Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
On January 6, 1941, as Nazi Germany tightened its cruel grip on Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his annual State of the Union address. He acknowledged the terrible costs of war and argued that the sacrifice would be accepted by future generations only if it led to a newer, better world for all people everywhere, a world based on the four human freedoms central to democracy—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
They were, in his view, fundamental American values, and an antidote to the poison of growing tyranny. Three years later, in his 1944 State of the Union address, Roosevelt translated those values into what became known as the “Economic Bill of Rights”— an uncompromising articulation of economic security as a condition of individual freedom.
Today, these principles are embodied by the pure and simple lines, etched in grass, stone and light, of Louis Kahn’s Four Freedoms Park, the great architect’s memorial to Roosevelt that opened last month in New York. Kahn’s extraordinary vision was at last realized, almost forty years after his death, on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, thanks in no small part to dedicated supporters including my father, Ambassador William vanden Heuvel, who fought tirelessly to make Kahn’s dream a reality in our time.
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
HURRICANE SANDY. “The presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, but climate change has decided to speak to them,” writes Mike Tidwell this week. Only a week before the election, the devastation caused by the storm was massive, including a tragic loss of life. Much of the damage—of homes, communities, and natural and cultural landmarks—cannot be repaired. Mark Hertsgaard writes about Hurricane Sandy as Greek tragedy, stating that we can either choose to ignore warnings about climate change or choose to act. “The question Hurricane Sandy really raises,” writes Hertsgaard, “is how long Big Oil will be allowed to hold the government of the United States hostage.” Also, be sure to read my blog—I ask how Romney Republicans can reconcile their anti-government extremism with actual reality. For more coverage, read Michelle Dean’s piece on FEMA and inequality, and take a look at Allison Kilkenny’s report on how the Occupy movement is helping storm victims. Whether you’re in New York or elsewhere, find out how you can help.
The Nation offices were without power this week, but thanks to the tenacity of our production and editorial teams, our new issue went out on time. On Sunday we accelerated our press schedule and worked through the night—despite being physically separated from one another and without access to our usual systems. Our columnists, writers and cover artist Steve Brodner filed a day early, and the Nation team was able to finish up by midday Monday, just in time to close the entire issue before the storm hit. And a good thing, too—if it had been any later, we would have missed the window. Many thanks to our amazing team.
ELECTION DAY: NOVEMBER 6. With just days until the election, Nation reporters are on the ground in battleground states and campaign headquarters around the country. E.J. Graff is optimistic about Elizabeth Warren’s Senate race in Massachusetts—the relentless campaign finds Warren with a small lead and an enthusiastic volunteer base in its final stretch. George Zornick reports that just days before the election big-dollar donations have been funneled into Todd Akin’s campaign. Is the National Republican Senatorial Committee behind the money surge? For the presidential election, follow our reporters throughout the week—and come Election Day, keep an eye on TheNation.com for an opportunity to unload your anxiety and discuss the results in a Live Chat with Nation readers and writers.
VOTING RIGHTS WATCH. Our Voting Rights Watch team will be monitoring early voting and election day suppression efforts from Virginia, Ohio, Florida and the Election Protection Center in Washington, DC. Brentin Mock reports on early-voting turnout in Florida, and Ari Bermaninvestigates how Hurricane Sandy will impact the election. Aura Bogado and community journalist Maegan E. Ortiz filed a report this week on why voting is especially crucial in communities of color—even for those who don’t live in swing states. Follow our team, who will be covering the election on the ground for The Nation and Colorlines.
#TALKPOVERTY. After months of pushing the candidates to talk about how they plan to tackle poverty in the United States, our own Greg Kaufmann was able to get a response from President Obama’s campaign (unsurprisingly, the Romney campaign chose not to participate.) Read his piece, and find out what the president would do in a second term and what the campaign has to say about child hunger, low-wage jobs, veteran homelessness and more.
PROGRAMMING NOTE. I’ll be on MSNBC’s UP with Chris Hayes this Sunday as we get ready for the election.
