A NEW DEAL FOR ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL LIBERALISM
Like many on the left, I’m seeing a ray of hope from the Democratic Party lately. Granted, it’s not a particularly bright ray, nor is it necessarily consistent. It’s more of a faint, irregular, blinking ray of hope. It’s not much, but it’s what we have at this point.
Shocked into action by an impossible political loss, and buoyed by a vast and vociferous democratic voice from the streets, the Democratic Party appears emboldened to do something that they haven’t done in a long, long time. That is, the Democrats appear to be willing to do political battle. For the Party, this may simply be the last desperate spasm of life before it goes the way of the Whigs, or it may be a renaissance in small-d democracy that revitalizes what used to be the closest America has come to a mainstream “people’s party.”
What is clear, however, is that what we are witnessing can be nothing in between. It’s death or rebirth for the Democratic Party. What it does today will determine its future and ours. Let’s face it. A one party future at the hands of the corporatocratic Republican Party is a dystopian nightmare. But it’s only a marginally greater nightmare than the corporatocratic two-party scam that we have seen emerge from the Reagan Revolution and the rise of the Blue Dog Democrats. It’s increasingly clear, however, that Wall Street and the corporate elite no longer need, nor want, two complacent parties. Such is just an added expense. The corporate elite needs only one, and it is clear which one that is.
So the Democrats can either turn to the people and convince us that they have learned their lesson and that they want to return to the democratic fold, or they can cease to be. The latter scenario will mean that the people are, at least temporarily, abandoned to the whims of the corporatocracy. It means drinking poisoned water, breathing poisoned air and dying in innumerable wars while a corporate funded police state secures “law and order” in the homeland, feeding prisoners to a corporate funded prison system while the rest of us live in a two-tier society in which those who can afford access to privately owned life chances like schools and hospitals prosper while those who can’t must find their own way. That’s the world the corporate conservatives want.
Should the Democratic Party fall, leaving us to the depredations of a corporate run Republican Party, the Demos will face two choices. First, they could tear down the corporate world. This would be a bloody option, as the corporatocracy, with a corporate funded military apparatus, would certainly fight back. Or, the People could form a new party to represent its interests, a process that the Corporate Republicans will do everything in its then considerable power to block, even to the point of making a second party illegal.
With this in mind, it is clear that the most reasonable way forward for the progressive movement is through the Democratic Party. We, on the left, may not like this contingency. After all, we have long since lost faith in the feckless Democrats. With the advent of Trump and the complete takeover of the Republican Party by the nationalist corporatists, the Democratic Party and the progressive movement has an opportunity, for the first time in over eighty years, to build a party with a progressive humanist vision. This could be the first opportunity since the rise of the New Left to institutionalize the movement as a major party platform motivated by the Demos and serving the cause human dignity.
And it is exactly this opportunity that the Democrats are…
…letting slip through their fingers.
Yes, the Democratic Party is acting in its own defense, dedicated to preserving itself as a meaningful political organization. It has expressed and, to a certain extent, demonstrated a willingness to meet the Republicans on the political battlefield, and stand up against the blatant bigotry, cynicism, and dishonesty of Trumpism.
But that’s just not good enough.
If the Democratic Party is to have a meaningful future, it must embrace an inspiring vision. It must do more than stand for “no,” or even “hell no!” The Democratic Party must represent real, substantive change in the interests of the people.
This is why I would like to offer what I call the New DEEL.
In 1940, before winning an unprecedented third term as President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt and his vaunted New Deal appeared spent. The Democratic Party still controlled the federal government, but southern Democrats were breaking from the New
Deal coalition more regularly, joining forces with the Republican Party to block any further expansion of government. The initial exuberance of Roosevelt’s harried Hundred Days and of the revolutionary midterm elections of 1934 that transformed American politics was a distant memory. Americans were no longer concerned about the economic course of the nation, but rather with the rise of fascism and the prospects that young American men might be called upon once again to die in European mud for yet another meaningless military adventure. This time, Americans were determined to stay out of the latest bloody conflict.
