Second Bill of Rights: Jobs and Education (Part II)

The foundation of the Democratic Party must rest upon the bedrock of equality. It is a reflection of the central principle of our nation that all men and women are created equal.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt laid out his plan for a “Second Bill of Rights” in his 1944 State of the Union address, he embraced that principle. He envisioned a nation in which all citizens were guaranteed certain basic inalienable economic rights. In other words, the American political system would provide the People with equal opportunities to work hard, live life fully, and even prosper.

Unfortunately, that vision is threatened. Rampant inequality is plaguing our nation to a degree that we have not witnessed in nearly a hundred years.

In the last half century alone, the chances that a child will eventually make more money than her parents have fallen from 90% to a mere 50% today. The problem accelerated starting during the 1970’s as wages for American workers began to stagnate. In 1980, the top 1% of wage-earners made 27 times more than the bottom 50% of wage-earners. Today, the top 1% makes about 81 times more than the bottom 50%.

Reducing that inequality must be the guiding star of the Democratic Party. A Democratic Party without answers to this most pressing of problems would be empty and aimless, a party pretending to work for the People while lost in the wilderness of irrelevance.

This is the second part of a four-part series explaining why Democrats must adopt FDR’s call for a Second Bill of Rights to take on that challenge and secure economic liberty for all Americans. You can read part one, an overview and framework for my argument, here.

In this post, I’ll focus on jobs and education. Part three will focus on bolstering consumer protections and opposing monopolies. Part four will focus on providing security from sickness and other infirmities through programs like a national single-payer health care system.

Achieving true individual liberty means not depending on others to provide for life’s basic necessities. Perhaps the most basic of basic necessities is a productive way to make ends meet without undue fear of losing that means.

Therefore, the Democratic Party’s Second Bill of Rights must empower individuals to succeed by calling for good, affordable educations and good paying jobs with secure benefits.

First and foremost, that requires bracing for the rising tide of automation.

Automation is an existential threat to the American workforce. According to a well-regarded 2013 study conducted by researchers at Oxford University, a staggering 47% of current jobs in the United State are at high risk of becoming completely automated.

Entire job categories will be wiped out. And soon. Another study done by PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that 38% of all sources of U.S. employment are at high risk of disappearing as early as the beginning of the 2030’s.

The mainstream Republican Party is certainly not ready to confront a labor market disruption on this scale. Absurdly and alarmingly, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated in an interview that an artificial intelligence revolution that could impact American workers is “not even on our radar screen” and predicted that we are 50 to 100 years from that kind of technology taking over human jobs. Blissfully unaware, he went on to say, “I’m not worried at all. In fact, I’m optimistic.” (Just as a reminder, this is a member of the United States presidential cabinet who makes actual policy decisions that affect actual world affairs. I will allow the reader time to shudder in disgust before continuing).

It is up to Democrats, therefore, to prepare for the inevitable and to lead the People through perilous economic times. That means easing the current transition from the manufacturing-dominant economy of our past to the service-based economy of today and tomorrow. That means preparing citizens for jobs in industries like technology, health and human services, education, hospitality, and advanced manufacturing.

Thus, it is of the utmost importance to implement widespread job re-training programs for adults already in the workforce making a living in vulnerable industries. Think truckers learning to code. Think taxi drivers learning to take care of the elderly. Think cashiers learning how to teach.

To that end, local and state governments should support specialized high school programs and post-high school apprenticeships that concentrate on teaching marketable job skills and offering paths to union membership. The federal government should partner with local and state governments to fund those programs. 

About two-thirds of American adults do not have a four-year college degree, leaving them particularly vulnerable to the rising tide of automation. Out of pure necessity, Democrats need to find these citizens alternative paths to the middle class before they are left marooned on islands of unemployment. Encouragingly, we are beginning to see state and local governments teaming up with large employers and nonprofits to teach new in-demand skills like computer programming to potential employees.

By way of example, consider Skillful, a program led by the Markle Foundation to encourage skills-based hiring, training, and education. Among other things, Skillful runs workshops and offers coaching to people hoping to break into high-growth, automation-resistant fields like information technology services and advanced manufacturing. Skillful has already begun working with the state of Colorado to advance its aims and was the recent recipient of a grant from Microsoft worth more than $25 million.

“We need new approaches, or we’re going to leave more and more people behind in our economy,” said Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, when speaking about the initiative with The New York Times.

Democrats should be the tip of the spear in developing those approaches.

Legislators, by way of further example, can coordinate with increasingly popular “coding schools”. These schools, sometimes called “boot camps”, have emerged to help both new and established tech companies meet their insatiable demands for computer programmers. After completing full-time courses of only several months, graduates of coding schools find themselves in very rich hiring environments. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that employment for software developers will have risen by 17% as of 2024 when compared to 2014 levels, a much higher rate than expected in other professions.

Not insignificantly, the median pay for a software developer in 2016 was approximately $102,000 a year. That’s about $47 per hour.

Aside from government partnerships, Democrats should encourage apprenticeships in areas like the technology sector and advanced manufacturing by providing incentives such as tax credits to businesses that offer them.  

