Ten years ago I considered myself a committed Republican, if only because my parents were Republicans.
Much more recently, I left home to attend college and was introduced to an entire political continuum that I hadn’t really acknowledged until that point. After some soul-searching, I registered as a Libertarian and set out to rework my entire political identity.
That work continues today, and even the taste of libertarianism has soured in my mouth. That I’m seriously considering voting for a self-styled socialist (should he choose to run) in 2016 is a testament to the power of self-discovery.
The not-quite-official presidential candidate that has my attention, and my tentative vote in 2016, is Bernie Sanders. He served in the House of Representatives for 16 years, is the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history, and is currently serving his second term in the Senate (representing Vermont) after winning 71% of the vote in 2012.
He’s a good man, he’s well-liked, and he has a plan for America.
He also happens to be a socialist. But the fact that he uses this label is as brave as it is irrelevant; the truth is that he has put together a simple, pragmatic, and very promising 12-step plan for securing America’s future.
And it sounds really great on paper. I didn’t want to steal Senator Sanders’ thunder, so I won’t go into all 12 points here, but I did choose the six that I feel are the most important. I tried to link to as many reputable sources as I could because, well, I don’t expect you to take my word for it. In fact, I wouldn’t really respect you if you did.
U.S. infrastructure is in shambles. This includes our roads, water systems, bridges, airports, and schools. If we looked at our bridges alone, we’d find that nearly one-quarter of them can be classified as either “functionally obsolete” or “structurally deficient.” Think about that during your next commute.
According to Senator Sanders, a $1 trillion investment in fixing U.S. infrastructure problems could net as many as 13 million jobs and make the US more productive and efficient. Let’s compare this with the estimated $3 trillion price tag of, say, the Iraq War, and decide which is a better investment. It’s a matter of priorities, people.
#2: Climate change
Climate change is real, and it’s a scientific fact that that humans are at least partially to blame. This represents a scientific consensus that only Corporate America and their Washington allies have an interest in denying (this should help you decide which viewpoint sounds more plausible – as well as which political and financial entities have the most to gain by ignoring the problem).
The United States has an obligation to the rest of the world to ensure that this planet remains habitable for our grandchildren’s grandchildren – because you know what? No matter what Christopher Nolan might have to say about it, we’re no closer to interstellar travel than we’ve ever been.
Getting serious about climate change, like so many of America’s problems, is a matter of fixing our very screwed up priorities. Forget the damnable Keystone XL pipeline; it will create just a handful of long-term jobs and won’t influence the price of gasoline in the US. Let’s put all that money and ambition and passion to work getting serious about renewable energy sources; we already heavily subsidize the oil industry to the tune of billions of dollars every year, so why not incentivize the research and development of nuclear, wind, and solar power instead?
#3: Trade Policy
Over the last 13 years or so, more than 60,000 factories in the US have shut down and moved production overseas. That amounts to about 4.9 million manufacturing jobs that middle-class Americans would be happy to have. This exodus has been made possible thanks to America’s failed trade policies such as NAFTA, PNTR, and CAFTA. We need to stop enabling America’s business owners to hand over American jobs to overworked and underpaid overseas workers. Illegal immigrants aren’t stealing our jobs – how can they, when American business owners are allowed to simply give them away?
#4: Wall Street
I shouldn’t have to say it, but it was Wall Street that plunged us into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. This was made possible by decades of recklessness and illegal dealings. Anyone who denies that stricter regulation of Wall Street is unnecessary or intrusive is blind to the fact that just six financial institutions control assets that amount to 61% of the United States’ GDP, underwrite half of the country’s mortgages, and oversee two-thirds of our nation’s credit cards. We’ve been using legislation to fight monopolies since the 1800’s, but we seem to have forgotten how. Too big to fail, indeed.
#5. Income Inequality
Just uttering the phrase income inequality is enough to invite comparisons to Marx and his ilk; believe me – I used to make those comparisons myself. I’m as aware as anyone that some people will always be better off than others. Such is life. But you don’t need to own a copy of The Communist Manifesto to appreciate that many of the wealthiest Americans make their fortunes at the expense of everyone else. In an ideal world, prosperity doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. But we don’t live in an ideal world – yet.
Major corporations have made an art of the tax-evasion shell game, while their CEOs frequently pay their taxes at a lower rate than do many of their lowest-paid employees. Each year $150 billion in potential tax revenue goes missing thanks to the institutionalized, not-quite-illegal corporate greed that Washington has managed to enshrine in a fundamentally broken tax system. It’s time for a true and fair progressive tax system – not one that just purports to be fair.
#6: Health Care
Human beings are not just another animal. We are above those lawless kingdoms where survival of the fittest holds sway. To think that a US citizen could walk into an emergency room or a walk-in clinic and be turned away should make each and every one of us sick to our stomachs (if we aren’t already). Health care is a human right – not a privilege – and the top tiers of coverage shouldn’t be reserved for America’s wealthiest businessmen and lawmakers.
The United States spends more than twice, per capita, on health care, than most other developed nations in the world, yet our system is criminally sub-par when it comes to efficiency and inclusion. We have fewer physicians and hospital beds per person than the average country and our life expectancy is about one-and-a-half years shorter as well. It’s time for a universal, single-payer system. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the Affordable Care Act doesn’t go far enough.
What Good Are Labels, Anyhow?
If you’re still hung up on the socialist thing, you haven’t been paying attention. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Socialist… these are words that we use to bundle up collections of ideas. They’re labels that we created to neatly group ourselves together. And they’re painfully outdated and irrelevant.
Need proof? Take a look at the state of the Republican Party. It bears little resemblance to the GOP of even 10 years ago, yet we call it by the same name.
What we need instead is to acknowledge that common sense and great ideas are politically agnostic. We need to put an end to labels. Both socialism and capitalism are abstract ideals. They are hypothetical. They cannot exist, in their “purest” forms, in the real world. The world you and I live in needs to be governed by a mixture of ideas from a variety of philosophies.
We need capitalism to motivate people to work and remain productive. But we also need a touch of socialism to make sure our homeless, uninsured, and downtrodden don’t die in the gutter. We need it to maintain our infrastructure, our national parks, and our many essential services that we use on a regular basis.
What we’re experiencing right this moment are the growing pains that herald progress. But it can get better.
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