As Hurricane Sandy forced evacuations and shut down public transit, New York City bus drivers transported patients to hospitals. Nurses stayed and watched over the sick. First responders marched into danger.
As these public workers were out saving lives, right-wing Republicans like Chris Christie took a break from bashing them. Alas, based on disasters past, we shouldn’t hold our breath for a lasting change of heart.
While political pundits weighed how Mitt Romney could optimize his hurricane optics, a better question got too little play: How can Romney Republicans reconcile their anti-government extremism with actual reality?
If you haven’t watched the video of Romney’s June 2011 debate comments on FEMA, you should. And so should every undecided or under-inspired voter you know. Asked specifically about FEMA—the federal agency responsible for coordinating disaster response—Romney offered a chilling response: “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”
“Every time”? Talk about unhinged ideology. (As Matt Yglesias notes, this is also terrible economics.) So much for “moderate Mitt.”
After moderator John King asked once more if Romney was referring to “disaster relief,” the vulture capitalist doubled down: “We cannot—we cannot afford to do these things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.” That’s right: Mitt Romney claimed with a straight face that deficit reduction requires de-federalizing or privatizing FEMA. And in an e-mail to The Huffington Post Sunday night, the Romney campaign didn’t exactly Etch-A-Sketch that stance away; instead, a campaign official said states should “have the resources and assistance they need to cope with natural disasters.” On Tuesday, when reporters asked the candidate himself about his stance, he simply ignored them.
What would a privatized FEMA look like? Premium service for the 1 percent? Elusive coverage for “high-risk” homes? Emergency services from Halliburton? Let’s pray we never find out.
If you’ve been waiting to declare the death of “moderate Republicanism,” consider this: Unless there’s a war to be waged, the modern GOP won’t even recognize a federal responsibility to protect Americans.
Unlike the privateers, public employees serve everyone—including the politicians who use them as punching bags. They teach our kids, they pave our roads, they keep us safe. They often pass up better-paying or less risky work to do it. Weeks like this, it’s near-impossible not to notice. Yet most of the time, these workers get some combination of neglect and contempt from our country’s elite. Consider how quickly after 9/11 politicians’ FDNY baseball caps faded into fiery denunciations of public employee bloat.
And Republicans aren’t just making idle threats. As Mike Konczal and Bryce Covert reported, the class of GOP governors swept into office in 2010 secured massive public sector layoffs—a sadly disregarded part of the story of our ongoing economic slump. Romney himself openly mocked the idea that we need “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.”
Romney’s contempt for public workers is of a piece with his contempt for those who rely most on public services—or, as he calls, them, “the 47 percent.” Bus rider? Public school parent? Guess what: You’re on your own (or, per Jared Bernstein, YOYO for short).
Of course, like the hurricane itself, slash-and-burn government hurts the most vulnerable the most, but it threatens all of us eventually. Just witness our utter failure to confront our ever-quickening climate crisis.
I’m sure Romney Republicans love the country, but they show little love for public servants, or for 47 percent of the public. Forgive me, but when they say “one nation,” it’s starting to sound a little hollow.
For more Nation takes on Hurricane Sandy, check out Mike Tidwell on what the storm says about climate change and the fate of coastal cities.
ELECTION COVERAGE. With the final debate behind us (and jokes about my role as Romney adviser aside), the presidential race and the fight for Congress is in its final stretch, and The Nation’s smart, truth-telling reporting continues to be invaluable in the days leading up to the election. George Zornick examines what a Republican Senate would look like—and the dramatic effect it would have on policy in the coming years. Lee Fang continues to cover money in politics and how corporate lobbyists manage our presidential debates. In light of the GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s comments on rape and abortion this week, Jessica Valenti proposes a plan to end rape illiteracy. And be sure to check back daily to our Voting Rights Watch blog. Aura Bogado reports on the surge of suppression efforts as the election nears—follow Bogado, Brentin Mock and Ari Berman for more up-to-speed news on this front.
