The Message, The Messenger, And How Democratic Party Unity Is A Two-Way Street

The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

—Matthew 8:30

A after a recent piece I posted on a reported stupid move being considered by Senate Democrats (“Some Senate Democrats Are, Well, Idiots“), one writer, Jim Hight, told me the following:

Yes, Democrats are their worst enemies. I hope Elizabeth warren takes over the Majority Partly Leader when (and if) Democrats take the Senate. I write “and if” because the party will always lose unless this tiff with the Bernie supporters ends. As long as the in-fighting continues, Republicans will continue to tear the country apart.

Another writer, DG, commenting on Jim Hight’s observation, said this:

…a united party must appear very shortly. Jim Hight suggests Elizabeth Warren as a possible leader to unite the scaredy cats on the left. That may well be a good start but we need more. […]

Of course I voted for Hillary, but I am a Bernie supporter. That is, I very much support his views…we need a very progressive movement. Bernie has started one. You can see it with the protests and marches that are taking place everyday somewhere in this country. It’s an angry, disgusted and desperate cry to stop this dangerous bullshit republican take over before it gets way out of hand. Thank God they are!

I know what I have to say below, which I write with some trepidation, will make some people mad. It will upset some folks. But so be it. I’m here to express my opinion. As a Democrat, I’m here to give you my honest take on what I see and where I think we are going as a party and who should lead us there. Here goes:

It happens that Bernie Sanders was on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” on Tuesday. Sanders appeared with the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, who is, bless his heart, trying like hell to hold onto the Sanders folks, trying to keep them from bolting from the Democratic Party when it comes time to vote. Sanders and Perez are on what they are calling a “Unity Tour.” Hayes played a video clip of Sanders saying the following:

Our job is to bring millions of people into the political process. Our job is to radically transform the Democratic Party. And when we are united, we are strongest as a party, as a  nation, as a resistance movement.

Hayes then asked Sanders the obvious question:

You’re talking about reforming, reviving, transforming the Democratic Party.  Do you consider yourself a Democrat?

That’s a fair question, isn’t it? Sanders ran as a Democrat in last year’s presidential primaries. His campaign manager said a year ago that Bernie would remain a Democrat after it was all over. And Bernie just said “when we are united, we are strongest as a party.”  But here is how Bernie answered Hayes’ “Do you consider yourself a Democrat?” question:

No. I’m an independent.  And I think if the Democratic Party is going to succeed—and I want to see it succeed —it’s gonna have to open its door to independents. There are probably more independents in this country than Democrats or Republicans. It’s got to open its doors to working people and to young people, create a grassroots party. That’s what we need.

With jaw-dropping audacity, Sanders sat right next to the DNC chairman (whom Sanders opposed during the DNC election process) and said that although he, Bernie Sanders, wanted to “radically transform the Democratic Party,” he didn’t want to become a Democrat. He essentially said he is happily married to some gal named “Independent.” It is that gal, Ms. Independent, to whom he owes his fidelity, his first and final allegiance and loyalty. Okay. I get it. In other words, Bernie wants to not only go home to Ms. Independent at night, but he wants to have a girlfriend on the side in the daytime, one whom he isn’t quite ready to leave Ms. Independent for, but nevertheless one whom he thinks he should get to sleep with while he simultaneously demands she radically change her ways and become the girl of his dreams. Apparently, he wants the Democratic Party to become his perfect mistress.

Well, to hell with that nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I think many of Bernie’s ideas are something that Democrats could hang their hats on, could run on and win on (Hillary actually ran on many of them, which is why Bernie’s call for “radically” transforming the party makes little sense to me). But we need someone to come along and talk a lot like Bernie does, but do so while actually marrying the party, committing to it, warts and all. Bernie isn’t that guy. Weirdly, he thinks he can reform the party from the outside; he thinks he can change her ways while still going home to Ms. Independent at night. He thinks he can still retain what he thinks is his moral integrity even while he is flirting, sometimes with the crude entitlement of a Bill O’Reilly, with Ms. Democrat. He flirts while talking smack, enticing her with his rap about rich people getting away with murder while the lower and middle classes suffer, using his position of power to dominate her, to exploit her weakness, to make her give in to his demands. In Bernie’s case, the Democratic Party was a campaign fling, the handy dame he used to run for president against Hillary Clinton. He used the party when he wanted something, even if it was something many Democrats wanted, too. But Bernie’s would-be mistress is not, and apparently never will be, his wife. Why? Because the Democratic Party is not something Bernie wants to come home to at night and snuggle with. He’s not the snuggling, spooning type. He seems to be, to put it crudely, the O’Reilly of party politics.