Areas of policy focus should also include combating global warming by supporting a job-creating green economy revolution. That means, in part, using the awesome power of government to subsidize entrepreneurs and fledgling companies in the alternative energy industry until they can stand on their own.

We must also champion a pro-job approach by pledging to fix our aging state and national infrastructure while employing thousands to do it.

In terms of sources of payment for these programs, recreational marijuana legalization is a particularly low-hanging fruit. In Colorado, the end of prohibition has delivered the state over half a billion dollars in tax revenue and fees with sales surging past $1 billion in 2016 alone. That’s money that can be used to pay for undertakings in infrastructure and programs of social uplift (although other sources of revenue will obviously be required).

Furthermore, the recreational marijuana industry has the added benefit of creating jobs. In Colorado, the industry created 18,000 full-time jobs just in the year 2015Notably, marijuana sales overall in the United States are expected to reach $20.2 billion by 2021.

Additionally, we must embrace our union sisters and brothers once more. Organized labor was a pillar of the national party until the late 1960’s and early 70’s when a new generation of Democrats squeezed out the old New Dealers and their allies. Now, mainstream Democrats sometimes publicly distance themselves from unions while quietly accepting their money and volunteers on the campaign trail. 

How can the primary left-wing party in this country not stand shoulder to shoulder with the working men and women of this country? If you don’t think the Democratic Party has lost its zeal for advancing union rights, go ask your well-educated liberal friends what they think of unions. Don’t be surprised if you hear poorly concealed condemnations that unions work “in theory”. As a reminder, these are the people who brought us the weekend, 40-hour work weeks, sick leave, paid time off, mandatory overtime pay, workers’ compensation, sexual harassment laws, parental leave, the end of sweatshops, and the minimum wage.

Speaking of the minimum wage, we must embrace one that keeps up with the rate of inflation. All Democrats should support a $15 national minimum wage. Notably, Hillary Clinton started her 2016 primary campaign supporting a $12 national minimum wage. But Democrats ended up adopting a $15 minimum wage as a plank position in the general election after Bernie Sanders orchestrated a successful whip operation for delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention. Just recently, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has her eye on a 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, unequivocally stated her support for a $15 national wage even though she was once characterized as an upstate New York “Blue Dog” Democrat. That’s something for the left wing of the party to brag about.

This is not an economic agenda for the “white working class” of Middle America, but rather an economic agenda for all working people. The entire point of adopting a broad economic populist agenda is to do the most good for the most people, regardless of race, creed, or any other division. Just as the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law for all citizens, a Second Bill of Rights must guarantee economic fairness to all citizens.

For that reason, the Democratic Party must embrace those activists working to close the racial wealth gap and replace the school to prison pipeline with a path towards economic prosperity. While unemployment rates have declined to historically low levels in recent months, African Americans have faced an unemployment rate double that of whites over the last six decades. That simply needs to change. 

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”

Economic security for all means fighting hard to eliminate the gender pay gap as well. As of 2009, women earned only about 80% of what men earn for the same jobs. For that reason, we need more legislation like President Obama’s first major achievement, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which effectively reversed a Supreme Court decision that had imposed a deadline on filing a pay discrimination claim that an employee could easily miss if she was unaware that her employer was paying her less than her male counterparts. Democrats can also set examples for the private sector by elevating more women to high courts and endorsing them for office.

Furthermore, it’s high time that our nation joined the rest of the Western world and adopted federal paid maternity and paternity leave. Americans shouldn’t have to choose between investing in their children’s futures or their careers.

Economic populism is also a valuable lens through which to view the struggles of the LGBT community. It is fundamentally unjust to deprive someone of her livelihood due to her inherent sexual orientation. True equality means more than same-sex marriage. It means the freedom to prosper in the profession and community of your choosing. Just as we have worked to outlaw racial discrimination in housing, employment, and the sale of goods and services, Democrats around the country must win office and pass laws forbidding discrimination against people due to their sexual orientation.

In terms of education generally, access is key. All people should be guaranteed a good, affordable education. And that must begin early in life.

Democrats should advocate for free early-age education since it’s pivotal in allowing parents, particularly women, to work without undue worry. It also obviously benefits their children. Quality, fully-funded public education puts all of our kids on a more equal footing.

For those students who want a college education, they should be able to access free or nearly free public institutions of higher learning. New York’s Excelsior Scholarship, designed to eventually offer tuition-free state university educations to students from families making less than $125,000, is an example of a good start (with significant room to improve like an extension to cover part-time students). In any case, our people shouldn’t have choose between a good education and crushing debt.

Widespread productive employment will also help us with one of our greatest challenges as a society: widespread cynicism in our politics. When people feel that they cannot control their future, they are more prone to ignore big societal questions.

Political disengagement is a cancer to a democracy. When people see no distinction between politicians from different parties, it paves the way for thoroughly unqualified, ambitious individuals like Donald Trump to take power. Furthermore, without a watchful citizenry controlling the levers of power, the unscrupulous powerful monied interests do what unscrupulous powerful monied interests have always done: make more money at the expense of the common man. As their influence grows, so does the disease of cynicism.

A step forward in combating cynicism is helping people obtain the proverbial tools for the jobs they want and need. For that reason, the Democratic Party must make one of its most important goals fostering self-sufficiency for as many people as possible. The People must control their own fate.

