ANTITRUSSSTTT! (Bernie Sanders did SO talk about antitrust during his campaign. A LOT. But thank you, Elizabeth Warren, for picking up that mantle now.)
A detailed update follows the original post.
Is the window closing on Bernie Sanders’s moment? A number of folks, your humble blogger included, have suggested as much. We’ve argued that with Democrats seeming to unite behind Hillary Clinton, it’s possible that the longer Sanders withholds his endorsement for her in the quest to make the party platform more progressive, the less leverage he’ll end up having.
But a new battleground state poll from Dem pollster Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps suggests Sanders’ endorsement could, in fact, still have a real impact, meaning he may still have some genuine leverage to try to win more concessions designed to continue pushing the party’s agenda in a more progressive direction.
— A Sanders endorsement of Clinton could still make a big difference, Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, Washington Post, yesterday at 3:24 p.m.
Paul Glastris reports that a speech Elizabeth Warren gave that was virtually ignored by the news media could provide a template for an argument about the economy that changes the course of the presidential election. — gs
— Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, Washington Post, yesterday at 6:21 p.m.
Just about exactly a year ago—early last summer—as Clinton was picking up the pace of her campaign appearances and formulating her substantive arguments, she said something that the news media caught onto immediately as really strange. In an attempt to woo aspiring and current small-business owners, she did her default thing: She adopted a Republican slogan and cliché, this one that government regulation and bureaucracy are the main impediments to starting and expanding small businesses, and are, well, just making the lives of small business owners miserable.
Federal regulations and bureaucracy, see.
It shouldn’t take longer to start a business in America than it does to start one in France, she said, correctly. And it shouldn’t take longer for a small-business owner to fill out the business’s federal tax forms than it takes Fortune 500 corporations to do so. Also, correctly. And as president she will … something.
There were, the news media quickly noted, though, a few problems with this tack. One was that regulations that apply varyingly to other than a few types of small businesses—those that sell firearms and ammunition, for example—small-business regulations are entirely state and local ones and are not of the sort that the federal government even could address.
Another was that Clinton was relying upon a survey report that provided average times to obtain business licenses in various cities around the world, for companies that would employ a certain number of employees within a numerical, midsize range (or some such), and that cited Paris as the only French cities; showed that the differences in the time it took on average to obtain a business license there and in several American cities was a matter of two or three days, and that only Los Angeles (if I remember correctly) among the American cities had a longer average time than did Paris; and that the all the cities listed had an average of less than two weeks.
Some folks (including me, here at AB) also noted that the actual time it takes to open a small business depends mostly on the type of business, often the ease of obtaining a business loan, purchasing equipment such as that needed to open a restaurant, leasing space, obtaining insurance, and ensuring compliance with, say, local health department and fire ordinances.
And one folk (me, here at AB) pointed out that the relative times it takes to fill out a federal tax form for a business depends far more on whether your business retains Price Waterhouse Coopers to do that, or has in-house CPAs using the latest software for taxes and accounting, or relies upon the sole proprietor to perform that task.
But here’s what I also said: Far, far more important to the ease of starting a business and making a profit in it than regulatory bureaucracy—state and local, much less and federal ones—is overcoming monopolistic practices of, well, monopolies.*
I didn’t just mean Walmart and the like, I explained. I also meant the monopolistic powers that aren’t obvious to the general public. Such as wholesale suppliers and shippers. And such as Visa and Mastercard, which impacts very substantially the profitability of small retailers and franchisers.
Which brought me then, and brings me again, to one of my favorite examples of how the Dems forfeit the political advantage on government regulation by never actually discussing government regulation, in this instance, what’s known as the Durbin Amendment. It limits the amount that Visa and Mastercard—clearly critical players in commerce now—can charge businesses for processing their customers’ credit card and ATM card transactions.
Talk to any owner of a small retail business—a gas station franchise owner, an independent fast food business owner, an independent discount store, for example—about this issue, as I did back when the Durbin Amendment was being debated in Congress. See what they say.
The Durbin Amendment was one of the (very) precious few legislative restrictions on monopolies, on anticompetitive business practices, to manage to become law despite intense lobbying of the finance industry or whatever monopolistic industry would be hurt by its enactment. To my knowledge, though, it was never mentioned in congressional races in 2010 or 2014, or in the presidential or congressional races in 2012. Antitrust issues have been considered too complicated for discussion among the populace.
