Monday evening, I watched the Georgia senate runoff debate between Kelly Loeffler and Raphael Warnock. Warnock is minister and the Democratic challenger. Loeffler is the sitting senator, a billionaire Republican Trump-ally appointed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
Loeffler finds herself in a tricky place now that Kemp is on Trump’s shitlist for not helping the 2020 election loser steal the 2020 election. She owes her hopefully short political career to Kemp but needs Trump to ensure that her career has a future. So, when, in the debate, she was asked about the piss fight between Kemp and Trump, she monotoned “The president has every right to every legal recourse.”
As Washington Post’s Greg Sargent points out, Loeffler’s answer is deceitful. What Trump is trying to do in Georgia (and other states) is not legal. His legal “legal strategy” – suing to stop everything – has famously and embarrassingly crashed, so now he is trying to get governors and state legislatures to illegally throw out the vote (in a number of different ways). Loeffler, like almost every other Republican out there, is using deceit to provide cover for Trump’s attempt to illegally stealing the election.
Central to Loeffler’s deceit was the phrase “The president has every right to every legal recourse” – the deceit in that what Trump is doing now is trying to force states to do something illegal. Central to Loeffler’s Monday evening mantra was her imitation of an Alexa prototype restricted to a 100-word vocabulary, periodically getting stuck in a loop.
Loeffler’s Monday showing was the most stiff and uncomfortable performance that I’ve seen from any candidate in a long, long time. Dead-eyed, with a crooked half-smile, she repeated the same stock phrases over and over. Every mention of her opponent was phrased “Radical liberal Raphael Warnock.” I lost track of how many times she blurted out the word “socialism,” as if it was a magic spell that would make Warnock vanish into dust. And I don’t think she moved her head an inch to the left or right or even looked down or at her opponent. Her half-lidded eyes were lazily fixed straight ahead, like she was in a narcotic stupor.
Warnock is a natural and a pro. The natural is quite obvious in the ease at which he talks, no surprise given that he is a preacher and talking is his job. The man’s patter goes down easy. The professionalism is apparent in how he moderates his tone to fit the room. A novice preacher-politician would have leaned on the dramatics of Gospel sermonizing, not just in the debate, but in all situations, because that style of speechifying is certainly engaging. Had his debate opponent been a right-wing ranter, going preacher would be a good counter. But, last night, Warnock faced a zombie who studied communication in an airport lounge listening to flight announcements over the PA. So, Warnock stepped back and adjusted his volume, tone, and style to meet the occasion.
Warnock was also good in dealing with Loeffler’s distortion of his past uttering. He corrected when he could use the moment to pivot into something else, or he just let the lies pass. It is difficult to guess how effective it was in neutralizing Loeffler’s attack, as most of Loeffler’s time was devoted to repeating the same five slanders. For attacks to stick, repetition is key, but how effective is repetition when it comes in a predictable mechanized loop, I don’t know.
And, that was Loeffler’s act – a few attacks, “The president has every right to every legal recourse,” no ideas, no plans, no future other than the nightmare of socialism she painted if the Dems take the Senate. Warnock didn’t push back on the socialist slams. He just let them fizzle, waited and flipped the narrative, pointing out that Loeffler is a billionaire, who made her bank helping corporations hide their money in overseas banks, and who is hated by the players of the basketball team she owns – all 100% true and verifiable. Loeffler’s counter was that she was a farm girl and former waitress who worked her way into wealth, an American success story – all true on the surface, but full of lies by omission.
Here’s Loeffler’s success story: Loeffler was raised on a farm, a successful corn and soybean operation that had been in the Munsell family for decades. She did work as a waitress and financed her college by taking out a mortgage on land she inherited from her grandparents.
After graduating with a degree in finance, she worked for several Wall Street firms until she landed at Intercontinental Exchange, an investment and money management firm servicing the ultra-rich. Two years into her time at Intercontinental Exchange, she married the CEO, Jeffrey Sprecher, and was soon promoted to “senior vice president of investor relations and corporate communications.”
In her new position, Loeffler “helped her company establish a Cayman Islands offshore tax dodge months after the Great Recession hit. This allowed some of the world’s biggest banks to avoid paying U.S. taxes on their risky Wall Street bets — including on the financial instruments that were key contributors to the global economic collapse.” Her work helping the wealthy skirt their social responsibility made Loeffler the wealthiest person in the Senate. And, though she has far more money than anyone can spend in a hundred lifetimes, she continues to use her job as senator to enrich herself. In the early 21st Century this is what passes for an American success story.
