A socialist joins the 2016 presidential debates, Part I

By BRUCE LESNICK

Usually the U.S. presidential debates are more about personalities than politics. The phony Commission on Presidential Debates, deeply in the pocket of Democratic and Republican parties, serves as a fig leaf to mask the shamefully narrow discussion that passes for democracy in “The Greatest Country On Earth”™. But living in the 21st century, we do not have to accept the limitations that those in charge would use to hem us in. With technology at our service, we can present a real, broader debate.

According to imperial decree, we are only allowed to hear from the two candidates that represent Wall Street and corporate America. Both the Democrats and Republicans have a long history of supporting pro-corporate, anti-labor policies, with initiatives that promote racism, sexism, exploitation, and environmental destruction. How do we know? Because together those two parties have been running the country for hundreds of years and the proof is in what we see all around us.

All serious candidates—including Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party—should be included in the debates. Doing so could only broaden the discussion. But like the Democrats and Republicans, Bernie Sanders, the Greens and the Libertarians all support capitalism in one form or another. To truly get at the heart of the problems we face today, a revolutionary, anti-capitalist perspective needs to be weighed alongside the other voices. To that end we bring you an expanded debate, where socialist “Sydney Solidarity” squares off against the twin candidates of the ruling rich.

The first presidential debate of the 2016 campaign took place Sept. 26, moderated by Lester Holt. Below are Solidarity’s responses to each of the debate questions. In this segment, we deal with basic questions of the economy. A later segment will highlight Solidarity’s response to questions concerning climate change, Black Lives Matter, and war. Lester Holt’s comments are edited for flow. A transcript of the actual, limited debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton can be found here.

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Lester Holt: We’re calling this opening segment “Achieving Prosperity.” And central to that is jobs. There are two economic realities in America today. There’s been a record six straight years of job growth, and new census numbers show incomes have increased at a record rate after years of stagnation. However, income inequality remains significant, and nearly half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

Why are you a better choice than your opponents to create the kinds of jobs that will put more money into the pockets of American workers?

Sydney Solidarity: Thank you. The primary difference between socialists and the parties represented by Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton, is that socialists tell the truth about the class divisions in our society and all that these imply. Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton would have you believe that there is one America, one team, with everyone in the same boat and everyone pulling toward the same goal. This is a conscious deception.

As socialists, we recognize that the 99% and the 1%—those who produce all of the nation’s wealth, versus those who, through various schemes, collect, control and oversee the disposition of that great mountain of wealth—have opposing and conflicting interests. The interests of Wall St, the giant insurance companies and corporate conglomerates are different from those of working people.

Socialists argue that our current economic system is fundamentally undemocratic because those who produce all of the wealth have no say in how it is put to use, and those who control most of the wealth had nothing to do with creating it. As such, socialist solutions to current problems take into account the injustice of the current setup and we are not bound by the artificial constraints adhered to by the pro-capitalist candidates.

Socialists say a job is a right that should be guaranteed to all, at union wages. There is plenty of work that needs to be done and plenty of money to pay for it. To immediately put everyone back to work, we would launch a massive public works program to build and repair infrastructure, schools, parks and neighborhood health clinics; construct fast, cheap, efficient mass transit within and between each of our cities. We would invest heavily in research, development and construction of safe, renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and more.

To pay for all of this, we would eliminate the more than $600 billion war budget, which is used by the 1% to defend their interests and impose their will on the 99% at home and abroad. Finally, we would institute a steeply graduated income tax, with working people paying no tax, those earning more than $200,000 taxed at an increasing rate for each additional $10,000 of income, up to a top tax rate of 100% for any income over a million dollars. All types of income, including interest and capital gains, would be treated the same. This may sound radical, but we should remember that the top US tax rate from 1954 to 1963 was 91%.

 

Solidarity now responds to the comments by the other candidates.

