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Because I donate to progressive causes and candidates, I end up on a great many email lists for other candidates I’ve never heard of. One of them emailed me recently, informing me he was progressive and asking for my financial support. His email didn’t reveal much of his agenda—the assumption was that I’d just hand over my money simply because he claimed to be one of the good guys. But when I checked him out online, I discovered that despite good policy proposals on climate, he did not support universal healthcare. I emailed back and explained that while I found him overall to be better than most Democratic candidates across the country, my finances were limited, so I could only donate to those who met all of my minimum requirements. His lack of support for a national health program was a deal breaker.

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I’d been polite in my email, and the candidate replied in a similarly non-confrontational manner. “I believe in offering my constituents a choice,” he said, “so I think Medicare-for-All-Who-Want-It is the best solution.”

He’s not the only candidate to say something along these lines. It sounds reasonable but it really isn’t. I grew up in a right-to-work state in a religiously and politically conservative family. As a teen, when I heard about right-to-work legislation on the news during dinner one evening, I announced emphatically, “No one should be forced to join a union.”

My father, a contractor who’d spent the previous twenty years building houses, wasn’t impressed. “If you don’t belong to a union,” he told me, “you have less job security and you make less money. And if everyone else on your job site belongs to a union, whatever benefits you do get are because they’re paying all the dues while you contribute nothing.”

During Obama’s presidency, I saw the same dynamic in the debate over the individual mandate for the Affordable Care Act. The difference there was that the premium was 30% of my monthly income, hardly “affordable.” A law can’t successfully force someone to hand over money they can’t earn. The system was designed to fail.

Which is a similar problem facing the post office. Congress has deliberately made it impossible for the US Postal Service to succeed. It had been one of the most successful government programs in history. But if we sabotage it, of course it won’t function adequately. Then pro-corporate politicians can say, “See? The private sector can do this better.”

Odd how our “principles” only kick in when politicians can no longer direct funds to their corporate donors.

It’s not uncommon for a failing company to hire a new CEO “to turn things around.” All too often, though, the company’s failure by this point is unavoidable. So a woman or an ethnic minority is hired for the position, and when the company does finally go under, everyone can say, “See? Women [or blacks or Latinxs or Asians or whoever] just aren’t good at business.”

Britain’s National Health Service was one of the best in the world until recently, when politicians began turning pieces of it over to private corporations. Now it’s become less efficient. All a set up so that pro-corporate leaders can say, “See? Socialized medicine is a failure.”

Even Medicare for All in the U.S. would struggle as long as pharmaceutical companies and medical supply companies remain for profit.

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We have no problem awarding billions in bailouts to corporation after corporation. Money for FedEx but not for the post office. Money for drug companies but not for a national health program. “That would be an abuse of taxpayer dollars!”

Odd how our “principles” only kick in when politicians can no longer direct funds to their corporate donors.

Many CEOs accept bailout money and then continue firing hundreds, even thousands, of employees. As Robert Reich regularly points out, “Billionaires aren’t going to save us.”

Private prisons give corporate owners an incentive to encourage long sentences for minor offenses, even to label some behaviors criminal that shouldn’t be. The way some unethical dentists keep finding “issues” with a patient’s teeth, performing one unnecessary procedure after another to keep the money coming in. The way an untrustworthy mechanic can keep finding “problems” with our car engine. The way weapon manufacturers are incentivized to promote war.

Democrats like to point out every conflict of interest President Trump or Mitch McConnell or other Republican leader has.

But when profit is the goal, every system, as well as every leader in it, has a built-in conflict of interest.

Is capitalism too big to fail? Perhaps. But it’s definitely too profit driven to succeed.

Money is power, and corporations have most of it. The challenges we face to reach economic, social, and climate justice are overwhelming. The least we can do—and often the most—is direct our limited funds and energy only to those candidates and causes which meet the minimum requirements, and demand accountability when we do.

I emailed the politician who’d contacted me one last time. I didn’t want to sound snarky, and I suspected my note would be interpreted in that tone, but I meant my comment sincerely. “When you finally have a platform worth supporting, please contact me again.”

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend