The next US presidential race looks set to be as unedifying a spectacle as ever. What would a truly progressive election platform look like? In Sixteen for '16: A Progressive Agenda for a Better America, frequent Truthout contributor Salvatore Babones outlines 16 core principles for a more hopeful vision of the United States. Order the book now from Truthout by clicking here!
John Cavanagh, director of the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies, notes that, "By the late 1970s, large corporations began to understand that for relatively modest investments in lobbyists, they could corrupt the American political system." Needless to say, over the last four decades they've done that in spades.
At the same time, he writes, in an Introduction to sociology professor Salvatore Babones' Sixteen for '16, "polls show that a large majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage, believe that the gap between CEO and worker pay is far too wide, support actions to combat global warming, and want to tax Wall street transactions."
So how to close the chasm between what the US corporatocracy has grabbed and what the majority of Americans - the so-called 99 percent - need and want?
Enter Babones, whose agenda for progressive policy shifts offers a clear-eyed agenda for domestic policy reform. "In an effort to focus the book on 16 must-have policies for the 2016 election, many no-brainer progressive policies have been left off the list," he admits. Among them are civil and human rights for the LGBTQ community, an Equal Rights Amendment for women, and anti-militarism.
Race and racism are similarly MIA - intentionally. Promoting racial equality, he continues, is one of many "millennial challenges for all of society that cannot be solved by specific government action. Still other issues, like national gun control, would be difficult to implement without Constitutional change. And many, many more have been excluded just to keep the list manageable."
What Babones has given us, in lieu of a comprehensive wish list, is a concise and heavily footnoted - 270 end notes in 134 pages - roster of priorities that will, quite simply, make the world a better place, not just for us, but for the generations that follow. Although limited, it's an accessible entry-point, a direct way to launch a discussion of priorities and strategies.
None of Babones' common-sense proposals are particularly radical or even new - but that's okay. He forcefully argues that we need a government-sponsored jobs program to repair the country's disintegrating infrastructure since private industry has time-and-again proven that it will not pick up the slack and create jobs for all who need them.
"The economy has changed," he reports, "and the private sector simply doesn't need another nine or 10 million workers to get things done. If it did, it would hire them."
The urgency for job creation, however, is readily apparent in cities, towns and rural areas throughout the country: Aged and collapsing bridges need to be buttressed; airports need to be upgraded; roads and highways need to be widened and repaved; mass transit needs to be expanded; a national broadband network needs to be built; and wetlands and wilderness need to be restored.
"Public improvements may not generate immediate profits for the private sector, but they sure do improve things for the public - and lay the foundations for future economic growth," Babones writes.
Like the Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corp, and Public Works Administration of the 1930s, Babones' proposal for a 21stcentury New Deal is hardly revolutionary, but, as he points out, creating 10 million new jobs for the US workforce is not only overdue, it's imperative.
Similarly, while Babones concedes that the Affordable Care Act is a start, he argues that, "A civilized country needs universal healthcare, and the only effective way to provide it is through a government-managed program." Medicare, he continues, already covers 53.5 million people. What's more, "it is tried and tested; it is cost effective; and it works."
So why not expand it to cover everyone, newborn to nonagenarian?
Babones' 16 points include ending capital punishment; developing new, nonpunitive methods of handling nonviolent offenders; eliminating the expanded police state's use of drones and SWAT teams to maintain control of the population; raising taxes on the highest-earning Americans; refinancing Social Security so that those earning more than $117,000 are taxed at a higher rate; applying FICA taxes to investment income; enacting a public financial transaction tax, which, if imposed, will inject between $83 billion and $132 billion a year into public coffers; elevating the federal minimum wage to make it livable; and guaranteeing that every worker not only has the right to join or form a union, but is given 10 paid sick days, 10 paid vacation days and 10 paid federal holidays a year.
Babones also tackles abortion, arguing that "America needs one law on abortion, not 50 or 500," to assure that access is consistently available regardless of where a woman happens to live. "The key to progress on this issue is for the President to get Congress to debate a national abortion policy as a legislative replacement for Roe v. Wade, instead of focusing on piecemeal abortion-related legislation," he concludes. While, this is clearly a risky proposition, especially when Congress is controlled by Republicans and Tea Partiers, it is a provocative concept and deserves to be debated.
Other proposals include making is easier for people to vote; ending the torture of prisoners at home and abroad; and granting refugee status to children fleeing persecution, war or starvation in their home countries. He also demands a moratorium on mountaintop coal removal, hydraulic fracturing and off-shore drilling for oil.
"It's almost certainly too late to prevent catastrophic global warming," Babones writes. "It is perhaps not too late to save the Earth itself. There is no cause more progressive than environmental stewardship. There should be no cause more conservative than conservation."
Lastly, Babones unabashedly supports public education and lambastes the for-profit companies that have elbowed their way into school management - or have been handed a key by city mothers and fathers who are eager to privatize the system.
Calling the result "education factories," he writes, "We don't need gimmicky national standards programs. We need national financial support for local public schools, staffed by professionals who know their students and care about their communities . . . The federal government should entrust states and communities to bring up good citizens and give them the resources to do so."
The question, of course - not just for education but for all of the recommendations posited - is how best to push candidates to support the progressive agendas that Babones has put forward. There are no formulas. And as tempting as it is to completely avoid the morass of electoral politics, the bottom line is that elections matter. Whether we like it or not, it's our job as voters to push for bigger, bolder and better. After all, the clock is ticking; November 2016 is just 20 months away.
"Most other developed countries have some form of universal health insurance, universally affordable college education, unemployment benefits people can actually live on, string environmental regulation, and all the other good things that come in the wake of civilization," Babones writes in his Conclusion. Isn't it time we demand the same?
Reviewers Note: Babones will donate all royalties received from Sixteen for 16 to Truthout. The book is also dedicated to the site's intrepid content relations editor, Leslie Thatcher.