If the Democratic Party can secure citizens’ liberty by helping them make a decent living free from the strangleholds of impoverishment and deprivation, the People will be reassured that voting and political engagement make a difference.

Being free doesn’t just mean having access to the ballot box. Being free means having the fundamental human right to live the life you want.

The Democratic Party is poised to become the party of true self-determination and equality. Let us embrace it.

Op-Ed: ‘Placeholder’ Must Temporarily Take Former NYS Senator Squadron’s Seat

Be sure to check out my newest opinion piece, published in the Gotham Gazette, here. I make the case for why former New York State Senator Squadron’s seat should be filled by a placeholder candidate until a proper Democratic primary can be held in 2018 so that no candidate has the awesome power of incumbency. Before we are big “D” Democrats, we must be little “d” democrats.

Letter to the Editor: NYS Senator Squadron’s Resignation a Democratic Party Failure

You can read my letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on behalf of Indivisible Nation BK explaining why Brooklyn and Manhattan-based former New York State Senator Daniel Squadron’s resignation was a failure of the Democratic Party here. Indivisible Nation BK calls upon the Democratic Party to condemn the undemocratic process that will be used to pick Sen. Squadron’s successor and to find a solution that does not disenfranchise our community.

Second Bill of Rights: The Future of the Democratic Party (Part 1)

I have been thinking a lot about the future of the Democratic Party since the November night I spent outside the Javits Center in Manhattan hoping to see the first female president-elect of the United States step onto the stage and into the history books.

As you well know, that woman never did take that stage. As a consequence, I have been consumed with envisioning the path forward for Democrats nationally. I’ve now firmly concluded that the Democratic Party must embrace Franklin D. Roosevelt’s call for a Second Bill of Rights.

The idea of a Second Bill of Rights was central to Roosevelt’s bold vision for the future of the United States which he articulated before he died in office. His goal was to complement the political rights guaranteed by the original Bill of Rights with a list of inalienable economic rights.

In his State of the Union address in 1944, Roosevelt advocated for the adoption of the following economic rights:

  • The right of every American from farmers to factory workers to have a good paying job that would provide adequate food, clothing, and even recreation.
  • The right to a good education.
  • The right to be free from unfair competition and domination of monopolies.
  • The right to a decent home.
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.
  • The right to be free from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.

Some of these aims have been partially achieved through accomplishments like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed racial discrimination in employment, the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 that expanded federal housing programs, and the Social Security Act of 1965 that gave us Medicaid and Medicare. But much of Roosevelt’s vision remains unfulfilled.

Importantly, Roosevelt believed that adopting a Second Bill of Rights would help the United States “win the peace” following World War II. His logic should not be lost on the American reader in the age of Trump.

As Roosevelt explained, “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.”

Indeed.

Roosevelt’s message, that freedom from economic trepidations advances individual liberty, is a natural extension of the Enlightenment thinking upon which our national framework is based. Our founding charter, the Constitution, recognizes that it is self-evident that all men are born free. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, government is a necessary vehicle for preserving that freedom. By preserving the peace and providing for the general welfare, it gives citizens the space they need to fully develop their faculties.

The Democratic Party, through government, should affirm that legacy. In order to do so, it must empower a free American People by eliminating obstacles to economic necessities such as good pay, good hours, safe workplaces, good health, education, housing, an equal voice in elections, freedom from consumer-crushing monopolies, and protection from economic predation. Secure in those most basic of wants, citizens are set free to prosper.

Think about the nascent entrepreneur who wants to bring her innovative product to market but can’t leave her 9-5 job without losing her and her children’s healthcare coverage. Think of the secretary who dreams of attending graduate school to become an attorney, accountant, or business manager but can’t risk going without benefits and a salary for so long. Think of the minimum-wage laborer juggling a family and a constantly shifting work schedule but who dreams of steady hours and a chance to earn overtime pay. Without worry from basic economic wants, those citizens can open new businesses, meet demands in the market with supply, make profit, hire employees, secure legacies for their grandchildren, and generally make their communities proud.

However, this is not the message of the modern day Democratic Party. Rather, the party’s “message” has been a hodgepodge of ideas. As Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), who challenged Nancy Pelosi for minority leadership in the House of Representatives, put it recently, “Walk up the street and ask 10 people what the Democrats stand for, you’ll get 10 different answers. That’s no way to build a national party.” 

Without a clear, understandable economic message for working America, Democrats are vulnerable to being outflanked by faux populists like Donald Trump who falsely promise to make the elites pay for their long indifference to the common man.  

In fact, the story of the rise of Trump is found in large parts in the story of the Democratic Party over the last few decades. Mainstream elements of the Democratic Party in many ways cooperated with the Republican Party in rolling back basic protections for the middle class and the working class. Remember that it was the Democratic Party under the leadership of President Bill Clinton that rolled back welfare protections for the most vulnerable in the 1990’s. The triangulating “New Democrat” president would have also tried to privatize portions of Social Security and Medicare if his administration hadn’t become mired in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Neoliberal Democrats also embraced unfettered free trade without an adequate plan to compensate for large-scale shocks to the job market from cheap imports.

