On Feb. 8, Steven J. Schwartzberg appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for the Democratic seat in the 5th Congressional district of Illinois in the March 2018 primary:
Hi my name is Steve Schwartzberg and I’m running for Congress in the 5th district as a Bernie Sanders supporter, as a lifelong social democrat, who believes it’s time for a moral as well as a political revolution in this country. My background is as a diplomatic historian Yale Ph.D. 1996, fancy academic credential, a scholar of the history of American foreign relations who believes its possible to draw from our common past to build a shared future.
My favorite revolutionary, among the framers of our constitution and the founders of our country is the Pennsylvania lawyer James Wilson. Years before Thomas Jefferson Wilson had written that all men are by nature equal and free. We the American people, according to Wilson, are sovereigns without subjects. This was and is a succinct way of stating the most basic ideal of the American revolution. It took the Civil War and the civil rights movement to even begin to make this true for African Americans, it took the suffragettes and the women’s rights movement to even begin to make this true for women. It took the organization of trade unions and the labor movement to even begin to keep this true for working people to prevent the power of the state from being used on behalf of corporations to make subjects of workers and in our own day it will take a moral and political revolution to keep the one percent from making subjects of the rest of us and destroying the promise of the American Revolution and it will take repentance on the part of the American people to cease attempting to rule over the Indian nations as if they were in any way our subjects or subject to our jurisdiction.
It is time for us to decide as a people what kind of people we want to be, whether we want to be a hope filled people based on a social democratic principles, a nation that is prosperous, just, ecologically sound and self governed by we the people or whether we want to proceed on the path that we’re currently on. That’s the choice before us. If you want to help me fight for a social democratic country I would ask you to consider voting for me. Thank you.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking nominations for Congress a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Steven J. Schwartzberg submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
QUESTION: As a member of the House from Illinois, please explain what your specific cause or causes will be. Please avoid a generic topic or issue in your answer.
ANSWER: We are in a battle for the soul of the country between competing visions of what our nation is all about and what will best serve to improve our common life together. This fight turns on the question of whether the United States will uphold the vision of the most progressive framers of the Constitution—that the American people as a whole are sovereign under an international moral and legal order that also guarantees other peoples, and ultimately every individual, their rights—or whether we will slip further back into something more like the Articles of Confederation and the vision that the states are free to lord it over those they consider “inferior” or, worse yet, into a new vision of a bullying federal government in which that government is answerable not to the American people but to the whims of a demagogue or to what Bernie Sanders refers to as “a handful of billionaires, their Super-PACs and their lobbyists.”
My favorite revolutionary among the framers of our Constitution is the Pennsylvania lawyer James Wilson. Years before Thomas Jefferson, Wilson had written that all men are “by nature equal and free.” According to Wilson we—the American people—are “sovereigns without subjects.” This was—and is—a succinct way of stating the most basic ideal of the American Revolution. It took the Civil War, and the civil rights movement, to even begin to make this true for African-Americans. It took the suffragists, and the women’s rights movement, to even begin to make this true for women. And it took the organization of trade unions, and the labor movement, to even begin to keep this true for working people: to prevent the power of the state being used on behalf of corporations to make subjects of workers. In our own day, it will take a moral and political revolution to keep the 1% from making subjects of all the rest of us and destroying the promise of the American Revolution. And it will take repentance on the part of the American people to cease attempting to rule over the Indian nations as if they were in any way our subjects, or subject to our jurisdiction.
My top five priorities (all discussed at greater length in newsletters available on my webpage and linked to below) will be:
Advancing Medicare for All, with a special emphasis on workforce and compensation structure issues to ensure that universal healthcare will be better quality healthcare for all (see: http://conta.cc/2ydWYy5 )
Supporting massive infrastructure investment and the “decarbonization” of our economy through a Marshall Plan for America (see: http://conta.cc/2qgZwfq )
Promoting a foreign policy devoted to civility by which I mean concern for the common good, and respect for the rights and interests of others, and not merely diplomacy and good manners (see: http://conta.cc/2qgNd2q and http://conta.cc/2qe6kdJ )
Respecting tribal sovereignty (see: http://conta.cc/2qgno2A )
Advocating a Freedom Budget for the 21st century with which to begin to abolish poverty through investments in public education, housing, and job training (see: http://conta.cc/2yAiTj1 and http://conta.cc/2qgTpaZ )
Steven J. Schwartzberg
District running for: 5th Congressional district (Illinois)
Political/civic background: Elected president of the Chicago Literary Club in 2017, volunteer canvasser with Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the primaries in 2016 (door-to-door in Iowa and Wisconsin) and with Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the general election, volunteer chairman of the Winter Clothing Drive at Church of Our Saviour from 2008 to 2015, volunteer with Food for Friends at Church of Our Saviour providing free meals to the homeless from 2008 to the present, co-mentor of the Education for Ministry program at Church of Our Saviour from 2012 to the present. Lifelong social democrat.
Occupation: Candidate for Congress, former building and office manager at Church of Our Saviour, and former director of undergraduate studies for international studies at Yale.
Education: PhD in History from Yale in 1996, Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1992, Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Reed College in 1984.
Campaign website: schwartzbergforcongress.com
QUESTION: Please list three district-specific needs that will be your priorities. This could be a project that is needed in your district, or a rule that needs to be changed, or some federal matter that has been ignored.