While Warnock did not dive into the details of Loeffler’s past in finance, he did hit the key points – filthy rich Wall Street hustler who sole job was to help the wealthy avoid paying taxes by hiding their money in offshore accounts and now uses her position in the Senate to horde more cash for herself. And after framing Loeffler as a money grubber, Warnock pivoted to “My dad was a small businessman, so I understand what small business people go through,” turning the knife with another reference to Loeffler’s corporate background. And, as I was watching Warnock frame, pivot, and reframe, I got excited.
During and after the 2020 campaign, I advised candidates and campaign managers to focus on small businesses, not to capitalize on a constituency, but because my working background is in small business. My mother was a small business person. Her first business was a deli, which she co-owned with a friend. Later she had a hair salon. My first job working for someone else was a stock-boy at a Sacramento deli called Fat Fonzies, a small business that employed ten people. I was 13 years old and got the job through my mom, who was a sandwich maker. All of my jobs working for someone else – save one – have been in small businesses. I ran a small business for someone else for 20 years, during and after which I owned my own small businesses – indie record labels and a mail order record distribution service.
While small business owners do own something of value (hopefully!) and sometimes make out fine, many are living on month-to-month sales and in financial situations far closer to that of their employees than to American Success Stories like Kelly Loeffler. And unlike Loeffler and her clients, the average small business person pays taxes, a lot of taxes.
When I was my sole employer, I paid upward to 40% of my income in taxes. Loeffler and her clients pay anywhere from 0% to 20%, depending on how skillful they are at hiding their money. I also paid for my own healthcare, which was as basic as I could afford, had no sick days, vacation time, or any other “luxuries” that others have. I worked no less than 60 hours a week, often seven days a week, in order to get by.
As a small business person, I am one of the people that conservative politicians love to champion. The talk “Main Street” while they rig the system to benefit Wall Street and the supper rich at the expense of small businesses. Scrape the surface and find that Democrats – especially progressives – have policies far more in tune with small business. If either party has a rightful claim on issues affecting small business it is the Democrats, particularly progressive Democrats.
Take Medicare for All. Centrists and right-wingers rage against universal healthcare because it is “socialism” that eliminates “choice” and would lead to “high taxes” – all three claims distortions or lies. They insist that a healthcare system where the employer is responsible for providing coverage to their employees is the best and only way to go, one that both business and consumers embrace.
The truth is that any employer-based healthcare system puts a huge financial burden on businesses. Big companies and corporations don’t feel that burden as much as mom and pops because the big guys negotiate with insurance companies for a good deal. Small businesses do not share that advantage. Without big business’ negotiating power, small biz winds up paying higher premiums so that their employees can get the base minimum required by law, policies that are often little more than insurance company grifts.
To provide healthcare for their employees, small businesses must make up the cost by either charging higher prices, cutting hours or jobs, and/or reducing their personal income. Dollars & cents decisions are made that pit employers against their employees. Hours are cut to keep employees under hourly minimums that trigger mandatory employer coverage in some cities and states. Staff positions are reclassified as “independent contractors.” Employees wind up without any health insurance, even while employed at a job (and if you lose your job, forget it. You can get COBRA, but that ain’t cheap, especially if you are now living off unemployment). Many small businesses call it quits, not able to provide healthcare for their employees while making a modest profit.
Medicare for All (M4A) helps small businesses (actually all businesses, except insurance companies) by shifting the burden of healthcare from the employer to the citizen through the state. Under M4A, the state represents all 331 million Americans in negotiations with healthcare providers and, in some cases, insurance companies. The bargaining power of 331 million people is an insanely effective tool to force healthcare costs down and lay down the terms of coverage, something nearly every Asian and European country has done with success.
Critics says that M4A means people can’t chose their doctors. The state negotiating for 331 million people says “Bullshit, if you want our money, people can see any doctor they damn well please.” (And, really, when is the last time anyone in Kaiser or another HMO has ever been able to see the doctor they want, when they want to! Or keep the same doctors after changing healthcare plans or when an insurance company redefines their “network”!) Nearly every rinky-dink objection to M4A can be countered by facts or simply “331 million people say ‘Bullshit.’” (As far as all the yammering about how competition leads to innovation and better outcomes, my answer is “For whom? Clearly not for me or others like me. As long as things are rigged as they are, where all wealth soars to the top, capitalist competition only benefits investors and those who make enough money to access innovation.”)
