Socialism Defined

Last February, I wrote an NTD News commentary describing how Democratic leaders as far back as President Harry Truman have tried to establish an affordable healthcare system available to every American. I summed things up by saying, “As you can see, working toward universal health care is not a new concept, nor is it radical. America has been inching toward it for 75 years. It’s now possible we could be in the final push before this long-overdue reform becomes an American reality. But we’ve already begun to hear accusations from the right of, “Socialism!” “Communism!” “Radicalism!” 

Since I wrote that essay, the noise coming from the right wing, led by Donald Trump, has only increased. Every Democrat supporting a progressive initiative is being labeled a “socialist.” And the more we Democrats succeed in generating public enthusiasm for our progressive ideas, the more Republicans are going to double down with their ominous warnings of “creeping socialism.” — Fear and the distortion of facts are always a right wing go-to tactic. 

Now, you and I may understand that their accusations are false. I’m all for some form of universal healthcare. I believe we desperately need a national initiative to address climate change. I think a federally supported program to put a college education within the reach of every American who wants one is a good idea. But this does not mean my dream is to see the United States become some sort of centralized “socialist utopia.” 

I’m a Progressive Democrat, and I like the sound of that. 

I reject the label of “socialist.” — Not because I’m concerned about what the right might say about me. I simply don’t believe America should have a socialist society in the way socialism is formally defined. — And by “defined” I mean as in a dictionary.  

Here’s what three major dictionaries I checked all pretty much say: “A Socialist is an advocate or supporter of Socialism” which is…:“The theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution of capital, land etc. in the community as a whole.”And one dictionary went on to say, “in Marxist theory, Socialism is the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to Communism , characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.” 

Those are not descriptions of an American society I yearn to see take shape. And those dictionaries leave little room for giving “socialist” and “socialism” a less hardline interpretation. (What a handy campaign weapon for Republicans.) The power of this pejorative in 2020 worries me. 

I do realize there is a “softer” form of socialism called “Democratic Socialism.” One professor called it “anti-authoritarian socialism” or “socialism from below.” The Scandinavian countries are best known for this type of governance. The quality of life they have achieved is admirable and for millions of Americans it is enviable. But our United States is not like any of those nations. Our history, and diversity, our societal sensibilities are quite different. However, the one thing we definitely do share is a belief in basic democratic principles. (By the way, Scandinavia presently has 58 billionaires. So apparently Democratic Socialism in that region is not headed in the direction the political philosophers Marx and Engels intended!) 

One of our party’s leading candidates for President, Bernie Sanders, does insist on identifying himself as a Democratic Socialist. And it’s true, the major programs he advocates do involve federal involvement on the broadest scale, as they might in Scandinavia. However, there are goals Senator Sanders champions that do not differ that radically from plans proposed by several other progressive Democrats running for president or serving in Congress. 

We are entering what is sure to be a brutal battle to unseat Donald Trump. It seems to me that a leading Democratic presidential candidate bragging that he’s is proud to be a socialist, no matter how gently that word is modified, does not help our cause. We are not trying to win votes in Europe. We are trying to win votes in our purple states. I know it’s probably too late for Bernie to modify his preferred identity but I’d sure like to hear him use the word “progressive” a lot more and maybe “socialist” not at all. 

Logically, a label shouldn’t hold that much power over thoughtful voters. Unfortunately, labels too often do. So to wrap up this monologue, here are some more dictionary defined labels that you may find especially enlightening. 

Liberal : Favoring reform, open to new ideas, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; not bound by traditional thinking; broad-minded.

Progressive : Favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters….A person who is open to or favors new ideas, policies or methods.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change. 

Those first two definitions fill me with hope. And that third one says all you need to know about what we are up against.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Missing The Momentum

It’s been five months since the 2018 midterm elections. On November 6, Democrats retook control of the U.S. House by a historic popular vote total. It truly was a moment to savor. 

So today, why don’t I feel more confident that last November’s wins were the beginning of a new direction for our United States? Is it just a passing mood? Is it because I’m looking out my window at a depressingly gray February day — in April? Or is it because our Democratic Party leaders are being quieter than they should? 

I realize that our new U.S. House has only been on the job for three months. Still, they quickly began working on bills that could impact our lives in positive ways if common ground can be found with enough Republicans in the Senate.  