And make no mistake about it. Bernie can talk the talk. He can paint a broad picture of the economic and political landscape that most Democrats, but not all, find appealing. He is the Picasso of populism on the left. Mind you, he’s short on details, but, as we found out from Tr-mp’s Russian-aided triumph, details don’t really matter all that much to the electorate these days. You merely have to have a monster to attack. You have to have a villain to gun down (as Chris Hayes suggested during his Bernie interview). You have to Image result for demon and the pigshave a devil to cast out. How you gun down your villain, how you cast out your devil, is the hard part, of course. But Tr-mp’s razor-thin Electoral College win shows us that the “how” doesn’t much matter, doesn’t interest people all that much in the voting booth. What does interest them, what does matter, is that you say you want to gun down the villain, shoot the bad guy; you say you want to cast out the demon from a possessed system and send it into the swine, and then send the swine over the cliff.

Bernie told Chris Hayes:

What the party has got to focus on are the most important issues facing working people – that’s the decline of the middle class; that’s the need to take on the billionaire class and Wall Street and the insurance companies and bring people together, a) against Trump`s absolutely reactionary agenda, and, b) fight for a progressive agenda which, among other things, includes a Medicare for all single-payer program.

As I said, Bernie is short on details on how to get all that done. Fighting for a single-payer insurance system is music to my ears (and music to the ears of 80% of Democrats and 60% of independents. But someone has to write down the actual notes on paper, complete with the lyrics about how to win that fight and make it happen in a reluctant, splintered Congress. Someone has to tell us how that can be accomplished in a country so divided as ours, with an electorate so susceptible to the right-wing propaganda that would surely come with such a fight. Vermont, Bernie’s own state, tried the single-payer route. It didn’t work out too well.

To reiterate, the details are less important, at this stage, than the rhetoric. Tr-mp doesn’t have much of value to teach anyone, but he did educate us on how one can win an election without a 48-point policy plan. You simply pick out a couple of bad guys, like the Wall Street oligarchs whose handprints are all over Tr-mp and his administration, and go after them, relentlessly. If our next presidential candidate and our congressional candidates in 2018 and 2020 can successfully do that—if we get a Democratic Congress, and a legitimate president in the White’s House—then we can, and will have to, talk details later. Maybe all we can get done at first are much-needed improvements to the Affordable Care Act. Maybe we can get more. But we have to get in power first.

All that leads me to what you will see below in a video from Wednesday’s Rachel Maddow Show. All that leads me to Elizabeth Warren. She is a Democrat. She is actually married, willingly, to the Democratic Party. She recognizes the party is not all it should be, but sees it for what it can be, the vehicle for real reform, the vehicle to bring about the necessary change that Sanders and his followers say they want. But she also realizes that one cannot demand change from outside the party. She realizes that one cannot demand that the pursued radically change before the pursuer will half-heartedly commit. Warren realizes, as her support for Hillary Clinton demonstrated last year, that change comes from a committed relationship, not from a one-sided, I’ll-tell-you-what-I-want-before-I-give-you-my-love affair. She’s in bed with the party. She doesn’t have another lover on the side to whom she can go if the Democratic Party lets her down in this way or that.

And that’s why I prefer her to Bernie Sanders. I’ve always had reservations about Bernie because Bernie has so many reservations about the Democratic Party. I’ve always had trouble trusting Bernie because Bernie has so much trouble trusting Democrats. Commenter Jim Hight above says “the party will always lose unless this tiff with the Bernie supporters ends.” He’s probably right. We do have to work it out. We do have to heal the divisions between the Sanders voters and the Democratic Party. But that’s not a one-sided task, not a mending that can be done only by Democrats kneeling at the feet of an independent Bernie Sanders and asking for his forgiveness and promising we’ll do whatever he wants us to do.