2012 WRITING CONTEST WINNERS. We’re pleased to announce the winners of The Nation’s seventh annual Student Writing Contest. We asked students to tell us, in 800 words, what they think is the most important issue of Election 2012. The breadth and diversity of responses was simply inspiring. We received close to 1,000 submissions ranging from high school to college students. Congratulations to the winners, Andrew Giambrone, an undergraduate at Yale University who wrote about the human costs of unemployment and the economic crisis, and Tess Saperstein, a junior at Dreyfoos School of the Arts in Boca Raton, Florida, who offered elegant commentary on Susan B. Anthony’s contemporary legacy. You can read their essays, along with the ten finalists here, and the two winning essays will be excerpted in an upcoming issue of The Nation magazine.
REMEMBERING GEORGE McGOVERN. We were deeply saddened this week at the loss of George McGovern, progressive champion of peace and human rights. In my blog, I write how the presidential nominee and Nation contributor never wavered in speaking out against war, poverty and human rights abuses. John Nichols reflects that McGovern practiced “a purer politics, a better politics, because it was so rooted in his love of America’s history, its literature and its possibility.” Representative Jim McGovern remembers his friend as the “Atticus Finch” of American politics, a man who “spoke the truth even when—especially when—it was uncomfortable.” And William Greider calls McGovern “the last honest Democrat,” writing, “George McGovern would tell the truth nobody wants to mention.” Also, I hope you’ll take a look at The Nation’s 1972 profile, “George McGovern: The Man, the Press, the Machine, the Odds.”
MEDIA AT WORK. In this week’s cover story, Eric Alterman details how the mainstream media has covered the 2012 election—and it’s not pretty. In an era of post-truth politics, reporters have neglected the real issues, obsessing over made-up gaffes and meaningless campaign moments. Alterman argues that mainstream journalists have an “inability…to admit to, or account for, the radicalization of the Republican Party—whether it involves the candidates’ commitment to extremist ideology, or their loyalty to billionaire funders like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson.” Read more from Alterman here.
PAUL WELLSTONE, TEN YEARS LATER. It’s been ten years since the passing of the great progressive hero, Paul Wellstone. I remember Wellstone this week in my WashingtonPost.com column as “a relentless champion, a true public servant and one of the few movement senators we’ve ever had.” From protesting and picketing with workers to voting against the invasion of Iraq as a senator, Wellstone’s political courage is deeply missed. I am heartened that his legacy lives on in a new generation of progressive representatives and in grassroots activism around the country. As I write in my column, “Paul Wellstone was not a tall man, but he was a giant of a politician, progressive, human. Ten years after, I still miss him.”
We’ve seen the future, and its name is Rex.
The New York Times recently profiled Rex Sinquefield, a money-management millionaire who, with little fanfare, has become Missouri’s top political donor. As the Times’s Nicholas Confessore notes in his must-read piece, Sinquefield may well be the most influential private citizen in the state. Not for the power of his ideas, or the strength of his organizing, but because his money won’t shut up.
Like many in the 1 percent, Sinquefield’s top priority is slashing his income taxes (he also fights teacher tenure and police oversight). Missouri is one of four states with no limits—you read that right—on donations for state races. Sinquefield has taken full advantage of the opportunity, spending more than $20 million on Missouri campaigns over the past four years. This year, he’s submitted twenty-two separate ballot referendums to tax sales rather than income.
It was just a matter of time before Sinquefield, in his zeal for his favored policy, would shell out for a more favorable process as well. Sinquefield didn’t like the ballot summary that Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan wrote for one of his referenda to abolish income taxes. So since primary season, Sinquefield’s been spending big on Shane Schoeller, who’s now the GOP nominee in the open seat race to replace Carnahan. As you may have guessed, Schoeller supports dumping the income tax. He’s also proposed creating a bipartisan committee of appointees that could chuck and replace the secretary of state’s ballot summaries if supporters take issue with them.
Whether or not you agree with him, it’s clear that Sinquefield is well on his way to reshaping Missouri’s legislature, its tax code, and its political process in his own image—all by virtue of his wealth alone. As Confessore writes, if the groups that backed Citizens United get their way, and Congress or the Court ends federal contribution caps, “The no-limits giving that has let him do it might soon be coming to a campaign near you.”
