For as long as social reformers have sought to make real the promise of health care and economic security for all Americans, there have been elitist and out-of-touch politicians accusing them of peddling un-American ideas. So it should come as no surprise that billionaire Howard Schultz, the retired Starbucks CEO who imagines that purveying lattes has prepared him for the presidency, started the week by implying that Medicare for All is so dangerously extreme that it’s “not American.”
After California Senator Kamala Harris, a Democratic primary contender, talked up the single-payer reform—long championed by Bernie Sanders and now supported by Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker—Schultz griped on Tuesday about the threat reform might pose to profiteering by private insurance companies.
“That’s not correct, that’s not American. What’s next? What industry are we going to abolish next? The coffee industry?” asked the latest rich guy to entertain a presidential bid.
Schultz, whose candidacy as an independent has not been greeted with the enthusiasm he expected, backed off a bit from the “not American” attack as bad reviews mounted. But he continued to amplify the equally predictable arguments of Wall Street–aligned politicians who dismiss needed reforms as “not affordable.”
Schultz has revealed his hand with his attacks on Medicare for All proposals. The idea that “we should get rid of …the insurance industry”—and replace it with a humane, efficient and affordable guarantee of health care as a right for all Americans—is, to his exceptionally privileged view, “far too extreme.” And don’t even get him started on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to make the very rich pay their fair share by imposing a 70 percent marginal tax rate on billionaires.
Schultz, who was once identified by New York magazine as “the quintessential corporate Democrat,” has gone so far as to attack Democrats who propose guarantees of health care, education, and jobs for all as false prophets—claiming their promises are as “false as President Trump telling the American people when he was running for president that the Mexicans were going to pay for the wall.”
We have heard this before.
Attacking necessary and popular reforms is what the billionaire class and their political pawns have done for ages. When FDR proposed a Social Security system in 1935, New York Republican Congressman Daniel Reed fretted that “the lash of the dictator will be felt,” while his colleague John Taber declared: “Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers and to prevent any possibility of the employers providing work for the people.” The president of General Motors promised that “with old age and survivor benefits, no one will save; the result will be moral decay and financial bankruptcy.”
FDR responded by advancing the essential argument—for his time and ours—that meeting human needs is morally and fiscally responsible. Social Security, he counseled, “will act as a protection to future Administrations against the necessity of going deeply into debt to furnish relief to the needy. The law will flatten out the peaks and valleys of deflation and of inflation. It is, in short, a law that will take care of human needs and at the same time provide for the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.”
The 32nd president told a national radio audience, in one of the finest of his fireside chats, that “it is true that the toes of some people are being stepped on and are going to be stepped on.” But, he explained, “these toes belong to the comparative few who seek to retain or to gain position or riches or both by some short cut which is harmful to the greater good.”
In the defense of “special financial privilege,” economic royalists—the “plausible self-seekers and theoretical diehards”—would keep attacking New Deal proposal, warned FDR.
“A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing,” the president explained. “Sometimes they will call it ‘Fascism.’ Sometimes ‘Communism.’ Sometimes ‘Regimentation.’ Sometimes ‘Socialism.’ But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical. I believe in practical explanations and in practical policies. I believe that what we are doing today is a necessary fulfillment of what Americans have always been doing—a fulfillment of old and tested American ideals.”
Roosevelt wanted to extend the New Deal as reformers today propose. In his 1944 State of the Union Address, he outlined a Second Bill of Rights that included: “The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. The right to a good education.”
Now, billionaire Howard Schultz is labeling Democrats who would guarantee health care for all, education for all and jobs for all as “far too extreme.” In fact, Schultz is the extremist—one of the “prophets of calamity” who FDR warned will “seek special financial privilege” by denying “the necessity of reform and reconstruction.”