Teaching Industrial Relations in Vietnam: a US Labor Academic at a Union-sponsored University

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

What about Bernie? — February 25, 2020

What about Bernie?

Helena Worthen

510-828-2745, helenaworthen@gmail.com

Start with this, if you are worried about how long this message seems to be:

Why Bernie will win: “Look at the structure of my campaign”

I’ve been watching a lot of CSPAN ever since the Kavanaugh hearings so I’ve seen some moments that didn’t make headlines. One was Bernie exiting a meeting at a gym in a small town in Iowa; a reporter pushes in front of him and asks him why he thinks he can win.  He says, “If you want to see how we will win, look at the structure of my campaign.”

That’s exactly right. As Elizabeth Warren pointed out last Sunday night about 7 pm in an interview broadcast on KQED, Bernie’s campaign has been building for a long time. He has not just supporters, he has organizations working on his behalf like Our Revolution, National Nurses United, Labor For Bernie, Democratic Socialists of America and others that are self-organized.  Look at his endorsements on his Wikipedia page and compare them, in both number and variety, to those of anyone else.  There are also literally thousands of young leaders who were inspired by – actually trained in — his 2016 campaign and are now working in other organizations like teachers’ unions to move his progressive agenda at the grassroots level all over the country. His campaign is where much of the leadership of the recent waves of teacher strikes learned their skills. It really isn’t about him, as he says; it’s about us. 

My bottom-line issue is the climate crisis

I take the climate crisis very seriously. For many years my bottom-line question has been, what kind of government will be needed to shift our institutions and our economy over to create an inhabitable earth? These changes have to be basic, at the level of how we get around, what we eat, how we educate our children, how we design our housing and use our land.  Can it be done democratically? Some people say no, it can’t: the crisis is urgent and democracy is famously messy instead of fast, precise or efficient. To make these changes, they say, we need someone who can grab all the power available and simply make it happen, top-down. But if we turn to another billionaire president to run the country like a business executive, whether it is Trump or a Bloomberg, we are the frogs in Aesop’s fable asking Zeus for a king.  To me, this is despair talking; despair and nihilism. 

Others say, “Yes, we can make this shift democratically.” Even if it’s just a hope, as in: “I hope so,” it’s a hope worth betting our lives on, at the level of “I really hope my grandchildren can breathe the air, drink the water, and live in a world where there is still such a thing as a wild animal, not just ones being raised for food.”

I hope we can make this shift democratically, but I certainly don’t expect it to happen without my help.  My 8-year old grandson, overhearing my conversation about this with his dad, cried out, “Children save the world!”  Not without help they won’t.

Right now we have the opportunity democratically elect someone whose key programs, the Green New Deal and Medicare-4-All, would start to turn the vast ship of the US economy around. Yes, even under a democratically elected government with avenues of real bottom-up accountability there will be some pain.  Habits and expectations will have to change. But it’s foolish to think that election of another billionaire, or a “moderate” Democrat who would be likely to cave, would not equally result in pushback.  Continuing waves of disaster capitalism will only intensify the anger and strengthen the resistance we are seeing today. If we think that the rise of an activist left in the country and the references to a “revolution” signal something extreme, that’s nothing compared to what would happen if we did not have an open path to democratic accountability in place.  

Bernie and Bloomberg

There are two important maps to compare when we think about Bernie and Bloomberg. Both are from the brilliant graphics folks at the New York Times. The one about Bloomberg is about where he spends his money. 

The one about Bernie is about where he gets his money.

If you know something about Bernie’s agenda, you’ll notice that Bloomberg’s philanthropic agenda overlaps a lot with Bernie’s: Education, public health and safety, anti-tobacco, climate change.  You could see more similarities than differences. 

But that’s not the point. The point is, do I want to be governed by someone who moves his agenda by giving vast sums to foundations and non-profits or someone who does it by organizing and leading a movement? Do I want someone who can do anything he wants because he can buy it, and is accountable to no-one (which is what we’ve got now, anyway)? No –I want to have my government in the hands of someone who has got where he is by standing for values that a lot of people believe in, being public and brave and consistent about those values, and taking the heat and being accountable to the people who have put him where he is.

