On the Ballot: The Egalitarian Future of Our Society

This year, voters will be making fundamental decisions, like whether or not we want an egalitarian future.

With dozens of Democratic candidates having entered the presidential race (some dropping out before you were aware they’d dropped in), with the main contenders herded into seven (and counting) televised debates stretching back to June, and with swarms of reporters and pundits descending on the tiniest blip in polls and on every candidate’s minor miscues, this campaign already feels never-ending. But at long last, we’re beginning what matters: voting!

This year, in addition to our decisions about candidates — and even though it’s not explicitly on the ballot — we voters will be making a fundamental decision about the egalitarian future of our society. The question we face is whether we will continue the same-old, same-old politics of enriching and empowering the few at the expense of the rest of us, or whether we will pivot to implement the transformative structural changes being pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and The Squad, and other progressive Democrats.

As you would expect, Trump Incorporated and his pack of sycophantic Congress critters are howl-at-the-moon opponents of “Medicare for All,” the wealth tax, tuition-free college and trade school, the Green New Deal, universal child care and the full package of populist policies that would begin reversing the scourge of inequality that continues spreading throughout our land.

But… Democrats?

Sadly, many of them are opposed, too. Not grassroots Dems, of course — not the hard-hit workaday people who need these reforms. But there’s a gaggle of don’t-rock-the-corporate-boat, fraidy-cat Democrats (mostly old-line pols, consultants, high-dollar donors and other Washington insiders) who’re presently having a collective fainting spell, declaring that Dems must abandon proposals for big systemic changes.

Why? Because, they exclaim, being so progressive, so plainspoken, so insistent — so, well, so Democratic — is frightening voters. They warn that proposing major new policies to benefit everyone will let the Trumpeteers paint our candidates as scary “socialists.” Thus, they lecture, the proper course is to draw back to the corporate-centered, Clintonesque approach of incremental minimalism: an agenda of small, technocratic and legalistic tweaks that won’t disrupt the system itself.

This is the responsible path, they assure us, for winning over America’s moderate middle, particularly independent Republicans and white, middle-class swing voters. Never mind that the white middle class is not by and large made up of squishy moderates but of millions of mad-as-hell, downwardly mobile middle-classers who feel abandoned by both political parties and would just as soon blow up the whole system.

Still, the pusillanimous Democratic establishment is trying to push the party’s candidates to surrender their progressive ideals of an egalitarian future and just tinker around the edges of actual change. For example, rather than offering full-fledged health coverage for every man, woman and child, these minimalists say the safe political route is simply to criticize Republicans for tampering with Obamacare and leave the current profiteering system of “corporate care” untouched — thus leaving millions of our families with poor to zero coverage.

With many families one medical disaster away from bankruptcy, most Americans are wondering why Democratic officials haven’t stood up for them. Yet, a few of the party’s presidential hopefuls this year are spooked by the big idea of universal coverage. It is simply a ludicrous lie that people will be scared off by candidates who propose decent health care as a right for every American. As a November New York Times poll reported, 81% of Democrats (and two-thirds of independents) support the idea of M4All legislation as proposed by Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal. Hello… apple pie doesn’t get an approval rating that high!

Or take Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for a tiny wealth tax on megafortunes above $50 million — a tax that would finance education, infrastructure expansion and other crucial programs to advance America’s common good. It’s bizarre to hear a clutch of Democratic Party operatives wailing that it scares common folks when our candidates take such “radical” stands. Radical? In The Times’ poll, 77% of Democrats, 55% of independents and — check this — 57% of Republicans favored Warren’s tax on superfortunes.

Thank goodness such squeamish, small-ball Dems were not able to nullify big public solutions that Americans desperately needed in the past, such as the following:

  • President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Social Security, labor protections and farm security measures.
  • Former President Ike Eisenhower’s interstate highway infrastructure.
  • Former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s civil rights, Medicare, Title IX and anti-poverty programs.
  • Even former President Nixon’s Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

As a South Texas saying puts it, “A grandes males, grandes remedios” — for big problems, get big solutions. Obviously, our society’s problems today, from rampant inequality to climate change, are beyond huge, but how big will Democrats go in addressing these challenges?

Jim Hightower