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5 Things the Left and Right Actually Agree On
If Biden actually wants to unite the country he could start with this list
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Earlier this week — just days after armed right-wing protesters surrounded the home of Michigan’s Secretary of State as she was decorating her Christmas tree with her children — Bloomberg reported that the incoming Biden administration wants to create a position “to find common ground with conservatives” and has tasked Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana) with leading the effort.
Reaching out to the 72 million Americans who willingly voted for four more years of *gestures at all of this* may seem like a lost cause, but there’s actually several policies Biden could pursue that would accomplish this (since I haven’t had W-2 employment since March, Rep. Richmond is free to consider this post as my cover letter applying for the job).
1. Universal Basic Income
The best way to contain the virus is to pay people to stay home, and to pay businesses to stay closed. The Federal Reserve has already announced its plans to keep interest rates frozen near zero until at least 2023, meaning there’s almost no risk in the Fed effectively printing trillions of dollars in new money. This would simultaneously address both the spread of Covid-19 and the economic depression caused by Covid-related unemployment. And according to an April poll by Data for Progress, 84% of self-identified Republicans (compared to just 83% of self-identified Democrats) support universal basic income by way of paying employers to keep their employees on payroll even when shut down.
Fed chair Jerome Powell said “there’s no limit” to how ambitious of a stimulus Congress should pursue. He’s basically begging Congress to pass a bill to make the money printer go brrrrr. In fact, the money printer has already been working overtime in 2020, as one in five dollars in circulation today were printed this year, when the Fed added new currency to the money supply to prop up financial markets once the pandemic started shutting down the economy.
We’ve exploited the Fed’s money printer before with no real inflationary impact. The Levy Institute of Economics at Bard College estimated the true cost of the response to the 2008 financial crisis to be $29 trillion. Essentially, the Fed created $29 trillion out of thin air (not tax money) to use to buy up toxic assets held by big banks as a means of stabilizing the economy. This was called “quantitative easing,” (QE) though as former Fed chair Ben Bernanke described it, QE is literally the Fed changing bank account numbers on a computer screen.
2. Student Debt Relief
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has been repeatedly calling on President-elect Joe Biden to cancel up to $50,000 of student debt per borrower, which he says the incoming president can do with “the flick of a pen.” According to Nerdwallet, 92% of the approximately $1.54 trillion in student debt held by more than 40 million Americans is owned by the U.S. Department of Education, which is part of the executive branch. And roughly three out of four borrowers owe less than $50,000.
The high cost of college continues to spiral out of control. According to Congressman Ro Khanna (D-California), the cost of attending college today is 798% higher compared to 1983. CNBC reported that attending a public college as an out-of-state student can cost up to $70,000 per year.
There would be essentially no political blowback for forgiving student debt. A September 2020 poll conducted by Student Defense, the Defend Students Action Fund, and Data for Progress found that more than two-thirds of Americans (and even 58% of Republicans) are in favor of some form of student debt forgiveness.
All that being said, there’s really nothing stopping the Biden administration from forgiving most of the debt held by most student borrowers, other than Joe Biden.
While this excerpt is somewhat disappointing, Biden didn’t specifically say he wouldn’t forgive student debt by executive order, though it’s clear we’ll need to make him do it when push comes to shove. We have to remember the President-elect is the same person who, in 2018, said “give me a break” when asked about the plight of struggling millennials, saying he has “no empathy” for them when compared to youth in the 1960s.
(For what it’s worth, Joe Biden graduated from the University of Delaware in 1965. According to the university’s archives, out-of-state tuition in 1966 was $750 per year back then, or $6,023 in 2020 dollars. Today, an out-of-state student attending the University of Delaware would have to pay $35,710 in tuition.)
3. Ending the War in Afghanistan
The war in Afghanistan will turn 20 years old next September. The Afghan war has already been the longest war in US history since 2012, but if it’s still ongoing by next year, it will have gone on twice as long as the Vietnam War (1965-1975). According to Brown University’s Costs of War project, the Afghanistan War has already eaten up $2 trillion in tax dollars, not to mention the 2,300 US military deaths, 3,800+ contractor deaths, and 43,000+ civilian deaths in Afghanistan alone.
