You know, one of the main problems with speaking about politics in platitudes is that no one else but you necessarily knows what you’re talking about. Likewise, if you’re a big fan of sound bites to the point that everything you say about any issue is designed to fit into a sentence or less, you need to realize that you’re not really communicating anything to anyone. And if you’re not communicating anything, it’s going to be hard to get anyone on your side, politically speaking. The over-simplification also leads to a lot of political losses.
Here’s an example from my frustrating years trying to advocate to get the Affordable Care Act passed. The original title was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, by the way, and it was changed because, well, a lot of the “Patient Protection” part was lost to the bill because some people were obsessed with a “public option.” What is a “public option,” you ask? Well, that was the problem; no one who was screaming about it incoherently could agree on what a “public option” actually was. As it was in the original bill (yes, that’s right, the original bill had a perfectly good “public option,” ironically), there was a public insurance component that was primarily designed to reduce risk to insurance companies. See, by absorbing some of the risk, insurance companies can relax a little and provide better coverage. However, “public option” became a rallying cry, despite the fact that most of the people shouting it the loudest had no idea what they were talking about. Some thought it meant “Medicare for all,” which is not what it means. Some thought it should mean a “Medicare buy-in,” which is a big “nope,” too. Others imagined a system whereby the poor could just be given health insurance at no cost, without realizing the effect on the rest of the system.
Put simply, the constant screaming about a “public option” is exactly what killed the public option. And while certain people (PUBs (Progressive Unicorn Brigade) and the professional left, of course) were screaming about the “public option,” Republicans were passing amendments that basically killed much of the Patient Protection part of the bill. Now, six years after passing this historic piece of legislation, we can’t improve it because these same people didn’t get their unicorn and handed Congress and most of the states over to the Republican Party. We over-simplified an issue and ended up screwing millions of people in the process.
Our side does that a lot. There are a lot of other simplified issues like that floating around in this election year that are just as ignorant, quite frankly. I want to discuss a few of these and suggest better ways to pose these issues that will make more sense to more people and perhaps actually make progress on them.
Ban Fracking, Ban Keystone XL, Stop drilling in the ocean, Ban Coal, fossil fuels, yada yada, etc.
Let me start by saying, I’m a huge fan of all of these, on an idealistic basis. We do need to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. We need to get to the point that we’re no longer burning anything for energy. Like everyone else, I long for the day when the air and water are clean and people have jobs that don’t kill them. But it’s not that simple.
First of all, we are weaning ourselves away from fossil fuels. It’s happening. Perhaps, if you stopped shouting so loud, you would know this. Despite a wall of opposition from Republicans in Congress, who were put there by PUBs and the professional left, incredible strides have been made to switch power plants over to renewables. Solar, wind and geothermal power are expanding rapidly. The vast majority of new power generation is from renewables. On the car front, CAFE standards are way up over the last few years and those who would like a large vehicle, like an SUV or a pickup truck, have a wide variety of choices in the 30 miles per gallon range, which was unheard of as little as ten years ago.
But here’s the thing; I know many of you won’t understand this, but a lot of the progress we’ve made in recent years is due to the increase in drilling and the glut that we’re experiencing right now. People still remember $4-5 gasoline and oil heating, so they’re not crazy about going back to that. And the lower gas prices are allowing more people on the lower end of the economic scale to be able to work and put food on the table. This is one reason no one listens to our side. We look at all the drilling and fracking and we see nothing but destruction, but for poor people, it means being able to fill their gas tanks for less than $20, instead of $50 or more, and that’s important. And not drilling or coal mining means the loss of a lot of jobs and economic activity, mostly in poor areas of the country, where people have a lot to lose. It’s really easy for liberals in big cities with large transit systems to call for a ban on drilling because they don’t have to think about struggling to get to work every week, so they can make their meager wages and pay the rent.
This brings us to…
$15 an hour minimum wage.
Yes, the minimum wage has to go up. It should be high enough to make 40 hours worthwhile for a working person with a small family. And there are many places in this country where $15 an hour is a no-brainer. Large, expensive cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, obviously should have a $15 minimum wage, if not higher than that. However, for the entire country? It depends. Most $15 per hour proposals don’t reach that level until 2022, which is a somewhat gradual rise and can probably be absorbed in most places, although not everywhere. Bernie’s proposal raises it to $15 by 2020, which is pushing it a little bit and could cause problems in a lot of areas, especially in small cities and rural areas. Hillary Clinton’s proposal raises the federal minimum wage to $12, while encouraging some cities to adopt a $15 or higher minimum wage. This proposal makes sense, so much so that New York has already passed a similar model, raising the minimum to $15 in New York City, while it’s $12-12.50 upstate.
