Admittedly, it’s the worst band name ever. But this column written by Sen. Bernie Sanders–on deadwood no less–in 1995 provides some context for the ‘anger at the establishment’ (boldface mine):
For the vast majority of its people, the United States is becoming a poorer country. The standard of living of the average American worker continues to decline, people are working longer hours, and new jobs are often low-wage, part-time and without benefits. The average American is nervous and angry—and has every reason to be.
The rich are growing richer—and the power they hold over the economic and political life of the nation makes them ever more arrogant as well. No apologies are needed when millionaires and billionaires spend vast sums of money to buy elective office. No apologies are made when striking workers are permanently replaced. No apologies are even expected when profitable corporations “downsize” their workforces and replace full-time employees with “temps.” The wealthy have the power, and are fully prepared to use it for their own selfish ends.
Never before in American history has the mass media’s construction of reality been so divorced from the experience of the average American. Workers see with their own eyes the jobs in their communities being exported to Mexico and China, while television gives them endless hours of the O.J. Simpson trial. Working people see with their own eyes the corporate CEO earning 150 times as much as the line worker, while television gives them rapt descriptions of the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive strategy.
On those occasions when political ideas manage, to fight their way into the mass media, they are almost always taken straight out of a rightwing catechism….
For these and other reasons, there is virtually no organized and effective opposition to the American ruling class. Tens of millions of Americans, including almost all of the poor, no longer believe that government or politics is relevant to their lives… Within this context, let us take a brief look at Bill Clinton’s record over the last two years, and discuss some ideas concerning the remainder of his term.
First, serious progressives have no reason to be “disillusioned” with Bill Clinton, or to accuse him of “selling out.” Bill Clinton is a moderate Democrat, a founder of the conservative force within the Democratic Party known as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). As governor of Arkansas, and during his campaign for president, he made no secret of the fact that “welfare reform,” “crime” and “free trade” were major tenets of his program.
If anything, progressives should be astonished that a moderate Democrat like Clinton could bring himself to raise taxes on the rich, and lower taxes—through an expansion of the earned income tax credit—on the working poor. It was certainly a pleasant surprise when Clinton took military action in support of a popularly elected government in Latin America—as he did to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti—instead of bolstering right-wing elites. And after 12 years of Reagan and Bush, it has also been a welcome change to see a president who is pro-choice and who, however ineptly, has tried to remove some of the restrictions on gay men and women in the military.
Has Clinton been a better president than Reagan or Bush? Yes. Have his policies begun to seriously address the enormous problems facing our nation? No. Has he tried to build a political movement that would empower working people so they could make real improvements in their lives? Absolutely not.
Clinton and his party depend on corporate money and the support of wealthy donors, so it shouldn’t surprise us that he would want to placate corporate America with NAFTA, GATT and special trade status for China. We should not be surprised that the president has refused to lead the effort for real campaign finance reform. And we should not be surprised that his health care initiative, which finally placed the American health care crisis at the top of the national agenda, was in fact developed and supported by the largest health insurance companies in the country.
And some proposals:
•We need to raise the minimum wage. Currently at $4.25 an hour, the minimum wage must be raised to a level sufficient to keep a full-time wage-earner and his or her family out of poverty. The minimum wage must be raised to $5.50 an hour immediately. That would not be enough, but it would be a good step forward.
•The president should push for a serious economic stimulus/jobs program, progressively funded, to put Americans back to work rebuilding the physical and human infrastructure of our country. It is absurd that millions of workers are unemployed or underemployed when there is enormous work to be done rebuilding our bridges, railroads, sewer systems, affordable housing, libraries, schools and roads. We must also put Americans to work providing the child care, preventive health care and education that is so desperately needed.
•The administration must engage in a total rethinking of our disastrous trade policy, which has cost us millions of decent-paying manufacturing jobs, and which is currently running up a $150 billion trade deficit. NAFTA, GATT and liberalized trade rules with China are a mistake, and must be renegotiated. Corporations must no longer be allowed to throw American workers out on the street so they can wring higher profits out of desperate Third World laborers.
•It’s well past time to press Congress for significant decreases in military spending. With the end of the Cold War, it is insane to increase the defense budget, when, in fact, we can make major cuts.
•Sweeping changes in labor law are desperately needed. Workers who wish to join unions must be allowed to do so. We must stop businesses from terrorizing workers and preventing them from forming unions.
•Progressive tax reform is also urgently required. At a time when the richest 1 percent of the population owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, when corporate America and the wealthy have enjoyed huge tax breaks for the last 20 years, and when the federal, state and local tax burden has increasingly fallen on the middle class, we must adopt a progressive tax system that is based on one’s ability to pay.
I won’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve been waiting for a Democratic candidate to say this for, well, about a quarter of a century. As I noted recently, the ‘economic left’–which to say, the part of the Democratic Party that cares about the actual lives of workers, whether they be middle-class or poor, has been effectively shut out of the party for over two decades. Sanders isn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but he is the mechanism by which the economic left gets a seat at the Democratic Party’s high table.