 

In her remarks, Ms. Clinton paid lip service to clean energy, equal pay for equal work, a fair minimum wage, affordable childcare and debt-free college education. This sounds enticing, until you remember that the political parties that Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump represent have been in power for generations, during which time the record on all of these issues has been abysmal. Democrat Barak Obama has bragged about his “all of the above” energy policy, off-shore drilling and building enough “new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some.” In the first two years of Obama’s presidency, with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, absolutely nothing was done to advance the cause of equal pay, affordable childcare or the rest.

Socialists, on the other hand, don’t just talk. We are active every day in movements in the streets to stop environmental destruction, halt the murders of African Americans and other minorities by racist cops, provide free childcare for all, guarantee abortion on demand, guarantee equal rights for all, fight for $15 and a union, halt the imperial war machine and bring all US troops home now.

In his remarks, Mr. Trump promised to halt the flight of U.S. companies overseas by cutting corporate taxes. This while his own business has extensive offshore operations. With unemployment up and real wages down, working people are indeed suffering. But in proposing to create jobs by cutting corporate taxes, Mr. Trump forces the rest of us to either pay more or get by with less. It’s highway robbery and the choice is a familiar one: “Your money or your life!”

Holt: Let me follow up with Mr. Trump, if you can. You’ve talked about creating 25 million jobs, and you’ve promised to bring back millions of jobs for Americans. How are you going to bring back the industries that have left this country for cheaper labor overseas? How, specifically, are you going to tell American manufacturers that you have to come back?

Solidarity: Socialists say that a job is a universal right. No one should ever have to go without a job—a good job, at union wages. Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton say that they’re for jobs too, but it’s not true. In fact, they’ve got a big problem. The so-called free enterprise system, which they both worship, which Ms. Clinton says “built the greatest middle class in history,” absolutely depends on having millions of unemployed, underemployed and super exploited workers.

Under capitalism, full employment is impossible. Why? Because if everyone had a job, the balance of power between workers and employers would be significantly altered. Workers could demand higher pay and the boss would have no choice but to agree. Workers could go out on strike, and there would be no one to use as strikebreakers.

In a rational system, if any public need was not being fulfilled, people would be put to work fulfilling it. And if putting everybody to work full time would result in too much being produced—if full employment at 40 hours per week would produce more than what society needs—then the sensible thing to do would be to reduce the work week with no reduction in pay, dividing the necessary work among everyone. If you put human needs before profits, it’s easy to have jobs for all.

But if your first loyalty is to profits, as is the case for Democrats and Republicans, then these simple, rational solutions can’t be considered. Democrats and Republicans are for creating jobs only if it’s profitable to do so. That’s why their proposals always involve giving money to corporations and the rich.

Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton point to the current economic downturn to explain why unemployment is so high. But what they don’t tell you is that regular, periodic crises, such as the one we are currently suffering through, are themselves a direct result of putting profits before human needs. The way our economy is organized, there’s a recession or depression every five or ten years. No Democratic or Republican proposal has ever changed that.

From an early age, we’re taught—and Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton will try to tell you—that these economic downturns just kind of happen, like thunderstorms. But that’s not true either. These crises occur when the economy produces more than can be sold at a profit. It’s then that businesses cut back, close down, lay off workers, and wait until profit potential improves. No consideration whatsoever is given to whether there are unmet needs; whether people are hungry, or homeless, or jobless, or poor. But the most outrageous part of all is that, with the current profit-driven system, the system President Obama has called “the greatest engine of prosperity the world’s ever known,” crises and high unemployment occur not when there’s a scarcity of productive capacity or goods that everybody needs, but when there’s too much!

To guarantee jobs for all, we would immediately reduce the workweek with no reduction in pay. Can we afford this? Absolutely. While most of us are suffering from the current recession, those at the top are doing quite well. U.S. corporate profits are near an all-time high. Profits for the five most profitable Fortune 500 corporations were up an average of 30% in 2015. Jobs for all is possible and practical, but only if we reject the narrow framework of the Democrats and Republicans and instead put people before profits.