ANSWER: I am running to serve the nation and to serve the district by serving the nation. My priorities will be the five I just mentioned, each of which has profound implications for the district. The Marshall Plan for America that I am advocating, for example, would, by seeking to improve the nation’s railways, potentially have a great impact on Chicago (the nation’s railway hub where it currently takes freight trains longer to pass through the city than it does to reach the city from either coast). To minimize the damage and maximize the benefit to the city from reform of this situation, if it makes the nation’s priority list, will be a significant focus of my attention.
The Freedom Budget for the 21st century that I am advocating, with its investments in public education, would help many students in the district. As part of this budget, I will be championing investing $200 billion over ten years to begin to develop a national Montessori-style pre-K for All—an expenditure I would finance by the revenue that a 1% tax on short term debt would yield from the nine largest financial institutions alone.
The abolition of monetary bond that I advocate would free most of the 450,000 people in our nation’s jails who are there simply because they are awaiting trial (including many in Chicago)—people who are presumed innocent under the law and who are not deemed flight risks or threats to the community by a judge, but who simply cannot afford to post monetary bond.
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QUESTION: If you are running as a Democrat, what is your best idea for getting any initiative you may propose advanced if the House continues to be controlled by the GOP after the 2018 elections?
ANSWER: The most important task for every Democrat elected to the House will be articulating a program of social democratic reform for the country in cooperation with other Democrats, vetting this program in the form of detailed proposed legislation before town hall meetings in their districts and in national discussions, improving this program in the light of public criticism, and helping the Democratic Party win a national mandate for this program in 2020.
Instead of campaigning on the need for a political revolution and the social democratic platform that Bernie Sanders articulated, the Democratic Party nominated Hillary Clinton and campaigned on the basis of the status quo and opposition to Donald Trump. That approach failed in 2016. Especially given the powers of an incumbent president, that approach—campaigning against Donald Trump and for some sort of status quo ante—would fail in 2020. Rather, we must persuade the American people that what we all want for our country can be better realized by the Democratic Party’s commitments—to quality healthcare for all as a human right, to massive investment to rebuild our country’s infrastructure and “decarbonize” our economy, to a Freedom Budget to begin to abolish poverty with investment in public education, housing, and job training, to “draining the swamp” by which the 1% rig the rules of the game in their favor—than by the Republican Party and its commitments (which include lip service to some of these goals while doing the exact opposite).
It may be possible to find common ground with some Republicans on some issues such as the elimination of monetary bond that I mentioned above. In such circumstances, we should certainly seek bipartisan legislation. Fundamentally, however, there must be a realignment in the nation’s politics—a new political consensus—before the work that needs to be done can be accomplished. That, in turn, will require a series of victorious national elections in which Democrats campaign on a social democratic platform that the American people embrace.
TOPIC: President Donald Trump
QUESTION: What do you make of President Trump?
ANSWER: I think of Donald Trump as akin to the “tar baby” in the famous children’s tale, but one who was developed to serve the interests of the most corrupt sectors of the 1%. Whether people are cheering him, or jeering him, they are stuck to him and so playing his game. I do not think Trump is another fascist on the order of Adolf Hitler, more like one on the order of Juan Perón, which is quite bad enough. Trump should be fought primarily by advocating the social democratic program of reform that the country needs, rather than by reference to Trump’s many abuses, tweets, or assaults on civility and compassion.
QUESTION: Which three actions by the Trump administration do you support the most? Which three do you oppose the most?
ANSWER: I cannot think of a single significant action that Trump has taken that I support, with the exception of his dissolving his “commission on election integrity” which was more the removal of a negative action than the taking of a positive one. What most bothers me about Trump is his systematic mendacity, his constant lying. This is contributing to a polarization and a pollution of our sources of information that is reminiscent of the influence of the communists in the 1930s.
As George Orwell once put it: “Early in life I noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines.’”
Behind Trump’s lying is his power-hungry narcissism. Douglas MacArthur, who for all his flaws and insubordination had some constructive skills as well, once had his narcissism described by a faculty member at the University of Chicago. MacArthur had just been fired by Harry Truman when this professor wrote: “I am surprised, or better, pleased to find that there is a lot of support for Harry. I think Mac ought to get a lot of rope when he gets back. He will alienate, very quickly, the doubtful, just as he alienated the GI’s. His arrogance is insufferable. Taft, et al, are going to regret making him a cause. Even they have little idea, I think, of the illimitable dimensions of that cookie’s ego. It is Bunyanesque—I suspect, the largest, roomiest, most self-devoted ego America has ever produced. It will not stay put. If Harry plays it smart, this is the turning point, in his favor.” As an historian, I would say that MacArthur is now decidedly in second place after Trump. In 2020, it will be time for the American people to fire him.
QUESTION: What is your view of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian tampering in the 2016 election, including possible collusion by the Trump campaign. Does Mueller have your support?
ANSWER: The biggest mistake the Democrats could make would be thinking that proof that Trump colluded with the Russians, and even proof that Trump sought to obstruct justice, would automatically doom him and save the country. Certainly, such proof, if it emerges, should surprise no one who heard Trump publicly request Russian intervention in our election on July 27, 2016: “If it is Russia, which it’s probably not, nobody knows who it is. But if it is Russia, it’s really bad for a different reason. Because it shows how little respect they have for our country where they would hack into a major party and get everything. But it would be interesting to see — I will tell you this. Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” (https://chicago.suntimes.com/opinion/opinion-the-outrage-of-trump-calling-on-russia-to-hack-americans/).