Which presumably is why the news media never focused on the fact that Bernie Sanders discussed it regularly in his campaign. And that it resonated with millennials.
And also presumably, it’s why the news media ignored Elizabeth Warren’s speech on Wednesday entirely about the decisive, dramatic effects of the federal government’s aggressive reversal over the last four decades of antirust regulation and the concerted failures of one after another White House administration (including the current one) to enforce the regulation that remains.
Here’s what Glastris wrote in preface to his republishing of the full Warren speech:
Yesterday, straight off her high-profile campaign appearance Monday with Hillary Clinton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren gave a keynote address about industry consolidation in the American economy at a conference at the Capitol put on by New America’s Open Markets program. Though the speech has so far gotten only a modicum of attention—the press being more interested in litigating Donald Trump’s Pocahontas taunts—it has the potential to change the course of the presidential contest. Her speech begins at minute 56:45 in the video below.
Warren is, of course, famous for her attacks on too-big-to-fail banks. But in her address yesterday, entitled “Reigniting Competition in the American Economy,” she extended her critique to the entire economy, noting that, as a result of three decades of weakened federal antitrust regulation, virtually every industrial sector today—from airlines to telecom to agriculture to retail to social media—is under the control of a handful of oligopolistic corporations. This widespread consolidation is “hiding in plain sight all across the American economy,” she said, and “threatens our markets, threatens our economy, and threatens our democracy.”
As our readers know, economic consolidation is a subject the Washington Monthly has long been obsessed with—see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. In our current cover story, Barry Lynn (impresario of yesterday’s event) and Phil Longman argue that antitrust was the true legacy of the original American Populists and a vital, under-appreciated reason for the mass prosperity of mid-20th Century America. But this legacy, and the new Gilded Age economy that has resulted from its abandonment, is not a narrative most Americans have been told (one reason why even the “populist” candidates running president have shied away from it).
What amazed me yesterday was how Warren synthesized the main points of virtually everything we’ve published into a single speech that, while long and wonky, was Bill Clintonesque in its vernacular exposition. You can imagine average Americans all over the country listening, nodding, understanding.
Though many in the press didn’t notice the speech, you can best believe Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives were paying attention (Trump’s too, I’ll bet). That’s why I think the speech has the possibility of changing the course of the campaign. The candidate who can successfully incorporate the consolidation message into their campaign rhetoric will an huge, perhaps decisive advantage. Hillary has already signaled, in an op-ed she published last fall, that she gets the larger argument. Yesterday, Elizabeth Warren showed her how to run on it. You can read the full prepared text below.
I’m thrilled. Except for that parenthetical that says “even the “populist” candidates running president have shied away from it, which is inaccurate regarding Bernie Sanders. The link is to an article by Glastris in the November/December 2015 edition of Washington Monthly titled “America’s Forgotten Formula for Economic Equality,” which regarding Sanders concludes based upon an answer to a question by Anderson Cooper at a then-recent televised debate in which Sanders asked the question about how he expected to win the presidency as a democratic socialist failed to mention the issue of antitrust, that Sanders did not campaign on the issue of the demise of antitrust law and enforcement.
But as it happens, I knew that was incorrect. One of my fondest memories of the Sanders campaign dates back to a detailed first-person report by a journalist covering the Sanders campaign in Iowa last summer, who attended a rally not as journalist but instead from the cheap seats in the midst of the attendees. I can’t remember the journalist or the publication, and was unable to find it just now in a search. But I remember this: He sat next to a young woman, blond, cheerleadery-looking, who whenever Sanders said a word or phrase referencing one of his favorite topics, would stand up, thrust her arm up in a punch-the-air motion, and shout the word or phrase. Cheerleader-like, the reporter said.
One of the words? Antitrust. Or, as the young woman said it, “ANTITRUSSSTTT!”
In searching for that article, which as I said I couldn’t find, I did find a slew of references by Sanders to antitrust—the economic and political power of unchecked and ever-growing monopolies—in reports about his rallies. One, about a rally in Iowa, for example, quoted Sanders as saying that Agribusiness monopoly has reduced the prices human farmers receive for their products well below their market value in a competitive economy.
Other statements made clear the critical reason that Sanders has so focused on the call to break up the big banks: their huge economic and political power. Including the resultant demise of community banks of the sort that made America great when America was great—for obtaining small-business loans and mortgages, anyway.
