There's a new political army on the march in America, moving forcibly into the 2020 presidential campaign. Tromp, tromp, tromp they come — it's the Billionaire Brigade!
It's actually a very small army — only 749 Americans rank as billionaires — but they have lots of firepower. Collectively, they've amassed some $4 trillion in personal wealth, and they now wield the financial and political clout to grab nearly all of the new wealth that our economy creates. Understandably, their extreme avarice and the inequality they've created have spurred populist outrage among the vast majority of workaday Americans who're being stiffed by plutocratic elites.
In one response, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic leaders are proposing a widely popular wealth tax on the opulent riches being amassed and hoarded by this tiny group — and ho, what wails of anguish this legislation has generated in the lairs of billionaires! They're indignant that fortunes above $50 million would be assessed for a teeny surtax to help fund education, health care, infrastructure and America's other essential needs.
So, the Billionaire Brigade has organized a PR blitz to try to change the public opinion. With a rallying cry of Save the Poor Rich, we have such spectacles as Mark Zuckerberg lamenting that taxing his gabillions would hurt charities; Michael Bloomberg suggesting that the tax could turn America into Venezuela; Bill Gates moaning that it would eliminate rich people's incentive to get up and go to work every day; and Wall Street baron Leon Cooperman actually tearing up while complaining on a cable news show that a wealth tax is a "morally, and socially, bankrupt" idea that would harm his family. As one money manager said of his elite clients, "These tax proposals are scaring the bejeezus out of people who have accumulated a lot of wealth."
"Bejeezus?" I don't think there's much Jesus in these people! The Biblical Jesus I learned about in my childhood would bless Sanders, Warren and the majority of Americans who favor a wealth tax to benefit the Common Good. No need to cry for the few hundred haughty families whose love of money will be only slightly dinged by this tax — every one of them will still be fabulously rich. Plus, they'll be privileged to live in a country that's a little more closely aligned with its people's egalitarian values. And that's priceless.
We might expect that billionaires, corporate chieftains and Koch-funded right-wingers — and the Koch brothers' bought-and-paid-for Republican Party — would be howl-at-the-moon opponents of a wealth tax, "Medicare for All" and other big progressive ideas created to help improve the circumstances of America's workaday majority. But ... Democrats?
Unfortunately, yes. Not grassroots Dems, who strongly favor such populist proposals, but a gaggle of don't-rock-the-corporate-boat, fraidy-cat Democrats. These naysayers are the party's insider elites (old-line pols, lobbyists and high-dollar funders) who're suddenly screeching frenetically at Democratic candidates, demanding that they back off those big proposals. Why? Because, they screech, being so bold, so progressive, so — well, so Democratic — will scare voters. As one meekly put it: "When you say Medicare for All, it's a risk. It makes people afraid."
Excuse me, but in my speeches and writings, I say "Medicare for All" a lot, and far from cowering, people stand up and cheer! Union members, women, people of color, small-business owners, nurses, farmers, musicians, the middle class and the poor. In fact, The New York Times has just reported that 81% of Democrats (and nearly two-thirds of independents) support Medicare for All. Eighty-one percent! Even apple pie doesn't score that high. It's simply a lie that the people are "afraid" of the idea of everyone getting public-financed health care.
So who really fears it? Three special interest groups: insurance company profiteers, Big Pharma price gougers — and the political insiders who count on funding from those corporations.
Not only is it a pusillanimous fabrication to claim that the people oppose any changes stronger than corporate minimalism; it's also political folly. If the Democratic Party won't stand up for the transformative structural changes that America's middle- and low-income majority clearly wants and needs, why would those people stand up for Democrats? As the 2016 presidential election taught us so painfully, a whole lot of the working-class Democrats the party counts on ... won't.
Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.
Photo credit: Anthony Quintano