As Thomas Frank writes in his book “Listen, Liberal or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?”, when well-to-do mainstream Democrats did try to tackle disruptions to the labor market due to globalization, they frequently focused on promoting four-year college degrees as miraculous cure-alls for what economically ails us, all while saying nauseatingly vague things about embracing the “spirit of innovation”. After all, college worked for them.

The problem, of course, is that an emphasis on formal college degrees is not a solution for huge swaths of regular people already in the workforce. As a result, many in working America feel abandoned and forgotten. And they’re not necessarily wrong.

Beginning in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Democratic Party ousted organized labor from key leadership positions and turned away from large-scale economic agendas like President Johnson’s “Great Society”. Instead, it began institutionalizing the more moderate elements of the New Left activism that grew out of the free speech, civil rights, and antiwar movements.

Don’t get me wrong. The Democratic Party went on to achieve necessary victories in the realm of individual political rights. Among these were establishing a woman’s right to choose, and, more recently, the right of all Americans to marry the person they love regardless of gender. But with the exceptions of the Affordable Care Act and the 2009 stimulus bill that was necessary to prevent a global financial meltdown, large-scale economic reform has been lacking.

There is an argument gaining traction among progressives that the Democratic Party must now for some reason choose between protecting individual political rights and advancing a unified robust agenda of economic rights. This is a false dichotomy. And quite a silly one. What Democrat elected to high office, in her right mind, would excuse the erosion of fundamental rights like the right to marry the person you love or the right to be treated equally in the criminal justice system regardless of race? The rank-and-file base would never stand for it. Our party is now and will remain dedicated to preventing the majority from trampling upon the rights of the minority. As a former president of my law school’s ACLU chapter, I can tell you that we have worked too hard and come too far to give up those fights.

Conversely, dedication to protecting individual liberty does not prevent us from adopting a “broad base” strategy and extending our tent. It makes practical sense to create a party that can appeal to the masses. In fact, the nature of a two-party electoral system demands it. And what do your noble aspirations matter if you cannot win over the electorate to see them become law? The party must now advance economic policies and a corresponding message for the benefit of as many Americans as possible.

In other words, the Democratic Party must once again become the undisputed Party of the People.

The time is ripe for a transformation in American politics. From the record-breaking Women’s March to the spontaneous protests at airports nationwide following the announcement of the Muslim Ban, the left wing of the electorate has not been this mobilized at any time since the Vietnam War. Empowered by a newly zealous base, the Democratic Party must now adopt a unified, progressive economist message to drive the Republicans out of power. To that end, we should embrace Franklin D. Roosevelt’s proposed Second Bill of Rights, adapt it to the Twenty-First century, and push it across the board.

The opportunities to improve the lives of ordinary Americans are ample and popular. In my next post, I’ll talk about jobs and education. I’m particularly concerned about how the party prepares for the grave threat that automation poses to the nation’s workforce. My third and fourth post in this series will address, respectively, opposing corporate interests detrimental to the interests of the People and providing the People with security from sickness, old age, and infirmity through, among other things, single payer healthcare.

It bears noting that I’m talking about broad objectives that should not be used to impose straightjackets on Democrats running in conservative parts of the country. Individual Democrats in office must also be able to respond to the needs of and the constraints imposed by their constituencies. A Democrat running in Arizona would be gravely mistaken by not incorporating a policy about public land use into her platform, just as a Democrat running in southern California would be remiss in not mentioning congestion when discussing infrastructure development.

So this is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every nook and cranny in the country.

Rather, I am attempting to offer an expansive vision for the national Democratic Party as a whole. A broad base approach allows for flexibility and adaptation in local races. However, the overriding message of the national Democratic brand should be this: let government liberate citizens from the most basic economic anxieties so that they can be truly free.

This is a mission the party should adopt not only over the next few elections but for the next few decades. This is a generational fight to create good paying, fulfilling jobs that bring economic security to the greatest amount of people, educate our children, eliminate unfair competition, ensure adequate housing, and provide protection against sickness and infirmity. 

It also bears noting that progressives on the ground cannot afford to wait for the national Democratic establishment to take us where we need to go. The situation is perilous. Republicans control the governorship and every branch of the legislature in a staggering 25 states (known as state government “trifectas”). Even state judiciaries are under assault from conservative big money donors and the concentrated efforts of groups like the Federalist Society. 

Moreover, President Trump poses an existential threat to the nation and its institutions. Therefore, we must quickly adopt a bold economic vision to take back the levers of government nationally and locally. The grassroots should support and elect Democrats who embrace that vision.

Remember, this is a full court press for the future of the nation. And it is the People who will save the Party of the People, and, thus, the Republic.

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Health Care Plan and the Progressive Path Forward

With control over every lever of federal government, Republicans have failed to do what they have repeatedly and loudly promised to do for seven years. It is nothing short of a colossal failure. This post is an effort to help people understand how this failure came to pass and to understand a bit more about how terrible this bill really was.

I’ll start with why this bill was so bad from a policy perspective and, consequently, failed to garner broad support. Then, I’ll explain why creating an artificial deadline of 18 days to change the American health care system (which accounts for nearly 20% of the country’s economy) after a horrific roll out and then bringing it to the House floor without enough votes to succeed was… well, incredibly stupid. Finally, I’ll talk about possible ways forward for progressives on this issue.