So here’s my point: If you click on the link to that Democracy Corps poll, you’ll see what so many people whose heads are buried in the sands of the pre-2015 political era (including the ones who constantly trash me in the comments threads to my posts like my last one) don’t recognize. All that the Democrats need do in order to win a White House and down-ballot landslide is to campaign on genuinely progressive issues, and genuinely explain them.
Which is why Warren is so valuable to the Dems up and down the ballot. And why Sanders is, too.
Warren endorsed Clinton last week, and on Tuesday campaigned with her in a speech introducing her, singing her praises, and trashing Donald Trump. Headline-making stuff. But not the stuff that will matter most. When she goes on the road and repeats her Wednesday speech, not her Tuesday one, and then asks that people vote Democratic for the White House on down, it will matter far more.
And that is true also for Sanders. But I don’t expect many politicos over the age of 40 to recognize that.
Glastris’s piece yesterday in titled “Elizabeth Warren’s Consolidation speech Could Change the Election.” Yes. Exactly. Consolidation. As in, monopolies. And monopolistic economic practices and political power.
Surprisingly, apparently in response to the release of the Democracy Corp poll yesterday, hours after suggesting that Clinton was about to begin campaigning as a triangulator because Sanders was refusing to endorse her, and anyway that’s what some Clinton partisans have been urging, someone in the Clinton campaign rescinded that, indirectly. Presumably, it was someone under the age of 40.
Or someone who reads Angry Bear. Probably someone who’s under 40 and reads Angry Bear.
*Sentence edited slightly for clarity. 7/2 at 10:43 a.m.
UPDATE: Greg Sargent is reporting now:
The latest draft of the Democratic Party platform, which is set to be released as early as this afternoon, will show that Bernie Sanders won far more victories on his signature issues than has been previously thought, according to details provided by a senior Sanders adviser.
The latest version of the platform, which was signed off on recently by a committee made up of representatives for the Sanders and Clinton campaigns and the DNC, has been generally summarized by the DNC and characterized in news reports. Sanders has hailed some of the compromises reached in it, but he has vowed to continue to fight for more of what he wants when the current draft goes to a larger Democratic convention platform committee in Orlando coming weeks, and when it goes to the floor of the convention in Philadelphia in late July.
But the actual language of the latest draft has not yet been released, and it will be released as early as today. It will show a number of new provisions on Wall Street reform, infrastructure spending, and job creation that go beyond the victories that Sanders has already talked about. They suggest Sanders did far better out of this process thus far than has been previously thought. Many of these new provisions are things that Sanders has been fighting for for years.
We already know from the DNC’s public description of the latest draft of the platform that it includes things such as a general commitment to the idea of a $15-per-hour minimum wage; to expanding Social Security; to making universal health care available as a right through expanding Medicare or a public option; and to breaking up too-big-to-fail institutions.
Warren Gunnels, the chief policy adviser to the Sanders campaign, is Sargent’s source. Gunnels listed six additions to the platform draft:
1) Eliminating conflict of interest at the Federal Reserve by making sure that executives at financial institutions cannot serve on the board of regional Federal Reserve banks or handpick their members.
2) Banning golden parachutes for taking government jobs and cracking down on the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington.
3) Prohibiting Wall Street from picking and choosing which credit agency will rate their product.
4) Empowering the Postal Service to offer basic banking services, which makes such services available to more people throughout the country, including low-income people who lack access to checking accounts.
5) Ending the loophole that allows large profitable corporations to defer taxes on income stashed in offshore tax havens to avoid paying less taxes.
6) Using the revenue from ending that deferral loophole to rebuild infrastructure and create jobs.
Okay, folks. While being credited to Sanders, this far more likely is a blunt-force impact of Warren, since every one of these points concerns Warren’s particular area of interest: financial industry regulation.
But there are, I believe, clear Sanders hallmarks in there, too: particularly item 4, empowering the Postal Service to offer basic banking services, which makes such services available to more people throughout the country, including low-income people who lack access to checking accounts.
In other words, Warren is the intermediary between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns. And in exchange for her unbridled campaigning for and with Clinton has combined her own top priorities—precise legislative ones that Warren has the deep expertise to demand and to draft, e.g., items 1 and 3—with one very specific one of Sanders and with more generic ones of his as well, e.g., items 2 and 5.
This will be an unbeatable platform and team. During the campaign, and in the four years that follow.
Update added 7/1 at 3:34 p.m