TRNN Election Panel: Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. We’re continuing our coverage of the U.S. presidential elections.
And my producer has told me I was supposed to do fundraising plugs all night, and I haven’t done a single one, so here’s one. If you call 410-779-3021, you can donate to The Real News Network. Amongst other things, you will help us develop our Baltimore project, which is going to be a new studio, 5,000Â squareÂ foot live studio for town hall debates. We’re also going to have a center for investigative multimedia journalism and The Real News Cafe, and we’re going to do an experiment about digging into a city, taking up local issues, and connecting those with national and global questions and solutions. And we’re going to do this all live, and we hope you’ll be involved. So, again, here I am doing what I was told by my producer, telling you the phone number, 410-779-3021. And if you want to see more Real News coverage, we need you to donate.
Now joining us to talk about the U.S. presidential elections here in the Baltimore studio is, first of all, Margaret Flowers. Margaret is a pediatrician from Baltimore who advocates for a national single-payer health care system, Medicare for all. She’s an organizer of Occupy Washington, D.C., and codirector of the website ItsOurEconomy.us.
And with her is Kevin Zeese. He’s codirector of It’s Our Economy, an organization that advocates for democratizing the economy. He’s an attorney who is one of the original organizers of the national occupation of Washington, D.C. Thank you both for joining us.
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS, CODIRECTOR, IT’S OUR ECONOMY: Thank you for having us, Paul.
JAY: So, first of all, Margaret, just from a horse-race point of view, everyone I’m talking to so far thinks President Obama is about to win this, though there are still some very close races. What’s your take just where we are horse-race-wise?
FLOWERS: Yeah. I mean, I think it would be pretty surprising if Obama didn’t win this. I mean, if you can’t win against Romney, that would be pretty sad. But, I mean, it’s been calledâ€”.
JAY: It was pretty sad when Gore lost against Bush, so these things happen.
FLOWERS: That’s true, that’s true. But, yeah, I guess Gore wasn’t the most dynamic candidate, either.
But, yeah, I think it’sâ€”we’ve been expecting an Obama win. And, you know, the point is that regardless of whether Romney or Obama win this race, what we’re going to be seeing going forward is policies that are not good for the people of the United States or people around the world. So it’s: what are we going to do now after this distraction of the election is over? Hopefully, people will be ready to dig in and do real work again.
JAY: So, Kevin, I mean, are you pleased that it’s Obama, not Romney?
ZEESE: You know, it’s a mix. I mean, I went back and forth. I didn’t vote for either one of them. I voted for Jill Stein.
But I went back and forth through the campaign which is better for us to build the kind of movement we need. And in some ways Romney’s better, because then all the labor unions and the mainstream environmentalists and the African-American community and, you know, all these groups that have been sitting on their hands, pretty much, while Obama’s been putting in place corporatist and militarist policies will start to protest and join the movement.
On the other hand, if Obama gets elected, at least people will still see the Wall Street type policies and realize that the Democrats aren’t the answer. So that’s an opportunity for building an independent movement. What I fear with Obama being arrested is thatâ€”
ZEESE: â€”elected is that we will still see the labor unions all sitting on their hands. But we’ll see a more militant Tea Party, so a right-wing grassroots movement. Andâ€”’cause we often have that opposite effect, you know, [incompr.] the president coming out into the streets. And it really is who is in the streets that counts. I mean, there’s a little bit of change in the makeup of the Senate, a little bit of change in the makeup of the House, but it’s pretty much the same situation we faced before the election after spending $6Â billion. Here we are, not much change. And it’s really a question of what are we going to do to create the kind of movement we need to change things. And that’s the task we face. And we have to hope that a lot of these folks that have tried to help get Obama reelected who are progressives and liberals who didn’t protest and didn’t shout when Obama was putting in place corporatist policies will begin to realize he’s a lame duck and we can stand up now and say we want some real solutions.
JAY: Now, even if a lot of people had protestedâ€”and a lot of people protested against the invasion of Iraq, but there was an invasion of Iraq anyway, and there have been times when the movement reaches a very high pitch and isn’t able to change that much about national policy. I mean, you’ve got even at the height of the civil rights movement, which did see some changes, granted, some changesâ€”.
ZEESE: Yup. The end of Jim Crow, civil rights laws.
JAY: Yeah, and they’re not insignificant changes if you were affected by them. But there was no second act.
ZEESE: Well, there was a lot of assassinations. And, unfortunately, what happened was the civil rights movement moved into the Democratic Party. And that kills every movement. We have got to stay out of the two-party system. Movements need to be independent and stand for what’s right and stand for what the people really want.
