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David Swanson: Polling shows majority of Americans want to tax the rich and cut the military before making social program cuts

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And in Washington, the battle over the debt ceiling continues. And the debate, on one side we have the Republicans, which is cut, and we have, on the other side, the Democrats saying let’s cut a little less. And that seems to be more or less the scope of the debate. Sorry to be a little cynical about it. At any rate, now joining us to give us his take, and probably even more cynical about it than I am, is David Swanson. David is the author of the book War Is a Lie. He’s also a founding member of And he also campaigns for Thanks for joining us, David.


JAY: So what do you make of the great debt ceiling debate?

SWANSON: I think it’s a fraud. You know, we have had this country and other countries in deeper debt before without catastrophe, and the debt ceiling has been raised many times without catastrophe. And I think there’s absolutely no earthly reason to have the debt or the deficit. I think you could allow the so-called Bush tax cuts (I call them the Bush-Obama tax cuts at this point) to expire. You could otherwise tax the rich, as three-quarters of the country wants to do, and fix the problem. You could stop the outrageous spending of seven times the nearest competing nation on the military, as most of this country wants to do, and fix the problem. They don’t want to fix the problem. They want to use this crisis that’s been manufactured as an excuse to go after Social Security and Medicare.

JAY: Yeah, you watch CNN, and every fourth or fifth word about this is designed to strike terror in your heart, apocalypse in August. But, as you say, there’s actually fairly straightforward things that could be done. There is no reason to raise the debt. And apparently there was a poll that said 69 percent of Americans are against raising the debt ceiling. And I don’t think they’re so wrong about it.

SWANSON: Well, and they’ve got people scared about, you know, the irresponsibility of raising the debt ceiling–people who have no idea it’s been done before, what it means, what’s at stake. But, again, if you look at what people want done in terms of public policy, people want to tax the rich. People want to end the wars, to cut the military. They do not want–there are much, much smaller percentages of people willing to go after Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid. We have homelessness rising, foreclosures, bankruptcy, unemployment, suicide. This is a time to be talking about helping people, strengthening our government, not weakening it.

JAY: Okay. So hang on. So let’s say I’m working for President Obama. And here’s what I would say. And for those of you that didn’t catch that, I said if I was working for President Obama, ’cause I’m not. But they would say this: we’re dealing with real politics, and you’re dealing with a lovely utopian vision of what could be. We Democrats actually lost the House, and as a result of that, can’t do all the things you’re saying we should do. We have to deal with the reality there are Republicans that have a third of the government. And in August we are going to run out of money and close down government departments and programs. Yes, perhaps the international banking community isn’t going to freak out, ’cause they know eventually we will honour these debts, but in the meantime a lot of people are going to suffer. So, yeah, we got to raise this and we got to come to some accommodation on this debt issue ’cause that’s the real politics of the day. As President Obama said in his press conference several times, you know, this isn’t my choice of how we should be governing, but more or less this is the hand we have been dealt.

SWANSON: Well, or dealt himself. And this is a president who had a Democratic majority in both houses and did little to nothing good with it. This is a president who did not open these negotiations by pushing for heavy taxation of the wealthy or cutbacks in the military. In fact, this is a president who three times in three years has enlarged the military beyond what we’d seen before, who chose to do that, didn’t get pushed into it. And so this is not a case of having compromised back to a middle-ground position; this is a case of a president who has made it his routine practice to open the bidding with where he thinks the other side is and then watch the other side move further away from him. So he’s willing to cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. The other side is willing to have further tax cuts. You know, this is not a negotiation, this is giving away the game, that President Obama is not starting out where you and I and the majority of Americans are.

JAY: Well, he’s not getting much pressure to do otherwise. There’s some disgruntlement amongst more progressive members of the House. Some of the sort of grassroots organizations he depends on for support during elections have been, you know, opposing this. But, obviously, his number one objective, I think, his administration’s number one objective, is to get reelected. They do the math, and they’ve decided the math works this way: you play to the center, you play the center-right; the left will be disillusioned, but they have nowhere else to go. You know, when they actually look in the face that there might be a President Romney, or even someone they find more objectionable, they’ll have no choice. And the math works. So are they wrong?

SWANSON: They might very well be wrong. Presidents have made that calculation before and been wrong. You can look back to Bush senior or LBJ. There’s a history of presidents making the wrong calculation and having to leave in disgrace or in defeat. That’s certainly possible. And we actually don’t have to be pundits; we can be citizens and help to make that a reality, not picking who’s going to be president next, but what the agenda is going to be that these politicians have to move in the direction of. And so–.

JAY: But one of the big issues here is the national trade union leadership. The trade union leadership on the whole, not all, but on the whole, have clearly decided that a Republican president is such a threat to their interests that they will simply put up with not getting what they hoped out of the Obama presidency and they will defend him. And it’s–you know, on camera, at least, is very difficult to get even the slightest critical word out of one of the major trade union leaders. What do you make of all that?

SWANSON: I think they are facilitating the right-wing Republican agenda by acting out of fear of it and refusing to push for what they really want, because one side is in power, or at least in the White House, rather than the other side. I think it’s a counterproductive, failing strategy that most members of the labor union movement question. It’s the officers at the top that have to be pushed, as in many other organizations as well.

JAY: And what is–you’re a campaigner for So just tell us really quickly what it is. And what are you guys doing about all this?

SWANSON: Well, Roots Action is attempting to be, and having some initial success at being an online movement that doesn’t alter its positions to favor partisan interests, that pushes for peace and justice regardless.

JAY: That’s another way of saying you don’t want to be an appendage of the Democratic Party.

SWANSON: Yes, very well put. And when we pushed to take out of the Defense Authorization Act this language that was going to empower presidents from here on out, largely to be able to make wars on their own, and were successful, that was something that we were pushing of our own initiative apart from any party. Both parties want presidents to have the power to make wars on their own. And when we push back against this concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few plutocrats, when we push back against cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, we’re doing it without bowing to the agenda of either party. And that’s going to make for a stronger movement, and it’s going to make for a better policy discussion and better members, perhaps, of both parties.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, David.

SWANSON: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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David Swanson

David Swanson's books include: War Is A Lie (2010), When the World Outlawed War (2011), and The Military Industrial Complex at 50 (2012).  He is the host of  Talk Nation Radio. He has been a journalist, activist, organizer, educator, and agitator.  Swanson helped plan the nonviolent occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington DC in 2011.  Swanson holds a master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including press secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, media coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as communications coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. He blogs at and and works as Campaign Coordinator for the online activist organization Swanson also works on the communications committee of Veterans For Peace, of which he is an associate (non-veteran) member. Swanson is Secretary of Peace in the Green Shadow Cabinet.