Friday, February 12, 2016

Clinton vs. Sanders, a matter of style...

As the Democratic primary race has tightened nationwide, my FaceBook feed has been filled with angry rants from both Clinton and Sanders supporters (I freely admit that some of those rants were my own). As I have thought about the two candidates though my anger has subsided a bit.

This is a very good time to be a Democrat. We have two candidates who are both strong proponents of civil rights and LGBT rights. We have two candidates who both care about health care reform and income inequality (although to different degrees). We have two candidates who care about the environment and women's rights. All of us who are Democrats can rest assured that no matter who gets the nomination they will be vastly better than any of the candidates offered by the Republican party. Of course having two good candidates can cause a problem. How do you decide who to vote for in the primaries? Should we just flip a coin before we flip a lever in the voting booth? Of course we shouldn't, while there are good reasons to vote for either candidate there is one important difference that has helped me to make my decision and might help you with your decision as well. That difference is the opposite political style of each of the candidates.

Style is a word that sounds frivolous in this context but I think it is the word that works best. I'm not talking about hair or clothing, I am talking about the candidates approach to governance and their approaches are considerably different.

Let's look at health care for an example of this difference and why it matters. A few weeks ago Hillary Clinton's daughter Chelsea Clinton was making a speech for her mother's campaign in which she said that Bernie Sanders wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. This was a bit disingenuous as it made it sound like Sanders wants to return to the completely broken system that existed before the ACA was passed. In fact he wants to expand health care coverage and lower costs by instituting a single payer system, but the statement said a lot about the political style of the candidates.

Hillary Clinton would claim that Sanders is a radical with his head in the clouds. There is no way he could get a single payer system passed through Congress and she may very well be right about that. However, she says this in a way that implies trying to put a single payer system in effect would destroy the ACA. I believe that it would do just the opposite, even if Sanders failed to implement a single payer system just the effort put into trying would do a considerable amount to protect the ACA. Let me tell you why.

As soon as the ACA became law, Republicans started to attack it. A lot of Democrats seem to take a bit of joy in the fact that the Republicans keep failing to repeal the ACA but we shouldn't get too cocky. The Republicans have already managed to reduce the effectiveness of the ACA with a US Supreme Court case in which a majority of the justices ruled that states could not be required to expand their Medicaid programs. In my home state of Tennessee this has meant many still can't find health care they can afford, which means that they are being fined for not having health care, which also means they still can't afford to go to the doctor or hospital when they need care, which means that hospitals in Tennessee are laying off health care workers or shutting down completely because they aren't receiving an increase in patients to compensate them for the reductions in Medicare payments required by the ACA. So yes, the Republicans have failed to repeal the law but that doesn't mean they haven't done quite a bit of damage to it and limited its effectiveness. We should also remember that recently an attempt to repeal the law didn't just pass in the House, it also passed in the Senate. Luckily it didn't pass with a high enough margin to make it veto proof but it is a sign that the Republicans could be getting closer to their goal. So how will Clinton and Sanders respond to this?

Clinton seems to be interested in taking a defensive position to deal with this issue. She wants to continue to hold off the Republican attacks on the ACA with her veto power and rallying Democrats in Congress to not vote for the Republican bills. This has worked so far for President Obama, but we don't know that it would continue to work for Clinton. Clinton is not well liked by Republicans, in fact they may dislike her even more than President Obama. Putting the word "president" in front of Hillary Clinton's name is only going to enrage them even more. She may face a tougher fight than Obama has to protect the ACA and we have no idea how many Democrats there will be in Congress to help her. We know it would be almost impossible for Democrats to gain a majority in the House because of gerrymandering and regaining a majority in the Senate will not be at all easy, we could even lose seats in both houses. This could mean Clinton would have a massive battle on her hands that we can't be certain she will win.