Bernie did a lot to hurt Hillary Clinton and, as an unintended consequence, helped elect Donald Tr-mp. Oh, I know he didn’t mean to. I know he finally got on board in the end. But he owes the party some kind of a mild mea culpa, some kind of acknowledgement that, long before he eventually came on the anti-Tr-mp general election campaign team, that he did real damage to the person he had to know, as time and primary elections went by, would be the party’s general election candidate. At the very least he owes it to the party to, for God’s sake, join it. He needs to become one of us. He needs to commit. He needs to stop his flirting. He needs to curb his I-am-entitled-to-reform-a-party-I don’t-belong-to arrogance.

Below you will find the entire episode of Wednesday’s Rachel Maddow Show. I could have chopped it up, but I decided to use the whole thing for two reasons. One is that her opening, pre-Warren segment will piss you off and make you realize why Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are absolutely right about who it is that currently runs and ruins the system, using wealth as their tool. The second reason is that you will see why Elizabeth Warren, as reluctant as she is to become a national candidate to run against Tr-mp in 2020 (she has a Senate election in 2018, which takes priority), is someone who is a real Democrat, someone who really believes the party can be the vehicle to do the things that both she and Bernie, and so many progressives, believe should be done. Rachel’s interview with her, and the way Warren conducted herself and answered the questions, shows why her fidelity to the Democratic Party and her belief in its potential means much more to me than Bernie sitting next to the chairman of our party and refusing to commit to it.

Here is last night’s segment in full. You owe it to yourself, as a Democrat, as an independent, or simply as an interested observer of politics, to watch it all:

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If This Keeps Up, Single-Payer Will Be Here Before You Know It

An article published last month on Remapping Debate points out what may become a trend among American employers:

Beginning next month, Sears and Darden — the latter of which owns several restaurant chains, including Olive Garden and Red Lobster — will cease to offer defined benefits in which the employer, as part of its compensation package, provides employees with a set of health insurance benefits and continues to offer those benefits even when the employer’s costs for insurance rises.  Instead, they will implement a defined contribution model, in which the companies will offer employees a fixed annual sum — like a voucher — that they can use to buy insurance for themselves and their families.

A voucher? Sound familiar?

Along with this monumental change comes what the writers of the article term a “large-scale marketing campaign,” designed, of course, to sell a very undesirable modification of “the multi-generational compact between management and labor.”

That marketing campaign, just like right-wingers selling their distasteful wares, purposely uses terms like “choice” and “empowerment,” as in, the good-hearted employers are merely offering their employees more choice among insurance plans and empowering them to take charge of their health care. Who could be against that?

Remapping Debate, though, is not sold:

According to numerous health care experts, economists, and even some in the consulting industry itself, however, that rhetoric belies the true motivation behind the shift: reducing the company’s exposure to ever-rising health insurance costs by shifting those costs directly onto employees, who will be forced to either pay more out of pocket for the same level of insurance or pay the same amount for less robust coverage.

An important point to make here is that this fixed contribution scheme is just the latest attempt to shift costs from employer to employee:

Several experts pointed out that benefits have already been significantly eroded in the group insurance market, as many employers have switched to “consumer-directed” health care models in which low premiums are coupled with very high deductibles and occasionally a health savings account. But [Kathleen] Stoll of Families USA said that the implementation of the fixed contribution model could greatly exacerbate that problem. When their contribution to health insurance is already limited to a fixed amount, Stoll said, employers will be more liable to make changes to that contribution. If the company has a bad year, for example, it may simply choose to freeze the contribution or even lower it in order to cut costs.

In my experience, the company doesn’t even have to have a bad year to cut costs. Profitable companies have been squeezing employees, when it comes to wages and benefits, including health care benefits. This is just another cost-shifting model and look out if it becomes popular:

According to Jacob Hacker, a professor of political science at Yale University and an expert on the American health care system, if the defined contribution health insurance model were to catch on, it would fit into a larger, historical context.

“The fundamental thing to recognize is that this is part and parcel of the more general risk shift,” Hacker said. “The reality is that health care, retirement, all of the fundamental sources of security are shifting from larger organizations like employers and the government onto individuals.”

This cost-shifting, though extremely problematic for workers in the short-term, may mean that in the long-term Americans will finally say goodbye to employment-based health insurance coverage altogether and demand a single-payer, Medicare-like system for all.

And the sooner the better.

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