It was in this context that Franklin Roosevelt chose to run for an unprecedented third term. His interests turned from the mostly reactionary policies of his early presidency in which he was trying anything that might pull the country from Depression, to a more visionary concept of the future and America’s role in a global mission for democracy. In contrast to the fascist vision that had reached its zenith by 1941, Roosevelt said, “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” These essential freedoms were as follows:
The Freedom of Speech
The Freedom of Worship
The Freedom from Want
The Freedom from Fear
These Four Freedoms were not just reserved for those lucky enough to be Americans. Rather, this was a vision for everyone, “everywhere in the world.”
Roosevelt, in the same famous speech, understood that “…there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are: Equality of opportunity for youth and for others. Jobs for those who can work. Security for those who need it. The ending of special privilege for the few. The preservation of civil liberties for all…The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.”
These Four Freedoms and the principles that advance them were and remain bedrock principles of the Left, as well as almost universally popular among the Demos.
Eight months later, Roosevelt held a secret meeting with Winston Churchill aboard the USS Augusta off the coast of Newfoundland and penned the Atlantic Charter. This charter advanced the notion of the Four Freedoms and Roosevelt’s global vision for democracy with eight principles:
1. Abandoning territorial goals of warfare
2. Any future territorial adjustments to be made based on the will of the peoples concerned
3. Universal recognition of the right of self-determination
4. Lowering of trade barriers between nations
5. Global economic cooperation in the advancement of social welfare
6. Freedom from want and fear
7. Freedom of the seas
Shortly before the end of the war, and with little more than a year left to live, Franklin Roosevelt outlined what he saw as a new understanding that economic justice was foundational to political freedom. “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” In his State of the Union Address, he enumerated what he saw as a self-evident Second Bill of Rights.
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation.
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living.
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.
- The right of every family to a decent home.
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.
- The right to a good education.
Much of Franklin Roosevelt’s vision would live on after he died, carried by his wife, the inimitable Eleanor Roosevelt, to the halls of the nascent United Nations. This vision was enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Twenty years later, Lyndon Johnson tried to reinvigorate FDR’s grand, global vision for democracy with his own concept of the Great Society. Johnson understood that a Great Society rest on the health of America’s cities, countryside and classrooms. Whereas Roosevelt and his progressive antecedents underscored the overlap between economic justice and democracy, Johnson was the first president to highlight the connection between environmental and ecological health with the health of society in general. “We have always prided ourselves on being not only America the strong and America the free, but America the beautiful. Today that beauty is in danger. The water we drink, the food we eat, the very air that we breathe, are threatened with pollution. Our parks are overcrowded, our seashores overburdened. Green fields and dense forests are disappearing.”
This environmental vision turned out to be more than just a matter of beauty and protections from pollution. A respect for human democratic freedom and economic justice rest on the health of the Earth itself. That autocracy and privation overlap with environmental degradation was nothing new in the 1960’s. Today, with the looming threat of global environmental catastrophe, this correlation has even greater relevance. It’s a cruel twist of history that those nations most violated by Euro-American colonialism and imperialism are also the first most desperate victims of global climate change.
A presage to the future can be seen in Syria where a devastating drought was the epicenter of instability that threatens the stability of the European Union, the status of the United States as it debates wall building policies and the delicate balance of power between former Cold War rivals. And this is just the beginning.
Thirty years ago the Brundtland Commission, also known as the World Commission on Environment and Development, tried to forestall the already clear threat that global warming posed to the future. The efforts of this commission, with the partnership of Maurice Strong and Mikhail Gorbachev, eventually drafted an Earth Charter elaborating that “To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.”
The Earth Charter is a brilliant and beautiful amalgam of environmental and democratic humanist values. It is premised on four core principles. First, “respect and care for the community of life.” This first principle not only requires cultivating respect for living things and their biosystems, but also building “democratic societies that are just, participatory, sustainable, and peaceful.” Secondly, the charter asks for the preservation and promotion of ecological integrity, which requires us to “adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being.” The charter demands social and economic justice that includes the eradication of poverty. The final principle is, tellingly, a call for democracy, non-violence, and peace.
