It has always been my view that good policy is good politics. If you deliver for the American people, if you address their needs, they will respond accordingly.
It has also been my view that being honest with the American people, even when speaking the truth is uncomfortable and painful, is not only the right and responsible thing to do – but it’s also good politics.
The American people are tired of press releases, they’re tired of photo ops, they are tired of tweets and snappy one-liners. They want an honest analysis of what is going on in our society now and leadership which provides answers to the many crises that we face. They want to understand why we are where we are today, and how we can move to a better place.
Make no mistake about it. Today, all across our country there are deep feelings of anger, unease, discontent and foreboding. That is true for those who define themselves as progressive, as I do, or those who see themselves as conservative or moderate. It is true for Democrats, Republicans and independents. It is true whether you live here in New England, or in California, the Midwest, the South, or the Rocky Mountains.
In a world which is changing rapidly in so many respects, many of our people are anxious, they feel left behind and they are uncertain about what the future will bring for them and their kids. Perhaps most importantly, they feel powerless to alter the course of events and believe their elected officials are not only failing them but have little understanding of the pain they are experiencing. Many are even questioning whether our current form of government is capable of addressing their needs or responding effectively to the crises we face.
It is no secret that I want Joe Biden to be re-elected president, and that he and I share the goal of beating back right-wing extremism. We also want Democrats to have majority control over the Senate and the House – and Governor’s mansions and state houses all across the country.
In my view, if that is going to happen, if we are going to defeat creeping authoritarianism and right-wing extremism, there has got to be an ideological change of course. Democrats, up and down the line, are going to have to be much clearer to the American people as to what they stand for and, most importantly, which side they are on in the great struggles that we now face.
As a U.S. Senator, I am more than aware that most Democrats are prepared to take on a reactionary Republican Party which wants more tax breaks for billionaires, cuts to Social Security, cuts to Medicare, cuts to Medicaid, cuts to education and nutrition programs – and a party which largely ignores the existential threat of climate change. Almost every Democrat I know stands with the women of this country in their fundamental right to control their own bodies. And Democrats are united in their opposition to racism and discrimination against the LGBT community.
But, if Democrats are serious about winning elections and addressing the major crises that we face, they must go further. They must embrace the working class of this country in a way which hasn’t been done in almost 60 years. It is absolutely absurd that, given the anti-worker ideology and policies of the Republican Party, that party now has more working class support than Democrats.
It should be deeply worrying that, according to recent polls, Democrats are losing more and more support within the Latino community and even among Black men. That has got to change – not just for the well-being of the Democratic Party but for the future of our country.
The Democrats, once and for all, must reject the corporate wing of the party and empower those who are prepared to create a grassroots, multi-racial, multi-generational working class party in every state in this country. Democrats, through words and action, must make it clear that they stand with a struggling working class, a disappearing middle class, and millions of low income Americans who are barely surviving. They must make it clear that they are prepared to boldly take on the powerful corporate interests who have so much power and influence in Washington and in state capitals throughout the country; that they will protect the needs of young people who, everything being equal, will end up with a lower standard of living in their parents; and that they will vigorously fight for the seniors of our country and the disabled who so often face difficult and expensive health care decisions.
Perhaps most importantly Democrats must reject austerity economics and understand that, with the new and innovative technologies being developed, we now have the capability, as never before in world history, to provide a decent standard of living for every man, woman and child in this country – and create an incredibly bright future. Democrats must make clear that these new technologies and the artificial intelligence now being created must work to benefit all of our people, and not just the corporations that own that technology.
In my view, if Democrats are prepared to do that, they will win this election comfortably. If not, I’m not quite sure what the election outcome will be or, for that matter, what the future of the country holds.
If we’re going to be honest with the American people, we have got to acknowledge the realities of today, with the understanding that many of these crises have existed for decades.
And within that context, let me say a few words, about the achievements of the Biden Administration in its first 3 years.
President Biden and those of us who have worked with him have every right to be proud of what we have accomplished – especially given the fact that the work was done in a very divided and contentious Congress.