Already, the current election offers a tour de force of big money politics. If anyone still believes that our current system rewards a focus on small donors, a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice offers a rude awakening. Through the end of September, in the country’s twenty-five closest House races, Republicans raised only 18.3 percent of their funds from donations of less than 200 dollars; Democrats, just 12.5 percent. And that GOP figure is skewed by Allen West’s re-election race, which apparently inspired an upsurge of right-wing small donor giving. In the remaining twenty-four top races, small donors brought in just 7.6 percent of the Republicans’ cash.
This month has also brought a wave of much-needed attention to another awful impact of Citizens United: the legalization of political coercion at work. Mike Elk and Mark Ames warned of this trend in a prescient Nation cover story last year about the Koch brothers’ heavy-handed pressure on their employees to vote Republican. As George Zornick and Lee Fang reported for us, the trend is epidemic. It’s an affront to human rights, and another way that the Citizens United regime perpetuates itself, rewarding the politicians least likely to help restore our democracy.
Rex Sinquefield offers a stark illustration of the future that awaits us if money is treated as speech, elections as bidding wars, and corporations as people. Fortunately, that’s not the only future available.
By a bipartisan October 18 vote, New Jersey’s legislature became the ninth in the country to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The Garden State joins states like California, and countless towns and cities, in urging an amendment. The vote was pushed by Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign, in partnership with a slew of local labor, religious, and environmental groups. “We will never have clean air or clean water without clean government,” NJ Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said in a statement. “As long as corporate polluters can use unlimited monies to influence elections and elected officials, the environment will lose.”
He’s right. And fortunately, most Americans are already on the right side of the issue. In a new survey released Thursday by the Corporate Reform Coalition, 81 percent of Americans said that secret spending is bad for democracy; 84 percent agreed that average Americans' voices are drowned out by corporate spending on politics.
Rex Sinquefield is unusually wealthy. But he’s not unique. In every state, there are people with his means and his ambitions, eager to remake the state or the country in service of their ideology and their interests. The future belongs to them—unless we stop them.
For more on how corporate money distorts democracy, check out “The Supersizing of American Politics.”
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
It’s been ten years since we lost Paul Wellstone, a relentless champion, a true public servant and one of the very few social movement senators we’ve ever had. He was the first politician whose death made me weep. But in an era of craven compromises and bipartisan austerity, it seems almost unfair to call Paul Wellstone a politician at all.
This week marks the anniversary of the airplane crash that killed Paul, his wife, Sheila, their daughter, Marcia, and the plane’s crew. For countless Americans whose lives the Wellstones touched, the loss was personal. But the loss, and Paul’s legacy, are also deeply political as well.
A college professor who was fired for activism, and then rehired because of activism, Wellstone was a pioneer of conviction politics. He openly championed the democratic wing of the Democratic Party, and like George McGovern, his friend and a man he admired, he never apologized for his liberal beliefs.
Before he was ever a senator, Wellstone walked picket lines with farmers and workers. He got arrested defending causes. He taught his students about conviction and commitment. He was one of the few aspiring white politicians to “cross the color line” in 1988, serving as co-chair of the Jesse Jackson for president campaign in Minnesota. He was a constant proponent—and exemplar—of often-forgotten truths: Poverty is a national shame and an ever-present crisis.
A 1972 Nation magazine profile noted:
Anyone who took the time to trace McGovern’s political ascension would have realized that he was not simply Mr. Nice Guy, the White Knight or Saint George, He is and always has been a tough, effective, skillful and ambitious politician, whose outstanding characteristic is dogged persistence…
Until the very end, George McGovern, who died Saturday at the age of 90, remained a champion of American liberalism at its finest. At a birthday party organized in July by his dear friend and longtime collaborator Representative Jim McGovern (no relation), he was engaged, mixing politics, martinis, history, literature and humanity in ways that very few American political figures know how to do.