Why, come to think of it, doesn’t Bloomberg run as a Republican?  This was our daughter’s suggestion. Until 2000 he was a Democrat, them he switched to Republican to run for Mayor of New York, spoke at the 2004 Republican convention and then switched to Independent in 2007.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Bloomberg

His philanthropic agenda looks like some of the old-style liberal Republican ideas.  Hospitals and museums! He would win if he ran in the Republican primaries against Trump – Republicans would love him.  The thing is, he’s really running against Bernie, not Trump.

How Bloomberg got on the stage in Nevada anyway

If you wonder how Bloomberg got onto the stage for the upcoming debate in Nevada, where he isn’t even on the ballot, notice the big “or” in the following sentence from the NPR description:

To qualify, a candidate needed to have won at least one delegate in the first two contests, have four national polls showing the candidate with 10% or more or two state polls from either South Carolina or Nevada showing the candidate with 12% or more support. Bloomberg previously cracked 10% in polls from Quinnipiac University, Monmouth University and Fox News.

There are three different ways to qualify, in other words. The Democratic National Committee makes these rules for their own candidates. They changed them to let Bloomberg get on the stage in Nevada. I’m sure he consulted extensively with them before announcing his candidacy. They probably said, “Wait and see how Biden does.”  When Biden started to droop, and the non-white candidates had dropped out, they gave Bloomberg the green light.

A general note about polls

Polling results make news, but there are dozens and dozens of polls and they survey different people differently at different dates.  If you look at any it’s worth looking at a lot of them.  Here’s the Wikipedia entry on “nationwide opinion polling” — see what is under “aggregate polls.” 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationwide_opinion_polling_for_the_2020_United_States_presidential_election#Aggregate_polls

RV means “registered voter”; LV means “likely voter”, “AA” means “all adults” and then there are some that are blank or unclear.  Little colleges do polls – Emerson in Boston is one, Monmouth on the west side of Illinois is another. It’s good publicity. The results depend on who has a landline, who answers the phone or who clicks on one of these innumerable messages you get via email that ends up with asking for a donation. Most are only in English. Nevertheless, they play an important role in our electoral process.

The Prisoners’ Dilemma

Some people I talk to say: “I really like Bernie but other people will get caught up in the debates and either won’t vote for him or won’t vote at all, and Trump will win and that will be the worst possible outcome.  I know what the right thing to do is, But other people won’t do it so I can’t do it either.”  This is the old prisoner’s dilemma where two people are being interrogated in separate cells. One could betray the other, or reveal the secret, and get released. If they both keep their mouths shut (in the face of torture, usually), the secret will stay secret. Both prisoners have to ask themselves if they can trust the other to do the right thing, or not.

The penetration of “messaging” into our political culture lowers our resistance to creating one message for ourselves and a different one for people who don’t get it, who are less well-informed, who are swayed by scares of one sort or another, who don’t like the word “socialism,” whose main motivator is fear of another Trump term rather than hope for sustainable change, etc. etc.

Bernie does not have one speech for the smart people and one for the “deplorables.”  He gives the same speech, whether he’s in a small town in New Hampshire or at a 6,000 person rally like the one in Richmond, CA last week, or on the debate stage. Thirty years ago he had a public access TV show in Burlington, Vermont.  They recently released all their archives. You can see it on the Daily Show, the same Bernie – standing there in the snow, only with more hair – giving the same speech.  It’s also the same speech I heard in Oakland in 2016.  This is the same link that I put at the top of this message.  Watch the whole thing; it’s likely that clips from his anti-racism high school class will show up, doctored, on right-wing TV:

Also, we are not prisoners.  We can talk to the guy in the other cell and should do so right away. 

Who would be crazy enough to run against Trump, anyway?

To seriously take on Trump, who pardons criminals and practices retaliation without blinking – see Colonel Vindman  — and his twin brother!  Did Trump worry about not being able to tell the two of them apart? — you have to be basically either crazy or on-fire fearless.  Crazy with anger is actually a sane response to looking closely at the climate crisis, and fearless, which is a sane response to perhaps having to deal with Trump’s supporters.  In order to really take this fight all the way over the finish line, we need someone who isn’t in the fight just because it’s an option; we need someone who is on fire.

In fact, no President has ever been elected merely because they were less worse than something bad. People come out and vote if there’s something they want and someone clearly in their line of view, showing them what it is and how to get it.

Finally (sigh), what does “too far to the left” actually mean?

