Location USA USA

Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20

by Dave Lindorff

Standing before a sea of humanity — people of all ages and races, stretching out from the Lincoln Monument back as far as the Capitol building– a sea vaster than any demonstration in the history of the nation’s capital, the unkempt white-haired senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, a self-described independent socialist maverick who decided to take his oath of office on the steps where Martin Luther King once spoke, instead of the traditional spot at the Capitol building, called out to the American people to join him in “taking back our country from the smug, self-satisfied rich and the corporations that have been pretending to be persons!”

“We are engaged in a struggle to undo decades of government policies that were designed to benefit the one percent,” said the man who has upended centuries of two-party duopoly by winning the presidency in a landslide on the Green Party ticket in a sweep that handed control of both House and Senate to a Democratic Party that was at the same time relegated to a humiliating third place finish in the presidential race.

“The election is over,” President Sanders declared. “But the American people’s fight is just beginning! I call on all those who voted for my opponents, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, to join with the 75 million who elected me in taking back this country from the special interests, from the wealthy for whom nothing is ever enough, from the corporations that see themselves as global enterprises, not as part of the fabric of this nation and its society, and from those who would trample on the weak in order to raise themselves a notch above the rest.”

Sanders went on to announce a list of priority measures he intends to present to the new Congress on this, his first day in office, the first being a bill to establish a new Department of Peace, whose secretary, he said, would henceforth sit in on all discussions of foreign affairs in order to “insure that peaceful options for resolving differences will always be put on the table.” Other measures going to Congress on day one of Sanders‘ presidency, he said, would include:

* Establishment of a commission, headed up by his nominee for Secretary of Health and Welfare Jill Stein, charged with drawing up, over the next six months, a plan for replacing the costly and complex Affordable Care Act with an expanded and enhanced Medicare program that would cover all Americans, not just the elderly. The new president, a long-time advocate of a national single-payer health care system similar to Canada’s, said his plan would cost less than health care does now because it would do away with the need for Medicaid for the poor, with the need for employer-funded insurance plans and their huge premiums, and with the Veterans administration hospital system, since everyone would be receiving Medicare. He promised that such a system would allow the federal government to bargain for lower prices for all health care and medicines. “We are declaring that as of today, health care in America is a right of citizenship, and we are saying if every other developed country in the world can deliver affordable healthcare to all its citizens, then so can America!” said the new president to thunderous applause.

* Establishment of a $15/hr federal minimum wage, linked to the consumer price index, to become effective as soon as a bill reaches his desk, and a “card-check” measure giving unions the right to demand recognition by an employer after simply turning in to the National Labor Relations Board cards signed by a majority of workers, without having to go through a lengthy and endlessly delayed formal election process. Sanders said that bill would also make labor law violations by employers subject to triple damages, similar to insider trading violations, instead of simply requiring payment of back wages. Said Sanders, “A person who works full-time at a job should be able to earn enough to support a family. It’s that simple,” he said. “Companies should not be subsidizing their payroll costs by forcing their workers to rely on taxpayer-funded assistance programs like welfare and food stamps! No more!”

* Appointment of a commission to develop a plan not just to fully fund Social Security benefits through the next 75 years, but to expand benefits so that they replace 60% of income at retirement for those individuals earning less than $60,000 a year, and for couples earning less than $100,000 a year. “This would be in line with what European countries, do,” the new president declared, again to thunderous applause that rocked the capital.

Calling for an end to reliance on carbon-based fuels, to combat the urgent threat of catastrophic climate change, President Sanders announced a bill to train and subsidize the employment of an army of well-drillers and home heating retro-fitters to install geo-thermal and heat-pump systems in existing and in all new homes and public buildings where geologically viable, and a program restoring federal tax subsidies for the installation of solar power panels and/or wind generators on residential homes, with a goal of quickly and substantially reducing the need for oil and gas for heating and cooling, and for centralized electric power generation. “For the sake of ourselves and for generations to come here and around the world, we can and we will massively reduce America’s carbon footprint, beginning today,” declared the new president. “There is no longer any time to wait or to debate about what to do about climate change.”

A” jubilee” forgiveness of all undergraduate college debt borrowed and owed to the federal government up to and including the current spring term, and establishment of program to encourage all states, beginning next fall, to provide free tuition at state-owned and funded two- and four-year colleges to in-state students from families earning less than $150,000 a year. “The loan forgiveness program will be a trillion-dollar economic stimulus,” said Sanders, “freeing currently indebted graduates to buy homes, cars, and computers and to move forward with their careers, for young entrepreneurs to take out start-up loans, and freeing their parents from having to support them or help them repay those loans.” He said public colleges would have to “figure out how to change their model to operate in service to the young people” whose families’ taxes had built those state institutions, instead of continually jacking up tuition and fees. “Maybe they’ll have to lose a lot of management positions,” he said, “and cut senior management salaries down to what most faculty earn.” To encourage the change, he said the federal government would not provide subsidized loans for use at public colleges that didn’t meet the proposed free-tuition guidelines.

