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Bernie Sanders Should Follow FDR’s Lead and Create a Brains Trust Now

The presidential candidate should assemble a brains trust of advisers to help craft the economic policies the US needs – today.

Part of the Series

The past few weeks have shown that the powerful, leading parties in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia – and perhaps soon, Canada – have suffered a revolution from revulsion of austerity policies heaped on the 99% so that the 1% might live like Bourbon kings. This grassroots-led public uprising in the midst of Great Depression II is being achieved peacefully by ballots and polls in four of the world’s major countries.

No pundits have yet called this bombshell a “storming of the Bastille” or “overthrowing of the Hoovers.” But it certainly is an “earthquake awakening” for establishment rulers on three continents, not to mention multinational corporations profiting from war and resource exploitation of the “third world.”

The voice of the people finally is being heard loud and clear.

Jeremy Corbyn’s historic and staggering (59.5 percent) overthrow of leadership in the UK’s complacent Labour Party may make him prime minister if the present government falls soon from a parliamentary vote of no confidence. Australia’s Tony Abbott was just ousted as an austerity prime minister by a 54-44 vote of his conservative Liberal Party. And in Canada “uneasy lies the head” of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who faces an October 19 vote by a large, angry electorate fed up with an economic recession that he refuses to acknowledge.

Added to the mix is US Sen. Bernie Sanders’ blistering attack against a billionaire-bought government at the expense of the 99%. Sanders’ stance has catapulted him to a significant lead in key primary election polls (New Hampshire and Iowa) as a presidential candidate in the 2016 election. This, despite re-registering as a Democrat after 25 years in Congress as an Independent. His strong message against austerity and for fixing long-neglected domestic needs has packed halls and auditoriums with thousands of wildly cheering people of all voting ages, races and political parties. As one of his 90 volunteers in Portland, Oregon, I was astonished to see nearly 30,000 arrive at the city’s largest venue (the Portland Trail Blazers’ arena) to hear his rousing speech and rise to give him constant standing ovations. It’s been the same reception across the nation, much as it was for Corbyn on his campaign trail.

For us 183,000-plus “Bernie” campaigners tirelessly distributing fliers, organizing house parties, posting on utility poles, and phone banking since he declared his candidacy in late summer, the surprise is not hearing the usual “Who?” for a presumed unknown candidate. It’s been joyous smiles, emphatic avowals of “berning” support, even fists-in-the-air enthusiasm accompanied by yells from the young (“Yay for Bernie!”) and signs of relief from longtime voters (“You’re preaching to the choir”). And, as always here, a few quickly turning away.

Global Dissatisfaction With the 1%

The voice of the people finally is being heard loud and clear: Domestic needs should come first and endless wars and global resource exploitation should come last – if at all. Decades ago, poet Edwin Markham warned a heedless elite about the eventual reckoning for those betraying, plundering, profaning and disinheriting “Everyman”:

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands

How will the Future reckon with this Man?

How answer his brute question in that hour

When whirlwinds of rebellion shake the world?

And these events indicate the whirlwinds are at hand.

Up to the recent Greek riots, those who hold the purse strings in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada have disregarded growing public outrage against increased belt-tightening and decreased public services for all but the wealthy and powerful. They have presumed police and armies as usual would quickly and brutally put down protests. Thus far, they have. The elderly and those in wheelchairs are unlikely to heave kerosene bombs at soldiers and cops. For now.

Elitists somehow cannot conceive of massive resistance to banks’ secret plans to cope with the coming financial crash by stealing depositors’ money with a “bail-in.” When that day arrives, police and armies – realizing they are among the robbed – will join those thousands overthrowing their greedy, contemptuous oppressors.

A shocked establishment is now left attempting to undermine Corbyn and Sanders at every juncture with the familiar tools of money and bought-off mainstream media to turn back this tsunami of “enough is enough!” They will launch the usual massive, expensive campaign of backbiting, faultfinding, demonizing and divisive tactics successfully applied on those viewed as ignorant, gullible rabble who’ll buy anything they sell. Somehow, however, such efforts may not work this time. These days, most of the 99% are furious and eager to throw out the mighty. Packed rallies show they’re no longer ignorant nor gullible rabble when it comes to survival.