McGovern was truly a member of The Nation’s family. He wrote many articles, spoke at the magazine’s 120th anniversary party in New York City’s Armory, came on the Nation cruise to Nova Scotia in 2002 and, alongside the magazine, he was one of the earliest to raise questions about Vietnam. (Ditto Iraq and Afghanistan).
I was too young to be part of the generation that remembered and supported McGovern as the courageous opponent of US involvement in the Vietnam War. But it was his humane, historically informed and passionate voice in the run-up to another tragic war, Iraq, that rang true to me and millions of others of my generation. “We hear much talk these days,” McGovern wrote in April 2003:
as we did during the Vietnam War, of “supporting our troops.” Like most Americans, I have always supported our troops, and I have always believed we had the best fighting forces in the world…But I believed then as I do now that the best way to support our troops is to avoid sending them on mistaken military campaigns that needlessly endanger their lives and limbs. That is what went on in Vietnam for nearly thirty years….During the long years of my opposition to that war, including a Presidential campaign dedicated to ending the American involvement, I said in a moment of disgust: “I’m sick and tired of old men dreaming up wars in which young men do the dying.” That terrible American blunder, in which 58,000 of our bravest young men died, and many times that number were crippled physically or psychologically, also cost the lives of some 2 million Vietnamese as well as a similar number of Cambodians and Laotians…I had thought after that horrible tragedy—sold to the American people by our policy-makers as a mission of freedom and mercy—that we never again would carry out a needless, ill-conceived invasion of another country that has done us no harm and posed no threat to our security. I was wrong in that assumption.
McGovern knew firsthand the brutality of war—unlike men who had never known a day of military combat who worked to paint him when he ran for president as a weakling unwilling to defend the nation. He flew thirty-five missions as the pilot of a B-24 bomber. Half of the bomber crew flying with him did not survive the war, including his navigator and dear friend. As that courageous and decorated veteran of World War II, McGovern believed that patriotism is nonpartisan. He rarely got angry but I remember his fury as he spoke of the disturbing and false notion in US politics, carefully crafted by hard-minded men (meaning no new ideas could enter), that the Democratic party was not interested in the defense and security of America. But McGovern understood that more was required for the defense and security of America than simply giving over half the federal discretionary budget to the Pentagon. He liked to quote President Eisenhower’s great farewell address, in which he warned of the mounting power of the “military-industrial complex” and its unwarranted influence in our society.
McGovern stood with the underdogs, the hungry and the poor. He led the effort for a school meals program that has provided food for millions of children globally since 2000. In 2002, he asked in The Nation:
Instead of adding $48 billion to the Pentagon budget, as the President has proposed, wouldn’t we make the world a more stable, secure place if we invested half that sum in reducing poverty, ignorance, hunger and disease in the world?
He never wavered in the belief that government could be a force for security and opportunity. He was a prairie populist—raised in the heartland of South Dakota. Later, he helped unleash the power of grassroots activists by opening up the nominating process of the Democratic Party beyond establishment insiders. And as a candid and eloquent voice of conscience and dissent, he never ceased to uphold principles that would make this country a more perfect and democratic union.
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the rape and murder of four American churchwomen in El Salvador—killed by US-supported troops of the Salvadoran National Guard, George McGovern and Jim McGovern wrote in The Nation:
One of us is a Catholic, the other the son of a Wesleyan Methodist clergyman. We both were inspired as we observed the lasting power of old-fashioned love and devotion to what is decent and just in human affairs as exemplified by the Maryknoll and Ursuline Sisters, the Jesuit priests and other communicants….Regrettably, it has become fashionable under the Bush reign to ignore the poor both at home and abroad. Mr. Bush perceived America’s greatness and strength to be our military might —our ability to invade and obliterate other nations. He has turned the US into a country that is more feared than respected around the globe. When our President travels here and abroad he appears with the rich and powerful and ignores the poor and oppressed. Perhaps one reason we have failed to effectively confront terrorism is because current US policies —of disdain for the poor and a trashing of our commitment to human rights—actually fuel the rage, humiliation and hopelessness that breed terrorists.