Sanders, on the other hand, wants to introduce legislation to set up a single payer system. If he succeeds, we will have a new health care system that will provide universal coverage, lower costs, and might even find support in the business sector as it would prevent them from having to provide health insurance to their employees and create considerable savings for them. Of course it will face a very negative response from Republicans and no one could say with a straight face that it would be an easy piece of legislation to pass. Of course just focusing on if it could pass or not doesn't tell the entire story.

Under a Clinton presidency Republicans would be free to put considerable time and effort into repealing or weakening the ACA, and they might wind up being successful. Under a Sanders presidency the Republicans wouldn't be able to focus on repealing or weakening the ACA because they would be forced to fight against Sanders' single payer plan. If Sanders' plan didn't pass, well guess what, we would still have the ACA in effect. We might also, as the fight against the single payer plan unfolded, manage to get the Republicans to agree to some measures strengthening the ACA in order to prevent a single payer plan from taking effect. In other words the Republicans would have to stop fighting to move us backwards on health care and instead would have to fight against moving forward on health care. I like our odds in that fight a whole lot more and I believe if nothing else Sanders' single payer plan would effectively safeguard the ACA from future attacks, at least for a while.

Of course Sanders' style of playing offense has advantages across the board. We have to try for more to even know what we can get. If we keep the Republicans in a defensive stance, if we make them fight against progress and fight against making people's lives better, their popularity will suffer. If we, with Clinton take a primarily defensive position it puts the programs we support in peril. We give the Republicans a strong advantage. You can only score when you have the ball. We have let the Republicans hold on to the ball for far too long.

The governing styles of Clinton and Sanders look like they would be very different even if they share a lot in common on the issues. Democrats have taken the position as fighters for a long time, it is time we have a leader instead of a fighter. Political style makes a tremendous difference and I believe that Bernie Sanders has the exact style that we need right now.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why do Republicans keep voting for Republican presidential candidates?

I have quite a few conservative friends, some who identify as Republican and some who don't, and I have noticed something a bit odd about them. You see most of my Democrat friends hold reasonably high opinions of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, even Jimmy Carter, everyone's favorite presidential punching bag, is held in rather high esteem. It seems to me, however, that Republicans aren't as big of fans of the recent Republican presidents. Let's take a look at the recent presidents elected by Republicans.

George W. Bush - Not terribly popular with anyone, especially Republicans. He grew the federal debt (after eliminating the surplus), he got America into a war we had no business being in, and he bailed out the big banks and automakers. Not the favorite president of most Republicans.

George H.W. Bush - During his presidential campaign Bush said "Read my lips, no new taxes!" and as president he broke this promise. This has made him a minor hero among Democrats but not among Republicans. Like father, like son, neither of the Bush presidents is terribly popular among Republicans.

Ronald Reagan - Before you start thinking I have gone crazy, yes, I know that Ronald Reagan is very popular among Republicans. Consider for a second which Ronald Reagan we are talking about though. Republicans love the horseback riding, flag waving, cowboy hat wearing, Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan, but they really aren't that big of fans of President Ronald Reagan. Reagan raised taxes several times, he sold arms to Iran, he made the federal debt soar, he created a program to give amnesty to millions of undocumented workers, oh, and he also supported gun control in the Brady Bill. They love the Reagan image, but the actual Reagan presidency? Most of the Republicans I have spoke with don't seem to be big fans.

Gerald Ford - Ford is a bit of an outlier as he was never elected, but many Republicans still don't like him because he pardoned President Nixon. That of course bring us to...

Richard Nixon - Do I really have to say why Republicans, and most everyone else, don't think very highly of Nixon? Of course it just wasn't the national embarrassment of Watergate, Republicans also don't tend to care for the way he made friendly with communist China or his plans for universal single payer health care or some of his other liberal leanings. Again, he is not a hero of the Republican Party.

So who do the Republicans like? Of course they have a high regard for Lincoln, the first Republican president, but often times you will also hear them offering praise for Truman and Kennedy, neither of whom were Republicans. I'm not saying that Republicans love all the presidents the Democrats have elected, let's face it, they don't have many (any) nice things to say about Clinton or Obama, but if they don't like their own presidents and they don't like the Democrats who should they vote for?