Mueller has my support because the truth and the law have my support. If the evidence is clear, we must pursue impeachment. But I fully expect, even if the evidence is overwhelming, that impeachment will backfire and strengthen Trump’s hand for 2020. This is because I cannot imagine two-thirds of the Senate voting to convict. Absent conviction, impeachment will merely rile Trump’s base and leave him in office to campaign for reelection as a “martyr” against the “deep state.” We are, to repeat, in a battle for the soul of the country between competing visions of what our nation is all about and what will best serve to improve our common life together. We can only win that fight by a successful moral and political revolution—by rediscovering the most progressive ideals of America’s founding generation and building on the work of the many generations that have since sought to see those ideals more fully realized.
QUESTION: What should Congress do to reduce the threat of terrorism at home, either from ISIS or from others?
ANSWER: Terrorism is a weapon of the weak and cowardly. The single most important thing to do in confronting terrorism is to avoid making it stronger by pursuing a vision of perfect security through military force that will only make matters worse and strengthen the hand of our enemies. This is one of the most important lessons of the invasion of Iraq: it made us less safe. Even the Obama administration’s drone strikes—while preferable to having large numbers of American soldiers on the ground in the Middle East—probably generated far more terrorists than they killed while making us guilty of terrorism of our own toward the many innocents frightened of our drones or actually killed by them as “collateral damage” in attacks that have stoked anti-American sentiment and so strengthened the terrorists.
The entire “War on Terror” rested on a misunderstanding of the problem which primarily requires good policing and good detective work in conjunction with smart diplomacy to be contained and minimized. The idea that perfect freedom from terrorism is possible in the short run, and that this can be brought about by military means, is the idea that led to the invasion of Iraq. Beyond its alleged concern with Weapons of Mass Destruction, the Bush administration was seeking to transform the politics of the Middle East—to make the region a peaceful sea of democracies—by invading Iraq. The United States had tried something similar in Latin America during the first third of the twentieth century—to promote democracy with military invasions—with similarly counterproductive results. By the end of the twentieth century, the United States had come to rely on local democratic allies in Latin America and, when it was helpful to these allies, was mostly helpful by lending them nonviolent support. This should be our long-term approach in the Middle East as well.
The one exception in Latin America—the only time in which American military intervention did more good than harm—was in the invasion of Panama in 1989-1990. In that case, the United States found in Guillermo Endara and his supporters strong local allies whose recent victory in a free election had been stolen from them by the dictator Manuel Noriega, and who were willing to accept American intervention. Without such strong local allies, military intervention is doomed to failure.
The best allies the United States has in the fight against ISIS are the more than a hundred and twenty Islamic scholars who crafted and signed an open letter to Baghdadi, the leader of the so-called “Islamic State,” which concludes: “But as can be seen from everything mentioned, you have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder. As elucidated, this is a great wrong and an offence to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world” (www.lettertobaghdadi.com). We should seek to make it clear to the peoples of the Middle East that we see our pursuit of our own ideals and interests as perfectly compatible with respect for what Islam genuinely teaches, as explained by these Islamic scholars, as well as with respect for the national sovereignty of all the peoples of the Middle East (the people of Israel and the people of Kurdistan included).
The United States should not ally ourselves with dictatorships in the Middle East, whether the current “pro-American” authoritarian rulers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia or the current “anti-American” authoritarian rulers of Iran and Syria. These dictatorships will sooner or later be overthrown by those they are oppressing, by people who might otherwise be won over to viewing the United States and democracy with sympathy. We should seek to maintain civil relations with every established government. And we should remember that terrorism thrives on anti-American sentiment and seek to avoid increasing support for terrorism by allying ourselves with oppressive regimes.
TOPIC: Guns and violence
QUESTION: What is the single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence in the United States?
ANSWER: The single most important action Congress can take to curb gun violence in the United States is to pass a Freedom Budget for the 21st century with investments in public education, housing, and job training. Of first time gun violence felons, very few read above a 5th grade level: no reading skills, no path to freedom, just a path to jail. We need to help rebuild hope among all of the people living in our most vulnerable and violent communities. This will require education and real economic opportunity and that, in turn, will require an investment of resources. The problem did not develop overnight and it will take time to address successfully.
“Poverty is not created by poor people,” says Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus: “It’s created by the system we built. Poor people are like a bonsai tree. You take the best seed from the tallest tree in the forest, but if you put it in a flower pot to grow, it grows only a meter high. There’s nothing wrong with the seed. The problem is the size of the pot. Society doesn’t give poor people the space to grow as tall as everybody else. This is the crux of the matter.” Here I would like to stress the problem of exposure to lead, especially among kids living in poor communities. Excessive lead exposure is highly correlated with violent behavior. Putting people to work in lead abatement efforts everywhere in the country should be a significant part of the Freedom Budget.
QUESTION: Do you favor a law banning the sale and use of “bump stocks” that increase the firing speed of semi-automatic weapons? Why? Do you favor any further legal limits on guns of any kind? Or, conversely, what gun restrictions should be done away with?