As one British columnist commented:

The attacks on Corbyn and his party both from inside and outside … are likely to be brutal and relentless…. Within just one week, he will have to form a new shadow Cabinet, carry his party through a number of difficult votes … and face [Parliament question time of Prime Minister David Cameron]. Every slip-up he makes will be magnified and pored over. Every word he utters will be analyzed and denounced.

Yet his first “PMQ” was rated as a triumph by an Independent columnist:

… he triumphed with a set of razor-sharp questions focused on the day-to-day lives of ordinary people…. Cameron’s lack of compassion and stark inhumanity was obvious from the outset. His detachment from the reality of food banks and employment insecurity across modern Britain was more apparent than ever.

FDR’s “Brains Trust” Produced Miracles in the Great Depression

Corbyn’s nearly impossible one-week deadline for instituting domestic programs and choosing supportive, capable administrators – amid such slings and arrows of the mighty – should be instructive for other super-popular challengers like Bernie Sanders. He has the benefit of time to produce a miracle last seen in the hard times of the 1930s by four-term president Franklin Delano Roosevelt – with a “Brains Trust” in the wings.

FDR hit the floor running in his first 100 days of office because a year before the March 1933 inauguration, he gathered a handful of pragmatic Columbia University professors as advisers – “the brains trust.” It’s immaterial whether he agreed with all their ideas for designing and implementing the famous New Deal programs to stave off a near revolt in the depths of the Great Depression. But he favored many and added his own. Moreover, they vetted candidates who had to be tough-minded, visionary (and bipartisan), anti-austerity types to head these revolutionary programs – and like-minded, supportive cabinet members.

FDR’s brains trust involved a half-dozen bipartisan, high-caliber experts and speechwriters attuned to the public temper.

Sanders, like Corbyn, is a crackerjack impromptu debater, and floor and public speaker, his abilities honed by 30 years in public life. His skills were enhanced on radio answering questions from ordinary Americans on the “Brunch With Bernie” call-in segment of Thom Hartmann’s Air America program. But neither he nor FDR were go-it-alone “Renaissance” men with knowledge and experience covering the United States’ colossal requirements.
FDR was born into US aristocracy, giving him the self-confidence that led from a Wall Street law practice to leadership in the Democratic Party – and into a New York governorship beset with battling the Depression on a state level.

As a presidential candidate, he was well aware of the nation’s 11,000 shuttered banks and a collapsed stock market that both needed strong remedial regulations. Some 13 million Americans were jobless, thousands of farmers were bankrupt, untold millions were destitute and starving, and schools and hospitals were in desperate straits. Add to this, unmet infrastructure repairs and expansion costing billions, flood control, soil conservation after the Dust Bowl, and addressing long-neglected forests and vegetation on public lands.

Origins of FDR’s Brains Trust

Small wonder FDR reached out for advice from those sharing his compassionate instincts about the suffering “Forgotten Man” and country. Fully operational eight months before the presidential election, his brains trust involved a half-dozen bipartisan, high-caliber experts and speechwriters attuned to the public temper in those terrible times.

If Sanders is not a presidential winner, a brains trust’s set of doable programs may well be borrowed by the next administration.

To form the group, he picked Samuel I. Rosenman, his chief counsel in the governorship. Rosenman recruited Raymond C. Moley as its chief policy adviser, and Columbia University colleagues Adolf A. Berle and Rexford G. Tugwell, plus Brig. Gen. Hugh S. Johnson, Harry L. Hopkins, New York’s super-capable relief administrator, and FDR’s law partner Basil O’Connor.

Hopkins was the key facilitator and, ultimately, the “principal architect” of the New Deal. He worked out operational logistics of what in 1933 and 1934 alone put 4 million jobless on 200,000 projects.

As one history scholar summed up the brains trust spirited discussions and results that largely resurrected this prostrate nation:

[They put] together an economic development plan that would include financial regulation, public works projects and large-scale job development. Each member … contributed from [his] own strengths and background, pushing FDR and Congress to pass some 15 pieces of legislation within the first 100 days of FDR’s presidency.