But we’ve yet to hear about legislative proposals to tackle the “biggest” issues that excited so many voters last year. Perhaps I’m expecting too much too soon. Even so, I would like to feel that the buzz generated by our winning candidates last fall is being nurtured by our party’s leaders and strategists right now. 

Of course, since the Republican Party controls both the U.S. Senate and the White House, they can dominate what the public perceives as our nation’s agenda. (And when the person sitting in the White House is Donald Trump, even Republican Party leaders can’t be sure from one day to the next what their President’s stated priorities will be.) 

President Trump has a headline-grabbing penchant for encouraging chaos virtually each day. This is certainly one more reason the public hasn’t gotten their collective mind around the progress that our new Democratic House pledged they would pursue during their campaigns. 

The thing is, back in November, we Democrats sensed a momentum that felt great. 

Most of our Democratic candidates, incumbents and newcomers, showed a discipline and a unity in presenting their positions that resonated with voters. Their campaigns chose not to waste time attacking Donald Trump, his personal life or his qualifications for impeachment (or imprisonment). Instead they spoke to issues that will affect the lives of every American far into the future. They spoke of protecting and improving our nation’s healthcare; they pledged to pay serious attention to the existential threat of climate change; they condemned the shocking disrepair of our nation’s infrastructure; they recognized the disaffection felt by far too many Americans toward government in general. 

The men and women elected into the 116th Congress brought in new backgrounds, new perspectives, new energy to address America’s very real needs. But so far in 2019, it seems to me we’ve heard very little discussion of those needs by our Party’s leaders. They are issues fundamental to building a better future – and speaking about them was key in winning over so many voters last fall. 

Yes, there are new members of Congress who are presenting their personal proposals for addressing our nation’s most wide-ranging problems, and they’re getting noticed. And there are now eighteen (and counting) declared presidential candidates who are beginning to present their visions for future actions to be taken. 

I know it is too soon to expect Speaker Pelosi’s House to present detailed bills to deal with the huge problems we face. However, I would really welcome statements from our Democratic Party’s leadership that clearly define the goals we aspire to achieve. 

I want to feel that momentum again.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Leaving the Pack Behind

Yesterday, Lori Lightfoot’s election as the next mayor of Chicago was certainly a landmark in the city’s history. As a black, openly gay woman, her odds of becoming Chicago’s mayor were pretty steep. But she prevailed – impressively. 

It’s true that when all the campaigning began, her name wasn’t completely unknown but it was far less familiar than names like Daley or Preckwinkle, or even Mendoza. And certainly there were a number of candidates that were better “connected” within the political world.  

So how did such a surprising outcome happen? It’s no great insight on my part to say Lightfoot’s election victory was the result of a variety of things. Not the least of these was Lori’s confidence in herself. She has been a U.S. States Attorney, a partner at a major Chicago law firm and has held positions in Chicago government including a role as President of the Chicago Police Board. 

The Laquan McDonald murder and the scandal that followed led Mayor Emanuel to appoint Lori Lightfoot to a Police Accountability Task Force. This put Lightfoot much more in the public eye. But it’s also pretty clear that fate (and the FBI) played a role in her path to victory with the indictment of the Machine’s longtime gray eminence, Ed Burke. Every 2019 mayoral candidate who had spent any time in Chicago politics (that would include all the front-runners) had some history, however benign, with this disgraced scoundrel.

With all that said, this morning I thought about another unusual aspect of this now concluded mayoral race. It’s an election dynamic that often appears when an incumbent leaves office with no heir apparent. The Democratic Primary leading up to this mayoral election had a huge number of candidates vying to be mayor. And on Primary Election Day, there were 15 choices for Chicago mayor on the ballot. That is a crazy big number.  

Each candidate had a constituency in some part or parts of Chicago which meant no one candidate had an overwhelming numbers advantage over all the others. Few observers were willing to predict a winner. Such a situation can give a less well-known candidate a boost if they can separate themselves from the pack. Ms. Lightfoot did just that – especially after the Burke indictment. 

It’s hard for me to imagine a Chicago primary race with 15 candidates for a single office ever occurring back when the city’s Democratic machine ruled. – Maybe it happened, I don’t know. 

