Debate: American Presidential Elections – Culture War versus Freedom for All

Published: 21 August 2015.
Author: Paul Shepard.
Introduction by: TSN Editor.

The candidature of the 73-year-old self-styled ?socialist? Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders in the race for the US Democratic Party Presidential nomination has certainly brought the nomination contest alive. A huge number of people have been turning out to hear Sanders at rallies across America, with 28,000 crowding into a local Sanders rally in a basketball arena in Portland Oregon on August 10th and similar numbers attending a meeting in Los Angeles. Volunteers are queuing up to help the campaign with nearly 50,000 so far which is beginning to match Clinton?s professional campaign financed from her $2 billion war chest (provided mainly by the banks and the corporate elite) . All of this is now being reflected in the polls with support for Sanders among Democratic Party voters rising quickly – now at around 30% – while for front-runner Hillary Clinton it is falling at 47%.
…However, the participation of Bernie Sanders in this race is a controversial one on the America Left given the nature of the Democratic Party and the fate that has befallen past attempts of more progressive candidates to win the presidential nomination. A few months ago we carried an article opposing his campaign: ?Is US Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders ?sheep-dogging? for Hillary and the Democrats?? And we invited anyone who supported Bernie?s campaign to submit their views for publication. Thanks to Paul Shepard for responding to the challenge.

 ?GET BERNED? No Matter What You Believe

The fact is, unless you are wealthier than 99 percent of your countrymen, a Bernie Sanders Presidency would help you in specific and significant ways. This is an absolute fact.

That said, if a man or woman, such as my friend, a woman in her forties who is employed as a cashier in the gas-station and convenience store where I used to work, opposes Senator Bernie Sanders for ?cultural reasons? like being “Pro-Life” (against abortion – Ed), and this is your primary issue, then far be it for me to insist that you cast your vote for any Democrat.

However, I would suggest that the Abortion question (like Marriage Equality, Gender Diversity, School-Prayer, etc.) isn’t going to be resolved immediately and that it would be better to keep discussing these issues in comfort rather than poverty and insecurity. Who disagrees with this? The alternative is to remain shackled to debt and to the greed of exploitative plutocratic elites.

What I mean is that this kind, wonderful woman and I could and surely would continue to debate the morality or necessity of ?Roe versus Wade? (the Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal ? Ed) until we’re both blue in the face. The REAL question is whether she’d prefer $15.00 per hour MINIMUM from her job; a paid vacation no matter her role or employer; a less obnoxious, intrusive, and dangerous police force, and so on. In the meantime, would achieving these gains not give her more time and energy to contemplate the issues dear to her and so focal to her politics?

No Time to Think
At $7.25 per hour (the US’s current Federal minimum wage) an ordinary working person finds herself working virtually ALL OF THE TIME — sometimes having to hold down two or three jobs, especially if there are children or other dependents in the picture. So where’s the time for any real, meaningful discussion? The little time an ordinary worker earning that little spends off the clock, we can expect to be divided between television, drinking, popular novels, the internet, and “quality time” with friends and family (such as this is under the capitalist order). Long-gone are the days of Ruskin’s “fireside humanity” though I am thankful for the embers that remain.

The point is, today’s American worker is TOO NUMB from his or her job to explore “cultural” issues in any meaningful detail. This is not news to my fellow socialists. Does my ex-coworker imagine for an instant that a President Santorum, or a Trump or a Bush (the Third) would be foolish enough or even CAPABLE of overturning Roe vs. Wade or rolling back the recent watershed decision of coast-to-coast Marriage Equality (for gays – Ed)? Maybe she entertains such fantasies — if so, the really tragic and ironic thing is that the numbing, alienating work she does for hours and hours with so little reward is the very thing that keeps her from examining such misconceptions — and she just keeps on voting for the liars who enslave us all.

For a College Education Free of Debt
Children are supposed to dream of college. In the case of a “Liberal Arts Education” we have a sense that, in these four magical years, a student has the time, encouragement, and resources to become a well-rounded and informed citizen. Those who’ve ?been there and done that? will tell you that the socializing and drunk fun are a little distracting, but the aforesaid ideal is definitely within reach of students who understand what’s at stake and who take higher education seriously. But the majority of these little dreamers will NEVER be able to afford it under the current conditions unless they agree to grasp the hand of the sneering usurer by taking out a student loan and plunge into the world of debt for decades to come.

As I’ve said many times before in private discussions, both in person and online, at 17 years of age, when one cannot buy tobacco or alcohol, cannot legally consume the latter, cannot rent a car, cannot buy a lottery ticket or men’s magazine, and cannot enlist in our armed forces – when his brain is not even completely developed – how is it that he is supposed to be able to responsibly consent to a student loan?

I speak from experience. When I signed myself up, I barely understood what was happening and was horrifically naive about the financial headache that would follow graduation.