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Donald Trump lied in January. In a conversation with The Washington Post, Trump continued, “[t]here was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” People, he asserted, “can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better”.

Back in 2015, Trump had publicly proclaimed on Twitter, as is his wont, that he would make no cuts to Medicaid if he was elected.

In a surprise to no one, the future president was simply making things up on both occasions. What is surprising, however, is the fact that the Republican plan, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), utterly failed to come up with workable alternatives to the parts of Obamacare which Republicans have criticized the most.

In no particular order, those complaints were: 1.) Rising premium costs; 2.) Loss of coverage (i.e., “Obama lied when he said you could keep your doctor and your plan!”); and 3.) The individual mandate requiring people who don’t sign up for health care insurance to pay a fee.

Regarding premiums, it bears stating that the Obamacare-induced “crisis” of rising costs isn’t as much of a crisis as Republicans have let on. More than 90% of Americans who have health care insurance get it through work or the government. Premium rates for that group have actually risen relatively slowly in recent years. The rest of the insured population gets coverage directly from insurance companies or through the Obamacare marketplace exchanges. Of those who get care through the Obamacare exchanges, approximately 85% receive government subsidies that alleviate cost increases. Therefore, according to a recent analysis by the The New York Times, only approximately 3% of all Americans have been affected by rising premiums.

Don’t take the #failing Times‘ word for it. Here’s what the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says about the matter:

Under current law, most subsidized enrollees purchasing health insurance coverage in the nongroup market [people who don’t get health care from work or the government] are largely insulated from increases in premiums because their out-of-pocket payments for premiums are based on a percentage of their income; the government pays the difference.

In fact, there is data indicating that premium costs would have risen more without Obamacare. According to the Kaiser Foundation, family plan premiums rose about 20% from 2011 to 2016. However, rate increases were far steeper in the ten years before Obamacare’s enactment. From 2006 to 2011, rates rose 31%. From 2001 to 2006: a staggering 63%. While correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, those numbers should give critics of Obamacare serious pause.

In any case, even assuming that the rising premium rates problem is as bad as Republican have argued, it is simply astonishing that their replacement plan would have made it immediately worse. As the number-crunchers at the CBO explained, “average premiums for single policyholders in the nongroup market would be 15 percent to 20 percent higher than under current law” up until 2020. That’s because fewer healthy people would sign up due to the elimination of the individual mandate, thereby making the overall pool of insured people less healthy. That increases costs for insurance companies as they pay for unhealthy people’s care but have less healthy people paying premiums. Insurers would then, naturally, pass on those costs to the consumer.

Eventually, after 2020, average premium costs would have started to come down under the AHCA. However, Republicans planned to accomplish that not through some mathematical wizardly but through cruelty. Simply put, the plan would have made insurance so unaffordable for poorer, older Americans that they would be forced out of the marketplace altogether! Without having to spend as much money on desperately-needed care for older people, insurance companies could afford to offer younger people lower premiums. Brilliant.

This brings me to the second point: coverage. With the CBO’s scathing assessment that 24 million people would lose their health care due to the AHCA, the suggestion that the Republicans are even moderately concerned about coverage is downright laughable. A whopping 14 million people would have lost care by the end of next year alone. The planned $880,000,000,000 cut in Medicaid spending and an age-based tax credit system that wouldn’t have varied depending on income or the cost of insurance in different parts of the country would have devastated the households of our most vulnerable.

As I mentioned above, older Americans under the Medicare-eligible age of 65 would have simply lost coverage because they wouldn’t be able to afford their premiums out of pocket. Saying that the Republicans are trying to give vulnerable Americans more freedom to choose their health care plan is the equivalent of saying that you have the freedom to buy a gold-plated private Boeing 757.

Perhaps these numbers shouldn’t be surprising since it’s been House Speaker Paul Ryan’s dream since college to eviscerate federal programs that help the poor.

Third, instead of coming up with a feasible alternative to the much lampooned individual mandate, the GOP wanted to replace it with a 30% surcharge on premiums for one year for anyone who went without insurance for two months. The reason for Obamacare’s individual mandate is twofold: incentivize people to get health care coverage before they get sick and increase the size of the pool of people participating in the marketplace to, in part, alleviate the costs for insurance companies required to accept people with pre-existing conditions. By making sure that people get insurance or else pay a penalty, it avoids lots of relatively healthy people cheating and only getting insurance after they get sick.

As liberal New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait wrote a few weeks ago, herein lies a major catch-22 for the GOP. After years of attacking the individual mandate as socialist government overreach, they cannot now go back to their voters with the mandate in place. This is despite the fact that it was a conservative Heritage Foundation scholar who came up with the idea in 1989 in the first place and a group of Republican senators embraced it as an alternative to the failed Clinton health care initiative in the 1990’s.