I mention the above decrees and charters because they were influential in shaping my politics and my leftist identity. Furthermore, they all serve as a mechanism for education and inspiration. They challenge us to dream about a better world and to turn our attention to a higher calling of idealism, of meaning, of striving. Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanore Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Mikhail Gorbachev, flawed individuals all, in creating the canon, asked us to abandon and forswear forever the politics of strategy and cynicism for something deeper. Ideology meets idealism.
So now I would like to call upon the Democratic Party to do the same. It’s not enough for the Democrats to try to outmaneuver the Republicans. It can’t be done. And if the Democrats want a future, it must be one that privileges the Demos over the power elite. Furthermore, the Democratic Party must delineate the central principles of the party. They must do this for two reasons. First, the people must know if the Democratic Party is really a democratic party. Too often, the Republicans, with their fallback rhetoric of “tax and spend liberals” and “Welfare Queens” get to frame the Democratic platform. Democrats, in turn, find themselves playing defense.
Secondly, the Democratic Party needs a constant reminder, in writing, on the home page of their website, in their pockets next to their Constitution booklets–tattooed upside down on their bellies if necessary–what a small-d democratic party looks like. It’s a hard sell for any party that took over $120 million from the FIRE sector last year to turn around and say, “yeah, but we support the people.” The party must sign a contract with the people and live by it before they can make any claim to being an alternative to the Republican Party. If they are to dispell claims that the Democrats are nothing more than Republican Lite, they will need to make a progressive turn against the Alt-Right menace.
Toward that end, I would like to offer what I call the New DEEL for the Democratic Party. The innovative acronym stands for a New Deal for Economic and Environmental Liberalism.
Like Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms and the Earth Charter’s Four Basic Principles, the New DEEL is divided into four central themes for a reconstituted Democratic Party (or any replacement party, quite frankly).
- Economic and Environmental Sustainability
- Economic and Environmental Justice
- Economic and Environmental Opportunity
- Economic and Environmental Innovation
I. Economic and Environmental Sustainability: An economy that rapaciously squanders resources, concentrates wealth into the hands of a few, tends toward monopoly and “too big to fail” oligarchies possessed of disproportionate political power is unsustainable. An economy driven by short-term growth and fueled by complex financial instruments that produce “paper wealth” rather than real wealth, is unsustainable. Economic and Environmental Sustainability means:
A. Eliminating the power of corporations and multinationals in government at all levels, including restricted lobbying with public oversight; demanding businesses that privatize their gains to also privatize their costs–no more direct or indirect taxpayer subsidies for polluters, the exploitation of non-renewable resources or the overproduction of scarce resources. Requiring that businesses dedicated to generating paper wealth, or wealth created through complex and hard to regulate investment instruments like derivatives, hedge funds, algorithm based investments, CDOs and many forms of private equity, etc, are taxed at the top marginal rate and required to carry insurance on their investments sufficient to cover the costs of failed investments without a taxpayer bailout. Breaking up monopolies, including banks, and forcing “too big to fail” companies to either break up or submit to intrusive public regulation.
B. Incentives for small businesses in which the owners live in the same communities in which their business is conducted. Incentives for businesses that develop renewable resources and bring their products to market using sustainable technologies. Further incentivizing the formation of local cooperatives. Incentives for small businesses to upgrade their technologies, improving their efficiency and decreasing their ecological footprint. Incentives for small businesses to pay their employees a living wage and to provide health benefits (until we implement a single payer system).
C. Encourage the establishment and empowerment of labor unions through card check and alternative organizing structures including those that may be based on social media. A constitutional amendment recognizing the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining and the right for labor to be adequately represented on all corporate board of directors.