Yes. We should take pride in the American Rescue Plan which, at one of the lowest moments in modern American history – when we were dealing with the worst public health crisis in 100 years and the worst economic downturn since the great depression – helped revive our economy far faster than anyone could have imagined.
Yes. We should take pride in finally making significant investments in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure – roads, bridges, waste water plants, broadband and creating hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs in the process.
Yes. We should take pride in the unprecedented investments we have made in renewable energy.
Yes. We should take pride in that we have finally begun to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry.
Yes. We should take pride in the fact that we are rebuilding manufacturing in the United States.
Yes. We should take pride in the fact that unemployment today is extremely low. Here in New Hampshire it is all of 1.7 percent. We should take pride in the fact that inflation, which not so long ago stood at 9%, has been reduced to almost 3%.
Yes, we should take pride in the fact that President Biden, more than any president in history, has created an administration that actually looks like America in its diversity.
Yes. We should take pride in what we’ve accomplished but, at the same time, this 2024 campaign, at the presidential level and on down, must be honest with the American people and acknowledge the very real challenges that persist for working families and the middle-class.
So, while we take pride in our accomplishments, we must also acknowledge the reality that tens of millions of our fellow Americans continue to live in pain and despair.
Interestingly, this is exactly what President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose portrait hangs in President Biden’s Oval Office, managed to do when he ran for a second term.
FDR, perhaps the most popular and effective president in American history, governed during the extremely difficult periods of the Great Depression and World War II. On January 20, 1937, Roosevelt gave an extraordinary speech at his second inaugural, in which, he took the opportunity not only to focus on his accomplishments but rather on the unfinished business he was determined to complete.
And this is what he said:
“In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens—a substantial part of its whole population—who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.
“I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.
“I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.”
“I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.
“I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.
“I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.
“It is not in despair that I paint you that picture. I paint it for you in hope–because the Nation, seeing and understanding the injustice in it, proposes to paint it out. We are determined to make every American citizen the subject of his country’s interest and concern; and we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
That speech by Roosevelt is extraordinary for its candor and honesty in describing the gravity of the problems confronting America in his time – even though he was the sitting president. In other words, despite the progress he had made in his first term, he understood that much, much more had to be done.
Of course, he was not really informing people about conditions in America. Instead, he was reflecting back what people already knew, what they felt in their hearts, and what they experienced in their day-to-day lives.
In that way, his remarks were not an indictment of his own Administration but instead a rallying cry for working families across America to come together with him in a joint effort to cure these ills.
We need to do now what Roosevelt did then. We need to be clear to working people that we understand the reality of their lives and our political discourse must reflect that reality.
And what is that reality?
In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, tens of millions struggle to put food on the table, find affordable housing, affordable health care, affordable prescription drugs, affordable childcare and affordable educational opportunities. That is an indisputable reality, and it is imperative that we acknowledge that reality.
At a time of unprecedented income and wealth inequality, while the billionaire class and the 1 percent are doing better than at any time in American history, over 60 percent of our people live paycheck to paycheck, while many work for starvation wages and under terrible working conditions. Despite massive increases in worker productivity and an explosion in technology, the average American worker is making $45 a week less today than he or she did 50 years ago after adjusting for inflation while the vast majority of our families need two bread winners to survive.
Today, we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on earth. Unbelievably, fewer than half of working-age Americans have any retirement savings and that number is even higher for women.
Today, despite spending twice as much per capita on health care as almost any other country, 85 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured and one out of four patients cannot afford the prescription drugs their doctors prescribe. As a result of a massive shortage of doctors, nurses, mental health providers and dentists many millions of Americans wait months in order to get a medical appointment and tens of thousands die, unnecessarily, because they can’t afford the health care they need when they need it.
While three people own more wealth than the bottom half of American society, nearly 600,000 Americans are homeless and some 18 million households spend over half of their income to put a roof over their heads. While major Wall Street firms gobble up working class neighborhoods in order to gentrify them, and make huge profits, workers are unable to find housing they can afford.
There was once a time, not so many years ago, when the United States led the world in terms of the quality of our educational systems. We had the highest percentage of people who were college graduates, and a very high quality public school system. Today, in an extremely competitive global economy, that is no longer the case and we now lag behind many other countries in our educational achievements. In many states, teachers are paid embarrassingly low salaries.