I think the time has come for Republicans to finally realize that they just shouldn't vote, that way they can reduce their chances of being disappointed. Plus it will be fairly easy to change over the presses that make the "I didn't vote for Obama!" bumper stickers so they can print out "I didn't vote for anybody!" bumper stickers and they can feel free to complain about whoever gets elected. Seems like it would be a win for Republicans and a win for America as well.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why I support Bernie Sanders for president...

America is a great country, our history is far from perfect, but our people have a hopeful spirit and we believe in our ability to accomplish things and move forward. We believe in entrepreneurship and innovation, we believe in taking risks and doing things differently, we celebrate the success of those who have achieved great things and believe that if our own list of successes is not that vast it is only because our time has not yet come. All of these things have led to America becoming what it is today, the wealthiest nation in the entire history of the world, a place where people have lifted themselves out of poverty to become titans of industry, and a place where we know that hard work combined with ambition and determination can make a real difference. We have freedoms and liberties undreamed of in some other countries and we take great pride in who we are. This is why America is a great country and it fills me with pride to be an American. I am also filled with sadness to see all of this threatened by a government controlled by individuals who care less about what makes America great and more about what increases the size of their personal bank accounts. We are now in the midst of a presidential campaign, one that started off looking as though we would have no choice other than to elect someone who was a wealthy, well connected, member of a political dynasty, one who would continue the status quo and push us further down the path that has led us to our current position. Luckily for America this election has turned out to be much more interesting and lively than anyone could have expected. It looks like we may wind up having a real choice, a real chance to alter the path our nation is on, we might actually find that our votes don't have to be for just one side of the coin or the other. This is a great thing for America, if Americans put the effort into really learning about the issues we face and how the people running for president will respond to these issues. My own research into the issues and the possible solutions and which candidate stands for what, along with some additional information I have that many Americans don’t has led to select Bernie Sanders as the candidate who I think is best for America and her future.

So all Americans are faced with making a very important decision. We are being offered a real choice this time around and the outcome of this election will undoubtedly impact the future of our country in some very important ways. We will turn to the nightly news and our friends and coworkers to get their opinions. We can study the candidate's voting record or history in the business world, we can look for answers in the Bible or the Koran, we can listen to the speeches and late night talk show appearances the candidates make. All of these things can help each of us reach a decision on who to vote for and I have been paying attention to all of them. I also have another set of information that I can rely on that isn't available to the average American and I want to share this information with you so it can be included in your decision making. It might sway you or it may not, but what I have seen and experienced over the last couple of years makes me believe that it is very much worth considering and that if we all included this information in our decision making process it could be very beneficial for America.

The information I want to share comes from living outside of the United States for a couple of years. Specifically I have been living in the Netherlands, a small country in Northern Europe wedged between Germany, Belgium, and the North Sea. The time I have spent here has allowed me to see, first hand, what happens when a country takes a different path than America. To see the results of certain policies and programs with my own eyes instead of just watching what one talking head or another with a particular agenda has to say on TV. I have been surprised by many of the things I have seen here and my mind has changed on several issues. It has affected who I will be voting for, I hope you can find this information valuable to your own decision making process.

The Netherlands is a democracy with a very strong work ethic and capitalist background. In its colonial past the Netherlands acquired new territory mainly through making business deals instead of through military force. Its cities and villages are filled with businesses run by large corporations as well as by individuals and families. Making money is considered a very worthwhile pursuit in the Netherlands. If a demand exists, a business will also exist to meet that demand. In many ways it is very similar to the United States, but there are some important differences as well.

Here in Holland everyone has health insurance, it is not typically provided by the government but is instead provided through employers by private health insurance companies. The health care system is effective, efficient, and care is provided with less waiting time than it is in America. It isn't free, but costs are kept under control so that everyone can afford it and everyone is required to be part of the health care system.