The fact of the matter is, rural states like Arkansas and Mississippi could probably handle an increase to $10-12 per hour, but higher than that would be a recipe for disaster. For one thing, these states are poor and rely more heavily on low wages than other states, for better or worse, and not only would such an increase put a lot of small businesses out of business and cost jobs, if it didn’t, it could result in massive inflation in those states. And while the people who propose a $15 minimum like to claim that it wouldn’t be a massive increase because “only about 3% of workers make the minimum wage,” that’s just so much sophistry (a kind word for “bullshit”), given that about 40% of the population actually makes less than $15 per hour. To claim that giving a huge raise to 40% of workers would have no effect is kind of silly.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t raise the minimum wage, of course. To match the minimum wage in 1968, adjusted for inflation, the wage would have to be $10.90 in 2016, so a $12 minimum that adjusts for inflation and economic incentives to increase the minimum to $15 in big cities actually makes a lot of sense.
Like I said, these issues are not that simple.
Free College, Public Financing of Political Campaigns and Single Payer
You know what? I am very liberal, but I have always believed that you trust government up to a point and then take a large grain of salt and watch them like a hawk. Our government has been run by Republican obstructionists for 36 years now. In that time, they have cut pretty much everything they could get their hands on, so that they could cut taxes for the rich and funnel as much of our tax money to contractors as possible. What do you think the Iraq War was about, anyway? It was a way to shove as much money into the pockets of Bush and Cheney cronies as possible. If you disagree, to you I say, Halliburton. Republicans have done nothing better than figure out ways to get taxpayer money into the hands of the richest Americans.
This should be obvious to PUBs and the professional left, which is why it puzzles me as to why so many think it’s a great idea to put the government in charge of the purse strings on so many issues.
And please spare me the stories about how California used to let everyone attend college for free. Yeah, I get that. But you do remember why they stopped doing that, right? It’s because Republicans like Ronald Reagan got in there and stripped funding. Oh, yeah! That’s what happened. NOW do you get what I’m saying? If you establish free tuition at public universities, you have to be able to fund them forever. Otherwise, whenever there’s a budget crunch, guess what Republicans will cut? They won’t raise taxes on billionaires; they’ll cut university funding, the same as they do now for public schools. I mean, pubic schools are free, but look at how shitty some of them are. Do you want universities to suffer the same fate? I hope not.
A good university education these days is expensive as hell, especially when you have to provide facilities for 40,000 students and you’re competing with private universities with huge endowments. If you want to talk about something like the way we fund Social Security, in which we set up a trust fund and collect more than we need every year, that might work, but let’s be real; Republicans still like to screw with Social Security, too. They’ve been trying to privatize it for years and they continuously “borrowed” from that trust fund when they had the White House. Do you really imagine they’ll hesitate to pillage a college fund and take it to bankruptcy? It’s not like college students are like little old ladies who would be forced to eat dog food if not for their payments, so they would likely get away with it.
The same goes with public financing of political campaigns. That’s one of those things that sounds really great, until you actually think about it. What better way to establish total control of the government than by putting the chickens in charge of the henhouse. Gosh, I can’t imagine the GOP cutting funding to Blue states, or vice versa, can you? Besides, it’s a democratic system and I don’t want my tax money to fund Donald Trump or David Duke or Ted Cruz.
Same with single-payer. I am not against single-payer. In fact, if it can be pulled off, I’m all for it. But there seems to be a reason why most universal health care systems in the world are NOT single-payer. Compare France and Germany’s healthcare systems with Britian’s NHS, which is a single-payer system. Since adopting their various systems, only Britian’s has been seriously screwed with by politicians. Go look up NHS under Maggie Thatcher and the Conservatives for a hint. Any of you single-payer fanatics want to imagine a system under which the current Republican Party could cut tons of money to finance yet another tax cut for the rich? Imagine if the Republicans who have voted about 70 times to repeal Obamacare could vote to cut funding instead.
Like I said…
Nothing is that simple.
I’ll be doing a lot of these between now and the election. The progressive message has to be better and a hell of. A lot clearer. If we expect people to adopt it and vote for our side.