However, today in thinking about February’s prodigious list of Democratic mayoral candidates, I was reminded of the jumbo lineup of GOP presidential hopefuls that showed up for the Republican debates in 2016. (Please understand I’m not saying our party’s recent candidates were similar in any way to that unforgettable gallery of the GOP’s best and brightest that included Ben Carson, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.) 

Sixteen Republicans appeared in at least one 2016 presidential debate. Five withdrew after their first appearance. Eleven continued through more of those events. I have no memory of the various positions presented and promises made by those many candidates. But we all know how that 2016 presidential race turned out.  

The number of competing Republicans was so large that differentiating the positions of one from another was problematic. The exception was Donald Trump who separated himself from the pack with his outrageous demeanor and un-politic statements. He didn’t win the popular vote across America but he won a majority of electoral votes from states where outrageous and un-politic language was just what those voters wanted to hear. 

Looking ahead to 2020, we Democrats presently have a similarly large array of presidential hopefuls to review. There are fourteen declared presidential candidates and at least three more who might decide to run. Will this impressive selection of Democrats still be competing with their ideas and positions next fall when the Democratic primaries are on the horizon? Will the number of Democrats with similar progressive positions blur in the minds of voters? Could there be one candidate who separates him- or herself from the pack in a way none of us anticipated? Yesterday’s newsworthy election in Chicago is a fitting kick-off to what is sure to be an exciting year for Democrats everywhere.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Who Says We Hate The Constitution?

The other day in the Chicago Tribune’s guest editorial section, a headline immediately grabbed my attention. The headline said, “Trump isn’t the biggest threat to the Constitution. Democrats are.” — I had no idea destroying the Constitution was our goal. 

Whenever I see a news lede worded in such a clearly partisan way, the first thing I check is the name of the article’s author. In this case, the guest editorial was by Marc A. Thiessen. You may be familiar with this writer. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and his guest opinions appear periodically in the Trib. His AEI is also a guiding light for some of the most active right-wingers here on the North Shore. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think free enterprise in a democracy is a brilliant thing. And responsible capitalism can benefit a society. But we should be clear on what is driving the efforts of Mr. Thiessen and his organization. To be blunt, I think the overriding priority of The AEI is to do everything it can to make sure its most moneyed supporters (I’m talking really BIG-money supporters) enjoy a future of virtually unfettered wealth accumulation.  

This, of course, also means that any government policies that might interfere with extracting maximum profits from the sources of that wealth —corporations, financial institutions, natural resources — must be contested. No matter how positive the reason for such government action might be. Based on the stands AEI has taken, government involvement in search of ways to make the lives of every citizen better is dangerous.  

But let me get to the specifics of why Marc Thiessen says we Democrats are out to destroy our nation’s Constitution. The basis for Thiessen’s alarm is the fact that several Democratic presidential candidates have said that if elected in 2020 they will work to abolish the Electoral College. 

According to Mr. Thiessen, getting rid of the Electoral College will marginalize Americans who don’t support the Democrats’ “increasingly radical agenda.”  

Thiessen says, “Today Democrats have become “the party of big-city elites.” — Really? I find it a bit weird that these guys who live comfortably in the Washington D.C. area (highly populated) are speaking up in defense of the residents of Kirwin, Kansas or Lost Cabin, Wyoming. 

According to Mr. Thiessen, a main reason the founding fathers created the Electoral College was to make sure that less populous, rural states would not be dictated to by “large, big city populations.” – Well, not really. — Mr. Thiessen is skilled at telling compelling stories, however they aren’t always completely true. (In his younger days, he spent some time as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.) 

The truth is, when the constitution was written, the most populous state was Virginia. It didn’t have the biggest city, but it had lots of rural plantations loaded with slaves. Today, city versus rural might be a polarizing issue, but back then the divide was between slave states versus free states. In a direct election system, the South would have lost every time because a huge percentage of its population was slaves, and slaves couldn’t vote. But the Electoral College allowed states to count slaves as three-fifths of a person. This gave the South the inside track in presidential elections for years.  

So what about that “radical agenda” fear? Thiessen says the Electoral College protects our nation from “unconstrained radicalism.” His examples of radicalism are the “Green New Deal” and government involvement in health care, energy and transportation. He says without the Electoral College, Democrats will feel free to pursue full socialism without constraint.”  