D. Requiring every major business in a local area, in the event it plans to terminate or move its business, to either sell its physical plant to another buyer who will develop the business (not private equity), to the workers at cost, or to the local community at cost. To make available low-interest, government-backed loans to make the purchase of such businesses possible and profitable. To provide experts who will teach the workers and/or the community to convert the business into a functional cooperative. This guarantees continuity of work.
II. Economic and Environmental Justice: An economy that squanders resources for the benefit of the few, who then use their wealth to hold exclusive rights to prime lands, while at the same to relegating masses of people into substandard housing in polluted environments, is not justice. Meanwhile, consigning workers to perpetual servitude and economic coercion through debt, dependence on health insurance, low wages, long hours, inconsistent scheduling is an injustice. Forced dependency on government aid is also antithetical to democracy. This can be mitigated by:
A. Formation of a federal jobs program in the tradition of the WPA and the CCC. Anyone who is looking for work should be able to find work. The jobs program will be paid by adjustable taxes on top corporate and personal earnings, adjusted based on the unemployment rate. The higher the unemployment rate, the higher the tax. A fee will also be charged to companies that perform major layoffs or transfer their production to another country.
B. A constitutional amendment identifying education, healthcare, and work as a right.
C. Publicly funded education from pre-school through undergraduate or vocational tertiary education. Funding for public schools will be equalized based on the needs of the community rather than the value of local properties.
D. Publicly funded, single-payer health care system will be created. Workers should not be dependent on their employers for health insurance and employers should not be burdened with paying for increasingly expensive and restrictive private insurance.
E. A constitutional amendment declaring that rights are constituted in human beings, not in human constructs such as corporations, businesses, governments, institutions of worship or any other social and legal construct.
F. A constitutional amendment protecting the right of all citizens to vote to start from the age of sixteen. This will include a required high school course in which students will learn the process of voting, caucusing, the primary system, the value systems and supported policies of the major parties and research skills for making informed decisions when exercising the franchise.
G. A constitutional amendment recognizing adequate housing and a clean environment as a basic human right. This will include supporting policies for mixed income housing adequate for raising a family in a clean, safe and economically opportune community. Subsidized creations of impoverished communities should be rejected.
H. A constitutional amendment recognizing responsible stewardship of the Earth and its natural resources as a basic human right. It’s a twisted sort of culture that recognizes the rights of corporations, but not rights of the Earth.
I. Establishment of a required living wage, adjustable to CPI.
J. A robust and free press, independent of commercial and corporate media, funded publicly through a blind trust.
III. Economic and Environmental Opportunity: A nation that limits economic opportunity to a few and restricts access to the ecological bounties of the land and sea to those who can afford it is not stable. This can be mitigated by:
A. Maintenance and stewardship of publicly accessible lands and waterways kept in pristine condition to be reserved for the enjoyment and retreat of all.
B. Urban and community renewal that makes use of the most up to date engineering, architecture, and civil planning to promote environmentally sound communities, limiting urban sprawl, encouraging public transportation including high-speed rail and preserving adequate green space for maintaining species diversity, stable hydrological cycles, recreation and retreat, and inspirational beauty.
C. Policies that promote adequate leisure time, including but not limited to the establishment of the thirty-six hour work week or the four-day work week.
D. Establishment and maintenance of publicly funded libraries and museum systems accessible to all communities. This includes community art exchanges where artists can display and sell their work openly and without restriction.
E. An educational system with an expanded curriculum emphasizing student needs and academic freedom on the part of teachers who are treated and remunerated as professionals.
F. Easily accessible and publicly funded reskilling and certification programs for work and professional advancement.
G. Advancing jobs specifically intended for dealing with the pressing needs of global warming and consequent climate change. This will include endeavors for slowing and ultimately halting global warming, reversing the trend of increasing greenhouse gas pollution. This will also mean investing in jobs dedicated to dealing with the unavoidable consequences of global climate. This will include irrigation, flooding and erosion countermeasures. Relocating communities and dealing with climate refugees. Upgrades will be required for our agricultural sector to deal with the demands from inevitable food shortages. All of these are jobs that must be filled, requiring marketable skill sets that can be publicly invested and/or privately incentivized.