Unfortunatelyâ€”so the health care debate, for example, during Obama’s first term, the people who supported passing this crummy Wall Street insurance giveaway support single-payer, but they took their marching orders from the White House, sat on their hands, and helped them pass this crummy law that’s going to make health care worse. And we’ll see that now [incompr.] the election’s over, you’ll start to hear the true analysis [incompr.] going to make health care worse, because not only [incompr.] very few people [incompr.] get insurance, but those that have insurance are going to be moving toward under-insurance. The subsidies Obama’s providing only fund the 70Â percent programs, where the insurance companies pay 70Â percent of the health care but people pay 30Â percent of the health care. What that means is, when your heart’s bothering you, ah, it’s too expensive to pay that copay; I’m not going to go to the hospital. Or when you actually do get sick and you have, you know, these expensive tests, expensive drugs, you go bankrupt, ’cause you’re paying 30Â percent. So it’s going to be a worse situation, and people are going to see that reality. Now that the election’s over, they canâ€”people can start telling the truth, we can work for some real solutions, remove those two words, “over 65”. Medicare-for-all, it’s a very simple solution.
JAY: So that’s what you’re going to be focused on.
ZEESE: No, it’s one thing. That’s one of the things.
FLOWERS: No, actually, there are a number of things that need to be focused on. And I think that, you know, you bring up a good point about protest, and we see a role for protest is to expose what’s going on. It’s really important to make visible, you know, the reality of policies that are being pushed forward and what they really do to people.
But that in itself is not adequate to create change in this country. You know, I think it was the Supreme Court justice Brandeis who said you can have, you know, wealth in the hands of a few, or you can have democracy, but you can’t have both of them together. And we’re in a situation now where the wealth divide is so vastâ€”there are, you know, 400 people that have the wealth of 165Â million Americans, you know, that youâ€”the wealthy are the ones that have the power. It was 100 donors who funded the super PACs, you know, three-fourths of the super PAC money in this election. Soâ€”.
JAY: Right. But the question I’m raising isâ€”you know, I interviewed Ralph Nader earlier, and you heard that interview, and Ralph talked about a kind of a coalition between libertarians, conservatives, and progressives on certain issues where there was agreement and a strategy of trying to really influence Congress. But he said the same thing to me in 2008 when I interviewed him after those elections. And thisâ€”there seems to be this kind of wall between those people who organize, you know, sort of in the movement area and those who are talking about trying to have a more sustained effort in terms of electorial politics. So there’s kind of a divide there. And then there’s no national movement. Everything’s so Balkanized. You get stuff happening in some cities, but, you know, there’sâ€”at one point there actually was kind of a national peace movement. There barely is one now.
FLOWERS: Right. I think it’s important, too, for people to realize that we’re in this for the long term, that we got into this situation over a series of, you know, four decades of very concerted attack by the right-wing groups to take over the media, to take over the educational institutions, to create think tanks, you know, to move this free-market agenda, market-based agenda.
What we need to do is to think long-term of how are we going to reduce the wealth divide, how are we going to shift more power to people in this country. And it’s happening. It’s happening around the world more so, but it’s really picking up here in terms of ways that we can work outside the corporate system to democratize the economy, to put more wealth into the hands of people, so that we do start to shift the balance of power. And that’s when I think we will have an impact on, you know, some of the policies and things. But right now I think we need to focus on our communities, on things that we can do there locally.
ZEESE: But it’s not just our communities, because there are things that are coming up on the agenda,â€”
FLOWERS: Well, that’s true. That’s true.
ZEESE: â€”the Obama agenda, which wasâ€”amazingly [incompr.] haven’t even discussed in the campaign what his immediate agenda is. I mean, he said in one interview that his first challenge is going to be to reduce the deficit. What that means is an austerity program.
ZEESE: That means the grand bargain, which is, you know, really a grand ripoff of the working Americans and what can you do to shift money to the top, and we have to get organized for that. We haveâ€”people have to realize that’s going to be quick on the agenda.
Right now, there’s a fight going on in Texas [incompr.] this Keystone Pipeline. And it could be stopped. You know, the people who are fighting that in Texas are doing a great job of blockading that pipeline from being built. Obamaâ€”.
FLOWERS: And that is a coalition [crosstalk]
ZEESE: That’s a coalition. It’s ranchers, it’s farmers, it’s peopleâ€”.
FLOWERS: Indigenous people, environmentalists.
ZEESE: It’s a nice coalition of climate-change activists. And that’s the kind of [incompr.] and we canâ€”the thing isâ€”the goal is: build power. So if we focus on, let’s say, the Keystone Pipeline and we stop thatâ€”and we can stop that. It’s being slowed by a handful of people. If thousands go to Texas, hundreds go to Texas, even, and join that protest, we can stop that pipeline that both Romney and Obama want to see built. And if we stop that, that is a stopping of corporate power. And we build on that power.
Next thing we stop: the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Obama was out there at the convention saying he’s going to stop the outsourcing of jobs while he was negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership in secret, the largest corporate trade agreement in history. It’s going to send jobs out of the country, it’s going to undermine environmentalism. It’s a global corporate group. And we can stop that, too.