I wonder if the AEI thinks the government’s initiation of the interstate highway system under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower was as socialistic a proposal as, for instance, federal funding to rebuild our nation’s electrical power grid to be more green? 

He also says Democratic Party dependence on the support of voters living in our more rural states will force the party to broaden their appeal. And he falsely claims this is why “more and more Democrats want to get rid of it (the College).” — To be honest, there actually was a time when our party did broaden its appeal in the rural south by going along with their Jim Crow laws. But it seems to me that is an excellent example of why we should walk away from any future possibility of Electoral College blackmail. 

With all that said, I do think it’s always worth taking note of everything Mr. Thiessen writes because to me his editorials are basically right wing talking point bulletins. There’s a good chance that whatever you “takeaway” from his editorials will soon be repeated in other right wing print, radio or TV propaganda. 

Now that the Mueller cloud is no longer hanging above President Trump’s impressively coiffed head, the country’s attention is turning to the presidential candidates vying to replace him in 2020. There are some exciting and inspiring proposals being presented that, contrary to Marc Thiessen’s opinion, should interest many voters in those rural states that Marc is so eager to “protect.”  

As those proposals are refined to become more appealing, we Democrats will be increasingly attacked as radicals, socialists, big-city elitists. At least that’s what it appears Marc Thiessen and the AEI plan to do.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Pulling Ourselves Together (Revisited)

Today is my first day back from a month-long vacation away from Wilmette’s final weeks (I hope) of winter. Returning home and still recovering from jet lag, I had the idea that I could phase back into newsletter contributions by inserting a past essay that is still timely. I chose the May 9, 2018 commentary titled “Pulling ourselves together” with its unsurprising message that uniting Americans in this complex century is a huge challenge. 

But yesterday, as I reread my May 2018 comments, I realized that with the 2020 Presidential campaigning now underway, that reality should also be addressed. 

My words in last May’s newsletter were inspired by a movie I had just seen, “The Rider.” The film takes place in the wide-open spaces of America’s West and features a young man and his friends immersed in the culture of rodeo riding. It was a world completely unfamiliar to me.  

As I watched the action, filmed in the vast western landscape of the Dakotas (also unfamiliar to me) I was moved by how huge a country our United States is and how breathtakingly diverse are its people. And I asked myself, “How could any political party or candidate ever think they could get their arms around this mass of humanity?”  

Ten months later, that question feels even more urgent. — How does a nation as large and diverse as ours achieve a level of cohesion that will see us through the perils of the 21st century without losing its way? 

If we look at modern China, their cohesion is achieved under the firmly established rule of President Xi Jinping and his Communist Party apparatus. While today’s Russia is bound together by the absolute dictates of President Vladimir Putin. — These are not the best environments for developing freethinking creativity or individual opportunity. — But, when it comes to navigating a government through the complexities of today’s world, authoritarian leaders do have a certain appeal. Even our very own President seems, at times, to admire his Chinese and Russian peers’ approach to governance. 

Unfortunately, I don’t believe the President is alone in his admiration. I suspect there are more than a few people in America who would be comfortable with some “mild” form of authoritarianism – as long as they can keep getting what they want. (That’s the way authoritarian regimes often begin their ascent.) Certainly the crowds applauding President Trump’s pugnacious statements at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) might go along with such a development. His cry that our free press is the “enemy of the people” is chilling. And the willingness of too many Republican members of Congress to acquiesce to President Trump’s effort to bypass the constitutional funding powers of the U.S. House should trouble every American. 

A recent New Yorker Magazine article reporting on the perversely close ties between the Trump Administration and Fox News is also an unhealthy development. Apparently Sean Hannity has become the “Minister of Propaganda” for the Trump regime, and he has a locked-in national audience. 

My point is, the size and diversity of our country makes the United States fertile ground for divisive demagoguery and authoritarian appeals. So now I will repeat the question I asked back in May, 2018: Here in the U.S.A., in these divisive times, what will it take to see our own huge, multi-cultured country become more closely united in a common purpose?  

The good news is, we now know it can be done. The results of last fall’s elections right here in Illinois should give us hope and guidance for the direction that must be taken. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D. IL 17th) won reelection and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D. IL 14th) won her first election. Both Democrats received urban and rural votes in congressional districts that included farmers, factory workers, ethnic and racial minorities, white majorities, in other words, Bustos and Underwood won the support of a diversity of voters not unlike those across the United States in general.  

