Much work lies ahead for US presidential candidates to define American values and identify credible policies.
Any presidential candidate faces broad challenges in illuminating the harsh injustices of America and endorsing specific policies to fix them. Yet this is precisely what our leaders must do to create a nation of justice and opportunity.
We live in a nation of two tiers of experience: drinking bottled vs toxic tap water; eating organic vs dangerous food; speeding by on privatized roads vs sitting in traffic; accessing good vs failing schools; and escaping vs falling prey to a web of banking fraud and predatory corporate practices. Yet the ensconced economic elite makes or influences the rules.
The wealthy take for granted—as we all should—that they are relatively protected from global shocks, that their bodily sanctity will be protected, and that traditional government services like infrastructure and education will help their families thrive.
Below are some major challenges ahead that any US presidential candidate (or large nonprofit) should be highlighting. The following issues have a disproportionate impact on poor and middle-class Americans but affect us all. These areas serve as a basis to evaluate the campaigns of leading Democratic candidates.
Global issues have a huge impact on the stability of our country and the opportunities of all. What is often done in the name of “national security” destroys the individual security of Americans and others worldwide, contributing to radicalization globally over a fight for resources.
A Stable Non-Predatory Financial System: Six years after our worldwide recession, JP Morgan, which has paid $34 billion in corporate crimes and settlements over four years, and others work to revoke banking regulations and reform the monetary system through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), even while trashing those who “don’t understand banking.” The recent recession led to a doubling of the wealth gap between minorities and whites. Whites now own about 20 times more. And the next bank-fueled recession could be worse. It is critical to know where candidates stand on major solutions like the reimplementation of the Glass-Steagall Act and new banking reforms.
Limiting Climate Change: The agreement in Copenhagen six years ago was recently reaffirmed at the G7 meeting—limiting the world to 2-degree Celsius temperature rise. Pope Francis just released a groundbreaking encyclical on climate change. It includes a focus on the crushing price the world’s poor will pay and the pressing need for a “cultural revolution” in rich nations. The touted 2-degree target could be reached either by changing our food choices or agricultural system. Other major initiatives could include building a wholly renewable US energy infrastructure by 2050; ending extreme energy extraction, like the Alberta tar sands that would go through the Keystone XL Pipeline; or imposing a tax on carbon.
Trans-Pacific Partnership: The secret TPP has been exposed as grab bag of provisions to expand of corporate rights. It has little to do with trade. The investor state dispute clause allows for companies to hold countries responsible in new international courts for profits lost due to environmental laws. This includes laws implemented to support international climate change agreements—reason enough to reject the TPP. Claims it will boost American jobs are dubious as well. Finally, it could worsen food safety, roll back reforms on Wall Street, make medical drugs more expensive and outlaw “Buy American” policies that could speed adoption of renewable energy. Where do candidates stand on this terrible treaty?
A Rethinking of War and Peace: Since 1945, the United States has backed numerous drug lords, terrorists and fascists. In Iraq alone, Western nations supported sanctions that killed 1.7 million people, half of whom were children. The 2003 invasion resulted in the death of 1 million more. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Islamic State and al-Shabab became viable forces as a result of our interventions, and American-supplied weapons are being used against us. Candidates need to deeply rethink our commitment to war and to envision and promote peace globally.
Individual rights speak to the very sanctity of one’s body. The lack of safety, food, shelter and health care are the gravest threats to our collective security.
Gender safety and reproductive rights: One in six American women experience rape or attempted rape. A similar number experience campus sexual assault. This epidemic of gender-based violence must end. We need to examine individual, bystander and societal behavior, including a culture in which violence against women is “entertainment.”
Freedom from gun violence: We live in a country with over 32,000 gun deaths per year from suicide and homicide. Weekly, we read of tragic gun violence and mass shootings relating to domestic violence. Most recently, nine people were killed in a terrorist action in South Carolina. This prevalent deadly violence, often motivated by hatred of women and minorities, should not be tolerated. Countries like Australia have dramatically reduced gun violence through legislation. We, too, must find the answers.
Accountability for and an end to police and jail brutality: There are no reliable statistics of police gun violence, but an estimated 5,600 or more people have been killed by officers since 2000. Overmilitarized police departments, deputized individuals and private police have been involved. In contrast, public police in England and Wales did not fatally shoot anyone for two years. Keeping the peace can be done peacefully.
