A “radical centrist” is how I’ve recently taken to describing myself and my politics. Needless to say, I’ve taken flack from progressive friends on the left who see centrists as the enemy, blue dogs, and regressive corporatists in hiding.
I use that label because I can’t believe that values based on equality and fairness are somehow fringe. Bigotry is fringe. Inclusivity and a celebration of our diversity is a value held by most. Ditto to so many other values and goals held by those of us who are too often characterized as being “far left.”
Don’t a majority of us believe that if someone works 40 hours a week, they deserve to earn a wage that can provide a dry, safe place to sleep at night?
Environmental protection, access to healthcare, and taking care of the elderly, the infirm, and the very young – are not radical ideas.
The radical part I suppose is the urgency of now. We want to actually move this agenda forward. Perhaps those on the left feel this more deeply than others. Many I suppose, are more insulated from the hardship and injustice that surround us, view the world through a different lens, and literally may not see the world that we do.
We see the blue skies, the rainbows, and the opportunity that is before us, but we also see that man under the bridge. We drive by him daily and know he is not there by choice. We know he would much rather live like we do, in a house with a roof and a refrigerator with food in it. Some who drive by will mutter that he needs to get a job. But we know there are no jobs for people like him, at least no jobs that pay a living wage.
We see the sea eating away at the side of the road, and we read about the fires and the storms. It’s common knowledge and accepted science that carbon emission from burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change, yet our government does little to nothing. Grand proclamations, yet another task-force, and endless lofty feel-good fake green energy goals will not save the planet. Spoiler alert and our collective dirty little secret: It’s about consumption, not just generation.
There is no shortage of wealth in the world and we live surrounded by abundance. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this abundance is held by less than 5% of the world’s population. Requiring that 5% who have so much more to pay more, is not a radical idea. It’s not communism to require those that use more, consume more, and pollute more – to pay more. It is also not communism to strictly regulate corporations who extract, sell and profit from our planet’s natural resources.
The level of income inequality in the U.S. is higher than all European allies and Canada (G7 nations). According to Pew Research, “The wealth gap between America’s richest and poorer families more than doubled between 1989 and 2016…the top 5% held 248 times as much wealth at the median…”
The money we spend on militarism is obscene. The cost of just the F-35 failed fighter jet program so far is $1,700,000,000 (that is one trillion, seven hundred billion dollars).
The top federal tax rate in the United States in 1960 was 90% and today it’s at 40%.
Again, there is no shortage of wealth.
Most of the moving forward solutions are basic, tried and true, and really not that complicated: Increasing social security, raising the minimum wage, investing in education, expanding affordable healthcare, and increasing taxes on the wealthy. The strict regulation of extractive and environmentally harmful industry must be made a priority and agencies charged with this oversight must put people and the planet above corporate profits.
The Green New Deal has been made into a boogeyman program by those on the hard right, but even a cursory review reveals the great potential it holds for job creation, climate change mitigation, and environmental protection.
There is no shortage of good ideas and solid public policy initiatives that can move us forward. What’s lacking is the political will to buck the fringe on the far right that has claimed the mantel of the centrist. To be clear, the far-right whether they be the entitled, the ignorant, or the uninformed – do not represent the center.
Truth, equality, and justice are the core centrist ideas and values the vast majority of us hold dear. It’s time now, to roll up our sleeves, and radically pursue them. Now. Today.
That man under the bridge will be dead and that road will be gone unless we act soon.
First Published in The Garden Island newspaper, March 3, 2021