The San Francisco Chronicle has been doing a “What would happen in California if X won?”  They started with Bernie, and said that under a Bernie presidency, given how progressive a lot of California legislation has been, there wouldn’t be that much change.  It’s a fairly balanced article.

https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/President-Bernie-Sanders-Here-s-what-it-would-14990586.php

Especially if you live in Berkeley, the first city in the US to become a sanctuary city (1971), with our fancy bike lanes, farmer’s markets and beautiful residential neighborhoods, assuming you can afford to live in them, we are an example of what “too far to the left” refers to.

Bernie’s agenda is basically a Roosevelt (Franklin D.) agenda for the 2000’s, which was too far to the left for many (not my parents, who lived through the Depression).  When Bernie talks about socialism he often points out that what he’s talking about is Democratic Socialism, as it is practiced in countries like Finland and Denmark, countries which, as we know, are ranked #1and #2 on the international index of how happy people are with their government and their lives:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Happiness_Report

He is not talking about governments that have had “socialist” in their name but were in fact authoritarian forms of state capitalism, like Burma/Myanmar or Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

So “too far to the left” apparently means something that looks a bit like Berkeley, a bit like Denmark, and a bit like what would have happened if FDR’s New Deal had not run into virulent anti-communism after World War II.

Too far to the left for Mississippi, or at least for the oligarchs of the Old South

But that’s just what we’d see here in California. What about other places in the US?  The changes in many other states would be enormous. Just for starters, what about the 14 states that did not accept the chance to expand Medicaid?

Think of what Bernie’s Medicare-4-All would mean to people in these states, mostly red poverty rates up to nearly 20% in Mississippi and very few union-represented jobs where healthcare would be a negotiated benefit.  These people are not worried about Medicare-4-All “taking away” their much-loved health insurance plans. They don’t have any health insurance to take away. And there are millions of people in this situation. They also have high rates of voter suppression going all the way back to the 3/5th “compromise” in the Constitution and the creation of the Electoral College.

Any women’s issues here?

There are women who are afraid to get out of a bad marriage because their health insurance and their kids’ comes from their husband’s jobs, and people who continue to work a job they hate because it offers employer-based health insurance – all of those people would be freed up by Medicare-4-All. Conversely, of course, the parties that benefit from having that control (the husbands and employers) would be against it.  I use the wife-husband shorthand intentionally, because of the way the traditional social building block of the traditional family still frames our lives.  This applies everywhere in our society, whether you are rich or poor.  Rich women also experience abuse.

Of course, don’t forget the women who get their healthcare through Catholic healthcare systems, where providers are limited in their ability to prescribe contraception:

https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/womens-health-articles/providers-in-catholic-health-systems-use-workarounds-to-provide-contraception

Then there are people who have bought insurance plans with lifetime caps or thousand dollar deductibles – all those people would benefit from Medicare-4-all.   The people in the Culinary Union in Nevada who voted for Bernie (and who were interviewed on NPR and Democracy Now) said that, despite the signals coming from the top union leadership, they voted not just for their own self-interest but for the people who walked the picket line with them, their children, their friends, people who couldn’t get the minimum number of work hours that would keep them on their union health plans, etc.

It should be simply obvious: You can’t fund a universal healthcare system unless everyone pays into it.  That’s why you can’t have people opting out and “choosing” a private plan instead. But would private plans be made illegal? No – Bernie doesn’t say that. He’s not talking about making boutique healthcare illegal. There could still be the kinds of private plans that exist now, complete with helicopter landing pads and Steinway pianos in the hospice lounges.  But you’d have to buy those in addition to paying into Medicare like everyone else.

Finally, Bernie in Vermont

I have spent a lot of time in Vermont, where my parents retired and where Joe Berry and I have a house in a small village.  Bernie has been a household name in Vermont for the last 40 years. Republicans in our village vote for Bernie at the same time as they elect a Republican state legislator. Of course, Medicare-4-All passed in Vermont in 2014 (Act 47) and should have been implemented, so people are familiar with the concept. It was a Democratic Governor who, after he ran on supporting Act 47, changed his mind and did not implement it.  My point is that for people who have lived with him in their lives for many years, Bernie and Medicare-4-All is not controversial. 

Contact information for me (if you want to dispute or otherwise comment on this message, or if you want me to stop using your personal email address for any reason) is at the top of this message.

 Onwards.

Helena Worthen

National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981

Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay Chapter