Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders keeps bending the rules of Senate service and presidential campaigning by offering up proposals that imagine America as the fair, functional, and prosperous country it could be. Instead of playing politics within the narrow lines prescribed by the partisans and pundits who police the political process in America, the recently announced contender for the Democratic presidential nomination is going big—this week with a plan to provide tuition-free higher education for students at four-year colleges and universities in the United States.
“We live in a highly competitive global economy and, if our economy is to be strong, we need the best-educated work force in the world,” says Sanders. “That will not happen if, every year, hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and if millions more leave school deeply in debt.”
The contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination is, of course, right.
But the United States isn’t supposed to be able to do the right thing anymore.
According to the Republicans who are running Congress—and running for president—there’s just no money for free higher education. Or for other useful initiatives. In an age of austerity, as defined by House Rules Committee chairman Paul Ryan and his minions, we are told that all Americans have to look forward to are more cuts, more privatization, wage stagnation, and staggering income inequality.
Ryan and his ideological amen corner moan that there’s just no money for programs that might educate and employ and care for Americans.
Of course, there is money: trillions of dollars that can be freed up, at the drop of a hat (or a stock market), to bail out banks and fund wars. But Republicans like Ryan and the contenders for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination claimthe country is damn-near broke—with just enough money left for one more tax cuts for one more billionaire campaign donor. And, too frequently, America’s “fair and balanced” media and compromised and compromising Democratic Partygo alongwith the fantasy.
What has distinguished Sanders’s Senate service and his presidential bid is a refusal to buy intothe lie of austerity. Instead, the senator is identifying problems that need to be solved and identifying where the money to solve them can be found.