The Dutch education system is amazing. Children go to schools that are funded by the government but normally run by private organizations. Often times these are religious organizations or civic groups that are required to meet government regulations while at the same time being allowed to bring their own culture into the educational process. Higher education is also funded by the government through a series of exceptionally high quality universities and technical schools. Higher education is not free, but costs are regulated so that everyone can afford to get an education if they choose to.

The cities and villages around the Netherlands are all very well connected by a public transportation system that makes it easy and affordable to get from place to place and it is well utilized by all sectors of society. This allows many people to have the option of not owning a car saving them large amounts of money they would have spent on fuel, insurance, maintenance, taxes, and parking. Instead they can put this money towards other things that they feel are more important in their personal lives.

Homelessness is very rare in the Netherlands as the government will find places for you to live and make sure you have access to healthcare and food if you can't afford it any other way. Unlike the situation in America, if you are homeless in Holland it is much more likely to have been an actual choice on your part.

Crime rates, when compared to America are exceptionally low in Holland. Muggings and pickpocketing exist, but shootings and other violent crimes are very rare when compared to the United States. You feel safe when walking the streets at night in the vast majority of places.

While the national government of the Netherlands is quite strong it does not hold all of the power. Local governments, the sections of the government closest to and most connected to the people, have considerable power here. The national government may provide funding to local governments that has to be spent on roads or on education or on cultural initiatives but the municipalities get to determine how those funds are specifically spent in their areas. This allows tax money to be spent in the most effective ways possible and so it can benefit the largest number of people possible.

As in much of Western Europe there are more regulations imposed by the Dutch government than in the US. This doesn't mean that business are more highly regulated here than in America though. First of all there are numerous regulations handed down by the government that businesses must follow in America, but on top of that America is a country where lawsuits, sometimes frivolous and sometimes not, are exceptionally common. These lead to a secondary layer of self imposed regulations that most businesses follow. The next time you see a warning label on a product remember that there is a very good chance that it wasn't placed there by the government, instead it was placed there by a group of lawyers doing their best to try and protect the company from getting sued. This, from what I have seen, leads to businesses in America being much more highly regulated and restricted than they are in the Netherlands.

Wages in the Netherlands are higher than in America, this probably comes as no surprise, but they have also instituted a tiered minimum wage system. If you are 16 year old student the minimum wage for you is not as high as it is for a 25 year old. The 25 year old is much more likely to not be living with his or her parents, to have a family to support, to have other additional expenses and so they need to make more money to make sure they are a productive part of society. This allows young people to find jobs easier in entry level positions where few skills and little experience is needed, while making sure that older, more experienced workers can make a real living wage. Do not forget, however, that the 16 year old is still making more than minimum wage in America.

The infrastructure in the Netherlands is amazing. Not just the roads and public transportation systems, but also the electrical grid, internet speeds, telephone service, water and sewage, and airports. No one in the Netherlands lives very far from an international airport. Since all of the phone, internet, and electrical lines (except for high voltage transmission lines) are underground, storms rarely cause outages. Internet speeds that would be too expensive for most to afford in America are commonplace and cheap here. All of this exists because the government is involved. In my hometown of Nashville I had very little choice in who I could obtain high speed internet service from. Here, since the lines are controlled by the government but open for many companies to utilize, I have a wide variety of companies to choose from and the competition keeps the costs down to very affordable levels.

I could go on and on, but this should give you an idea of how the government makes life better for people in the Netherlands. At the same time the Netherlands is a place where you are free to practice your religion, or not. To say what you think, or keep your mouth shut if you choose. To own a gun provided you are willing to meet the requirements for owning a gun. It is a very free country, possibly more free than America in many ways because the elected officials in the government aren't allowed to be bought and sold by billionaires. This means that they respond to the wants and desires of the majority of the people they represent instead of really only representing a tiny minority of the people. The Netherlands is far from a perfect place, but I think there are many things America could learn from it.