* On foreign policy, which had not been a major topic during the campaign, Sanders vowed to work towards more friendly relations with Russia and China and to get the US out of the “regime change” business. To help calm the waters in the Middle East, he also vowed to initiate “serious peace negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinians, aimed at early creation of a “viable Palestinian state.” The nation’s first Jewish president warned that the Israeli government would have to reverse the illegal settlements that have for years been encroaching on Palestinian territory on the West Bank and said the US would cease providing generous military assistance to Israel as long as the Israeli government refused to do so.

Thanking Merrick Garland, outgoing President Obama’s unsuccessful nominee for the late Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court, for making the frustrating and unsuccessful effort to overcome Republican intransigence about approving any Obama nominee, Sanders announced that he would be nominating Susan Herman, current president of the American Civil Liberties Union, to that vacant seat on the High Court.

Sanders stunned pollsters, pundits and the nation’s political elite when, following Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the Democratic Party’s nominee at the party’s July convention, and following massive demonstrations in Philadelphia, Washington and other major cities across the country by millions of his supporters calling on him to run as an independent candidate for president, he accepted an offer by Green Party leader and presumptive Green nominee for president Dr. Jill Stein, to run as the party’s candidate in her stead. Sanders agreed to the offer, and chose as his vice-presidential running mate California Rep. Barbara Lee. Long a hero of anti-war Americans for her staunch opposition to the initial Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force in 2001 that launched the War on Terror, her vote against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and her opposition earlier to the Clinton administration’s bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Lee put peace and anti-militarism squarely at the center of the Sander’s campaign.

Sanders said at the time that the disclosure, by Wikileaks, of emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign showing that the party establishment had actively worked to subvert the primaries, combined with the structural unfairness of having some 800 unelected Super-delegates whose votes had been bought in advance by the Clinton campaign, convinced him that the primaries had been fatally corrupted and the nomination stolen from him, leaving him free to ignore his earlier promise to support Clinton if she became the nominee.

His ensuing and unprecedentedly successful third-party campaign, funded fully by public funds and small donations, electrified the country, drawing support from independent and even Republican Trump supporters — particularly white working-class Americans — as well as sparking huge turnouts among black and hispanic voters and normally hard-core Democratic voters, all drawn to the Sanders ticket by his promise to raise the minimum wage to $15, to revisit and either revise or cancel all trade treaties, to bust up the big banks and to end corporate control of Washington. The Green Party, already on the ballot in 26 states, was, by Election Day, able to have the Sanders ticket listed on the ballot in 46 states, allowing Sanders to win landslides in both the popular and the Electoral College vote.

Although he campaigned aggressively against both Trump and Clinton, candidate Sanders worked hard to back Democratic Congressional candidates, helping to achieve a number of upset victories, including in traditionally red states in the south and midwest. As a result, he enters the White House backed by solid majorities in both chambers of Congress and carrying a mandate for dramatic change not seen since Franklin Roosevelt’s big sweep in 1932.

While only two Green Party candidates for Congress won election in November (both in California), a number of successful candidates for House and Senate who ran as Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Russ Feingold {D-WI), and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), announced after Election Day that they were switching their party affiliations to Green, though all said they would continue caucusing with Democrats in the new Congress for purposes of committee assignments and strategy on promoting the Sanders agenda.

Acknowledging in his address that he anticipated push-back from hard-core conservatives and Trump Republicans in Congress, particularly on his appointments to the federal courts and to cabinet posts and regulatory agencies (Republicans still have enough votes to conduct filibusters and place holds on nominations), Sanders told the inaugural throng on the National Mall, which spilled out onto side streets, requiring the installation of makeshift speaker systems on lampposts, “I want you all to be prepared to come back here and make yourselves very familiar to the members of this new Congress whenever we run into roadblocks. This mall — and the halls of Congress — are your property! They are here so you can be here whenever you feel you need to be, and I promise you will be able to stay put, with tents and with the necessary amenities and without any opposition from park police, whenever you feel it necessary!”

After the cheering and applause had finally subsided, Sanders added, “…or when I put out a call saying I need your help down here!” That kicked off a sustained cheering that morphed into a chant of “Revolution! Revolution!”

It was not your normal inaugural address to be sure!

Sanders ended his speech with a bow to the inaugural address of a former upstart President, John F. Kennedy.

“Ask not what this country can do for you,” he said. “Ask what you, the American people, working together and for the good of all, can do for yourselves and for this great nation.”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: While this article is a fantasy, there are several parts that are rooted in reality, including these two facts: Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein did offer to surrender her spot at the head of the Green ticket to Sanders if he wanted it, and those polls that continued to include Sanders in them during the general election campaign consistently showed him trouncing Trump right through election day. It could have happened had Sanders chosen to run as a Green.

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