However, the GOP also doesn’t want to get rid of the very popular protection for people with pre-existing conditions. In trying to squeak their way between a rock and another rock, the GOP plopped the 30% surcharge on the table. It’s hard to see what a mere 30% surcharge would do to prevent people from taking advantage of the loophole. It makes economic sense for healthy people to wait until they need care to start paying for it (although they would need to wait until an open enrollment period in order to do so). It’s a sorry excuse for an incentive, and, as mentioned above, that’s why premiums would have gone up in the near term if the AHCA had come to fruition.

Now that I’ve talked a bit about why the “plan” was terrible policy, I’ll turn to why it made terrible politics too.

The ultimate problem for the GOP is that there is no viable federal alternative to health care to the right of Obamacare that would garner broad public support. That’s because Obamacare is a relatively conservative attempt to achieve something approaching (but certainly far from) universal health care. In 2010, Obama and top Democrats even torpedoed a public option that would have created a federally-funded health care plan that would have kept down premiums by competing with private insurance companies. Democrats even accepted over 150 Republican amendments to the Obamacare legislation because they were seeking bipartisan support, which they obviously never got.

Not without irony, after seven years of accusing Democrats of forcing Obamacare through Congress without adequate review, the GOP decided to do exactly that. As Harold Pollack explains in an excellent piece for Politico, then-majority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and then-majority leader Sen. Harry Reid spent more than a year building consensus and holding dozens of committee hearings on Obamacare to actualize a vision dreamt by liberals since the days of the Truman Administration.

Instead of cultivating support from the health care insurance industry or the major health care provider groups, Republicans spent a grand total of 18 days from disastrous roll out to eventual failure begging congressmen to get on board. It probably didn’t help Paul Ryan when the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association, and the AARP (among many other organizations) joined with conservative groups like FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation, and the CATO Institute in condemning his plan.

With the moderate flank of the GOP pinned down by liberal grassroots activism, particularly in the Northeast, and right-wing hardliners pressing for an even more terrible plan, Ryan and Trump eventually ran full tilt into a completely artificially created deadline of the 7th anniversary of Obamacare’s enactment. Even Newt Gingrich was compelled to publicly ponder, “Why would you schedule a vote on a bill that is at 17% approval?”

What, indeed, were they thinking?

For Trump, at least, it turns out he wasn’t thinking very much. By all accounts, he had no interest in the policy specifics of the bill. As I wrote in a previous post, it’s hard to care about policy specifics when you don’t have principles to guide you.

Thus, the “ultimate closer” was selling a product about which he knew nothing. Tim Alberta’s superb account of the behind-the-scenes machinations on the replacement effort is telling. In the following excerpt, Alberta describes what happened after Donald Trump told hard-right Freedom Caucus members of Congress to “[f]orget about the little shit”, meaning, you know, what the bill would have done:

Filled with hope once again, Freedom Caucus members were once again promptly disappointed. This meeting was yet another ‘take one for the team’ seminar. The atmosphere was friendly, and the president had the group laughing with irrelevant riffs and stories of negotiations past, but it became clear, as soon as he made the ‘little shit’ comment, that no serious changes were going to be made, because the president didn’t have sufficient command of the policy details to negotiate what would or would not be realistic for Ryan to shepherd through the House.

Making matters worse for Trump was that he was actually selling garbage.

Perhaps Republicans failed in their efforts to do the thing they’ve been promising to do for the better part of a decade because many conservatives don’t think the health care problem can be solved by government at all. Their hearts aren’t in it. So they tried to race towards political hand-washing with the AHCA while slashing entitlement spending to make it easier to achieve tax reform (less government money spent on social programs means the government can afford to tax rich people less).

Even Trump seemed to acknowledge that the plan would have broken his promises on health care and hurt many of his voters when Tucker Carlson raised the point in an interview.

By the end of last week, a desperate White House told the Freedom Caucus that they would eliminate the “essential health benefits” of Obamacare. That would literally allow insurance companies to sell plans that didn’t cover things like visits to the hospital. What a ruse.

Now let’s get to the hard part.

I’m of the mind that progressives should not just criticize as the minority party but also propose alternatives. On this issue, some of these ideas include expanding Medicaid to include more people, creating a Medicare buy-in for older people under the age of 65, and creating a public option.

Another alternative is a Medicare-for-all single-payer system, the likes of which Sen. Bernie Sanders has been advocating. Interestingly, some liberal lawmakers in California are pushing the implementation of a state-wide single payer system. States are the laboratories of democracy, and, if left coast activists are successful in getting the law passed, it will be interesting to see how that experiment unfolds.

Democrats must propagate their own ideas about how to improve the health care system or else they risk getting caught flat-footed like the Republicans did after taking back power. Furthermore, voters want to vote for something. As the tragedy of the Hillary Clinton campaign has taught us, electoral success requires something more than “the other guy is worse”. While Obama was a personality tour de force in 2008, he also ran on ideas like health care reform and environmental policy that turned supporters into volunteers into votes.

While some may not want to admit this, Donald Trump ran on a big idea too. The main import of his message is that we need to change the system entirely so it works for the little guy. There’s no bigger idea in politics than that.

Obviously, however, salesmanship can only go so far when you have no plan to deliver the goods. Democrats need to show the nation that they have ideas on health care. And they need to talk about it loudly, publicly, and often.