IV. Economic and Environmental Innovation: Economic systems that emphasize maximizing productivity and growth, including capitalism and socialism, are inadequate for addressing the demands of the future. Global climate change, automation, and artificial intelligence will transform every facet of human society. Our future will be one in which the nation state will have less relevance and the global community will have to institute norms and values that recognize the interdependent nature of the global ecosystem (sometimes called Gaea) as well as the growing economic, social and cultural interconnectedness of all peoples everywhere. Mass migrations will challenge national and cultural identities while at the same time demanding attention to our mutual responsibility for each other as a human species. The resulting multiculturalism will bring great benefits to every nation that embraces it. Consequently, the next era will have to be driven by the most innovative, most creative, most tolerant and open-minded, most democratic generation in the history of mankind. This can be encouraged by:
A. Instituting the Four Freedoms into our foreign policy, including ratifying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
B. Establishing a respect for basic human dignity for all people and cultures everywhere as the foundational criteria for any policies we will support. We will reject all policies that betray the basic human dignity of anyone, anywhere, for any reason. This includes unreasonable barriers to human mobility in crossing borders to seek economic opportunity, political succor or environmental relief. There should be no difference between an individual seeking political asylum and one seeking economic or ecological asylum.
C. An end to “Trade” agreements that serve the interests of the corporate elite. Instead, we should focus on promoting Market Agreements that recognize the rights of all people everywhere to a living wage, to access to life chances such as education, healthcare and housing, a safe and non-coercive workplace, a clean and safe environment and the right to organize in their own self-interest politically, economically and socially.
D. Investments in the sciences, technology, the humanities, and the arts, recognizing that no great culture ever achieved anything of worth without supporting all intellectual and creative pursuits. This means expanding publicly financed curricula at all levels to encourage every student to find his or her passion and to build upon that passion.
E. Investments in those industries that advance human society and culture cannot be made when a disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth is being squandered on military forces and imperial campaigns. To advance society and culture mass demilitarization must be enacted, with those funds transferred to productive economies. This includes demilitarizing municipal police forces currently arming themselves with military-grade equipment and reintegrating civilian police into the communities they serve. There is a direct correlation between militarized economies and militarized thinking that leads to militarized solutions to our problems, be those problems foreign or domestic. Innovative thinking cannot take place under the shadow of force and coercion.
F. Rejection of war as an instrument of the state.
G. Complete nuclear disarmament
H. Monopolies are antithetical to human progress and must be eliminated at every level. This includes rethinking copyright and patent laws to encourage competition and innovation rather than protectionism.
I. The institution of a national Veto Referendum in which unpopular laws, especially those serving the elite class, can be struck down. This will allow the Demos to act as a check against government largesse and exploitation.
J. Recognizing and respecting that the United States, though it has the power to do so, does not have the right to violate the sovereignty of other nations. This includes the existence of military bases all over the world, secret military operations on undeclared battlefields, military operations in nations with whom we are not involved in a legally declared war. This includes covert operations intent on destabilizing governments deemed unfriendly to the United States. International Law must be respected and enforced by an international and democratic legal body.
If the Democratic Party wants to survive this debacle that they created, they will have to embody the only power that remains that is not beholden to the corporate elite. That is, the people. The Demos is looking for a vision. They will turn out to vote for a vision that they can believe in. Hillary Clinton did not turn out the vote because she did not have the vision. Democrats are bouncing off of the political ropes because they lack the vision. Future historians, writing about the last days of the Democratic Party will not that it died from lack of vision.
If you approve of the vision that I’ve suggested, then forward the New DEEL (or maybe you have something to add) to your state and local Democratic Party and to your Democratic representatives in the House and the Senate. The Democratic Party does not have to embrace my particular vision, but it needs to embrace some kind of progressive calling if it is not to go the way of the Whigs. And make no mistake, if that happens, the Democratic Party will have brought it unto themselves.