Some people say I’ve done a good job of staying on message, to use a bit of political jargon. Others say I have only a single issue, that as a candidate for president, I’m a one-trick pony. It’s time to respond to this second group. I suspect they are pretty much the same people who criticize me for offering a pie-in-the-sky plan with free benefits for everybody, with government money conjured out of thin air. Let’s talk about that.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]One issue must be fixed before addressing any of the others.[/pullquote]
If you think of me as a single-issue candidate, let me remind you that I’ve been in Congress for a long time. I’ve cast a lot of votes, and I’ve taken sides on all the great issues of the day. But I have concentrated, during this campaign, on the one issue that overrides the rest — the one issue that has to be fixed before the others can be honestly, sanely and effectively addressed. That issue is an economy that is rigged to reward only those who are already wealthy, and the resulting corruption of the political process.
So I won’t spend a lot of time on that issue today, except to alert you to the ways in which each of the other big questions facing us right now ties into it and is affected by it.
Let’s start, then, with the matter of climate change. Then we’ll talk about the principles of foreign relations, management of our economic affairs, crime and punishment, education and human relations within our own country.
There is no scientific doubt that rapid climate change is under way, and almost no doubt that human activity has a lot to do with that phenomenon. It is true that the process is far enough along that much of it cannot be stopped. But let me just say that even if we can’t stop it, and even if we are not much at fault, there are plenty of reasons to take our collective foot off the climate-change accelerator. “Greening” the economy will create millions of jobs. It will clean up our air and water, and it will free us from any further dependence on oil and gas, be it from an unstable Mideast or from our own fragile sea bottoms and public lands.
We cannot do this until the corrupting influence of money from the fossil-fuels industry is no longer part of our politics. Before we can tackle the problem, we need, at least, to stop subsidizing oil and gas at many times the rate we subsidize green-energy research and development.
This brings us to foreign affairs. We have three principal reasons to be involved in the war-torn region of the Middle East. First, the least significant, but most often cited, is that America has sustained an attack by terrorists from that region. I say this is least significant because our vigilance at home, more than our violent misadventures abroad, are our best protection against future attacks. In fact, the more people we kill in the Middle East and the longer peace is postponed, the more enemies we manufacture.
The second reason the Mideast is important to us — let’s be honest — is the oceans of petroleum that underlie the ancient sands of the region. Not just the United States, but our allies around the globe, as well as our adversaries, are effectively addicted to oil. That fact, behind climate change, is the most urgent reason to break our addiction. A bet on the stability of the world’s most unstable place is stupid. A wager backed up by military force is temporary at best. We have to stop this.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]We must support both Israelis and Palestinians.[/pullquote]
The third reason for our involvement in the Middle East is the continued existence of Israel. We have supported Israel strongly from that nation’s inception in 1947. In fact, I am proud to say, the United States was the first nation to recognize Israel, in 1948. We are obliged to continue this support for a number reasons. The main one is that Israel has neighbors who would like to do it in, and its right to existence as a state is not a tenet we can honorably abandon.
That said, it is both possible and obligatory to support the liberation of the Palestinian people and to seek a two-state solution for them and Israel. Support for Israel does not mean blind adherence to any policy or behavior of any Israeli administration.
Having lived in Israel, on a kibbutz, I can lay claim to understanding that country better than most. A son and grandson of immigrants, one short step from refugees, I think I can at least begin to understand the Palestinians, as well. I believe in the peace process, and I want to help reignite it. I am asking for the chance to do that.
A single principle guides my foreign policy. It is a genuine and heartfelt commitment to peace. War is the greatest abomination ever conceived by humanity. War is to be avoided whenever possible, not invited by making the strength of our military the cornerstone of foreign relations.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I believe I am the only candidate in either major party who has consistently shown more reluctance than eagerness to go to war.[/pullquote]
That said, I am a realist, which means I am not a pacifist. I voted to sanction military action in Afghanistan. I voted, when my opponent’s husband asked for my vote, to support war in the Balkans. I understand the necessity of a strong military establishment. But I believe I am the only candidate in either major party who has consistently shown more reluctance than eagerness to go to war. In that connection, I believe I am the only one who shows any common-sense restraint concerning military spending.
Which brings us to matters of the national economy. I don’t have time here, or in any speech, to fully explain my economic program. You can find the details on my website. And you can find economists who disagree with me strongly, as well as some who predict growth with my program that frankly exceeds my own expectations.
What I can tell you is that my brand of democratic socialism works. That is not a fantasy. It works, and has worked, in European countries from Scandinavia to France and, at times, the UK and Germany. I can tell you that we are decades behind all of those countries in recognizing the necessities of life, including housing and healthcare, as fundamental human rights.
I can tell you that the present course of the American economy, where the rich get ever richer and the middle class is evaporating, is not sustainable.
I can tell you that change has to be fundamental and structural if we expect to salvage the widespread benefits of our capitalist institutions. That these institutions have to be controlled, rather than controlling our own lives and economic progress. That they must be supplemented by a social safety net that is real, permanent and secure.
And I can tell you that what I am talking about is a genuine political possibility. Perhaps not with the Congress we have, but Congress changes. I think we can all agree that Congress certainly needs to change. And after this election, the next task is to change it. It entails raising a lot of money from people who are not wealthy, and it means taking Congress back from the billionaires who have purchased undue influence in it. This is what I mean when I talk about a political revolution. It is what I mean when I say this election is not about me.
Now let’s talk about some of the ways we spend our hard-earned tax money, and what it brings us. We fling tens of billions of dollars every year to lock up more people than any other nation on earth, in prisons that are a national disgrace. Some of which, by the way, are privately run for profit. Some states spend more on prisons than on higher education. Does it make us safer? Or are we running institutions of postgraduate education in crime and violence?
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I want to unpoison the well of human kindness.[/pullquote]
I think you know the answer to that question. I think we need to reduce our prison population, and to run more institutions of real and productive education for the nonviolent people we’ve been putting in there. I think we need to look at the ethnic distribution of the prison population — four times as many black kids as white kids, per capita, facing prosecution for marijuana — and ask ourselves about fundamental fairness. Justice is another word for that.
So finally I get to the nut of this whole campaign. By rigging the economy, by blaming and punishing victims, by rewarding the tasteless flaunting of wealth from whatever source, we have poisoned the very well of human kindness.
I do not believe that everything of value, right down to a human being, can be measured in dollars. The political and economic institutions that we build and sustain emerge from our values but also, then, help to shape our values and our most personal aspirations.
I believe, therefore, that a person who works hard at any honorable task deserves to be rewarded with at least a living wage. I believe a person who performs an exceptionally valuable task for society — child care, for example, or teaching or nursing or emergency services — should not have to depend on wages determined by a disinterested and amoral market.
I believe a corporation is a creature of the state, not the other way around. And that, as such, the corporation has obligations to the society that lets it exist, and not just to its shareholders. I think those obligations extend to a reasonable rate of taxation.
There is one more thing I want to say to my critics — to the ones who say I promise too much, that it’s all pie-in-the-sky, fairy dust, that sort of childish insult. What I promise is to work hard, tell the truth, stick to principle and make strong appointments. The rest, we must do together.
I think you get the picture. I think that deep down, you agree with me. We will soon find out.