ANSWER: Yes, I favor such a law to reduce, in some small way, the deaths brought about by our nation’s gun culture. To the extent that this gun culture can be changed by law, I favor changing it. At a minimum, I think guns should be regulated at least as strictly as cars are regulated. Owners should be required to take training, pass an examination, and purchase insurance, before acquiring a gun and then required to renew their training periodically and their insurance annually. This insurance should help to cover civil penalties, which should be established by law, in the event a gun is used (whether by the owner or by someone else) in the commission of a crime. There should also be penalties, covered by insurance, whenever a gun is lost through carelessness or stolen; penalties that increase for repeated losses. Background checks should be made universal and comprehensive with no exceptions.
TOPIC: America’s growing wealth gap
QUESTION: As an editorial board, our core criticism of the tax overhaul legislation supported by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate is that it lowers taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans at a time of historic inequalities of wealth and income in the United States. We believe in free markets, but it does not look to us like the “silent hand” of the market is functioning properly, rewarding merit fairly. We are troubled that the top 1 percent of Americans own 38.6 percent of the nation’s wealth and the bottom 90 percent own just 22.8 percent of the wealth. Tell us how we are right or wrong about this. Does the growing income and wealth gap trouble you?
ANSWER: We must begin with a vision of the kind of society we want to be. I believe we want to be a social democratic society: just, prosperous, ecologically-sound, and self-governed by we the people. We are a long way from that right now. 81 percent of American households experienced flat or falling incomes between 2005 and 2014. Nearly half of all Americans, according to a recent Federal Reserve study, couldn’t cover an emergency expenditure of $400 because they have so little in savings. Ninety percent of the children born in 1940 ended up higher in the ranks of the income distribution than their parents, barely forty percent of those born in 1980 have done so. In part this reflects the weakness of the American labor movement, which must be strengthened, but privileged treatment for the rich for more than a generation in the form of preferential tax cuts, preferential bailouts, and preferential treatment generally, have also led to a situation in which the take home income of the 1% has more than doubled from about 10 percent of the total in 1980 to more than 21 percent of the total in 2015. This represents a concentration of wealth and power in our society that is incompatible with our democracy and which is enabling the more corrupt sectors of the 1% to rig the rules of the game in their favor.
In their recent book, The Captured Economy, two economists, Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles (one a libertarian and the other a liberal), work together to clarify some of the ways in which the government putting its thumb on the scales to favor the rich has contributed both to increasing inequality and slow economic growth: “This favoritism obviously exacerbates inequality, but its side effect is to reduce the competition and dynamism upon which economic growth depends. Accordingly, we now have the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. If we can scale back regressive redistribution [basically governmental policies that amount to Robin Hood in reverse], we can enjoy more growth and a more equal society.” As an example of a change in the rules of the game benefitting the rich and harming the economy, Lindsey and Teles note that one of the consequences of the change in the tax code since Eisenhower has been to incentivize companies to bid competitively for CEO and administrative talent—to increase their salaries far beyond those of the ordinary worker (and far beyond any value added that they could actually provide). This is one reason why we should restore Eisenhower era tax rates and tax income from capital gains at the same rate as income earned by work.
The conservative economist Luigi Zingales, in his recent book, A Capitalism for the People, offers a telling example of the kind of conduct on which the 1% relies and which has infected both the Republican and the Democratic parties. In 1998, Citigroup acquired Travelers insurance, even though the law on the books—the Glass-Steagall Act—prohibited such mergers. Travelers’ CEO, Sandy Weill, explained at the time that this apparent conflict with the law would “not be a problem” on the basis of the conversations they had held with the Fed and the Treasury. The head of the Treasury at the time was Robert Rubin. Rubin lobbied the House extensively to gut Glass-Steagall and the day after it did so, by a bipartisan vote of 343 to 86, Rubin left the Treasury. Three months later, Rubin was hired at Citigroup at a salary of $15 million a year, without any operating responsibility. We as a society must organize to say that this kind of conduct is unacceptable. And we must bust up the “too big to fail” to which this kind of conduct has helped give rise.
While I am willing to learn from economists of any political stripe, I am closest to social democratic economists such as Jeffrey Sachs, whose most recent book is Building the New American Economy. Like the founders of our country, Sachs is willing to learn from the experience of other nations:
“How does Denmark end up with so much lower inequality of disposable income? The answer is in its budget policies. Denmark taxes more heavily than the United States and uses the greater tax revenue to provide free health care, child care, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave, guaranteed vacations, free university tuition, early childhood programs, and much more. Denmark taxes a hefty 51 percent of national income and provides a robust range of high-quality public services. The United States taxes a far lower 32 percent and offers a rickety social safety net. In the United States, people are left to sink or swim. Many sink. So, many Americans would suspect, Denmark’s citizens are miserable and being crushed by taxes, right? Well, not so right. Denmark actually comes out number one in the world happiness rankings, while the United States come in thirteenth. Denmark’s life expectancy is also higher, its poverty lower, and its citizens’ trust in government and in each other vastly higher than in the United States.”
While I do not expect the United States to follow Denmark’s example overnight, I do expect that it will ultimately do so. In the meanwhile, it is high time for a Marshall Plan for America. We helped rebuild Western Europe after WWII and we can help rebuild ourselves. Our roads, our bridges, our railways, our airports, our water systems, our electrical grid—all are in need of investment. And the world is in need of our decarbonizing our economy. According to a recent study by the Brookings Institute, real federal infrastructure spending from 1940 to 2017 (in 2017 dollars) averaged about $102 billion per year over those decades and we are spending more than that currently. But as a percentage of GDP, we are currently spending less than 1%—a far cry from the nearly 3% that the New Deal reached, or even the 2% that came in the 1970s when the federal government supported new water resource projects alongside a continued highway build out. Relative to the size of our economy today, a New Deal level commitment would involve a peak of as much as $600 billion in a year and then average more than $200 billion per year for a decade. And that is what we need to do. Deferred maintenance is no longer an option.
