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Bumper Sticker Platform, 2013 edition

danps's picture

On a Saturday morning a few years ago I dashed off a quick caffeine-fueled post that tried to formulate a simple but substantive platform for the left. It was partially a reaction to the prior couple years of conservative rhetoric. During the 2008 campaign the right insisted Barack Obama was a socialist; once elected his signature initiative - the Affordable Care Act - was also called socialist, which must have been news to the for-profit private insurance industry.

So someone repeatedly called a socialist was elected, and a relatively modest change to an existing system was called socialism yet still passed into law. There seemed two lessons from that. The first was that America must be comfortable with socialism, because otherwise Obama wouldn't have won. The second was that since liberal policies - even incremental ones - were going to be called socialist by conservatives, why not just go for the best policy? Why worry about trying for some lesser thing in a fruitless attempt to court the unalterably proposed?

My short, punchy version of going for the gusto was this: Medicare for all, end the wars, soak the rich. It wasn't meant to be a comprehensive platform but an attempt to advocate for a small number of consequential policies; something with popular appeal that would fit on a sign or bumper sticker. I wanted to keep it short because liberals are prone to getting too wonky for their own good. Laundry lists full of prescriptions for all society's ills, each spelled out in excruciating bullet point detail, turn off all but the true believers.

I think it's better to have a few items and say: these are the things I will fight for. Other issues will come up, but here are the things I will make noise about and I will agitate about over and over. If they are not implemented, then at an absolute minimum I will force those who don't want them to be public in their opposition. I will hammer away at them, run on them, make campaign issues of them, and so on.

The original post bubbled away at Corrente and a few other places for a while. I posted an updated list a few months later which included a job guarantee. That may sound too ambitious, but according to Duke professor William Darity it only requires a president with the will to create it:

Persistent high unemployment has produced a crisis for virtually all Americans. But we can resolve the crisis by adopting a federal job guarantee for all citizens. A system of job assurance, rather than unemployment insurance, could have been implemented at any point by presidential directive under the mandate of the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978 (popularly known as the Humphrey-Hawkins Act).

Of course, that's not the same as a critical mass of support. For as much as I like the idea, I haven't seen any signs of it catching on with either activists or officials. In light of lambert's Monday post asking for a re-think of the platform, the jobs guarantee may need to be dropped (for now).

The same goes for End the Wars. The Iraq war actually has ended since the original post, and Afghanistan seems to be proceeding at an acceptably low level of carnage. Drone strikes and other dirty wars are largely off the public's radar as well. Metaphorical wars at home (the war on drugs, draconian sentencing, the militarization of police, the creation of a domestic army, etc) also seem to not have captured the public's imagination. While I think ending the literal and metaphorical wars is one of the most urgent moral issues of our time, I don't see it being a tent pole issue in a campaign.

On the other hand, the fight for a living wage has become a huge issue in the last year or so. It's definitely an issue with a constituency. With those changes in mind, here is my 2013 proposal for the Bumper Sticker Platform:

  • Medicare for all
  • Tax the rich
  • A living wage

Medicare for all is self explanatory. Tax the rich: a new "super rich" marginal rate of 70% starting at $5,000,000 per year, and maybe eliminating the carried interest loophole as well if possible. A living wage: $15 an hour minimum wage. Nine words, three policies. Substantive, popular and fits on a bumper sticker. Anyone who ran on that would probably have a receptive audience just about anywhere, no?

One more political note: each of these policies is fiscally responsible. Medicare for all would save $600 billion in private insurance charges. Take out the $350 billion that extending coverage would cost, and that still leaves a savings of $250 billion per year. While those who hate all government spending on principle would surely object, I think most citizens would be more practical: If the result is savings, that's all that matters.

Taxing the rich is obviously a fiscal plus. And a living wage would force deadbeat companies to stop paying so little that their employees end up on Medicaid or other government programs. (Not to mention that paying a living wage is also the decent thing to do.)

So there's the first stab at the latest Bumper Sticker Platform. I think it's got a lot to recommend it. Now we just need some candidates to run on it.


I exchanged a few emails with lambert while working all this out. He thinks Bumper Sticker Platform will be disparaged as BS Platform, and prefers the (#) Word Platform as something that helps manage the development as others contribute. I think BSP is good because it can get updated every few years with the same title, as opposed to having a 9 word platform one time out and a 12 word platform the next time. So even the branding is up for debate! Feel free to chime in.

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Submitted by hipparchia on

I liked "soak the rich" but as long as we're going to be socialists and trying to be civil about it: nationalize everything, tax the rich to pay for it.

I was thinking earlier that "end the wars" might be less applicable now too...

I propose 2 platforms, one for the small-govt types (9 word platform), one for the big-govt types (20 word platform).

small govt platform
medicare for all
tax the rich
a living wage

big govt platform
medicare for all
soak the rich
a living wage
post office bank
save the environment
restore the bill of rights