Meanwhile, over 45 million Americans are drowning in over $2 trillion in student debt for the crime of getting a higher education.
Today in America, not only do we have more income and wealth inequality than we have ever had, we have more concentration of ownership than ever before. In sector after sector, whether it is finance, agriculture, energy, defense contracting, media, transportation, health care, or Big Tech, a small number of huge, multinational corporations control what is produced, distributed and sold. The idea that our economy today is based on small business startups, rugged free enterprise and competition is nothing more than a myth.
But the crises we face are not just economic. In communities throughout the country there is increased crime, we are struggling with a major opioid epidemic and we are now experiencing the worst mental health crisis in modern history – exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. Our life expectancy, which is already lower than most other major countries, is getting even lower in many parts of the country because of widespread addictions to alcohol and drugs, increased obesity and a growing suicide rate. Racism, sexism and homophobia continue to plague the country as we see an increase in hate crimes. With the school year now beginning, parents and kids worry about the epidemic of gun violence we have seen in recent years. Could it happen in our school, they ask?
Further, the American people know that our political and constitutional systems are in trouble. We have a former president who refused to acknowledge his defeat, and encouraged a violent insurrection to overturn the election results. We have state legislatures all across the country working overtime to make it harder for people of color and young people to vote, and who are gerrymandering districts to stay in power. And last, but not least, we have a campaign finance system which is totally corrupt, enabling billionaires, through their super PACs, to buy elections.
The American people also know that we have a Supreme Court that has, for the last 24 years, made far reaching decisions that have undermined faith not only in the judiciary, but the ability of our government to respond to the needs of the people. And that is not only their absurd and anti-democratic decision in Citizens United, but their willingness to undermine decades of precedent and deny the women of this country the constitutional right to control their own bodies.
The result of all of this is that faith in our democratic system is now extremely low.
Many millions of Americans have not only lost faith in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, but democracy itself.
And then, on top of all of that, just when you think the challenges we face could not be greater, the United States and the rest of the world face the existential threat of climate change. What a summer it has been. We have breathed the unhealthy smoke coming from the terrible forest fires in Canada, we have seen the floods in Vermont – the worst natural disaster in my state since 1927, we have observed the horrific death toll in Hawaii from their horrible flash fires, we have observed the drought, floods, fires and record-breaking heat waves in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. Increasingly, our people understand that climate change is not only real but that the planet is well on its way to becoming less healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations. Given their fears, millions of young couples throughout the world are wondering whether it even makes sense to have children.
So, where do we go from here? It’s easy to define the problems. It’s a lot harder to solve them. How do we revitalize American democracy and move forward toward a government which, to quote Lincoln, is “of the people, by the people, and for the people?”
In a divided nation how, in fact, do we bring our people together to address the enormous economic, social, and environmental crises we face – and create a government that works for all and not just the few?
In my view, by articulating the reality of Americans’ lives we will begin to recreate the trust that has evaporated in the institutions of government and the major political parties. To be credible we have to name names and demand accountability. It just cannot be that every political leader and every corporation and every institution other than Donald Trump and a few Republicans is acting in good faith.
The truth is that we are where we are today, because the people on top, the people with the power are extraordinarily greedy, dishonest, arrogant, irresponsible, and could care less about the needs of ordinary Americans.
Let’s confront the reality. It’s not, as Republicans tell us, the fault of immigrants, or racial minorities, or women, or LGBT people, or Muslims or any other minority group for the very desperate situation that too many people find themselves in. That’s just old fashioned demagoguery.
The reason so many have it so bad is that never before in the history of the United States have so few had it so good, owned so much and had so much economic power.
Never before in the history of the United States have so few, through their super PACs, campaign contributions, lobbyists and ownership of the media had so much political power.
And never before in our history has it been more necessary for all of us, standing together, to wrest that incredible power away from the few and redistribute it to the many.
Whether it is Wall Street, where three investment firms exercise incredible economic power as they control over $20 trillion in investments and, combined, are the major stockholders in the vast majority of S&P companies.
