The Socialist Revival. It All Began in Iowa

Jeff Cox is encouraged by evidence mainstream Democrats “will increasingly embrace the socialist policies brought into public debate by the Sanders campaign.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

When Bernie Sanders spoke to a sold out crowd at Iowa City’s Hancher Auditorium in August, sponsored by Prairie Lights Books, he prefaced his comments (full video here) by thanking the people of Iowa for their early support for his presidential campaign. “It all began here,” he said.

If that is true, historians will look to the 2016 Iowa caucuses as the beginning, not merely of a presidential campaign, but of a wholly unexpected revival of democratic socialism in America.

The four socialist pillars of the Sanders campaign were (1) a trillion dollar green government jobs program, with good jobs at good wages, to cut global warming , (2) a $15 an hour national living wage, (3) free tuition at public colleges and universities, and (4) Medicare for All. Underlying these proposals is a fundamental principle, which Senator Sanders explained in a skit on Saturday Night Live. Larry David, as Captain of the sinking Titanic, was giving preferential access to lifeboats to the wealthy. Bernie Sanders, as a poor Jewish immigrant, came up on deck to explain to the Captain that we need to unite and work together if we are going to get through this. When Larry David complained that this sounded like Socialism, Bernie Sanders replied: “Democratic Socialism”.

Politics is full of surprises, and one of the big surprises of the 2016 presidential campaign was the discovery that socialism is no longer a bad word, at least for anyone under 50 who has trouble identifying the meaning of the word McCarthyism. More young Americans now approve of socialism than approve of capitalism. In his campaign, Senator Sanders received overwhelming support from young Democratic voters and caucus attenders, not only in college towns but in small towns and rural areas around the nation.

Now the most popular political leader in America, he is resurrecting the ideals of a Democratic President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, also called a socialist. Roosevelt transformed the Democratic Party with his belief in good jobs at good wages through public works programs, a social security pension as an entitlement (not welfare), and secure employment with protections under the fair labor standards act and union contracts. These New Deal programs were not merely good economics or good politics for Roosevelt, but human rights because we are all in this together.

Senator Sanders has brought the New Deal back from the dead. It is unlikely that mainstream Democrats will embrace the label socialist, but there is every evidence that they will increasingly embrace the socialist policies brought into public debate by the Sanders campaign.

In Iowa Cathy Glasson is running for governor on “a bold progressive platform”. She supported Secretary Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses, but she is now touring the state advocating a $15 an hour minimum wage, free tuition at our public community colleges and a tuition freeze at our three state universities, and Medicare for all as the only way to deal with the health care crisis inflicted on Iowans by the disastrous Republican privatization of Medicaid. Glasson has clearly seized the political high ground with her ideas.

Shortly after Senator Sanders’s Hancher speech, Iowa City native Cathy Myers returned to her home town to speak at a fundraiser organized to support her campaign for Congress in Wisconsin, where she is running against Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Cathy Myers supported Secretary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, but her speech in Iowa was taken straight out of the Sanders campaign. She supports Medicare for All, a $15 an hour national minimum wage, and a large federally funded green public works program to combat global warming and provide good jobs at good wages for the American people.

Nationally, mainstream Democrats are getting on board with Senator Sanders’s ideas. When he introduced Medicare for All in 2013, he could get no Senate co-sponsors. Now he has more than fifteen. At the beginning of this session of Congress, Congressman John Conyers had only 51 co-sponsors for his version of Medicare for All. Democrats, including Iowa’s Dave Loebsack, began signing up, and Medicare for All now has the support of roughly two-thirds of the House Democratic Caucus.

Anyone who watched the CNN debate on health care between Senators Sanders and Amy Klobuchar on one side, and Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy on the other, can only come away with one conclusion: Senator Sanders is winning the battle of ideas in support of Medicare for All. Unable to explain why it is a bad idea, Senator Cassidy was reduced to the classic rhetorical tactic of someone with nothing to say: name-calling. Senator Sanders, he said, was a socialist.

Senator Cassidy was not wrong to call Senator Sanders a socialist; he was wrong only in thinking that he could end the argument that way. When Senator Sanders explained patiently to Senators Graham and Cassidy that health care is a human right, he was explaining that we are all in this together. National Health Insurance remains part of the unfinished business of the New Deal. It will be a long and bitter fight to enact Medicare for All. If it happens, though, remember that it all began in Iowa.

Jeff Cox

This article first appeared in The Prairie Progressive, which appears only in hard copy, printed in a union shop, delivered by unionized postal workers. For a year’s subscription, send $12 to The Prairie Progressive, Box 1945, Iowa City, IA 52245.

Top image: Screen shot from the C-SPAN video of Bernie Sanders’ speech in Iowa City on August 31, 2017.

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