Ending the forever war in Afghanistan isn’t just a priority of the antiwar left — it’s a sentiment shared by both Democrats and Republicans, and especially by veterans and their families. In 2018, the conservative Charles Koch Institute (funded by the last living Koch brother), in conjunction with RealClearPolitics and YouGov, found that a majority of Americans and veterans think the Afghanistan war is pointless and that troops should come home (emphasis mine):
According to the survey, 53 percent of Americans, and nearly 60 percent of military veterans, do not think the United States has a clear strategic objective in Afghanistan. Only 15 percent of all respondents and 23 percent of military veterans said the government does have such objectives. Fifty-one percent of respondents say that it either is time to decrease Afghanistan troop levels or to remove all troops from the country in the next 12 months. Even more Americans feel this way when asked about troop levels over the next five years. Fifty-seven percent of Americans, including 69 percent of military veterans, said they would support a decision by the president to remove all troops from Afghanistan.
Americans do not deem the conflict a win for the U.S. Two in three Americans, including 73 percent of military veterans, cannot say the war has been a success. Specifically, 36 percent of Americans, including 40 percent of veterans, said the war has been unsuccessful while 30 percent (33 percent of veterans) said it has been neither successful nor unsuccessful.
Veterans’ opposition to the Afghanistan War has only grown since then. An April 2020 poll conducted by Concerned Veterans of America — which the Military Times described as a “conservative activist group” showed that nearly three quarters of veterans, and roughly 70% of their families, supported a full withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.
Americans’ opposition to the war itself has also remained steady for nearly a decade. In 2012, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that 69% of Americans were opposed to remaining in Afghanistan, and 68% of those polled believed the war was going “somewhat badly” or “very badly” for the United States. As commander-in-chief of the United States military, Joe Biden could unilaterally order a troop withdrawal starting in January, and get major brownie points from both Democrats and Republicans in the process.
4. Legalizing marijuana
The full-scale federal legalization of marijuana should be a no-brainer by now, given that 15 states and Washington DC have already legalized it for both medicinal and recreational purposes, including deep-red states like Alaska, Montana, and South Dakota. In 2019, Pew Research found that 67% of Americans — including 55% of Republicans — supported making marijuana fully legal.
Many other states have already decriminalized small amounts (typically one ounce or less) of marijuana, and this week, the US House of Representatives voted for the first time in history to decriminalize marijuana. The bill — cosponsored by far-right Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) — passed with nearly all Democrats voting in favor of it, along with five Republicans and Rep. Justin Amash (L-Michigan).
As President, Joe Biden could authorize his Attorney General to remove marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s list of Schedule I controlled substances, and issue immediate pardons for all federal inmates incarcerated for nonviolent marijuana-related offenses. But despite his repeated calls for bipartisanship, Biden remains obstinately against marijuana legalization.
5. Breaking Up Big Tech Monopolies
This week, 48 Attorneys General, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, sued Facebook, alleging its acquisitions of social media apps like Instagram and WhatsApp constituted a violation of federal antitrust laws established to prevent monopolies from forming.
The fact that 48 Attorneys General joined the lawsuit (46 states plus Washington, DC and Guam; Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and South Dakota were the only states to not sign on) is proof that the desire to break up big tech monopolies is shared by leaders of both parties. Even the Trump administration joined in, with the Federal Trade Commission filing its own complaint against the social media giant’s monopolization tactics.
Even some of America’s most conservative Attorneys General joined James’ lawsuit. Most of the 17 Attorneys General who recently joined Texas’ baseless lawsuit seeking to overturn election results in the swing states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. While Attorneys General like Ashley Moody of Florida and Ken Paxton of Texas may think it’s okay to throw out thousands of ballots without providing any proof of wrongdoing, they still don’t think it’s fair for Facebook to corner the social media market. This is proof that the Biden administration can and should pursue the breakup of other big tech companies like Amazon and Google if it wants to be bipartisan.