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Advice to Bernie: Always Attack, Never Defend

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"Either this nation shall kill racism, or racism shall kill this nation." (S. Jonas, August, 2018)


"To announce that there must be no criticism of the President . . . is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else."

Theodore Roosevelt, Editorial in The Kansas City Star May 7, 1918


So far in the Democratic Primaries, Bernie Sanders is doing remarkably well (and do note that this is written before the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29 --- I wonder just who will be in luck that day) and Super Tuesday on March 3. (Couldn't resist: just who will be super on that day?) By March 5 the whole picture might have changed in terms of who is the front-runner. But right now, it's Bernie, and as a supporter I would like to share a few thoughts with him and his team.

Bernie Sanders 1959 High School Yearbook. Back then he was a good-looking Jewish kid, a middle-distance track star, from James Madison High in Brooklyn.
Bernie Sanders 1959 High School Yearbook. Back then he was a good-looking Jewish kid, a middle-distance track star, from James Madison High in Brooklyn.
(Image by (From Wikimedia) James Madison High School, Author: James Madison High School)
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1. On campaign tactics, focus on a new one (for Democrats, that is): it's the tactic of "Always Attack; Never Defend." It started with Joe McCarthy, who trained Roy Cohn, who trained Donald Trump (and Lee "Willi Horton" Atwater was a major practitioner for the Repubs. in the 1980s and 90s). A related tactic is called "pivoting," that is changing quickly to a related subject that will benefit you. Both are very useful political tactics and can be used honestly (although the Right has never seemed to). Bernie uses them sometimes. I think that he could become more adept with them, as we proceed below.

2. On red-baiting. First and foremost, we know that should he get the nomination Bernie is going to be red-baited from now 'til kingdom come. (And actually, he is being red-baited, for the most part indirectly, by some of his competitors in the primaries.) But then, since Trump has little in the way of achievement for the average American, he and he is team will be red-baiting whomever the Democratic candidate is. And that includes Michael Bloomberg. (Of course Trump has major achievements for the wealthy, the large corporations, the fossil-fuels industry, the Norquist/Bannon destroyers-of-the-Federal government [check that one out folks, as the corona virus spreads], and the Evangelical Republican Right [the ERR's]. But except for select audiences he won't want to spend too much time there.) So not too much is left for him than red-baiting. How to deal with it?

First, never say "I am not a red." With that you are playing right into their hands. Second, you say "is that all you've got? Well, of course it is, because you have nothing to benefit the American people to run on." Third, you point out, as you do, and you have to do it over and over again, what you mean by "socialism." That is a system that "can achieve economic, racial, social and environmental justice for all."

You have made it clear that you are not proposing the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange (which is the baseline definition of "socialism.") But you shouldn't get into that argument, which in the U.S. political reality is unwinnable. You have made it clear that what you are talking about is a massive expansion of what President Roosevelt started reaching for with the New Deal. (I have termed your policy-set "the New Deal on steroids.") You should continue along these lines. In fact, I have thought that you made a conscious decision to label yourself a democratic socialist even though by definition you are not, because you are labeled that way anyway and there is no sense in arguing definitions in a political campaign.

Finally, on this point, "always attack, never defend." There are many ways to do this with Trump and I hardly have space to get into all of them here. But when the "red" attack comes from Trump, hit back with, for example, "you have nothing, so you scream, 'Red.' " "You are taking people's health insurance away, so you scream 'Red.' " "Our roads, bridges, water and sewage systems are crumbling, and you have done nothing, so you scream 'Red'." "You are condemning the nation and the world to the utter misery of global warming and you have done nothing except accelerate it. So, you scream 'Red.' " And so on and so forth.

2. Just a detail on a choice of words. You, and many others it should be pointed out, have for years been advocating a transaction tax on purchases and sales of corporate shares on Wall Street. We know that a tiny percentage tax could raise a vast amount of money. And that's what you should call it, a "transaction tax." Most people who buy and sell stocks and bonds, especially folks who have 401k's for their pensions, are not speculating, they are investing. "Transaction tax" is a nice, neutral term. "Speculation tax" risks turning many potential supporters off.

