Democrats risk a crushing defeat this year. They must change course now | Bernie Sanders
“At a moment in history when the leadership of the Republican party is undermining democracy, ignoring the climate crisis, trying to overturn Roe v Wade, opposing a minimum wage increase, embracing more tax breaks for the rich and the growth of oligarchy, and stopping us from passing serious gun safety legislation, it would be a disaster for this rightwing extremist party to gain control of the US House and US Senate. Unfortunately, it appears that the current strategy of the Democratic party is allowing that to happen.
According to numerous polls, the Republicans stand an excellent chance of winning this coming November. The main reason: while the Democratic party has, over the years, been hemorrhaging support from the white working class, it is now losing support from Latino, Black and Asian workers as well.
Further, in terms of the 2022 elections, the enthusiasm level within the Democratic base is extremely low. It is not only working-class support that is fading away but it is also that young people, who helped elect Biden and other Democrats in 2020, are becoming increasingly demoralized and are not likely to vote in large numbers in this coming election.
Why is this happening? Can this trajectory be changed?
During his campaign, Biden promised to be the most progressive president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And during his first few months in office, with the strong support of Democrats in Congress, he kept that promise. At a time when Covid was wreaking havoc on the health and financial wellbeing of the American people, under President Biden’s leadership we passed the American Rescue Plan, the most consequential piece of legislation in modern history. This $1.9tn bill was effective in providing financial support to tens of millions of American families and businesses, stabilizing the economy and improving our response to Covid.
After the passage of this popular legislation in March 2021, President Biden had a 59% favorability rating, the highest of his presidency, and there was widespread support for what Democrats were doing. There was also a strong understanding that we had to go even further. The American Rescue Plan was an emergency bill that addressed the Covid-related problems facing the country. Now, with a new administration in office, the American people wanted us to address the long-neglected structural crises facing the working families of our country.
Amid grotesque and widening income and wealth inequality and decades of wage stagnation, the existential threat of the climate crisis, a rigged tax system and crises in healthcare, childcare and housing, the American people wanted Congress to finally stand up and represent their interests, not just the greed of wealthy campaign contributors. And that’s what the Build Back Better Act was about. Poll after poll showed overwhelming support for virtually every provision in that legislation.
Yes. The American people want the rich to pay their fair share of taxes. They want to lower the outrageous cost of prescription drugs, expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing aids and vision, address the crisis in home and healthcare, make childcare, pre-K and higher education affordable, establish a paid family and medical leave program and build the millions of units of affordable housing we need. Yes. The American people want us to invest heavily in combating global heating by transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, despite strong support from the American people, despite the support of the president, despite passage in the House of Representatives, despite the support of 48 members of the Senate, two corporate Democrats – Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema – both of whom received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from billionaires and corporate interests – decided to sabotage that legislation. We needed 50 votes to pass Build Back Better. We had 48.
And it has been downhill ever since for the Democrats. After nine months of fruitless “negotiations” with Manchin and Sinema, the time is long overdue to realize that this is a path that leads to nowhere except defeat at the ballot box and the growing perception that the Democrats have turned their backs on working families. We need a new strategy. We need to take on Republicans. We need to fight back.
In an extremely difficult and unsettling time – inflation, the pandemic, the heating of the planet, gun violence, attacks on abortion rights, the war in Ukraine – the American people want their elected officials to stand up to powerful special interests and fight for them. Well. The Democrats control the White House, the Senate and the House – and yet that is not happening. They are being held accountable for their inaction, and they’re losing.
Is the situation hopeless? I don’t think so. But in order to turn the situation around, Democrats need a significant course correction. And, in doing that, they can learn a lesson from the 1948 campaign of Harry Truman. In 1948, nobody believed Truman had a chance to win that election. Strom Thurmond and the segregationists had bolted the party and Henry Wallace, a third-party candidate, was taking progressive votes away from Truman. Truman responded with a simple and straightforward strategy. Unlike today’s Democrats, he took the fight to the Republicans. He didn’t let them hide behind their whining and “do-nothingism.” He exposed them for what they were – tools of special interests. He made them vote on critical issues. And, time and again, they voted against the interests of working families. Truman showed the very clear difference between the parties – and he won.
What the Democrats need to do, right now, is to make it clear: they may have 50 votes in the Senate, but they do not have 50 votes to pass the legislation that the American people want and need. They have no Republican support and there are two Democrats who will vote with Republicans on important issues.
Now is the time to make democracy work. Let us bring to the Senate floor the crucial issues affecting working families and vote, vote and vote again. Even if we lost these votes, which is likely, the American people have the right to see where their elected officials stand. Make them vote!
In a given year there are billionaires and large, profitable corporations that do not pay a nickel in federal taxes. Let’s see how many Republicans will vote for real tax reform to end these loopholes.
Millions of workers continue to earn starvation wages. Let’s see how many Republicans will vote to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour.
We pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Let’s see how many Republicans will vote to have Medicare negotiate prescription drug prices and cut drug prices in half.
Many seniors are unable to afford the outrageous cost of dental care, hearing aids or vision care. Let’s see how many Republicans will vote to expand Medicare to cover these basic health care needs.
On average, the cost of childcare in this country is an unaffordable $15,000 a year, if parents can find an available slot. Let’s see how Republicans will vote to lower the cost of childcare and make pre-K free.
We are the only major country not to guarantee paid family and medical leave. Let’s see how many Republicans will vote to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for the working families of our country.
We have the highest level of child poverty of almost any major country. Let’s see how many Republicans will vote to continue the $300 a month child tax credit, which cut child poverty by over 40%.
Millions of seniors are struggling to survive on their inadequate Social Security benefits. Yet, the cap on Social Security taxation is $147,000. Let’s see how many Republicans will vote to lift the earnings cap and increase Social Security benefits.
The scientists tell us that time is running out to combat climate breakdown. Let’s see how many Republicans will vote to create millions of well-paying jobs transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel.
Workers who want to join unions are often unable to do so because of the illegal actions of their employers. Let’s see how many Republicans will vote to give workers a fair chance to unionize.
And that’s not all we must do.
We cannot allow murderers with AR-15s to continue to massacre children in schools or grocery stores. Let’s see how many Republicans will vote to pass strong and meaningful gun safety legislation.
The Democratic party cannot continue to ignore the needs of the working class of our country and expect to retain majority control in the US House and US Senate. It’s time to show which side we’re on. It’s time to start voting.
Bernie Sanders is a US senator and the chair of the Senate budget committee. He represents the state of Vermont“
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