McGovern understood that our great nation was born of revolution—dedicated to human rights and dignity for all. He understood that the United States should rightfully be a champion for the vulnerable and a leader in ending hunger, illiteracy and poverty. And he was delightfully scathing in his astute observations about how too many politicians invoke faith and moral values when they violate them on a daily basis.
As we near the end of an election season that has (almost entirely) failed to speak to the poor and the vulnerable among us and has too often presented our role in the world in militarized terms, may we honor McGovern’s commitments by ensuring that what is missing is raised, and what matters is pursued in the critical times ahead.
George McGovern for The Nation:
Questions for Mr. Bush | April 4, 2002
The Reason Why | April 3, 2003
Patriotism Is Nonpartisan | March 24, 2005
Gene McCarthy| December 15, 2005
The Legacy of Four Women with Rep. Jim McGovern | December 21, 2005
An Impartial Interrogation of George W. Bush | January 17, 2007
The Nation Profile:
McGovern: The Man, the Press, the Machine, the Odds, by Arthur I. Blaustein and Peter T. Sussman | October 16, 1972
BAILOUT BONANZA. Our cover story made a major impact this week, both in the news and on the campaign trail. Investigative reporter Greg Palast reports that Mitt and Ann Romney made at least $15.3 million from the federal auto bailout. And it was Romney’s $1 million donor and adviser Paul Singer who led a rebellion by hedge funds against the federal bailout team’s original plan to rescue Detroit—a plan that might have saved the jobs, as well as pensions and benefits, of thousands of American workers at auto-parts supplier Delphi. It was a crushing blow to Delphi workers and one that Republican Super PACs are now blaming Obama for in swing-state TV ads. Read more from Palast here and watch him on Democracy Now!
NATION BUILDERS. This week we’re relaunching The Nation Builders, an update of our highly valued Nation Associates program, which has provided much-needed funds for The Nation’s mission since 1945. For years our Associates have provided more than 20 percent of the magazine’s revenue, enabling our truth-telling, principled and intelligent journalism to thrive. The Nation Builders will connect our valued supporters with essential content, new ways to network with each other, and vital new features to bring about real change in our country. I’m confident this new program will increase our ability to “build” on the invaluable legacy of the Nation Associates program. We hope you’ll get involved!
OBAMA FIGHTS BACK. Thanks again to our loyal readers who joined us in our second live presidential debate chat during the back-and-forth between President Obama and Governor Romney this week. Be sure to take a look at our post-debate coverage: Ben Adler writes about Romney’s false claims of bipartisanship, Bryce Covert asks what Romney really wants for women and George Zornick reveals Romney’s seven biggest debate lies. Be sure to join Nation reporters on Monday, as we host our final live debate chat. Along with lively, smart commentary, we’ll fact check the candidates in real time!
VOTING RIGHTS WATCH. As Tea Party groups and lawmakers continue to push voter suppression tactics across the country, our Voting Rights Watch 2012 collaboration with Colorlines.com investigates how hard it actually is for some voters to obtain ID. In Chilchinbeto on the Navajo Nation, our community journalist Hillary Abe illustrates why voter ID is an obstacle to voting. Watch this video to see how difficult it is for one Navajo elder to get voter ID. Also, I hope you’ll take a look at Ari Berman’s editorial in this week’s issue, “The Election Protection Coalition Gears Up for Battle,” to find out how voting rights groups are fighting to resist voter suppression laws and harassment in key swing states.
WELCOME TOM TOMORROW. We’re happy to welcome Tom Tomorrow, who will be posting his political cartoon, This Modern World, at TheNation.com each Tuesday morning. This Modern World has run in alternative papers around the country for more than twenty years. Read his first cartoon for us, “Republicans, Unite!”
At first glance, it might seem as if Mitt Romney’s path—from voting in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary to being the 2012 Republican presidential nominee—was linear. But over the past, winding twenty years, Romney has held every possible view on every possible issue—often at the same time. When it comes to policy, he’s been downright promiscuous.
