While keeping a wary eye on the Republican Party bloodbath from a safe distance, it is probably time to get a grip on the Democratic Party, shake really hard, and hope that what comes pouring out is a commitment to the progressive policy agenda that so many in the party have worked so hard to define. This is not the time to cave in again to the nonsense about the perfect being the enemy of the good, a phrase that so quickly drips off the lips of those who promise a good game but are never willing to risk anything to realize that promise.
It should be easy to start with two simple propositions, each of which by now must be considered essential to any principled American social order after having been fully exposed like never before by the pandemic lens. It is way beyond time for universal access to meaningful health care to be the law of the land, not some dumbed-down public/private partnership, but the real thing. And it is way beyond time to double the minimum wage because no one can be expected to meet even the basic necessities of life at a pay rate of $7.25 per hour. That amounts to $15,080 per year, generally without benefits or paid leave, so don’t get sick, feed your kids from a real grocery store, live in a decent place or go anywhere.
Will Biden Overturn Sanctions on the ICC?
I don’t care about handwringing, I don’t care about the national debt (only raised as a problem when America tries to spend more on social programs), I don’t care about compromise, and I sure as hell don’t care about sanctimonious talk of incremental change where these two issues are concerned. The only people in favor of incremental change are those who already have access to meaningful health care and those making a whole lot more than $7.25 an hour. If you want to see what unanimity looks like, take a poll on these issues among those working for minimum wage pay with no benefits.
Moreover, even with respect to these two most fundamental components of any moral and just society’s collective response to those in the community writ large, there will be no Republican Party legislative support at all. So, Democrats, sit down and have a meeting, draft legislation to address these two priorities now, and then ram it down the legislative throats of anyone in the way. President Joe Biden will sign the bills, and then we can move on to other priorities, having finally demonstrated that Democrats can promise what is right and deliver on that promise.
There will be a lot more because there is a lot more that needs to be done and because progressives have long studied the problems, have responsible solutions, and they and their constituencies are really tired of waiting. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and causing continued disease, death and economic disruption, it goes without saying that a broad range of public health and economic relief measures will be an overarching priority in these early days of the Biden administration. However, these are mitigation and relief measures seeking to restore a way of life for many that is always secured at the expense of weaker others.
“Build Back Better”
That is another way of saying that it is impossible to restore a balance that never existed in the first place. As we watch the battle play out in America for something as fundamental today as vaccine distribution equity, try to project your view onto the daily lives of those who almost always are on the inequity side of the balance equation. Many of these people aren’t even on the vaccine playing field because they are too busy looking for food for their family, affordable housing, enough education to give their kids a chance in life and enough wages to meet basic needs. When they get that taken care of by the end of the day, they can go online to check out the latest vaccine opportunities and the multiple bus routes needed to get there.
It isn’t just that inequities exist — it is that way too many among us seem to believe that to be an acceptable norm. I don’t know why this pisses me off so much, but it does. For how long and through how many pitiful iterations of America’s “greatness” have Americans of supposed goodwill noted the poverty and hopelessness in their midst and bemoaned racial and social divides that dehumanize, all while happily building monuments to consumption and unregulated capitalism that always attempt to give greed a good name? No more. Ya no más.
There is so much to change for the better and so little apparent political will to change much of anything that it is hard to imagine what Biden means when he says he wants the nation to “build back better.” To my ear, that sounds a lot like a slogan to inspire Americans to create little more than a glossier version of whatever the nation looked like “before,” maybe even something like making America “great” again.
To many people of color, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the undereducated and the sick, what it looked like “before” will take more than a catchy slogan to fix. In the weeks ahead, watch the public discourse, the constant reference to an undefined return to “normal,” and most importantly, how quickly any broad consensus about the need to confront long-neglected fundamental reform gets lost in detail and division.
More Than Words
Beyond the pandemic’s public health and relief measures lie critical commitments to invest now in America’s failing infrastructure, to implement comprehensive and humane immigration reform, to develop a meaningful and likely inconvenient national and international response to climate change, to address the nation’s epidemic of gun violence, and to renew and reinvigorate regulatory frameworks for the financial, energy and communication sectors. Then, if any of this is to be truly transformative, it will have to be done with racial justice and economic equity at the core of meeting each of these critical commitments.
The challenges are great and the moment may be fleeting. Democratic Party leadership and its progressive allies have to actively drive each other to take advantage of this moment to give birth to another round of renewed hope in America. That having been said, it will take more than words to do so, after so many failed promises.
The place to start is with those two simple propositions mentioned earlier. Demonstrating that universal access to meaningful health care can be realized now and that the dignity of work and economic participation inherent in a living wage can be realized now could do much to convince those in need that the rest of the progressive policy agenda is possible to achieve.
In a political world filled with hyperbole, credibility is a good foundation on which to build the long-term political power necessary to deliver on the promise of a more just and equitable society.
*[A version of this article was co-published on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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