A year later, FDR tapped Hopkins, the indefatigable, hard-driving administrative genius, to organize and direct the famous WPA program (Works Progress Administration). Its legacy – dams, bridges, highways, waterways, utility systems, libraries, schools, hospitals – still exist in almost every US city and town. From 1935 to 1943, the WPA “put food on the table, kept a roof overhead, and put spending money in the pockets of nearly nine million jobless” – and immediately in the pockets of store owners, landlords, public service facilities, banks and other essential goods-and-services businesses.

Moreover, the WPA provided its alumni with new job skills and “taught more than a million adults and 90,000 service draftees how to read.”

Sanders Faces Far Greater Challenges Than FDR

Now, consider that Sanders’ domestic-focused platform includes all these issues, and far, far more than Roosevelt’s: climate change, racial justice, single-payer health coverage, payroll increases, expanded Social Security, free college tuition and halting job-killing global trading pacts. In 1932, FDR could de-emphasize foreign policy, but Sanders is confronted with reining in military operations and the bloated budgets of the military-industrial barons. Then, there’s cleaning up their formidable and monumental global wreckage, especially millions of refugees from the Middle East and Africa fleeing to Europe because of those unending military actions. Consortium News editor Robert Parry provides a litany of the horrific deeds always rationalized as protecting the US homeland from survivors of those misbegotten actions:

The neocons have plunged the US government into extraordinarily ill-considered wars wasting trillions of dollars, killing hundreds of thousands if not millions of people and destabilizing large swaths of the planet, including the Middle East, much of Africa and now Europe. Those costs include a swelling hatred against America and a deformed US foreign policy elite that is no longer capable of formulating coherent strategies.

Undoubtedly, the fearful among FDR’s 1932 team and constituents (as in Obama’s case) insisted, “We first have to get him elected before setting up program advisers.” Fortunately for this country, he ignored them. Yet today, the same kind of dangerous thinking is still being voiced by some of Sanders’ political operatives and supporters concerned that revelations about any behind-the-scenes work will drive off potential voters by the million.

But why would it? Most of the electorate would be overjoyed to know that even before the primary election, the Sanders’ campaign has a brains trust hard at work drafting programs to alleviate the United States’ second Great Depression – that behind Sanders’ domestic emphasis and rousing speeches, something tangible, workable and immediate is being put together on their behalf. If Sanders is not a presidential winner, a brains trust’s set of doable programs may well be borrowed by the next administration.

Why Sanders Should Create a Brains Trust Now

Most important of all, Sanders doesn’t have Corbyn’s seven-day deadline to devise programs and choose personnel to drive them. That is an unmitigated blessing for the United States. For any candidate’s brains trust to tackle most of the nation’s daunting problems and to find hard-nosed, can-do administrators like Hopkins to achieve solutions will require daily productive work for the next 13 months till Election Day. It’s obvious that the usual, expensive blue-ribbon committee won’t qualify for this task. Sanders needs a Harry Hopkins-like team who have the 99% constantly in mind as they deliberate – (perhaps at $15 per hour?).

Above all, recruiting a brains trust now means members will have a full year for deliberations to create sound, practical and results-driven programs – to say nothing about sufficient time to choose and vet administrators and supportive cabinet members.

Waiting until, say, next summer guarantees a rush-to-judgment result that might produce a Henry Kissinger, a Dick Cheney, or appointees such as a Larry Summers, Rahm Emanuel, or Hurricane Katrina’s Michael (“heckuva job”) Brown. It also ensures operational ranks to be filled with incompetence, lassitude and corruption, or those out to sabotage crucial domestic programs to continue the bankrupting emphasis on US foreign and military power. Worse, postponing a brains trust seriously limits the timeframe required to promote Sanders’ new New Deal program by Congress.

Now, not later, is the time for Sanders to gather such a group lest the “whirlwinds” of public upheaval shake this country into shedding what’s left of democracy and shredding what’s left of the US Constitution. As history teaches us, that eventuality assures military rule “until things calm down.”

As my ancestors used to say in preparing for any crisis, “time’s a-wastin.” Sanders needs to heed this good, old bit of Yankee wisdom and get cracking on forming a brains trust.

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