of “Yes we can,” many Democrats have adopted a new slogan this election year:
“We shouldn’t even try.”
try for single-payer system, they say. We’ll be lucky if we prevent Republicans
from repealing Obamacare.
shouldn’t try for a $15 an hour minimum wage. The best we can do is $12 an
shouldn’t try to restore the Glass-Steagall Act that used to separate investment
and commercial banking, or bust up the biggest banks. We’ll be lucky to stop Republicans
from repealing Dodd-Frank.
shouldn’t try for free public higher education. As it is, Republicans are out to cut
all federal education spending.
try to tax carbon or speculative trades on Wall Street, or raise taxes on the
wealthy. We’ll be fortunate to just maintain the taxes already in place.
all, we shouldn’t even try to get big money out of politics. We’ll be lucky to
round up enough wealthy people to back Democratic candidates.
Democrats think it’s foolish to aim for fundamental change – pie-in-the-sky,
impractical, silly, naïve, quixotic. Not in the cards. No way we can.
understand their defeatism. After eight years of Republican intransigence and six
years of congressional gridlock, many Democrats are desperate just to hold on
to what we have.
since the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision opened the political
floodgates to big corporations, Wall Street, and right-wing billionaires, many
Democrats have concluded that bold ideas are unachievable.
some establishment Democrats – Washington lobbyists, editorial writers, inside-the-beltway
operatives, party leaders, and big contributors – have grown comfortable with the
way things are. They’d rather not rock the boat they’re safely in.
I get it,
but here’s the problem. There’s no way to reform the system without rocking the
boat. There’s no way to get to where America should be without aiming high.
change has never happened without bold ideas championed by bold idealists.
it was quixotic to try for civil rights and voting rights. Some viewed it as naïve
to think we could end the Vietnam War. Some said it was unrealistic to push for
the Environmental Protection Act.
and again we’ve learned that important public goals can be achieved – if the
public is mobilized behind them. And time and again such mobilization has depended on the energies and
enthusiasm of young people combined with the determination and tenacity of the
If we don’t aim high we have no chance of hitting the target, and no hope of mobilizing that enthusiasm and determination.
situation we’re in now demands such mobilization. Wealth and income are more
concentrated at the top than in over a century. And that wealth has translated
into political power.
result is an economy rigged in favor of those at the top – which further
compounds wealth and power at the top, in a vicious cycle that will only get
worse unless reversed.
pay more for pharmaceuticals than the citizens of any other advanced nation,
for example. We also pay more for Internet service. And far more for health care.
high prices for airline tickets even though fuel costs have tumbled. And high
prices for food even though crop prices have declined.
because giant companies have accumulated vast market power. Yet the nation’s antitrust
laws are barely enforced.
the biggest Wall Street banks have more of the nation’s banking assets than
they did in 2008, when they were judged too big to fail.
partners get tax loopholes, oil companies get tax subsidies, and big
agriculture gets paid off.
laws protect the fortunes of billionaires like Donald Trump but not the homes
of underwater homeowners or the savings of graduates burdened with student
A low minimum wage enhances the profits of big-box retailers like Walmart, but requires the rest of us provide its employees and their families with food stamps and Medicaid in order to avoid poverty – an indirect subsidy of Walmart.
treaties protect the assets and intellectual property of big corporations but
not the jobs and wages of ordinary workers.
At the same time, countervailing
power is disappearing. Labor union membership has plummeted from a third of all
private-sector workers in the 1950s to fewer than 7 percent today. Small banks
have been absorbed into global financial behemoths. Small retailers don’t stand
a chance against Walmart and Amazon.
pay of top corporate executives continues to skyrocket, even as most peoples’
real wages drop and their job security vanishes.
is not sustainable.
We must get
big money out of our democracy, end crony capitalism, and make our economy and
democracy work for the many, not just the few.
But change on
this scale requires political mobilization.
be easy. It has never been easy. As before, it will require the energies
and commitments of large numbers of Americans.
why you shouldn’t listen to the “we-must-not-try” brigade. They’ve lost faith in the rest of us.