Consider our shipping locks, for example, if we have a barge stopped on the Upper Mississippi because there is a problem with the locks what happens? Commodities just sit there until the problem is fixed. There are no detours, there’s no way to do anything but wait. And waiting costs a lot of money. If we can decrease the tremendous delays in our economy that are caused by poor infrastructure we can increase our productivity and with it the growth of our economy. Nearly eighty percent of lock sites with commercial traffic had an unexpected breakdown in 2016 according to one Wall Street Journal story. Half of these shipping locks are older than their intended fifty-year lifespan. According to the Journal’s analysis of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data, the average delay caused by difficulties with the locks increased from 54 minutes in 1993 to 144 minutes in 2016. Our waterways carry about 14% of the nation’s freight and do so more efficiently, and with a smaller carbon footprint, than any other method of transport. Yet we are moving in exactly the wrong direction because of our failure to invest: “The tonnage of commodities shipped through locks, excluding coal, fell nearly 13% between 2002 and 2015 to 1.7 billion tons. By contrast, the combined shipments of goods via truck and rail, excluding coal, grew by 3.1% to more than 11.8 billion tons.”
When it comes to “decarbonizing” our economy, California is leading the way. According to a report released in November, “the state will get half of its electricity from renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, very soon—by 2020, to be exact, a full decade ahead of schedule.” The commitment that California has made needs to be adopted, and intensified, by the nation as a whole. As renewables come on line, we need to phase out all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and then begin to impose new taxes on that industry to discourage its existence. Because of California’s commitment, the price of solar energy in the state dropped by 77 percent between 2010 and 2016, from $127.55 per megawatt-hour to $29.17 per megawatt-hour. Similarly, the price of wind dropped by 47 percent in the same time period. “We’ve got to realize that we are here today because of oil—oil and gas, to a lesser extent, coal,” California’s Governor Jerry Brown said back in 2015: “What has been the source of our prosperity has become the source of our ultimate destruction, if we don’t get off of it.”
Beyond the impact that massive infrastructure investment will have on the nation’s productivity and—through increased productivity—on future economic growth, such investment will help to generate millions of jobs, including in new fields such as wind turbine service and photovoltaic installation. Already in 2012, there were 14.2 million workers employed in infrastructure jobs—11% of national employment. And, as the Brookings Institute notes in another report: “More than 80 percent of workers employed in infrastructure occupations typically have short- to long- term on-the-job training, but only 12 percent hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and generally need less education to qualify for these jobs.” These are jobs, moreover, that pay well on average.
The question is not whether we can afford this investment. It can be financed in a variety of ways and by a mix of taxes and borrowing. Personally, I favor a massive issue of “rebuild America” bonds. However massive infrastructure investment is financed, it must be done. The tax of doing nothing—the tax of deferred maintenance—would be far higher and further contribute to a downward economic spiral. It is time to get out of a vicious cycle and into a virtuous circle.
Announcing the Marshall Plan, in a speech at Harvard in 1947, George C. Marshall declared that “Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.” In the world today, as in the world of the immediate postwar period, democracy is being threatened by dictators and would be dictators. If we are to avoid the dangers that now confront us, as a people and as a world, we must rediscover the most progressive ideals of America’s founding generation and build on the work of the many generations that have since sought to see those ideals more fully realized. The generation that formulated and implemented the first Marshall Plan was more compassionate and generous than our own. They were seeking not only to save themselves, but—by saving Europe—to help save the world, including the United States. We should, however, realize that it will be very hard for democracy to survive and flourish in the world if it dies in the United States. We are not just in this for ourselves. By rebuilding our infrastructure and decarbonizing our economy, we can contribute to the future that we share with others as well as to our own well-being.
Finally, I would like to note that in your question you say that you “believe” in free markets. I think the society as a whole can certainly make use of markets, but I believe that Abraham Lincoln was correct when he said in 1864 that “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.” For more than a generation, Lincoln’s position has been obscured by Ronald Reagan’s excessive faith in the market, even as market mechanisms were being corrupted by the 1%. When Reagan said in his inaugural address in 1981 that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” he was mistaken. If he had meant to say that there are more important things in life than politics, and that politics cannot solve our most important problems, that would have been correct. Love, compassion, and civility enter our lives independently of the government. But that was not what he said. For more than a generation—under the spell of Reagan’s antigovernment rhetoric—we have pursued policies that have favored the 1% and neglected the social democratic investments America needs to make if we are to flourish.
It is time to stop “believing” so much in the market and to believe more in ourselves, in both our public and our private capacities. Beyond that, as I suggested in a recent speech to the Chicago Literary Club on “America and the Kingdom,” we—the American people—should again see ourselves as answerable to God for our conduct. This was, for a prominent framer of our Constitution—James Wilson—precisely what our self-government was all about and we should learn from his ideas. Personally, I think we need a moral revolution in this country—another great American religious awakening—a revival of what is best in our diverse faith traditions that renews and deepens our relations to each other and builds a new politics and a new economics on that foundation.