Driving healthcare costs down while widening the pool of insured results in the individual cost of healthcare dropping. Yes, we pay higher taxes, but that increase in taxes will be lower than whatever healthcare premiums we pay, not to mention all the co-pays and other ways we are nickel & dimed by insurance companies. For the consumer, money coming out of pocket is money coming out of pocket no matter whether it is called taxes, premiums, or pudding.
So, how much would the average person pay in taxes for M4A? It is hard to say, simply because there are competing M4A proposal and none are now law. However, estimates based on the main M4A proposals predict that a consumer will pay $125 to $200 a month, with, depending on the proposal, expenses capping at 8.5% to 10% of one’s income or $3,500 (which translates to $291 a month).
For me, this is a deal. My employer-based insurance plan costs $600 a month. My employer pays 50% of that. So, at $300/month I am paying $9 more in premiums than what I’d pay under M4A with a $3,500 cap. One thing, that $300 per month does not include co-pays and all the other ways insurance companies try to bleed us dry (real costs for me on a healthy year is $400 month).
Because my employer pays 50% of my premium, M4A means that she no longer has to kick in $300 a month – a $3,600 savings for her business (actually more given she employs 10+ people). Some of that money can be given back to employees in raises or bonuses, money workers can use to pay M4A taxes. Or workers and employers could use their savings to spend on stuff, always a good thing in a consumer-based economy. The only ones losing out with M4A are the insurance companies.
Oh, and to those who object to healthcare being paid for through taxes: Who. Gives. A. Fuck. Oh, I know, the government, blah blah blah. Seriously, does anyone who isn’t cashing in, really prefer shoveling money to insurance corporations over the government? Forget the propaganda, big business is not necessarily more efficient than government. Sometimes it is, often it is not. It all depends on who is running things and how. Corporations waste a hell of a lot of money, often more than government which has strict spending controls and must conduct internal audits, things that private businesses can forgo. Only the ideologue maintains that paying taxes for healthcare is worse than paying premiums to a privately held insurance corporation.
While conservative politicians and pundits lean into ideology, when we are faced with the choice between business and government, everyday people are a bit more practically-minded. We saw that when Trump’s henchmen attempted to subvert the postal system over the summer, with the intent to screw up the election and privatize US Postal Service – the majority of Americans screamed bloody murder. The public revolted because they like and value USPS.
Last year, Gallop found that the US Postal Service is by far the most popular piece of government, riding high with a 74% approval rating. The popularity of USPS tells me a few things: One, that Americans are not inclined to favor business over government. Two, Americans will support government programs that they see as useful and well run. And, three, government programs, even ones actively being sabotaged by Republicans, can work efficiently to provide a good service for people.
If an agency tasked with getting a package from Sacramento to Cleveland can do so efficiently and at a fair price (not to mention from Cleveland to Auckland, New Zealand), why can’t a government agency competently run a payment system (which is what M4A is)?
Medicare for All is just one progressive idea that helps all Americans while benefiting small business. I can easily rattle off a dozen more, a few dozen if we dive into tax policy and regulations. There is absolutely no reason that the billionaire-banked, oligarchic Republican Party should be the party of small business or that this boss mob the voice of working-class America.
While the Democrats certainly have their problems with big moneymen and corporate whoring, the party’s growing progressive wing is receptive to ideas that benefit workers and small business and creates a much fairer economy for all of us. We see that in Raphael Warnock, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Maxine Waters, and many others. The Democratic Party as a whole would be wise to pivot towards progressive small business policies.
When we demand change, the establishment responds by presenting us with either/or choices such as COVID mitigation vs. the economy, environment vs. jobs, healthcare vs. everything. When we probe the either/or, too often we find that we are being given a false choice. The further we examine things the more we discover that even in classic conflicts, like that between bosses and workers, two sides share issues – such as healthcare costs – where openness and creativity can lead us to common ground from which we can fight for progressive change.
Those on the left who get hung up over anything “business” must stop the knee jerk and consider small business a very strong, potential ally in making progressive change. Small business owners must realize that their month-to-month existence and Main Street orientation brings them much closer to the people – even progressives – than to Wall Street and the investor class. That we can come in conflict over wages and working conditions does not mean that we cannot unite in areas of shared interests. After all, world dealing with environmental devastation, a major pandemic, and mass poverty is not good for the business of workers or small biz owners.