He was for a woman’s right to choose before he was against it. He was for tax cuts for the rich before he was against them. He was for—no, he wrote—health reform before he was against it… before he was for the parts that everybody liked.
This isn’t a platform—it’s a punchline.
Now, eighteen months into the presidential campaign, countless campaign events, interviews, a convention and a debate later, one thing is clear. Mitt Romney isn’t Etch-A-Sketching or flip-flopping. He’s being dishonest. And at Tuesday’s town hall debate, it’s time for the American people and the president to go the way of Joe Biden and call out his malarkey.
Here’s a piece of unadulterated good news: At a meeting of European Union finance ministers last week, eleven European Countries agreed to support a financial transaction tax. It’s the latest step in the truly heartening rise of a much-needed common sense reform. It’s high time that US progressives take heed, and draw inspiration.
“This tax unites Europe—from the people to the politicians, from the troubled economies of the Mediterranean to the more prosperous nations of the north,” e-mailed Owen Tudor, the head of EU and international relations for Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC). “Only fat cat financiers—and the politicians who work in their interests rather than the national interest—stand in the way, and across most of Europe, their objections are being brushed aside.”
I’ve argued before that a financial transaction tax is a win-win: raising revenue to avert austerity, while discouraging speculation to avert the next Wall Street-induced disaster. On this issue, fortunately, the momentum is all on the good guys’ side.
Last month, Congressman Keith Ellison introduced a great FTT bill for America. The news from Europe should strengthen its momentum, for reasons abstract and concrete. Sarah Anderson, the global economy director for the Institute for Policy Studies, argues that implementation in Europe can defang two of the primary arguments against a US FTT tax: just having it on the books there will debunk fears that a US equivalent would drive all of our trading activity to Europe. And when the European tax succeeds, it will be harder for critics to argue that such taxes can’t raise much money. Indeed, she notes, “the people who are responsible for estimating how much potential revenue there is” have said they “will actually revise their estimate upwards” if Europe implements its own first.
The eleven European countries on board surpass the nine-nation minimum for “enhanced cooperation” under EU rules. A similar number of countries have been voicing support for months, but campaigners had feared that disputes over issues like debt relief would sink a deal. While not Europe-wide, a coordinated eleven-country FTT would be a dramatic victory on policy and politics. (It also offers the EU a chance to better earn its new Nobel Peace Prize.)
There’s still work ahead: The plan needs the approval of a “qualified majority” of member nations, based on population. That means that nations who not be participating in the tax will still have a chance to derail it, if enough of them choose to. While the United Kingdom already has its own transaction tax, Prime Minister David Cameron hasn’t supported the EU plan, and could present an obstacle if he chooses to.
But having cleared other obstacles, campaigners are more optimistic than ever. “There’s no getting away from it,” said Tudor, “the Robin Hood Tax will soon be in place across much of Europe, and four out of the five major economies.”
Anderson, a relentless warrior for the FTT, said the progress is Europe offers key lessons for US progressives: “I think it’s been a brilliant example of inside/outside strategy.” She notes the “tremendous amount of work done to win the hearts and minds” of Europeans. That included compelling imagery—think Robin Hood—and moral argument: “not just because there were all these strong needs” for the revenue, “but also a moral case about the financial sector having to pay their share of the crisis.”
But to win, campaigners also had to develop the technical expertise to cut through the fear-mongering and mystification. Anderson said that when campaigners got in the room with their elected officials, they often discovered those politicians had been misinformed by opponents—including their own staffs. She gives the example of then—French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who told FTT supporters days before a key G20 meeting that he’d been told that other countries had backed out. “If it weren’t for the much better-informed activists telling their leader what was the real deal in these other governments,” said Anderson, “they wouldn’t have known.”
“For the first time since the financial crisis began,” said Tudor, “politicians are putting people first, and making finance serve the economy rather than the other way around.” That’s the kind of change we sorely need, and it can’t come fast enough.
For more on European economics, check out Allison Kilkenny’s coverage of debt protests in Spain and Portugual.