A de facto Progressive Party

James Call

There is a de facto Progressive Party. And its de facto leader is Bernie Sanders. It didn’t exist a year ago. Sanders created it out of whole cloth in the summer of 2015. A year ago the idea that a socialist party was viable was preposterous. No one thought such a thing possible. Sanders himself probably had no idea that a socialist party would have any chance of being “politically correct.” But he knew that wealth disparity was a prime factor in our current economic malaise. He knew that no other single issue was more broadly felt by more Americans. He knew that significant wealth redistribution was the only corrective. And he said so. Not because he thought that saying so, like what motivates all politicians, would win him votes. No. He said so because it was true.

Using FDR’s New Deal as a model, Sanders advocated a government program that would put millions of Americans to work — on the government dime — to rebuild infrastructure; to invest in technological advancement, to boost the space program, to expand healthcare and education. This effort would have the two-fold goal of investing in programs that benefit a broad portion of the population, and just as importantly, to put money into the hands of the middle class and poor. It puts the poor to work. It isn’t about “free stuff.”

In 1933 the US economy was in freefall. Home and farm foreclosures were rising, banks were failing at an escalating rate, businesses were failing, the stock market was falling. Major economic indicators such as GDP and employment were dropping. FDR came in with the New Deal and stopped the downward spiral dead in its tracks. The economy then began a slow but steady rise.

The twin engines of this recovery were increased taxes on corporations and upper income levels, and a massive government expenditure on infrastructure: roads, bridges, dams, and electricity. Eight to ten million Americans were put to work on these WPA and CCC projects. Their paychecks paid landlords, grocers, and other businesses, which then expanded and hired.

This is exactly the opposite of “trickle down,” supply side economics, which has never worked. “Job creators” don’t create jobs if no one has money to buy their products. As people came to realize the common sense of the progressive model, they flocked in the millions to Sanders’ campaign.

Yes, it is troubling that the DNC sabotaged Sanders. And Clinton’s ties to banking are also troubling. That she may be more ready to use the military than even Obama is also of concern. But Bernie Sanders says that Clinton has assured him that she has heard the message of millions of his supporters. And smart pol that she is, she surely recognizes the political capital to be won by championing his progressive causes. On the stump and in the debates she repeatedly has cited Sanders, the New Deal, wealth redistribution, and putting Americans to work by rebuilding infrastructure. Exactly where she will draw the line between Wall Street and Main Street remains to be seen. But Sanders himself says that for now the best pathway forward to progressive policies is by working in the Democratic Party.

Sanders did not, and still does not, calculate the political advantage of his stated positions. He says what he believes to be true without regard to whether it will win him votes — quite possible the only politician I’ve ever observed to do so. He has earned an unprecedented degree of credibility for a politician. Sanders is the de facto leader of the de facto progressive party — and he recommends electing Hillary Clinton.