Whether it is the health insurance companies who make huge profits off a dysfunctional health care system that costs us twice as much per capita as virtually any other country.
Whether it is the pharmaceutical industry, which makes tens of billions in profits every year while charging us the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.
Whether it is the major defense contractors who produce massive cost overruns and have jacked up our military spending to some $900 billion a year.
Whether it is the food industry, which has dramatically increased prices at the grocery store while reaping enormous profits.
Whether it is Big Tech, which intentionally addicts our kids to social media platforms and contributes to the mental health crisis facing so many young people.
Perhaps most importantly, it is the fossil fuel industry which has lied for years about the causation of climate change, and is now enjoying record-breaking profits as they raise the price of gas at the pump.
Add it all together and what we are seeing is an unprecedented level of corporate greed. In fact, over half the inflationary costs that we have seen in the United States in recent years has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine, nothing to do with broken supply chains but everything to do with the greed of corporate America, the prices they have raised and the record breaking profits they are making.
And by the way, this is not just an American issue. This is a global issue. While over 6 million people throughout the world died of COVID, and millions more became ill because they were forced to go to work to support their families, the billionaire class used the pandemic to make themselves even richer. During the first two years of the pandemic, the world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion while the incomes of 99 percent of humanity went down and an additional 160 million people were forced into poverty.
These multibillionaires want it all, and they are prepared to step on anybody who gets in their way.
That is the kind of corporate greed we’re looking at now and the kind of greed that virtually all Americans – whether they’re black or white or Latino or Asian American or Native American – are increasingly disgusted with. This is where good policy is good politics. If we are looking at bringing the American people together, we have got to take on corporate greed.
And in that regard, we should take another lesson from President Roosevelt as he was fighting against the cabal of the economic elite of his era. In a 1936 campaign speech at Madison Square Garden during the Democratic Convention this is what Roosevelt said:
“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
“They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
“Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”
“I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”
That is what Roosevelt said in the 1936 campaign, which by the way he won in a landslide. And that is what we should be saying in the 2024 campaign. Like Roosevelt, we should not be afraid to welcome the hatred of the billionaire class that is doing so much harm to our country.
Whether they like it or not, we must address the crisis of wealth and income inequality and demand that billionaires and large profitable corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.
Whether they like it or not, we must increase the federal minimum wage from a starvation wage of $7.25 an hour to a living wage of at least $17 an hour.
Whether they like it or not, we need to end the concentration of ownership in this country and break up giant monopolies that are strangling small businesses and keeping inflation artificially high.
Whether they like it or not, we need to make certain that every worker in this country who wants to join a union has the opportunity to do that. We can no longer tolerate the illegal, anti-union activities of Starbucks, Amazon, and other major corporations.
Whether they like it or not, we need to establish once and for all, that health care is a human right, not a privilege. We must take on the greed of the insurance companies that made over $69 billion in profits last year while tens of thousands of Americans die because they are unable to get the medical care they need. The current health care system is broken and dysfunctional. We need to fight for Medicare For All.
Whether they like or not, we need to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry – which has 1800 paid lobbyists in Washington – and make sure that drug companies can no longer charge us by far the highest prices in the world.
Whether they like it or not, we must take on the military industrial complex, cut military spending, and use those savings to invest in expanding Social Security benefits, affordable housing, child care, and education.
Whether they like it or not, we will save the planet by transforming our energy systems away from fossil fuels to renewable and sustainable energy.
Whether they like it or not, we will overturn Citizens United and move to public funding of elections and no longer allow billionaires and their Super PACs to buy elections.
Let me conclude by saying this. In the United States, and in fact around the world, support for the establishment and their institutions is in decline. People want change. And change will come. The question is: what kind of change will it be? Will it be the kind of change that is dominated by the wealthy and powerful? A change which bans books, denies our history, pits one group of Americans against another, and treats women as second class citizens who are not smart enough to make important decisions for themselves. That is one kind of change that could happen.
But there is another kind of change which could happen. And that is a change that would create a fairer, more just and more democratic society, based on love, solidarity and compassion. A change based on the principles of economic, social and racial justice. The choice is clear. And I know the kind of change I will be fighting for.