ZEESE: They’re doing it in secret.
JAY: No, but howâ€”when you say we can stop that too, how are you going to stop that?
ZEESE: They’re doing it in secret because it’s so unpopular.
JAY: But how are you going to stop that?
ZEESE: Just like Bush was stoppedâ€”just like Bush was stopped from passing Social Security.
FLOWERS: Or privatizing it.
ZEESE: Privatizing it. And Clinton was stopped from privatizing. People said no. We can say no to that, too. There is power in the people, and we can stop the Keystone, we can stop the TPP, and we can stop [incompr.] You deal with those three things and you will see power building, and the people will have confidence in themselves to actually take control.
We do need to build electoral arm. And while I did spend a lot of time on third-party politics in this election, I’m very glad people like Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson planted seeds that can grow and we can build on. But we also need to build power inâ€”as Margaret was talking about, building our wealth, you know, building worker-owned businesses, building participatory budget processes.
FLOWERS: Public banks. Yeah.
ZEESE: Public banks so we have more control over banks. And we need to take those steps. Everything we’re doing is about building power in people and showing the corporations they can be beat. And they can be beat.
FLOWERS: And I think the TPP, the main reason that they may get away with this is because nobody knows about it.
ZEESE: It’s amazing how no one knows about it.
FLOWERS: The corporate media’s unwilling to talk about it. So even when we talk to activist friends who are fairly well informed, they don’t know about the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
ZEESE: [incompr.] flush the TPPâ€”toilet paper plus, TPPâ€”FlushTheTPP.org, you can learn about it, ’cause it’s the next bigâ€”one of the big battles coming.
JAY: Okay. We’re going to do more stories about that and many of the other issues you’ve raised. But the issue I’m raising is this idea of having an electoral strategy can’t be just about trying to have a token candidate for president in four years.
ZEESE: I agree. Of course. Of course.
FLOWERS: Right. Oh, absolutely.
JAY: And, you know, the possibilities, one would think, in some congressional districts of electing some serious Progressive Caucus at Congress you would think is possible. I mean, you know, theâ€”.
FLOWERS: Well, it’sâ€”.
JAY: And I actually can’tâ€”I don’t understand American politics enough, obviously, ’cause I don’t understand why in this day and age the Democrats can’t control the House.
FLOWERS: It’s because of the money. I mean, it’s justâ€”anybody right now who makes it into Congress is somebody who’s already agreed to sell out to the corporate agenda. I mean, that’s just the way it is. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be organizing. I think that’s something that it sounds like the Green Party is interested in doing is starting right now the plan for the next four years.
ZEESE: Well, in fact, when you were interviewing Jill Stein earlier and you were asking her, what are you going to do between elections to keep it going, I wasâ€”at the time you were asking that, I got an email from her campaign saying, are youâ€”not to me personally, but to her whole list, saying, are you going to run for office, we made great progress, we’ve got to keep it going. And so they recognize that they’re building at this stage. But the reason why the Democrats can’t control Congress is because they don’t answer to their own base.
ZEESE: Their base, 80Â percent wanted single-payer. EightyÂ percent of Democrats wanted single-payer. Two-thirds of Americans wanted single-payer. What did Obama do? He put single-payer off the table. Of course that angered people. People wanted the bankers prosecuted. What did Obama do? He put the bankers into his administration. People wanted to seeâ€”they don’t want Monsanto controlling our food supply. Who is the food czar? Monsanto.
I mean, so why do they lose? Because they’re against the people on issue after issue. Two-thirds of Americans support the right choices, whether it’s ending empire, cutting military, getting money out of politics, single-payer health care, moving Social Security from poverty to actually decent retirement. On issue after issue the people are right, both parties are wrong. And the Democrats are turning their back on their base. And that’s why they lose elections.
JAY: Okay. Well, [incompr.] good rant. They’re losing congressional elections, but they might be winning this presidential election by a whisker.
ZEESE: [crosstalk] this presidential election, thanks to they had Romney as an opponent, the classic oligarch, you know, who hides his money offshore. How un-American can you be and run for president when you’re hiding your money offshore to avoid paying taxes he should have been landslided, easily won. But because Obamaâ€”you know, I saw in the debatesâ€”we had an “Occupy the Debate” event. OccupyTheDebates.org was a project we did. We had an event. We watched the first debate and commented on it. And it was interesting watching Obama. He couldn’t fight back with Romney, because he had to defend his record. How can you go against Ryan, Paul Ryan saying, make Medicare into a subsidy for elderly people to buy insurance, when his health care plan, Obama’s is a subsidy so people can buy insurance? How can he be against Ryan saying it for one group when he is doing it to everybody else? So he’s stuck in this box of his own lousy policies.
JAY: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us.
FLOWERS: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: This is to be continued.
ZEESE: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us. We’re going to continue our coverage of the U.S. presidential elections after a short break.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.