Accessible, affordable health care: Seven years ago, Michael Moore’s “Sicko” firmly landed the plight of the insured on our national radar. The Affordable Care Act has widened coverage. Yet health care-related bankruptcies, unjustifiable and excessive pricing, and insurance errors continue to undermine affordability and access. A single payer solution could provide Americans universal affordable health care that is available in all other developed countries.
A fair minimum wage and life with dignity: The reality is the minimum wage is rarely a living wage. While it is important to advocate for a significant boost to paychecks, it is also important to push for basic standard of living for those who are unemployed or retired. Equally, if not more important, would be cracking down on predatory practices, in part through well-funded legal services for the poor. These new realities of stripped down benefits are documented in Jacob Hacker’s The Great Risk Shift and Caroline Fredrickson’s Under the Bus.
Good public health and lifespan: Has there been a larger non-war time decline in public health? Half of all Americans are on two or more medications. Obesity and related diseases have skyrocketed in America. Men and women living just 350 miles apart have life-spans of 18 and 12 years difference.
Sustainable environment: Polluted water and soil poisons our citizens, even as our oceans turn to “plastic soup” and slow down their circulation. What national and international commitments will we make to keep our environment sustainable for life?
Governmental responsibilities should promote democracy and our economic prosperity for all.
Voting rights for all: Mass disenfranchisement has occurred through restrictive voting registration and voter ID laws, limited voting windows and the long-term removal of US citizens from the rolls. Eight percent of voting-age black Americans cannot vote, a situation that keeps Florida a swing state. More than half of Michigan’s black residents had their local voting rights taken away in 2013 and 2014. We must restore constitutional rights fundamental to our democracy.
Fair sourcing of revenue: The dramatic and growing inequality in America is shocking and unacceptable to most Americans. The top 1% captured 121% of all income gains in the years after the recession, with the top 1% now owning 40% of all American wealth. The prevailing anti-tax sentiment means basic programs like police response, health care and college are underfunded. Do candidates support a financial transaction tax, higher estate taxes, closing the carried interest loophole and higher corporate taxes?
Good public education and affordable college: Even as schools are shuttered in many inner cities and standardized tests are arbitrarily toughened, we fail to provide our students with a leading education. It gets no easier in college, as debt tops $1 trillion, draining what could fund rent, savings or other investments. A recent article points to skyrocketing administrative costs at the higher level, not faculty salaries, as a major factor in high tuition. Nations like Germany and Finland provide college for free and use effective teacher training and education models. The same could be done in the United States.
Well-funded public infrastructure and utilities: Various rationales, including a lack of tax revenue, have resulted in a huge effort to privatize what have traditionally been government services. Yet skyrocketing prices for water have led to shutoffs condemned by the United Nations. And newly expensive and variable priced privatized roads shorten commutes for the rich, while leaving poor minorities living in the exurbs with clogged roads. The burden of poor services leads to evictions and deepening poverty while violating human rights, despite our national capacity to do better by all.
Consumer standards and regulations: Regulation of our food supply, labor market and chemicals should protect the world’s sustainability and basic human rights. Consumers should know if products are made in the US, through fair trade, by organic means, using ethical processes, and with genetically modified organisms. Widespread adoption of such standards could promote a race to the top for a better world.
Much work lies ahead for presidential candidates to define our values and identify credible policies in these areas, even as they weigh in on current issues.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is smart, with a notable background at the Children’s Defense Fund, Legal Services Corporation and in health care reform. After the growing popularity by Bernie Sanders and the populism of Elizabeth Warren, Clinton has recently voiced standard Democratic positions, while avoiding identifying actors who create and promote these injustices.
Is the late timing and lack of narrative true leadership? And how do positions necessary for justice and opportunity square with a record as a “corporate” ally and a “hawk”?
The Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s Global Initiative worked with banks under investigation, and foreign governments that donated received more arms under her State Department leadership. Credible endorsement of above platform and an explanation of the foundation’s funding would be welcome. To date, the weak narratives represent major barriers in believing her campaign truly focuses on human rights, innovative policies and structural changes.
“Democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders has placed those values at the center of his presidential campaign and identified corporations and policies that threaten them. Correspondingly he has surged in early primary polls. He has supported a single payer health care system, breaking up the big banks, using a financial transaction tax to pay for state colleges and taxing carbon. He weighed in on current issues, voicing his opposition to the TPP and Keystone XL Pipeline, and called the Charleston massacre just hours later “an act of terror.” Now there’s real leadership.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.