You can't walk 10 feet in D.C. without running into a high-minded centrist extolling the virtues of moderation and reaching across the aisle. This way of thinking casts itself as above partisan nonsense and cloaks itself in intellectual rigor -- real, in the case of The New Republic, or fake, as when gullible centrists fawned over Paul Ryan's budget plan because it had a bunch of shiny numbers. It shows up in op-eds urging Democrats not to become too liberal, because God forbid they rock the boat.
As we enter campaign season, I'd like to remind these dismal naysayers of the one progressive who has consistently been right about everything: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
"What we're seeing, Chris [Wallace], right now is that for 40 years, the American middle class has been disappearing. Millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages despite a huge increase in technology and productivity. And what we have seen during that period is a massive transfer of trillions of dollars from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent of America — massive wealth and income inequality, where you have 99 percent of all new income today going to the top 1 percent."
Bold claim. As it turns out, it's also mostly true. Average Americans' income has stagnated or gone down since the start of the Great Recession in the late 2000s, while virtually all of the recovery has benefited the wealthy.
Here's another issue on which Democrats would do well to heed Sanders' warnings: The Trans-Pacific Partnershp, a free trade deal with Asia that was mostly negotiated in secret and critics accuse of being a laundry list of corporate handouts. The Obama administration has found itself in the strange position of agreeing with Republicans that the deal should be passed - and Obama has gone so far as to accuse the progressive wing of the Democratic Party of being dead wrong on the issue.
Here's what Sanders told CNN on Monday about likely 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton's mixed messaging on the topic on the bill:
"She's going to have to be clear. It's not a question of watching this. You're going to have determine which side are you on? Are you on the side of working people who would suffer as a result of this disastrous trade agreement, and seeing their jobs go to China or Mexico, or are you on the side of corporate America? It's not a very difficult choice."
An extensive Economic Policy Institute analysis of relevant data led the institute to conclude that NAFTA, the free-trade bill signed by Bill Clinton with the support of Republicans back in the 1990s, had caused job losses in all 50 states by the end of the decade. It contributed significantly to income inequality by putting downward pressure on wages. The TPP, creates onerous copyright agreement, implements undemocratic processes to review and roll back labor and environmental regulations that act as a "barrier to trade," and would help destroy what's left of America's labor movement.
Sanders is correct a Clinton endorsement would severely undermine her liberal credentials.
But the socialist from Vermont has a plethora of potentially popular ideas that simply aren't ever considered by the business-friendly wing of the Democratic Party. He's for free college instead of our current trillion-dollar student debt. In Europe, this idea has long since gone mainstream.
Sanders favors a single-payer health care system, which is pretty much universal among other industrialized, wealthy countries. He tried to keep us from starting the Iraq War. He's against the Keystone XL Pipeline, which scientists believe will contribute significantly to global climate change. Sanders wants to spend a trillion dollars on rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure, which is now so old and poorly maintained that 70,000 bridges are now considered "structurally deficient."
Sanders was engaging low-income Americans before it was cool, and he's warned extensively about the influence of the ultra-wealthy in politics. Whoops: Now we're looking at a $2.5 billion price tag for the Clinton campaign.
Basically, Sanders has been right on almost every issue he's opened his mouth on.
In 2008, Democrats won big by nominating Obama, a candidate who won by selling the American people on his message of actual change in politics. In 2012, he got re-elected without worrying what cautiously moderate white people think. Let Republicans have the politics of cynicism and obstruction. Make them own it. Democrats' 2016 nominee needs to be someone who can shove the GOP's terrible track record since at least the year 2000 down their throat, and convince the public that they can actually offer something new and better.
Last year's so-called Red Wave wasn't built on some massive surge in popularity for the right-wing agenda, but a sense of despair among regular Americans that resulted in record low turnout. (That's another thing that Sanders has correctly noted, by the way.) The country is, in fact, growing more liberal at the same time Republicans are growing more conservative. The task of the next Democratic nominee should be to convince voters that we really can have a country that looks a lot like Sanders' vision for America, rather than plopping somewhere in the middle and hoping it all works out.