Devoid of Principle: What Alexander Hamilton Can Teach Us About Trump

In the months leading up to the last election, I happened to be reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and was struck by some of the similarities between the 2016 presidential election and that of 1800. As a result, I wrote the following essay. My intended audience was the undecided voter. If you like history, I think you’ll find it interesting (it may also appeal to Broadway fans since Chernow’s book is also the inspiration for the hit Hamilton musical). Without further ado:

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson bitterly disagreed on nearly every major policy decision. While Hamilton supported a Federalist vision of commerce-based economy with strong financial institutions, Jefferson advocated the Republican dream of an agrarian-based society of diffusive state power.

Even while serving together in George Washington’s cabinet, they both undertook viciously personal campaigns to attack one another in leading newspapers. Without exaggeration, they were political archenemies both during and after the Washington administration.

Amazingly, however, Hamilton advocated for a Jefferson presidency during the 1800 election. What could account for Hamilton’s surprising reversal? The answer was Aaron Burr.

Hamilton had watched Burr’s rise in New York politics with great trepidation. He quickly realized that Burr would do or say almost anything for the sake of political convenience. In other words, he was a man devoid of principle. The most important political issue for Aaron Burr was the promotion of Aaron Burr.

When Jefferson and Burr tied in the 1800 presidential election, Burr refused to yield to Jefferson despite a prior assumption that Burr would serve as vice president. As a result, the Federalist-controlled Congress was cast in the role of deal-maker.

Enter: Hamilton. Hamilton disagreed bitterly with Jefferson’s political principles. But Hamilton recognized that Jefferson had principles. For Hamilton, the choice was difficult but clear. It is better to support a man who opposes all of your principles than to support a man who has none at all. To that end, he fervently penned letters to his fellow Federalists advocating for a Jefferson presidency. Once in power, Jefferson proved far less radical than Hamilton and the Federalists had feared. He did not dismantle the national bank or abolish all internal taxes as he once advocated. Instead, the practical realities of governing in the best interests of the nation forged a more moderate executive.

With history as a guide, I turn to the present election. Donald Trump is a man of no principles. The stances he has taken have changed so rapidly over the years and even over a single election cycle that no one can be sure of what he actually believes. The man has espoused diametrically opposed views in single sentences. He has changed his stances on, to name but a few policy areas, immigration, national security, reproductive rights, gun control, and even the role of government itself. We have no idea what he actually stands for. The only constant is the political expediency of his scantily explained, shifting positions. Like Burr, Trump’s only concern is the promotion of himself.

Electing an individual whose only principle is the aggrandizement of his own power paves the path towards tyranny. Trump is a demagogue who uses fear to achieve his aims. We have seen this before. From ancient Athens to the 21st century, demagoguery has led to the denigration of government and even the downfall of democracies.

Remember that a nation gains strength from her institutions, and institutions gain strength from age. Remember too that our Republic is relatively young, and so, therefore, are our institutions.

Those pillars of democracy- freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, and even the presidency itself- are at risk. Donald Trump has openly expressed a desire to curtail free speech, admitted to a willingness to use the legal system to prosecute political enemies and even scores, and called into question our electoral system itself.

Democracy is not a given. It must be protected. It must be preserved. Don’t let animosity towards Hillary Clinton blind you. Engage. Fight.

The Road to Impeachment

On Saturday, the sitting president of the United States of America seemingly accused his predecessor of personally orchestrating a criminal conspiracy to wiretap his phones. On Sunday, FBI Director James Comey privately urged the U.S. Justice Department to denounce the accusation because it denigrates the civil servants working at the FBI accused of participating in the crime.

If true, Trump’s assertions would constitute the most damning political crime in modern American history. However, the White House has failed to put forth any evidence whatsoever to substantiate the incredible claims.

The most likely scenario here is that the man who publicly claimed that the first black president of the United States was a Kenyan-born Muslim, that the California drought was really a plot put into action by environmentalists trying to save a tiny fish, that global warming is a Chinese hoax, and that 3 to 5 million undocumented immigrants illegally voted in the 2016 elections is peddling yet another crackpot conspiracy theory. Seemingly on a daily basis, Donald Trump’s flailing incompetence further denigrates the Office of the President of the United States.

With this is mind, I turn to a question many progressives have been asking themselves in recent weeks: what does the road towards impeachment and removal look like? In short, it’s a long one. Let’s start with the constitutional text, and then we’ll turn to the process itself.

The United States Constitution says that:

The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

“Treason”, “bribery”, and “misdemeanors” are easy to define. The meaning of “high crimes” is a little less obvious. Contrary to what the modern reader might think, the term “high crimes” does not refer to felonies or even necessarily to actual crimes. Rather, it’s an antiquated term that essentially means abuse of power by an officeholder.

There are at least three potential high crimes that may fit the bill for getting Trump out of office: violation of the Emoluments Clause, possible cover up of campaign communications with Russia, and old-fashioned self-enrichment.

The Emoluments Clause is a part of the Constitution which states:

[N]o Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

In essence, it’s an anti-bribery provision.