These victorious Democrats won by speaking not to fear or fabricated issues but to the issues that are of universal concern to Americans no matter where they live or what they do. And this is what must happen across the United States in the 2020 campaigns of every Democratic candidate at every level of elected government – and certainly in the campaigns of every Democrat running for President.  

You can bet the Republican think tanks will be steering their campaigns in nasty directions. The accusations of “radical socialism” and “communist agendas” may make us feel like we’re back in Joe McCarthy’s era. I’m concerned that such fears spread by candidate Trump and other Republican office seekers may lead many voters to accept authoritarianism as the answer. – Will that happen? Maybe. Maybe not. But we must be on guard against it.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

There Are No “Small” Elections

Today I’ve decided to take a “spring break” from my usual over-lengthy commentary. Instead, I’m just going to pass along some follow-up information inspired by last week’s comments.

Last Wednesday’s subject spoke to the unfortunate reality that too many voters pay little or no attention to local elections. But the fact is, choosing our local decision-makers is not a trivial activity.

So, this week for those of you who might be interested in taking a closer look at the upcoming April 2 local “consolidated” elections, here are a few web links that you should find informative. For some links, particularly the “view your sample ballot link,” the names of candidates are mentioned. And in some cases, “Googling” a candidate’s name may lead you to more specific information on his/her views and goals.

Information on voter registration and ways to vote
Check your voter registration status
View your sample ballot to find out who’s running for local office where you live
League of Women Voters of Wilmette’s Election Guide with links to information on candidates and candidates’ answers to questionnaires
Chicago Tribune article on Winnetka D36 school building improvement referendum
Chicago Tribune article on Glenview Village Trustee candidates

And if you’re a Wilmette voter (or just interested in local Wilmette issues) take note of the League of Women Voters of Wilmette’s Municipal Elections Candidate Forum coming up this Saturday, March 16.

Local elections are an important element of American democracy. We should never take these “small elections” for granted.

Nels Howard, NTD Member since 1973

The Importance Of Elections

Next week, the League of Women Voters of Wilmette will host its “Municipal Candidate Election Forum” on Saturday, March 16 from 9:00am to 1:30pm.  The League invites all candidates running for office in contested races to participate and, following the forum, the League will host a “meet and greet” for all candidates running in uncontested races. 

The League doesn’t identify with any political party and describes itself on its website as “a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government.” And the local candidates who will be at the forum and “meet and greet” are all running for non-partisan offices. As chance would have it, the upcoming forum will be on a Saturday when I’ll be out of town. So if I’m not going to attend this event, and if it isn’t connected with the Democratic Party in any way, why am I spending time talking about it in this newsletter?

Glad you asked.

Throughout the more than 50 years of the New Trier Democratic Organization’s existence, the NTDO has maintained a “hands off” policy toward involvement in the many local non-partisan elections held in New Trier communities. We’ve refrained from officially endorsing local candidates and have never organized our members for precinct work in those local contests. Our organization has always felt that adding the heat of partisanship to local elections would likely be more polarizing than productive. And in our present hyper-divided times this position appears wiser than ever.

However…accepting the wisdom that local contests should stay non-partisan doesn’t mean that those of us who identify ourselves as Democrats or progressive Independents shouldn’t pay close attention to these local elections.

Every day, we’re exposed to media reports on issues at the state and federal level. But unless you’re personally focused on a specific aspect of our community life, — our zoning…our infrastructure…our parks…our schools — chances are the work being done by our locally elected boards isn’t on your radar. 

And that’s how we all like it. Yes, there are weekly community newspapers where we can check on how things are going. But most of the time, there are no issues generating serious controversy. In fact when things are running smoothly, our local boards becomes nearly invisible to a lot of us. That’s one big reason why local elections virtually never draw the same number of voters as state and federal contests.

Nevertheless, it’s seriously important that we pay attention to who we elect to these boards.
 
Of course it would be foolish to seek-out local candidates who have identical philosophical profiles, people who will vote in lockstep on every issue. A diversity of sensibilities and experience in the makeup of our local boards is a healthy situation for shaping the smartest policies. But there are certain priorities and personal values that we should be looking for in every candidate we encounter. — There are good reasons for this.