TOPIC: International affairs
QUESTION: Do you support the Trump administration’s decision to move the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? How will this help or hinder efforts to secure a lasting peace between Israel and its Middle East neighbors?
ANSWER: On my webpage, in an essay on providing for the common defense, I say a little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “I believe that the Jewish people have a right to national self-determination through the state of Israel, but I also believe that the Palestinian people have a right to a state of their own. Moreover, I believe that the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank have been established in violation of international law. The time has passed when they could be considered as a mere bargaining chip to be surrendered in negotiations, and partially accommodated by land swaps under United Nations Resolution 242, and it is clear that they are part of a misguided and unlawful policy. The United States, in the interest of peace, should offer to help pay for the resettlement of their inhabitants in Israel proper as part of a comprehensive agreement, an agreement that would also formally include a Palestinian relinquishment of any claim on a ‘right of return’ to Israel proper. Such an agreement would mean both sides accepting loss and vulnerability in return for peace. This is the nature of what is normally required to pursue peace in this world.”
Because one cannot coerce a people into accepting loss and vulnerability, I am opposed to the Boycott, Divestiture, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The impulse to sanction Israel is understandable. It is violating international law and does not seem to be serious about pursuing a two-state solution. If I thought BDS would strengthen the progressive and peace-loving forces in Israel, I would support it. But I think the opposite is true. An Israeli friend of mine has argued eloquently on his blog why he considers BDS to be a mistaken strategy in this regard (http://mycorrectviews.tumblr.com/search/BDS). I would encourage any who support BDS to read his posts on the subject.
The Trump administration’s effort to coerce the Palestinians into accepting loss by moving our embassy to Jerusalem—as though east Jerusalem will not also be the capital of a future Palestinian state—strikes me as similarly counterproductive. It is an effort to dictate an outcome rather than to reach that outcome through negotiations. It is an effort that can be expected to further alienate the Palestinians whose lives are already embittered by Israeli oppression. The willingness of some Palestinians to embrace terrorism is abhorrent and is to be repudiated by all decent people. Here, again, the impulse to sanction is understandable. Yet further immiserating a poor people, as is being done in Gaza, is only a recipe for future violence.
All too often in international politics, the effort is to get other states to do something through sanctions or even physical violence rather than through diplomacy and compromise. The United States, to its credit, has sometimes acted out of a concern for the common good—even at the sacrifice of some of its interests—in the correct belief that in the long run this would make everyone better off, including the United States. Now the world is faced with a Trump administration that wants none of this sort of civility—or “political correctness”—because it believes that we are entitled to more than we have received, and that seeks to be served by others rather than seek to serve them. Such a greedy and shortsighted approach to world politics cannot be expected to do the United States, or the world, or the cause of peace and justice in the Middle East, or anywhere else, any good.
QUESTION: Is military action by the United States a plausible response to the nuclear weapons threat posed by North Korea? How might a U.S. military response play out for South Korea, Japan and China? What alternative do you support?
ANSWER: The fantasy that freedom from vulnerability can be achieved by military means led to a war in Iraq that made us more, rather than less, vulnerable. War against North Korea would make the war in Iraq look mild by comparison. It would make us—and everyone else in the world—much worse off while costing unimaginable sums in lives and treasure. Any who doubt this should read Mark Bowden’s fine essay in the Atlantic on “How to Deal with North Korea.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/the-worst-problem-on-earth/528717/?utm_source=fbia). It is essential to realize that it is war that is being talked about or “tweeted” about so blithely. The idea that “effective” sanctions can bring North Korea to terms is yet another fantasy. It is the same fantasy that—when tried against militarist Japan in the early 1940s—led a squeezed regime to lash out in a desperate search for a glass jaw: led directly to Pearl Harbor.
China isn’t about to go to war with North Korea on our behalf and China knows perfectly well that war might result from “effective” sanctions. Even if China would stand a better chance of winning such a war than we would—not least because we wouldn’t arm and support North Korean insurgents as China might well do if we were stupid enough to invade—what would victory in such a war look like for China? It is unimaginable that China would see a reunification of Korea on South Korean terms as being worth such a Chinese sacrifice.
Our accepting our vulnerability is a lousy choice, but it is a better choice than war would be. The odds are overwhelming that “effective” coercive measures would prove counterproductive in the extreme. And by “counterproductive” let me be explicit that if “effective” sanctions lead to war we are talking about tens of thousands of deaths from conventional weapons in the first day of the conflict—and potentially millions if atomic weapons are used—in conjunction with a blow to the global economy that could easily lead to a global recession and an antagonism with China that might well lead to another “Cold War” with a much more formidable foe.
What we should be doing is cultivating our capacity for undertaking covert action in North Korea while seeking to encourage an eventual peaceful regime change through nonviolent means. We should be publicly planning with South Korea for a “soft” and a “generous” approach to reunification with the people of North Korea that might someday encourage a faction in the North Korean regime to overthrow their government and surrender to South Korea. And we should privately convey to Kim Jong-un they he, and every member of his regime, will be assassinated if they attempt to sell the nuclear technology they have developed to others.
I do not place much hope in negotiating with the North Korean regime, but a compromise in which they keep their nuclear weapons without further developing their missile technology might conceivably be reached. The central difficulties would be the problem of the North Koreans accepting intrusive surveillance and our accepting an easing of sanctions.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the third version of the Trump administration’s travel ban on eight countries with predominantly Muslim populations can go into effect while legal challenges against the ban continue. What is your position on this travel ban?