The Emoluments Clause may prove fertile ground for impeachment because Trump has broken his promise to leave his “great business in total”. Instead, he created a trust for his business holdings that exists for his sole benefit while also maintaining the authority to fire the trustees (one of whom is his son) at any time. It is almost unfathomable that foreign governments and agents wouldn’t be tempted to offer favorable business treatment to Trump with his ownership or control of an estimated 500 businesses in more than two dozen countries around the world.

Another path towards impeachment passes through Moscow. American intelligence officers have leaked that British and Dutch intelligence agencies have information about meetings in European cities between Trump associates and Russian officials. CNN even reported that the communications were “constant”. Indeed, the New York Times also reported that, “American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.”

While the substances of those conversations have not been disclosed, various agents of the Trump Administration have adamantly denied that those communications ever happened. If the leaks are substantiated by solid evidence, such as transcripts of conversations, the Trump team will find themselves in a very precarious position.

Already, the controversy surrounding Attorney General Jeff Session’s potential perjury at his confirmation hearing has cast the Administration’s various denials into serious question. While under oath, Sessions volunteered that he was a Trump surrogate and had never communicated with the Russians even though he met the Russian ambassador twice while the campaign was in full swing. If this scandal ends in proof that the president tried to cover up the unseemly contacts with Russia, lawmakers could invoke the Impeachment Clause as it would certainly qualify as a high crime.

But the road to impeachment doesn’t even need to involve foreign entanglements and spycraft. The term high crimes, essentially malfeasance by an office holder, can be be interpreted to encompass self-enrichment generally. Just six weeks into his presidency, Trump has signed off on an executive order to review a regulation that protects small bodies of water from pollution and development, a move that would benefit golf course owners like himself.

We’ve certainly come a long way from the days when President Jimmy Carter felt compelled to put his peanut farm into a blind trust for fear of the appearance of impropriety. Thus, what’s needed now is a change in the zeitgeist. That must be kept in mind as we turn now to the process of impeachment and removal.

“Impeachment is not a legal process. It’s a quasi-legal process, but it’s primarily a political process . . . . It’s not going to happen until the political process reaches that stage,” explained former Nixon White House counsel John Dean during a recent interview.

Reaching that stage would likely be a long slog. Remember though that it took about 900 days for Nixon to ultimately resign after the botched burglary at Watergate complex. The Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives didn’t pass articles of impeachment (the first step before a full vote before the House) until after the release of the infamous “smoking gun” audiotape, during which Nixon was recorded conspiring to have the CIA pressure the FBI to back off its investigation of the Watergate burglary.

Ultimately, six Republicans joined with the Democratic majority on the Judiciary Committee to pass the articles because Nixon had lost support within his own party. Conversely, Trump currently enjoys high levels of GOP voter support. Even though various polls show that Americans disapprove of Trump’s job performance by between 43 and 56 percent, a McClatchy-Marist poll conducted in mid-February shows that 80 percent of Republicans don’t think Trump has done anything wrong when it comes to Russia. Indeed, a mere 7 percent of the GOP base believes he did something even unethical. The amount that thinks he engaged in illegal wrongdoing: a measly 2 percent.

With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, it seems very unlikely that Democrats can secure Trump’s impeachment and removal in the immediate term absent an incredibly significant turn of events like ‘smoking gun’ evidence of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Russian government.

The Democrats’ best hope would be to win at least the House in the 2018 midterm elections. However, even if the Democrats control the House, they would obviously still need evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing to prevail in removal or even impeachment. To that end, they have several options. One way is to investigate through the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. That committee has the awesome power of subpoenas, with which Democrats can launch real investigations into Emoluments Clause violations, Russiagate, or instances of self-enrichment. Another option for a Democratic-controlled House would be to form select committees to investigate, much like Republicans did in 2014 to investigate the Benghazi terrorist attack that they failed to pin on Hillary Clinton. Still another option is to create an independent nonpartisan committee akin to the 9/11 Commission complete with non-political experts in areas such as Russian foreign affairs and cybersecurity.

The problem for the Democrats is that even if they succeed in impeaching Trump in the House, the matter would then move to the Republican-controlled Senate for a trial. Democrats are looking at an unfavorable 2018 election map when it comes to trying to take control of the Senate. If Trump continues to enjoy high favorability numbers among GOP voters, the result could be a mirror image of what happened to Bill Clinton after he was impeached by the Republican-controlled House and then acquitted after trial in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Note that two-thirds of the senators present must vote “guilty” to remove the president.

What is needed is a sea change. With Republicans in control of the White House, the House, the Senate, and nearly two-thirds of state legislatures, Democrats are at their lowest political point in more than a century. The game plan for progressives who see Trump as an existential threat to the Republic should be to take control of the House, rigorously investigate the scandals besieging the Administration, and proceed based on the information garnered through investigation. By bringing Trump’s unsavory misdeeds to light so that independents and Republican moderates can’t ignore them, Democrats must make it tenable for a portion of Senate Republicans to vote to remove him.

There is hope that the tide may change. A recent CNN/ORC International poll found that 65% of Americans believe a special prosecutor should be appointed to look into contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

What Democrats need now is the time, energy, and organization to make that happen. With the future of the nation at stake, they may have little choice.

3/12/2017- This post has been edited from the original as I added an explanation that two-thirds of present senators must vote “guilty” to remove a president.