The potential always exists for a local board to be asked to vote on a policy that could affect the very fabric of the community. That may sound like hyperbole, but such situations do arise when a community’s most basic values — personal freedoms, human rights, elemental fairness — are put to the test. It might involve policy set by a village board, a school board, a library board; freedom and justice are key elements in virtually every aspect of an organized community. 

I imagine that’s why the League organizes its forums before every local election. Perhaps they recognize that there is always a danger that local government can be used as a starting point for the erosion of our nation’s most cherished principles. (It’s a tactic the far-right likes to use.) The best defense against that is knowledge about every candidate. Although the NTDO will not be participating in any local campaigns, we completely agree.

So mark your calendar for March 16. Set aside that morning and early afternoon to meet some of the women and men vying to take on the local responsibilities that make our North Shore communities great places to live.

Nels Howard, NTD Member since 1973

Who You Calling A Radical?

The other day, an article in the Chicago Tribune touched on former Vice President Biden’s potential 2020 presidential candidacy. The Tribune described Biden as a “moderate” when it came to tackling America’s health care issue. (He hasn’t taken a stand, yet.) That word choice bugged me because it implied that the present Democratic presidential candidates who have said they support some form of universal healthcare, usually described as “Medicare for All,” are not moderate in their views. – And if you’re not moderate, your views must be excessive, extreme. You are a “radical!”

Even news analysts who have established themselves as non-partisan have picked up on the “moderate” classification for any Democrat who stays away from taking a strong stance on the pursuit of progressive ideals. — This certainly isn’t the first time such word games have been played to the detriment of American progress. I will get to that in a minute.

Actually, to call Joe Biden a “moderate,” assuming today’s meaning of the word, is somewhat unfair. Back in 2007 when Joe was running for President he presented a plan to permit uninsured Americans to buy into an insurance program similar to the health care program used by federal employees and members of Congress. People would pay on a sliding scale based on income. His proposal also allowed people between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into the Medicare program, with the federal government providing a subsidy to low-income individuals. True, much of Joe Biden’s plan did depend on the involvement of for-profit insurance companies selling their health care policies to the insured. But suggesting the widening of the Medicare model to include people down to the age of 55 was a big step toward what could have potentially become Medicare for All. 

As things turned out, Joe Biden became Vice President and the Obama Administration developed the Affordable Care Act, a public health care breakthrough that nevertheless had some weaknesses which Republican strategists were quick to exploit in our courts. The result has been a crippled system that has unquestionably improved healthcare access for millions of Americans but remains vulnerable to being further weakened by industry pressures and conservative courts. — And, I think most people agree it is less admired than our Medicare system.

But let’s get back to my earlier reference to how accusations of radicalism in the past have regularly been used as a weapon against progress.
The concept of universal health care in the United States has been around since at least 1943. Universal health insurance was first proposed in that year under FDR. Understandably, World War II pulled everyone’s attention away from that initiative. But soon after the War ended, the new 33rd President, Harry S. Truman, proposed a “universal national health insurance program.”

In his remarks to Congress, he declared, “Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection.”

Truman proposed that every wage earning American pay monthly fees or taxes to cover the cost of all medical expenses in time of illness. The plan also called for a cash balance to be paid to policyholders, in the event of injury or illness, to replace the income those individuals lost. – What a radical guy!

President Truman stated, “Under the plan I suggest, our people would continue to get medical and hospital services just as they do now — on the basis of their own voluntary decisions and choices. Our doctors and hospitals would continue to deal with disease with the same professional freedom as now. There would, however, be this all-important difference: whether or not patients get the services they need would not depend on how much they can afford to pay at the time……What I am recommending is not socialized medicine. Socialized medicine means that all doctors work as employees of government. The American people want no such system. No such system is here proposed.”

Truman’s plan was quickly converted into a Social Security expansion bill and looked like it might become a reality. But immediately the American Medical Association (AMA) capitalized on the nation’s paranoia over the threat of Communism and attacked the bill as “socialized medicine.” (Sound familiar?) They mocked the Truman administration as “followers of the Moscow party line.” The bill stalled.

Harry Truman won reelection and Democrats took control of Congress. But the AMA’s lobbying and advertising efforts, endorsed by more than 1,800 national organizations, including the American Bar Association, the American Legion and the American Farm Bureau Federation ensured defeat of universal health insurance for America at that time.