3. On Cuba, Castro, and the benefits of the Cuban revolution. Instead of continuing to be on the defensive, go on offense, as for instance: "How come a poor country with an authoritarian government [or 'regime' if you must] can provide not only an ongoing national literacy program, but also national health insurance, lifetime care for persons with disabilities, and free education from pre-school through the Ph.D., while the richest country in the world cannot do that?" And oh yes, you might note that the illiteracy rate in the United States stands at about 14% (30 million-plus people) and doesn't change much over time.

4. On Medicare for all, two things. First, you should have your numbers down pat about funding, so that you don't phumpher around on that point (and I am sure that your advisors are rapidly getting those numbers together). But second, you are proposing Medicare-for-all, so when talking about the system's advantages, you should be touting the advantages of Medicare-for-65-and-over as it stands. That system is in play and it works. It covers everyone it is intended to cover, pre-existing conditions or no; provides for choice of doctor and facilities as long as they accept Medicare (and if they don't, they likely don't accept any insurance anyway). No deductibles, very limited co-pays, and no endless arguing with the insurance company about whether you are covered for a particular visit/procedure or not. And an overhead rate that hovers around 2% vs. the private insurers' rates of 12-18%. I would suggest including in your program support for private secondary insurance (like I, as a New York State retiree have through my retirement plan) to fill any gaps in the program and also provide for union bargaining for such programs, as well as a residual role for the private health insurance industry. In most capitalist countries with national health insurance, even the UK, the private health insurance industry plays a role.

5. Finally, I think that you should point out that while there are certainly differences in the various programs offered by you and your competitors for the Democratic Presidential nomination you are in agreement on the following

a. The national health care services financing and payment systems needs to be significantly over-hauled and improved. Currently, it completely fails tens of millions of people.

b. In one form or another taxes on the wealthy and the large income-earners need to be raised.

c. There has to be a major program to deal with the oncoming disaster of climate change.

d. A clear separation of church and state has to be re-established. No Attorney General should be preaching about religion and the establishment of state privileges and funding for it. The drive to criminalize religious and non-religious thought in the matters of the outcome of pregnancy has to be ended and the protections of the right to choose has also to be clearly re-established, while the rights of the LGBTQ/trans-gender community have to be fully protected.

e. There have to be major changes in gun safety laws (and Bernie has to keep stressing his current D-rating from the NRA, regardless of what it has been in the past. Now is now (and this is the line that Bernie should use in re all of his former positions on which he has changed his views).

f. Racial justice and real prison reform.

And so on and so forth on the issues.

But most importantly, all agree on the absolute necessity of defeating Donald Trump. First, it is becoming evermore clear that his polices on matters ranging from paying for health care to protecting the environment that serves us all, in no way benefits the vast majority of Americans. Second, with his increasing attacks on the powers of the Congress, whether it be in matters of government oversight or expenditure authorization, and on the judiciary, as well as his personnel polices --- loyalty to him, personally, not any qualifications for the particular job --- indicate that he is increasingly moving the government in the direction of authoritarianism. (For now, even though I have written on the matter at length, I would stay away form the word "fascism." There are many mainstream political analysts, like Paul Krugman, who use it. Leave it to them.)

American Mussolini.  Nuff said.
American Mussolini. Nuff said.
(Image by FolsomNatural)
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And so, finally, of course, Bernie wants to win the nomination, and so he should. But holding the party together for the massive battle for the future of our nation --- and indeed the world --- that will characterize the next election has to be right at the top of the list, as well. If, in his drive for the nomination, Bernie irretrievably fractures the Democratic Party and, in the process, hands the election to Trump, is that how he wants to be remembered in history, if there is anyone left around to write it?

(Article changed on February 29, 2020 at 19:33)

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Steven Jonas Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY). As well as having been a regular political columnist on several national websites for over 20 years, he is the author/co-author/editor/co-editor of 37 books Currently, on the columns side, in addition to his position on OpEdNews as a Trusted Author, he is a regular contributor to From The G-Man.  In the past he has been a contributor to, among other publications, The Greanville PostThe Planetary Movement, and Buzzflash.com.  He was also a triathlete for 37 seasons, doing over 250 multi-sport races.  Among his 37 books (from the late 1970s, mainly in the health, sports, and health care organization fields) are, on politics: The 15% Solution: How the Republican Religious Right Took Control of the U.S., 1981-2022; A Futuristic Novel (originally published 1996; the 3rd version was published by Trepper & Katz Impact Books, Punto Press Publishing, 2013, Brewster, NY, sadly beginning to come true, advertised on OpEdNews and available on  (more...)

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