“Fall into that trap”

[Democratic socialists] say things—I mean, they talk about things that everybody wants, especially like if you are a parent. They talk about education for your kids, healthcare for your kids. The things that you want. And if you’re not really paying attention to how they’re going to pay for it or the rest of that, it’s easy to fall into that trap and say, my kids deserve this.  Daily Caller writer Virginia Kruta discussing on Fox & Friends her reaction to hearing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic candidate from New York City, discuss progressive issues. (I thank Lily R. Ginsberg for bringing this comment to my attention.)

Conservative writer Virginia Kruta appearing on “Fox & Friends.”

Wrap your head around this, if you can: A conservative writer describing the idea that children should get a good education and have access to healthcare in the richest country in the world as “fall[ing] into that trap.” What parent would not want these things for his or her children? I bet even Trump voters wish only the best for their kids.

Of course, paying for expanded social programs such as Medicare for All or guaranteed public college education is expensive, and it is legitimate to ask how they would be funded. But, it is disingenuous for conservatives like Kruta and her allies at Fox to criticize progressive spending programs when they enthusiastically lined up behind the budget-busting Republican tax-slashing for the ultra-wealthy bill that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates will add almost two-trillion dollars to the national debt over the next decade. Two-trillion dollars could buy healthcare for many Americans and fund public education for numerous deserving youths.  

President George W. Bush announcing his tax-cut plan in the White House, February 5, 2001

Taxes could be raised on the wealthy to partially offset costly new programs or expand existing ones. Republicans claim cutting taxes on the rich leads to increasing investment in the economy and better times for all. But, that has never been proven, and the opposite is almost always the case (viz, Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and the ensuing severe recession). The rich in this country are, in fact, under taxed, and money could be raised by increasing the top tax rates. Middle-class Americans could be asked to pay more, too, on the understanding that higher taxes would be offset by never having to worry about paying for their children’s college education or a serious medical issue. The defense budget — which is over $700 billion — could be pared down and the savings spent on Medicare for All. 

Opposing social programs on the grounds that we cannot afford them is a conservative ploy, not a meaningful basis for political discussion. Most Americans — of whatever political stripe — care little about the national debt. It is a cudgel cited by those who oppose this program or that. A favorite conservative candidate for budget savings is the National Endowment of the Arts with its whopping budget of $148 million. That is .003 percent of the federal budget. Whether the government should be funding arts is a legitimate question, but eliminating cultural funding on the grounds it costs too much is a sham.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announcing his plan to replace Obamacare. It failed.

No, conservatives oppose Medicare for All and free college education because they believe such programs are handouts that stifle initiative (why a healthy America would be an America without ambition escapes me, but that is a subject for another blog). Those on the right frequently argue that government-funded healthcare would be inefficient and rob recipients of the right to choose their own doctors and medical care. Evidently, none of these conservatives are on Medicare, as I am. I can attest that I have had not problems choosing doctors, and I have never found Medicare inefficient. I am thankful that I no longer have to worry about finances should I become seriously ill. 

The fact is that Obamacare works, but attempts by Republicans to chip away at the program are pushing more and more Americans into endorsing some form of a single-payer healthcare program. A poll earlier this year shows a slim majority now in favor of a national health plan. Same is true of growing support for free college education. Most Americans probably know that other advanced industrial democracies provide far more social services for their citizens than this country does, and more and more Americans are becoming displeased with the disparity, and they think, as Virginia Kruta discovered, “my kids deserve” better.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the streets of New York.

Which explains why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the new rock star of progressive American politics. The 28-year-old Ocasio-Cortez shocked the political world last month when she upset Representative Joseph Crowley — the number-four ranking Democrat in the House who had been frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader. Partly, Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary because the demographics in the New York City district changed. She also out-hustled Crowley, and the incumbent took his re-election for granted. But, and not to be overlooked, her message resonated with her constituents.

What is that message? Ocasio-Cortez describes herself as a democratic socialist. For many older Americans, “socialist” sounds sinister or antiquated, reminiscent either of the worst of the Soviet Union or the (reputedly) failed social experiments in post-war democratic Europe. Democratic socialism means, especially for younger Americans, healthcare based on the successful Canadian model and an expansion of something resembling the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt. There is no political party labeled democratic socialist, but there is an organization called the Democratic Socialists of America dedicated to “decrease the influence of money in politics [and] empower ordinary people in workplaces and the economy.”

Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigning in Wichita, Kansas, for James Thompson.

Many Democrats — especially big-city Democrats — have been tacking left lately. Even Crowley, who Ocasio-Cortez successfully painted as a representative of the establishment, supports Medicare for All. The progressive rhetoric of Ocasio-Cortez may alienate more conservative, rural Democrats, though she was greeted enthusiastically in Wichita, Kansas — home of the Koch brothers, major right-wing donors — when she campaigned with independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

In any event, American political parties have never been one-size-fits-all organizations. There is room for diversity within the Democratic Party, and room especially for progressives advocating such increasingly popular programs as Medicare for All and free college education. No wonder right-wing conservatives such as Virginia Kruta worry about voters falling into “that trap.”

Posted July 27, 2018

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