If Bernie Sanders is elected and his platform is actualized, my country will see the tuition at State Schools fall to NOTHING for residents of the states in question. If I am a resident of New York State, for example, and I wish to study visual art, Sanders’ is promoting the idea and proposing the policy that I should be admitted to the state university?s Purchase College at NO COST.

If your reasons for opposing him are “cultural” in the sense that I’ve defined above (and not based on worries over taxation and spending) don’t you think you or your children would benefit from access to the deeper understanding offered by higher education, no matter the particular “side” with which you align your opinion? With a more educated populace, more of us would rise to a level above the usual arguments on the abortion issue – “this is a routine and purely private women’s medical issue” versus “God wants these potential babies to be born.” There are more complex and nuanced roads we need to travel to arrive at any kind of lasting consensus. Higher education (which a President Sanders would work to transform from a privilege to a RIGHT for every American citizen) would open these roads and we might actually get some thinking done.

Health Care for Everyone
Senator Sanders also desires a single-payer healthcare system. “Medicare for All” is a slogan one sometimes hears, which might oversimplify things a bit but which makes the moral point that healthcare is something to which an American citizen is ENTITLED by virtue of his very EXISTENCE.

It is not something one should have to sweat and labor for and worry over and fight with a spouse about. One should NOT have to pay through the teeth for or suffer agonizing but treatable conditions one cannot afford to remedy, when the technology and money are ALREADY HERE. Does anyone disagree?

Again, if your reasons are based on armchair macroeconomics then we could argue about taxes and government spending. That is not the point here — the point is that if you oppose Sanders because you are Pro-Life or critical of Marriage Equality or something like that, then my imagination is literally incapable of seeing a valid reason for opposing Healthcare Reform along his lines. Please let me know if the fault is with me or if I’m right in suspecting that no valid reason can exist for opposing what cynical shills, “useful idiots,” and the tragically misinformed have long derided as “socialized medicine.”

If you dare disagree with me on this point then I hope to God that you and those you love remain blissfully free of the health crises which befall working Americans everyday and are often literally “a matter of life and death.”

If I haven’t persuaded you by now of the futility of putting our “culture war” and your particular beliefs regarding any of its component questions over Senator Sanders’ more important proposals regarding education, healthcare, and especially wages, then I doubt further elaboration would make any difference. So let me conclude with the following hypothetical scene, which illustrates my point perfectly.

Choose A Better Life For All
Rick Santorum is a Christian chauvinist. He is also pro-Life and homophobic. However (at least in his presentation and media-image) he is commendable for his focus on ordinary American workers and their families. His emphasis on falling wages, unemployment, and America?s rapidly vanishing manufacturing sector is laudable. If he were more sincere and a deeper thinker, he’d resemble his intellectual predecessor, Patrick J Buchanan.

I am not deeply familiar with much of Santorum’s specific economic platform but it I strongly suspect that it doesn’t hold a candle to that of Senator Sanders. But suppose that they were analogous. What if Santorum, with all his bigoted socially conservative nonsense, proposed the kind of liberating and empowering things that Sanders has, promising to fight for a federal minimum wage of $15.00 per hour, single-payer healthcare, and free higher education?

If the Presidential election were held TOMORROW; were I in the booth and I could choose either Santorum or Mrs. Clinton — it would perhaps be a difficult and painful choice.

But in the end, I am quite sure that I’d vote for the candidate who would double my wages, shatter forever the interwoven nature of financial and medical anxieties, and sweep aside the crippling student-loan debt keeping whole generations in chains. The candidate who will help ALL OF US to continue our search for a just society and lasting solutions to the decades-long controversies of America’s “culture war.”

I tell you that despite my pro-choice and LGBTQ-friendly sensibilities, I’d take my own advice and vote for the candidate who promises a BETTER LIFE for ALL working families and indeed, for all Americans.

How about you?

2 thoughts on “Debate: American Presidential Elections – Culture War versus Freedom for All

  1. Hi.

    This is a real question. I know it’s ‘complicated’, but what is the difference in today’s political-economic arena between a US Democrat and a Socialist?

    One common feeling seems to be that they are the same (or possibly that Democrats are Communists which means they are also traitors. Not sure how that thinking lines up with reality or legality). My sense is that the Democrats have become Neoliberals in just about every sense (ACA being an exception), but i don’t know enough to be more articulate than that. Anyone care to chime in?

  2. The author ignores one simple “little” fact: Even if Sanders were elected, and even if he had a majority Democratic House and Senate, there is not a chance in the world that any of his proposals would come to reality because his own party doesn’t support them. Then, of course, he also ignores Sanders reactionary, racist foreign policy, most particularly his support for the State of Israel.

    If you want to make an argument to vote for Sanders based on his program for reform, go ahead. But at least deal with all the actual facts.

    Of course, the main point, which the author never even considers, is the need of the US working class for its own political party. Like so many before him (from Gene McCarthy to Jesse Jackson), the Sanders campaign has the effect of diverting away from that crying necessity.

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