Americans then waited nearly two decades before President Lyndon Johnson was finally able to sign a bill in 1965 creating Medicare (another socialist scheme decried by Republicans). And then we waited another 45 years before the the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, was signed by President Barack Obama.

As you can see, working toward universal health care is not a new concept, nor is it radical. America has been inching toward it for 75 years. Now it’s possible we could be in the final push before this long-overdue reform becomes an American reality. We’ve already begun to hear accusations from the right of, “Socialism!” “Communism!” “Radicalism!” — Exactly the same cries Americans heard with each progressive step toward where we are today. Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, does anyone seriously believe we’d be better off without them?

Please think about that the next time you see someone labeled “to the left of moderate” with all that term implies, simply because they believe universal healthcare for America makes sense.

Nels Howard, NTD Member since 1973

Controlling The Conversation

Last week, not long after President Trump delivered his State of the Union Address, a brilliant video appeared online. Unfortunately, today I couldn’t find it anywhere on the Internet so I can’t steer you to it. 

The clever video featured quick cuts of Donald Trump saying certain words in his SOTU Address, again and again. If I remember correctly, he used such words as “terrorists,” “criminals,” and “border security” a number of times. Those cuts of Trump saying his scary words were interspersed with a silent Trump, backed only by the sound of crickets, as the names of other issues appeared on the screen that in reality are much more urgent for the security and survival of our nation. 

That short video revealed what a sham this year’s Address really was — what little substance it actually contained. 

President Trump spent his valuable time in front of Congress and the nation basically playing to his base of support, a minority of Americans. He painted refugees at our southern border as national security threats. He announced a virtual “total victory” against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. He portrayed Iran as a continuing nuclear threat. He claimed he was personally responsible for preventing almost certain nuclear war with North Korea. And he decried proposals to develop “Medicare for all,” declaring that as long as he was President, the United States would never become “a socialist country.” 

If you look at those statements with any knowledge of actual facts, you can see that Trump spent most of his 82 minutes talking about things that are far from the most pressing issues facing the United States. In fact, some of them aren’t really issues at all. 

What Trump avoided addressing are the real issues that are crying out for leadership from Congress and the President. He said not one word about the continuing erosion of our quality of life caused by gun violence and the irrational laxness of our gun laws. He made no mention of the ever-widening gap between America’s wealthiest individuals and everyone else (which ironically includes his MAGA support base). He had all of Congress seated in front of him but made no reference to the budget deficit that has dangerously deepened. He stayed away from mentioning the crippling debt college students must take on to get an education. And worst of all, President Trump ignored the existential threat of climate change, a reality that is going to clobber future generations on our planet in ways they can’t even imagine. 

I admit that I’m no doubt repeating things you already know. But I’ve mentioned these giant “gaps” in Trump’s Address for a reason. In the days since he noticeably stayed away from so many important issues, I’ve been bothered by what has happened. — Nothing. You would think that the President’s avoidance of subjects that affect every American would receive attention. You’d expect more mention in mainstream media. And you’d hope that the general population would pick up on the President’s flight from true leadership. 

But after Donald Trump’s anemic SOTU presentation, what subject has dominated the news in the days since he spoke? – The same subject that dominated the week before that, money for the wall and the fear of another government shutdown. (Yes, the Virginia “blackface controversy” did get a lot of attention. But the wall and the shutdown threat still remained top of mind.) 

And why? Because it makes no difference if the president is a wise person or a fool, when any American president speaks, it is news. And in today’s 24/7 media world the demand for headlines is a round-the-clock thing. As Teddy Roosevelt said, the presidency gives the person holding that office a “bully pulpit.” (You wonder what he would have done with twitter.) Today, we have a president who knows (at least so far) he can change the nation’s conversation with just his cell phone, his thumbs, and his Tweets. 

What I observed in the past week just reinforced that view. However, things may be about to change. The new Democratic controlled House may now be in a position, on occasion, to guide the national discussion toward reality-based issues that actually do need to be addressed. Last November’s victories made that a possibility. But looking at this most recent example of how much power the American president has over controlling the national conversation, you can see why winning the White House in 2020 is something we should all take very seriously.

Nels Howard, NTD Member since 1973

Da State Of Disunion

Last night our nation’s President, Donald J. Trump, addressed the members of our Congress, their distinguished guests and, via the media, all the people of our United States.