ANSWER: This travel ban, like the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during WWII, is the expression of an ugly hysteria fueled by racism and bigotry. Far from in any way improving our security, it will serve to further alienate us from our allies in the Muslim world and contribute to the further ignorant scapegoating of more than a billion people for the actions of a handful. It is as though Christians were being banned for the actions of the KKK. Just as there were many Japanese Americans who fought for the United States in WWII in spite of the internment camps, so there will be many Muslim Americans who will continue to champion and serve this country. That will intensify the disgrace we will feel a generation from now. One hopes that the Supreme Court will have more courage in defending the Constitution than it did in Korematsu v. United States in 1944.
QUESTION: Has the United States in the last decade been accepting too many immigrants, and does this pose a threat to the American way of life?
ANSWER: The answer to both questions is: No. On the contrary, we, as a people, must restore and renew the sense of ourselves—of America—as a nation of immigrants. This is who we are and who we want to be: a hospitable people made up of individuals from every other nation on earth. As I once heard Congressman Keith Ellison say: our ancestors may have come over on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now. That is exactly right. And that is why there must be a swift legislative path to citizenship for all of the undocumented immigrants in the country. They are already part of who we are, but in a second-class status that they do not deserve and that weakens our unity as a people. Immigration should be embraced and increased as something that has helped to make us great in the past, is of great benefit to us in the present, and will be even more helpful to us in the future.
One in ten Americans in the private sector is employed by an immigrant-owned business. Immigrant-Americans are twice as likely as United States-born Americans to start their own business. Reduce the number of immigrants in the United States and economic growth will decline, increase that number and economic growth will increase. Immigrants are of crucial importance to vital sectors of our economy and our national life. The capacity of our economy to grow depends in large measure on the creativity of our system of higher education and the inventions and innovations that fuel technological development. Since the Nobel Prize was established in the early 1900s, according to the Institute for Immigration Research, “about 40 percent of the more than 900 prizes have gone to Americans … [and] about 35 percent of all US Nobel laureates have been immigrants to the United States. Eighty percent of those individuals worked at universities at the time of winning the Nobel Prize.” In a fit of ignorance and prejudice, the Trump administration is killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Nationwide, the New York Times reports, “the number of new foreign students declined an average of 7 percent this past fall, according to preliminary figures from a survey of 500 colleges by the Institute of International Education. Nearly half of the campuses surveyed reported declines.” We are losing both many talented individuals who should have been encouraged to become American citizens and an important source of financial support for our system of higher education as a whole.
The role of immigrants in the field of healthcare is perhaps even more important. There is already a desperate shortage of trained medical professionals, a shortage that will worsen in severity as the population ages, and acquiring professionals from other countries will be an essential part of the solution. The journalist Tom Brokaw, reporting recently on his own experience, captures a truth about American healthcare that should be universally recognized: “What I’ve learned is that American health care is a universe of scientific genius and selfless compassion populated by what seems to be the most diverse population in the country. Spinal surgeons of Russian origin and American training, Ecuadorean eye specialists, Chinese imaging experts, Kazakh physical therapists, East Indian oncologists and an elegant orthopedist from Bologna (we traded New York Italian restaurant recommendations) — I’ve met them all. It is not just New York hospitals that are an ethnic “purée,” as an Argentine nurse at Sloan Kettering described the mix to me. Most large metropolitan hospitals are staffed by dedicated workers from just about every continent. Rural American patients welcome well-trained Pakistani and East Indian physicians in private practice and small-town clinics. In the middle of white-bread Minnesota you’ll see employees of the Mayo Clinic scurrying through the corridors in Muslim head scarves and Sikh turbans. I was consulting with a Nebraska-born neurologist, the son of a grain elevator operator, while a Mayo-trained Kenyan émigré expertly drew my blood.” In short, we are all in this together and must embrace our common humanity and common destiny as a people who love this country.
QUESTION: Should the “wall” between the United States and Mexico be built? What might it accomplish?
ANSWER: Although the “wall” is an incredible waste of resources that could be better spent elsewhere, at this point I favor negotiating with the hostage-taker (Trump) in order to save the hostages (those who were protected under DACA, the Dreamers).
TOPIC: Affordable Care Act
QUESTION: The tax reform plan created by Republican majorities in the House and Senate would eliminate the Obamacare “individual mandate” that most Americans must have health insurance or pay a fine. Does this threaten the viability of the Affordable Care Act? What more on this, if anything, should be done?
ANSWER: The struggle to ensure that quality healthcare is guaranteed for all the inhabitants of our land—citizens and non-citizens alike—begins with building as strong a consensus as we can that, in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, people should not be crushed into bankruptcy by a chance illness, or driven into debt by excessive deductibles and co-pays, or completely denied the care they need by insurance company bureaucrats who are ignorant of the art and science of medicine, or by an inadequate governmental compensation system.
For most of the first decade of the twenty-first century, polls showed solid majority support (60+%) for the claim that it is “the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have healthcare coverage.” Then—with the Republican assault on Obamacare—support declined to around 40+%. Now with the public having seen something of the successes of Obamacare (inadequate though it is), and of Republican mendacity in the fight over “Trumpcare,” we are once again seeing solid majority support (60+%) for the principle that everyone’s coverage should be guaranteed.
