With the holiday season now upon us, millions of us will soon be visiting family, some of whom we typically see only once or twice per year.
Among them, there’s often that one “special” ultra-conservative relative – Uncle Hank or Aunt Helen, or a parent or sibling – who takes issue with our political views, sometimes waiting until the entire family is gathered at dinner to start a political “debate”. You know the type.
I’m not a family therapist, so I can’t help you to resolve any underlying relationship issues. But as to the political or policy issues? That’s different.
Rather than be caught flat-footed once the “gotcha” questions start to fly, it might behoove each one of us to have some solid answers – well prepared in advance. Our responses may not convince Aunt Helen or Uncle Hank (although you never know). But the occasion may give us the opportunity to make a very persuasive case for Bernie’s candidacy and for Bernie’s platform to the silent spectators gathered around the table.
With this in mind, I’d like to present a few of the more common questions/accusations that are likely to arise, focusing on economic and regulatory issues, along with some suggested responses (but feel free to adapt and/or edit these as necessary). Hey, I’m here to help.
Point: I’ve heard that Bernie Sanders is a communist. How could you possibly support a communist?
Counterpoint: Nonsense. Bernie identifies as a democratic socialist. In practical terms, he’s actually more of a European-style social democrat – which means that Bernie is a capitalist, but a capitalist with a conscience. Bernie believes in free enterprise, and in entrepreneurial capitalism – not corporate crony capitalism.
Point: Bernie Sanders has already threatened to raise our taxes! Isn’t he just like any other “tax and spend” Democrat?
Counterpoint: Are you pulling down a seven-figure annual income? If not, I wouldn’t be too worried if I were you. The vast majority of tax increases that would come in a Sanders administration will be directed toward millionaires, billionaires, and multinational corporations – many of whom have been gaming the IRS for many years. Do you think it’s fair that General Electric pays less income tax than you do? Like zero?
Point: But there you go again, penalizing the job creators, and punishing success! Isn’t that Bernie Sanders’ real agenda?
Counterpoint: This is the same rhetoric we’ve been hearing for the past 35+ years: we can’t ask the corporations and the zillionaires to pay their fair share, because it will “destroy jobs” and “discourage business investment”. Meanwhile the 1% have been lobbying for more loopholes, lobbying for more corporate welfare, stashing their windfall profits in foreign tax havens, and engaging in deceptive corporate tax diversions – all the while crying that the government is being “mean” to them. During that same time, American employee productivity has soared to unprecedented levels, yet Americans now work harder, for longer hours, and for lower relative pay than they did in 1979, while American corporate profit – and corporate power – has never been greater. If additional privileges for the already wealthy and the already powerful translated directly into more and better opportunities for working people, then why haven’t we seen those opportunities by now? Where are all the great new jobs?
Point: But if we raise taxes on the corporations, we’ll just make it too expensive for them to do business here. They’ll stop making investments in America, they’ll stop hiring Americans, and they’ll just pick up their business and move elsewhere.
Counterpoint: America is the largest consumer market in the world. It has a well-developed public infrastructure, the rule of law, some of the best-educated, best-trained employees in the world, and much more. Many of these corporations have become fantastically wealthy and powerful by taking full advantage of these resources. If they want to continue to do business in America – and trust me, they do – then why is it so unreasonable to ask them to give as well as take?
Any corporation that produces goods or services Americans want to buy would have to be insane to forsake all that America has to offer, just because they don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes. And if they insist upon having their cake and eating it too, i.e. legally relocating their headquarters to Ireland, for example, while functioning as though they were still headquartered in the U.S., then they should have to compete for business in the United States – just like any other foreign corporation: No more trade protections, no more patent or trademark protections, no more free access to government-funded basic research…and no more corporate welfare.
Point: It sounds like the same old class warfare to me. Bernie Sanders just wants to wage class warfare, doesn’t he?
Counterpoint: I’ve got news for you. We’re already living in a state of class warfare – and we’re not the ones who started it. The question is: Are you prepared to start defending yourself? Or will you continue to deny that class warfare is even being waged against us, until there’s nothing left to defend?
Point: Bernie Sanders is going to do what Democrats always do. He’s going to impose all kinds of burdensome government regulations on business, so that American businesses can’t compete, they won’t be able to hire more people, and the entire economy will suffer as a result.
Counterpoint: This is the conservative zombie lie that just won’t stay dead. In fact, American economic history shows just the opposite – that the nation has generally prospered during periods of reasonable regulation, and has often faltered due to irresponsible deregulation. The 30-year period of 1945-1975 wasn’t the most prosperous in our nation’s history just because American business had a huge competitive advantage after the war. America became prosperous because, with the New Deal policies now put fully into effect, business was well-regulated.
By contrast, the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 didn’t happen because the financial services industry was too tightly regulated. It happened because for 35+ years, the big banks and insurance companies have bought up members of Congress, sabotaged the SEC, FRB, FINRA and other regulatory bodies, infiltrated those agencies through the infamous revolving door, and persuaded presidents – from Reagan to Obama – to eliminate, or choose not to enforce, New Deal financial system safeguards that had prevented past disasters.
Responsible regulation doesn’t suppress markets. It makes markets possible. It allows markets to function. By setting appropriate limits on what business can do, then enforcing those limits, government regulation prevents monopolies from forming, creates a more level playing field, promotes fair and free competition, protects consumers, punishes fraud, and otherwise prevents the kind of recklessness, destabilization and economic mayhem that led directly to the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.
Point: Well, it sounds to me like you and Bernie have just got some kind of chip on your shoulders about corporations. The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, you know. That means they have the legal rights and protections of people. What have you and Bernie got against that?
Counterpoint: If corporations really were people, then why aren’t any of them sitting in prison right now? If you were found guilty of laundering money for drug cartels and terrorist groups, like HSBC was, do you think the feds would have let you off with a modest fine? If you were caught dumping more than 90 tons of carcinogenic benzene into the atmosphere, as Koch Industries was, do you think the feds would have let you off with a tiny, token settlement? If your willful negligence led directly to the violent deaths of more than 100 innocent people, as was the case with General Motors, do you think you would be freely walking the streets today?
I’ll make you a deal: If you’ve never heard Bernie Sanders speak, I challenge you to tune into one of Bernie’s speeches or campaign rallies on YouTube, and let the man speak for himself. All I ask is that you keep an open mind. Give him an hour, listen carefully, and really think about what he’s saying. I have a feeling you’re going to be pleasantly surprised. Then, if you like, we’ll talk again.
Michael V. Kniat is a writer who feels the Bern in New York City. He can be reached at michael (at) newnirvana (dot) net.