NATION INTERN MAKES GOOD: With Britain’s general election on May 6, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (Nation intern, class of ’90) has shot to the stratosphere like ash from Eyjafjallajokull, causing a seismic shift in the political terrain. As Britain’s "unelectable" third party, the Lib Dems are used to coming in honorably last. But after the April 15 televised debate, Clegg was almost universally acknowledged as the winner, with the Tories’ David Cameron and Labour’s Gordon Brown tripping over each other to "agree with Nick." More than one poll since then has put Clegg’s party in the lead–and relegated Labour to the bottom of the heap. The affable Clegg has even been hailed half seriously as Britain’s Barack Obama, with a downloadable "Hope" poster on the Guardian‘s website to prove it.
The moment may blow over: Britain’s winner-take-all electoral system and decades of gerrymandering favoring the two main parties make it unlikely that the Lib Dems can win enough seats to take 10 Downing Street, even with a majority of the popular vote. But the past few days have shown the depth of people’s discontent with politics as usual: with the corruption revealed by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the Tories’ dependence on tax-exempt billionaires; with bankers’ bailouts and fat bonuses, bureaucracy and broken promises. Many of the Lib Dems’ policies are to the left of Labour’s. They opposed the Iraq War and would scrap Britain’s Trident nuclear submarines; they’re for more redistributive taxes and against ID cards; like Obama (and some Tories, too), they want to break up the banks’ retail and investment arms.
It’s Clegg’s persona as the straight-talking outsider, though, that’s won the voters’ hearts. He has no big-business cronies to placate; his mantra is fairness and his manner that of the honest guy next door. He may well hold the balance of power in the next Parliament; at the very least, his rise will hasten the end of the undemocratic voting system that has kept his party languishing forever in the wings. Style can be a kind of substance, too. MARIA MARGARONIS
THE SANDERS STANDARD: The debate over healthcare reform illustrated the extent to which, when it comes to fixing broken systems, Washington’s definition of a repair is fluid. While Republicans are satisfied to say no, Democrats don’t always know how to say yes. And that will be even more true as the Senate wrangles over financial services reform. Thankfully, Bernie Sanders is separating fact from fiction. While the legislation crafted by Senate Banking Committee chair Chris Dodd offers a rough outline for reform, Sanders says the promise of change will be made real only if the bill is amended in four ways.
The Vermont independent–who voted against deregulation more than a decade ago and then doggedly challenged the conventional wisdom of former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan through the boom and bust 2000s before finally voting against the 2008 bank bailout–knows what needs to be done. First, break up big banks, because "it is simply not acceptable that a small handful of giant financial entities can exert such enormous influence over the economic well-being of hundreds of millions of Americans." Second, make Wall Street part of the real economy by freeing up credit to create millions of jobs by rebuilding our manufacturing base, transforming our energy system and addressing our infrastructure crisis. Third, cap credit card interest rates at 15 percent, because current rates are "not only obscene but, according to every major religion, immoral. Banks cannot be allowed to engage in usury."And fourth, end Fed secrecy so that Americans can find out which major financial institutions received trillions of dollars in near-zero-interest loans. Says Sanders: "It’s time we had transparency at the Fed so that the American people know what our central bank is doing with taxpayer dollars."