Reducing the influence of money and raising the temperature of politics: Practical first steps

The Democratic Alternative is based on a vision. It is a vision to open politics to everyone, to democratize the economy, and for the empowerment of communities and citizens in the building of a freer, more just, and engaged society. This vision is often criticized as utopian. We are told that our ideas are too grandiose and vision too broad; we are told that our program is impractical in politics as it exists today. What is needed, critics say, are political managers that know how to get bills through congress, pass progressive legislation, and work with the political parties. Even if our politics are more desirable, they are deemed impractical. Such critiques have dogged radical reformers and revolutionaries throughout history, and they are critiques that we reject.

Continue reading “Reducing the influence of money and raising the temperature of politics: Practical first steps”

Against Mansion Politics

At a $500-a-head fundraiser in Charleston, South Carolina yesterday, Ashley Williams, a Black Lives Matter activist, confronted Hillary Clinton about her support for the 1994 Crime Bill as well as for her comments at the time parroting the racist media hype that some youth were “superpredators” who needed to be brought to “heel.” Clinton — who in a public speech in Harlem in the past weeks said that “White Americans need to do a better job at listening when African Americans talk about the seen and unseen barriers they face every day… practice humility rather than assume that our experience is everyone’s experiences” — did not answer the protestor’s questions, acquiesced the crowd’s boos, allowed someone to escort the protestor out of the mansion, and then said, “Now let’s get back to the issues.” See the video here:

There is a lot that is going to be said about this clip, which should be widely seen. It’s best for others to comment about what this clip says about the Black Lives Matter movement or Hillary Clinton’s campaign. However, I will say this: this incident is a perfect example of the campaign finance system’s distortion of politics. Continue reading “Against Mansion Politics”

Political Equality First

i. The economic inequality crisis in the spotlight

The crisis of economic inequality has reached the center of Democratic Party politics. The recession, the Occupy movement, Elizabeth Warren’s popularity, strikes for higher wages at fast food restaurants, the reception of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, and now the Presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders have together, step by step, put it there. Even Republicans are starting to listen, thanks in part to Robert Putnam’s recent book Our Kids, which frames the problem of economic inequality in conservativefriendly terms: not as a problem of suffering adults, but rather as a dangerous opportunity gap for America’s children.

Diverse descriptions of this crisis of economic inequality abound. Some describe it in terms of income inequality (emphasizing wage stagnation and CEO pay); others in terms of wealth inequality (emphasizing large inheritances and capital gains); and the most visionary thinkers on the subject, such as Roberto Unger and Gar Alperovitz, speak in terms of structural inequality (emphasizing the undemocratic structure of most economic firms and markets). Yet, implicit in most descriptions is a shared premise that solutions to the crisis will necessitate government action. True, the project of lessening America’s economic power disparity can be partially forwarded by non-state actors—the CEO who voluntarily raises worker pay, the billionaire who donates most of his wealth, the union organizer who reinvigorates unionization within an industry, or the new business school set up for training entrepreneurs interested in launching worker cooperatives. However, the enormity of this power disparity is going to require the participation of a much more powerful actor: the government. Take the major proposals for better distributing economic power: raising the minimum wage, allowing card check unionization, equalizing public school quality, funding the broadening of higher education access, taxing capital gains equal to income, increasing the estate tax, providing for the health security required for economic risk-taking. All these proposals necessitate state action. Continue reading “Political Equality First”