People in The Netherlands work hard and take risks not because of a lack of a safety net, but because a strong safety net exists. In America if you start a new business and it fails, you can lose everything. This prevents many people from starting a new business or trying to turn their ideas into great new inventions. The rewards may be great, but the risks are just too high. In Holland you know that if your business fails you at least will still be able to feed and house your family and send your kids to college, this makes taking risks much more worthwhile and means that the entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive and well in Holland.

In Holland almost everyone speaks English extremely well along with their native Dutch and often times German and French as well. This allows the Netherlands to be very competitive in the global market. This is only possible because the Dutch place great importance on education, schools are well funded, teachers are well paid, higher education is kept affordable. All of this allows the Netherlands to be a center of high tech industry and a world leader in innovation. You need well educated people to compete and lead in the world today, America is falling behind in this area. Sure, we have of the best paid college presidents and coaches in the world, but many students can’t afford college or are forced into crushing debt to attend and our country has suffered as a conequence.

In Holland seeing your primary physician never costs you a penny. This means that people are willing to go to the doctor sooner which means a simple problem can be more often kept from turning into a serious condition. This means less sick days and a more productive workforce. Also adding to the high productivity levels here are a minimum of 4 weeks paid vacation per year, paid maternity leave, and higher wages that make employees willing to work harder because they don't feel like they are being cheated every time they see one of their pay stubs. This also allows more families to have a parent who is able to be at home with the kids at all times which of course is better for the children who become the next generation of well educated, well paid, and highly motivated workers and entrepreneurs. Workers in the Netherlands are pretty much just as productive as workers in America but American full time workers put in an average of 46.7 hours a week while Dutch workers average just 29 hours per week. Think about overtime pay and regular pay combined and see if it really seems that American companies are saving money by paying their employees less and offering them fewer benefits?

I know what many of you are thinking, what about taxes? It is true that taxes are considerably higher here in the Netherlands than in the United States, there is no doubt about that. But to stop the conversation there wouldn't tell the entire story. You have to compare the cost against the benefits. For example, if someone could move into a city and be closer to work, have more free time and spend less on fuel because of a shorter commute, spend more time with their family, get an extra hour of sleep every day, and generally live a higher quality of life but they refused because their rent would go up by 10%, something they could easily afford, you would think they are crazy. We should think the same way about taxes. Yes, taxes in the Netherlands are higher, but they result in lower healthcare costs, lower educational costs, lower transportation costs, a higher quality of life, and many other benefits that greatly outweigh the higher tax rates. The problem isn't high taxes, the problem is feeling like you get nothing in return for your taxes. In America we could lower our taxes by 90% but if we didn't feel like we were getting anything for our money we would still think our taxes were too high. This is why the higher taxes aren't a big problem in the Netherlands, they still feel like quite a bargain.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that we could learn a tremendous amount from a country like the Netherlands but so far in the presidential race it only seems one candidate has paid attention to these lessons. Bernie Sanders has stood up for workers and American families, he supports policies that will benefit the middle class and help the poor work their way out of poverty. He is the only candidate who is not being supported by billionaire donors who want to maintain the current policies that are benefiting them in the short term but destroying America over time. This means he is the only candidate who can act on these lessons because he isn't beholden to the 1%. He sees the ripple effects of policies like these, fight poverty and you can't help but be fighting racism at the exact same time. Increase educational opportunities and you increase business opportunities as well. Creating a better public transportation system creates more jobs and gives people more access to opportunities. All of these things could happen in America. All of these things could benefit everyone in America, even the wealthiest among us. Bernie Sanders wants to combine the best ideas from countries like Norway and Denmark and the Netherlands with the drive and ambition of America so that the United States can work better, be more efficient, and make opportunity a concept that is available to everyone.

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who wants to help America live up to its potential and he is the only candidate who will be able to do anything other than simply serve the desires of the wealthy. Bernie Sanders is the one candidate who really understands and supports the American dream. That's why I support Sanders for president.