If support for universal healthcare continues to develop, and if we elect enough candidates pledged to support Medicare for All, it should be possible to move to universal healthcare in the not too distant future. To contribute to such progress is a primary reason for my campaign, although I also want to help us plan now to go beyond simply insuring that everyone has healthcare by addressing workforce and compensation issues to help make sure that, when it arrives, Medicare for All means quality healthcare for all.
If there were one article on American healthcare that I could persuade everyone to read, it would be the physician Atul Gawande’s article, “ The Heroism of Incremental Care,” in the January 23, 2017, issue of The New Yorker. Gawande makes clear how and why the path to lowering health care costs over the long run is providing better quality care. We need to dramatically increase the number of primary care doctors in the country and the compensation provided to these doctors relative to specialists. The United States is 51st in the world in terms of doctors per capita. It is high time for that to change.
Gawande points to studies “demonstrating that states with higher ratios of primary-care physicians have lower rates of general mortality, infant mortality, and mortality from specific conditions such as heart disease and stroke. Other studies found that people with a primary-care physician as their usual source of care had lower subsequent five-year mortality rates than others, regardless of their initial health. In the United Kingdom, where family physicians are paid to practice in deprived areas, a ten-per-cent increase in the primary-care supply was shown to improve people’s health so much that you could add ten years to everyone’s life and still not match the benefit. Another study examined health-care reforms in Spain that focussed on strengthening primary care in various regions—by, for instance, building more clinics, extending their hours, and paying for home visits. After ten years, mortality fell in the areas where the reforms were made, and it fell more in those areas which received the reforms earlier. Likewise, reforms in California that provided all Medicaid recipients with primary-care physicians resulted in lower hospitalization rates. By contrast, private Medicare plans that increased co-payments for primary-care visits—and thereby reduced such visits—saw increased hospitalization rates. Further, the more complex a person’s medical needs are the greater the benefit of primary care.”
In a recent book manuscript addressing the need to restructure our compensation system to encourage doctors to once again make house calls—particularly for elderly patients with multiple medical issues for whom repeated visits to the emergency room are an extraordinary source of strain, expense, and danger—the physician C. Gresham Bayne also calls attention to the ways that providing better quality care is the best path to lowering healthcare costs.
Prior to 1930, encounters with physicians took place in the home about 40 percent of the time. By 1980, that figure was less than 1 percent. For patients with multiple illnesses—especially among the elderly—treatment in the hospital, and often in the hospital emergency room, is both very expensive and difficult and can be the source of further complications. There are more than 130,000,000 emergency room visits in the United States each year. Some 85 percent of these visits are for non-emergency conditions. It would simply be better for everyone involved to treat many of these patients in their own homes. The central problem is getting doctors paid for making such housecalls.
Bayne is part of the independence at home (IAH) movement that is advocating such change. A pilot program within Obamacare has already proven successful. According to one of the Congressional Sponsors for IAH, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a national rollout of physician housecalls covered by Medicare, such as that demonstrated in the 15 cities with IAH sites, could save $300 billion over ten years.
We, the American people, need to ensure that “everyone is included and no one left out of the risk pool”—in other words, we need Medicare for All. But we also need to go beyond this to ensure that there are enough primary care physicians in the country that everyone can have a doctor that they can turn to in need, and we must guarantee sufficient compensation to these doctors to encourage them both to enter the field of medicine and to provide such services as housecalls.
Getting rid of some of the administrative bloat associated with our current system of health insurance should help to lower costs, but these initial gains may be offset by the increased demand for services as more people have access to healthcare. Ultimately, the healthcare system can be expected to reach an equilibrium that will be less costly as a percentage of our economy than our current system provided we focus on the provision of quality care for all.
TOPIC: The opponent(s)
QUESTION: What is your biggest difference with your opponent(s)?
ANSWER: Unlike all of my opponents, I canvassed door-to-door for Bernie Sanders in Iowa and Wisconsin last year and I whole heartedly embrace Bernie’s call for a nonviolent political revolution to save the country. Unlike my opponents, my training is as an historian—Yale PhD 1996—one who believes that we can draw from our common past to build a shared future. As I see it, we are in a battle for the soul of the country between competing visions of what our nation is all about and what will best serve to improve our common life together. We can only win that fight by rediscovering the most progressive ideals of America’s founding generation and building on the work of the many generations that have since sought to see those ideals more fully realized.
Unlike all of my opponents, I have been a social democrat for more than thirty years. The record of my published work speaks for itself. Whether writing about American support for the postwar land reform in Japan that benefited millions of small farmers, or American support for democratic working-class movements in Latin America in the 1940s, or the failure of the United States to respect tribal sovereignty that culminated in the genocidal Trail of Tears and Death in the 1830s, I have consistently championed the cause of social justice and sought to help us understand what helps and what hurts that cause so that we can do better in the future.
Unlike my opponents, I have not only championed Medicare for All but sought to raise workforce and compensation structure issues to ensure that universal healthcare, when we achieve it, is better quality healthcare for everyone. I have championed a Marshall Plan for America involving massive investment in the nation’s infrastructure as well as a national commitment to “decarbonize” our economy. And I have championed a Freedom Budget for the 21st Century with which to begin to abolish poverty through investments in public education, and housing, and job training. For voters who believe in respecting the sovereignty of the native peoples, and who want a foreign policy that is concerned with the global common good and respects the rights and interests of others, my background is unique.