I won’t get into the details of what he said, what words were true or false, substantive or empty, promising or disheartening. Probably most of you reading this either tuned in to the address or have seen the media’s reports since then. My comments on specifics won’t add anything new.

In looking at that last sentence I’m now realizing that despite all the media coverage of the 90 minutes that Trump spent talking, there actually wasn’t much “news” that did come out of it. There were abrupt changes of subject, mood shifts (one columnists used “whiplash” to describe the zigzagging experience). But every viewer came away no better informed about what to expect or hope for in the coming year. Perhaps some of that is because we’ve learned not to trust anything the President says from one day to the next.

By now I do know that Trump’s style is to keep everyone he deals with off balance. However, he did give a few signals as to where he’s headed in the coming year.

His statement that he “will never let the United States become a Socialist country” told me that we will be hearing that message regularly during his campaign to be reelected in 2020. He saw how emphasizing healthcare helped Democrats win a House majority. And now he’s seeing declared and prospective Democratic presidential candidates talking about some form of “Medicare for all.” – Labeling such proposals as “dangerous socialism” is Trump’s first shot fired across their bow.

And as was expected, President Trump used his address to once again declare that we are facing “an urgent national crisis” on our “very dangerous” southern border. It is being easily penetrated by (immigrant-smuggling) “coyotes, drug cartels, and human traffickers.” What’s worse, right now large caravans are being organized “with the help of the Mexican Government.” (In fact, the Mexican government has issued Mexican visas to Central Americans who’ve entered Mexico.) According to our president, this situation will bring an onslaught of illegal immigrants threatening the safety, security and financial well being of American workers. Once again, he said a wall is the answer.

By now anyone who’s been paying attention to this debate has concluded that Trump’s original campaign promise of a Mexico-financed 2000-mile long border wall was crazy. And I assume that includes at least some Republicans in Congress. The size of Trump’s wall demands has now been considerably scaled back, but the $5.7 billion he wants hasn’t been reduced. Is there now room for some sort of bipartisan cooperation? Or is another government shutdown imminesnt? Last night’s address didn’t make that any clearer.

There was one brief but chilling moment when Trump spoke of his desire for more cooperation between his administration and Congress. But then he went on to mention, rather pointedly, that, “investigations hurt cooperation.” Was he warning House Democrats that he will use the powers of his office – including future shutdowns –to fight back against any investigation of him or his family? Or was his language meant to prepare his supporters for future investigations, positioning the Democratic House as simply partisan enemies of Trump and his programs. How cornered does President Trump feel?

With all that said, here are the three strongest impressions I received from The State of the Union Address:

First, President Donald J. Trump could very well be the weirdest president our country has ever experienced. Watching him read his address from teleprompter screens with a wispy, singsong delivery and a carefully measured, almost robotic cadence was just plain bizarre. At times it felt like he was channeling someone reading a funeral eulogy for a person he’d never met.

Second, as we’ve seen from post-address fact checkers, there were a number of statements made by the President that were less than completely factual. Of course at this point the majority of Americans know that Donald Trump can be counted on to regularly lie. But there was one moment that, although true, was not only a callous use of a bereaving family put on display, but clearly a distortion of reality and a dangerous generalization with racist overtones. The family, seated in the House gallery, had lost a loved one to murder by an illegal immigrant. The President featured this tragedy in his remarks with the clear implication that all illegal immigrants from south of our border are potentially heartless murderers.

This so illogical that if the facts weren’t so tragic such fear mongering would be laughable. For the President to feature this moment in his address is wrong in so many ways. There is little question that Donald Trump is a clever and crafty salesman. But as a human being, the man is definitely stupid.

And my third impression? The Republicans in Congress apparently couldn’t care less about any of this. I’ll talk about that some more in a future commentary.

Nels Howard, NTDO Member since 1973

PS: This Thursday, and Friday (Febrary 7 and 8) from 2-5pm, Daniel Biss will be a guest host on WCPT, Chicago’s Progressive Talk radio station. He’s put together an exciting lineup of guests and topics ranging from very local to global, He hopes you’ll tune in. You can also call in to ask a question or share your thoughts at 773-763-WCPT (9278) or click here to listen online. wcpt820.com