AIDS, drug addiction and overdose, infant and maternal mortality, malnutrition, and access to health care, clean water, a basic secondary education, and public high-speed internet.
The list could go on of all the social needs in America which a government is best positioned to address, but in many cases — even most — it does not.
Yet the voters in these red states repeatedly elect right-wing politicians whose policies consistently keep them under-served in all the above areas and more. Compared to the social outcomes in blue states, Schwartz almost daily produces evidence that everything is better with blue governance, not based on his opinion but on data which shows it is so.
Still, compared to other western democracies — Holland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and even, some say, Great Britain — our social well-being is sadly lacking, even in blue states. And that raises the simple question: Why? We’re said to be the richest, most prosperous country in the history of the world, and the world’s most successful democracy to boot. How come, when you look past the dollar signs, the United States is falling behind in just about every level of achievement that would mark a great world power?
Unless, of course, there’s great social value in a bloated military and excessive financial forgiveness of the Titans of industry who — let’s be frank here — have created an expanding physical wasteland slowly enveloping our Earth’s ecological systems and vastly changing the environment I was born into and where I lived for most of my formative life.
Then why do voters consistently vote against their own interests? When a politician votes to deny citizens access to things they really need — not just reliable public transportation, public libraries, and safe public spaces but food stamps, contraception, or health care — why would they vote for that politician again, if they ever did before?
Yet over and over voters do just that. It seems they believe the opposing advertising, often enhanced with alarmist special effects, that government “give-aways” are somehow anti-American. Labels of “socialism” or “communism” up to now have scared away many voters comfortable with the received wisdom that people ought to work for what they have (and keep what they earn).
These messages are rarely objective. If they were they would point out that businesses in the United States owe a great deal more to government supports — i.e., socialism — than the American public necessarily even knows about.
They might also point out that not everyone is capable of working at the same level. Are those less capable to be deprived of the same opportunities and advantages as those more capable? If that’s the case, our society still operates like a colony of apes, with a privileged few helping themselves to the best of the spoils a majority has worked to provide.
For those reasons I’ve decided I’ll vote for Bernie Sanders in the Virginia primaries next year.
For me to figure this out shouldn’t have been a brain twister. But I made it that way because I was calculating. Bernie is great, I granted. He opened up the whole topic of Medicare-for-All (though I already have Medicare for the elderly and don’t know what I’d do without it). He also attacked corporate negligence on the climate, on worker wages, on obscene profits, and a whole list of advantages flowing to the billionaire bullies whose support controls “conservative” politicians.
But would a majority of the country ever elect Bernie in 2020? For one thing, he’s perceived as a wild-eyed radical because he’s a self-declared socialist, and for another he just had a heart attack. Isn’t he too old and frail for the job? Elizabeth Warren seems the more logical choice because, well, she seems younger, more vibrant, and hungrier for the opportunity. She might be more “electable.” Besides, she and Bernie are pretty close in policies anyway.
But there are other considerations. What about people who don’t want to give up their private insurance? What about people who don’t want insurance at all and don’t want to pay the extra payroll tax? Don’t these people need consideration? It seems that Medicare-for-All could even further divide the country, if that’s possible.
And then the warnings about the astronomical expense of socialized medicine seem real, as well. Maybe the fall-back to Biden, Obamacare, and the public option is the way to go. Maybe Joe Biden, after all, really is the most electable and his moderate approach to policy the most savvy.
Maybe those realists are right who say a government healthcare plan to cover everyone can never be. It’s too divisive and just way too expensive. I’d begun to believe that socialized medicine would take another generation at least to come to the United States. I started to wonder if Amy Klobuchar might be the one best suited to clean Donald Trump’s greasy clock.
Then recently for some reason I got tagged on Facebook to a conversation where numerous people I know or who know people I know — most of them apparently Democrats — angrily trashed Warren and Sanders for their social platforms, particularly Medicare-for-All, which they scorned as socialism. They all seemed strongly to believe it would never fly in a general election because the majority of Americans are basically conservative. As might be suspected, they didn’t seem to care much for the idea, either.
Several saw Joe Biden as the Democrats’ only realistic hope.
I turned away from the conversation with a deep sigh, feeling that they were probably right. But was Biden really up to the task, especially with all this impeachment focus on his Ukrainian connections? Had Trump effectively cut Biden off at the knees by undermining public trust in the former VP?
By this point I felt pretty bleak, until it occurred to me that this is exactly what those who make all the money want us to believe: that Bernie’s policies, “with all due respect,” are “pipe dreams,” “pie in the sky.” We just can’t afford them. Every adult can understand the logic of that.
And so, belittled and in a sense bullied to surrender my preference for a more moderate and therefore “electable” candidate, I might well believe the platforms of my candidate of choice could never be implemented for a variety of logically credible reasons. And that might persuade me to vote for a more moderate alternative in the primaries and every other election going forward.
And I would be voting against my interests. “Bernie offers me stuff I need,” I finally wrote back to the pessimists in that Facebook thread. Why would I vote against my interests, especially when they’re on the ballot? I need dental care, eye care, prescription drug relief — even with Medicare Part D, which offers a rather ungenerous discount, one of my heart drugs which keeps me out of the hospital costs me a co-pay of over $500 when it comes due every 90 days. That’s almost my whole Social Security check the month it hits. It’s also roughly half of what it would cost without Medicare Part D insurance — a savings to be sure, but my insurance costs me almost $100 a month, so what am I really saving? I never had the heart to sit down and figure it out, but I have a hunch it ain’t much. I’d do much better if I moved to Canada or Mexico.
Bernie’s Medicare-for-All plan would lower those drug prices, pay for some much-needed dental work, help me the next time I need to change my glasses, and in general raise my quality of life so my wife and I could do more with a limited income besides pay off medical bills.
But don’t be fooled by the nay-sayers. Bernie’s plan doesn’t simply add Medicare-for-All to the national debt. He’s talking about nothing less than a revolution in the way we live. That means much more than just spending more. It means restructuring the economy so we can afford the amenities which make a modern, Class-A-1 nation. It means revising and reinventing ourselves as a society focused on the health and well-being of our citizens — mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual — rather than on advancing the interests of its richest citizens and political donors.
It means a true new world order, not just a reshuffling of the old worn-out deck.
That’s a platform which serves my interests — pointing toward a more rational, emotionally stable, domestic and international scene. There certainly are/will be problems with any transition, but past struggles for improvements to the “general welfare” prove that society can adapt, just as it adapted to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, a minimum wage, unemployment compensation, Obamacare, and every other social advance that conservatives predicted would be calamitous.
So it’s Bernie for me on Super Tuesday, March 3. I realize he may not be the nominee ultimately, but he’s the one who offers to serve my interests most fully. I won’t be a furrowed-brow, Republican-thinking, stodgy old coot with a permanent scowl, voting against my own opportunities because I can’t believe the country can afford it. I’ll dream that things could be more comfortable for me, even in my old age. I still might have teeth, an up-to-date prescription for glasses, and drug prices I can afford without sacrificing a Saturday night at a play or a movie.
All of this might be sustainable with an overhaul of all departments and a major reallocation of priorities. What this might look like is way too big a topic to go into here.
But with government addressing rather than dodging its obligation to promote our “general welfare,” we might look to a vibrant, creative future rather than a bleak struggle to survive in a harsh system of predatory capitalism which only serves the predators.