Reform and The Moral Center

Jesse Jackson | 11/28/2019, 8 a.m.
"Too radical, impractical, too costly, impossible, can't pass the Senate." Those are the terms centrist Democrats use to describe the ...

"Too radical, impractical, too costly, impossible, can't pass the Senate." Those are the terms centrist Democrats use to describe the bold reform ideas put forth by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic presidential primaries. "Venezuela, socialist, communist tripe, crazy" are the jibes preferred by Donald Trump and Republicans. All this begs the same question: What do they plan to do to meet the challenges we face?

For most Americans, this isn't a rhetorical question. The economy, President Trump boasts, is as good as it has ever been in terms of the topline unemployment figures, but it still doesn't work for most Americans. Wages have been inching up, but they aren't rising as fast as the cost of basics -- housing, college, health care. Working families -- whether middle or low income -- are struggling simply to stay afloat. Depths of despair are soaring, particularly among the young. Illness is still the leading cause of bankruptcy. Half of all Americans have no retirement plan other than Social Security. The climate emergency is a clear and present danger, costing more lives, more displacement and billions in damage each year.

If we are going to address these challenges, we need reforms that correspond with the size of the problem. An adhesive bandage won't stop a leg hemorrhage. A wall can't shut out the cataclysmic storms, droughts, floods and tides of the climate emergency.

The Green New Deal -- mocked by Trump and Republicans who continue to deny the existence of manmade climate change -- is ambitious and costly -- but only because it tries to meet the goals that scientists say are necessary if we are not to become an endangered species. Getting to a clean energy, zero carbon emissions economy requires massive investment, new innovation and dramatic changes in transportation, housing, energy and more. The transition will generate millions of new jobs, while displacing some from old jobs. The Green New Deal proposes a job guarantee to make certain that no one is left out in the transition. Critics say it costs too much -- but it costs far less than the price we will pay if we don't act boldly and now.

Or consider higher education. Student loan debt continues to rise, now over $1 trillion, exceeding even credit card debt. More students have to put off college or drop out for years in order to earn enough to get the education that all agree is vital to our country and to their future. More students graduate with debt that will burden their lives, making it harder to afford to have children, to save for a house, to put money away for retirement. Debt is crushing a generation that tries to do the right thing. It is particularly brutal on people of color who have less of a chance to have parents with the wealth to help pay for tuition.

Tuition-free college -- mocked as a costly giveaway -- simply argues that publicly provided education or advanced training should be extended beyond kindergarten through 12th grade.