Sent from my iPhone by Nick Iqbal Quidwai Newbury Park CA
WASHINGTON -- If you want to understand the real meaning of Thursday night's debate between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders -- or the increasingly ugly feud between their supporters -- you have to go back to President Barack Obama's election in 2008.
Obama's triumph brought together every wing of the Democratic Party and inspired a generation of young voters: idealists who wanted a complete break from the Bush years, centrists who were angry about the Iraq War, radicals who wanted to reshape the financial system, bankers who concluded Obama would get the economy back on track, and many, many more. Each faction projected its own worldview onto Obama, believing he would pursue their own particular vision of the future.
That was impossible. And so, committed Democrats have been fighting about Obama ever since he entered office. The meaning of his presidency and what it could have been are not simply topics of academic debate -- they cut right to the emotional core of why many people got involved in Democratic Party politics, and why they identify as Democrats at all.
Obama will probably be remembered by historians as a liberal champion. In the face of a hardline conservative opposition fueled by often-transparent racism, he expanded access to health care, implemented Wall Street reforms and rescued the economy from almost total collapse. It is this vision of Obama that Clinton is tying her own image to, attempting to present Sanders as a traitor to the cause.
But if Obama is remembered as a consummate progressive, it will be because he delivered corporate America's final conquest over the Democratic Party, and in doing so, enabled future historians to erase the party's anti-corporate wing from the narrative.
Obama began his presidency by essentially telling movement progressives to shut up and quit making trouble for his corporate-friendly agenda. Former Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs derided and insulted "the professional left" in press conferences. When liberal organizations advocated for a public option during Obamacare talks, former White House Chief Of Staff Rahm Emanuel pressured them to stop by threatening their funding sources. Obama economic adviser Christina Romer was sidelined after demonstrating that the economic stimulus package needed to be much larger than what National Economic Council Chair Larry Summers would accept. Obama has deported more people than any other president -- nearly 25 percent more than even President George W. Bush. He supported Medicare and Social Security cuts for years.
While it's true that he faced scorched-earth opposition from Republicans, it was Obama who pressed for an entitlement-slashing "Grand Bargain" during the nearly catastrophic debt ceiling talks of 2011. This maneuvering on critical support for the elderly is what prompted Sanders in 2011 to advocate for a primary challenger to Obama -- a comment Clinton is now wielding against him as evidence of supposed liberal apostasy.
"I think there are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the president, who believe that, with regard to Social Security and a number of other issues, he said one thing as a candidate and is doing something very much else as a president," Sanders said in 2011.
At the time, Sanders didn't come out and say Obama should be replaced -- only that the prospect of another candidate could hold his feet to the fire.
At first, that's how many political experts viewed Sanders' challenge to Clinton. When she publicly opposed Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact -- one of the biggest foreign policy goals of his administration -- it was a clear victory for the liberal wing of the party. Corporate executives love TPP; labor unions do not.
But then Sanders kept campaigning. He raised huge amounts of money from small donors and won a massive victory in the New Hampshire primary. Clinton maintains a wide lead over Sanders among black voters, and her debate performance Thursday night included an unsubtle effort to maintain that margin by hailing Obama's achievements.
After several skirmishes, Sanders eventually dismissed Clinton's charges about his stance on Obama by pointing out that she had not always looked so fondly on the current president herself.
"One of us ran against Barack Obama," Sanders said, invoking the 2008 race. "I was not that candidate."
Experts have long known that rich people generally live longer than poor people. But a growing body of data shows a more disturbing pattern: Despite big advances in medicine, technology and education, the longevity gap between high-income and low-income Americans has been widening sharply.
The poor are losing ground not only in income, but also in years of life, the most basic measure of well-being. In the early 1970s, a 60-year-old man in the top half of the earnings ladder could expect to live 1.2 years longer than a man of the same age in the bottom half, according to an analysis by the Social Security Administration. Fast-forward to 2001, and he could expect to live 5.8 years longer than his poorer counterpart.
New research released on Friday contains even more jarring numbers. Looking at the extreme ends of the income spectrum, economists at the Brookings Institutionfound that for men born in 1920, there was a six-year difference in life expectancy between the top 10 percent of earners and the bottom 10 percent. For men born in 1950, that difference had more than doubled, to 14 years.
For women, the gap grew to 13 years, from 4.7 years.
"There has been this huge spreading out," said Gary Burtless, one of the authors of the study.
The growing chasm is alarming policy makers, and has surfaced in the presidential campaign. During the Democratic debate Thursday, Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton expressed concern over shortening life spans for some Americans.
"This may be the next frontier of the inequality discussion," said Peter Orszag, a former Obama administration official now at Citigroup, who was among the first to highlight the pattern.
The causes are still being investigated, but public health researchers say that deep declines in smoking among the affluent and educated may partly explain the difference.
Over all, according to the Brookings study, life expectancy for the bottom 10 percent of wage earners improved by just 3 percent for men born in 1950 compared with those born in 1920. For the top 10 percent, though, it jumped by about 28 percent. (The researchers used a common measure — life expectancy at age 50 — and included data from 1984 to 2012.)
It is hard to point to one overriding cause, but public health researchers have a few answers. In recent decades, smoking, the single biggest cause of preventable death, has helped drive the disparity, said Andrew Fenelon, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the rich and educated began to drop the habit, its deadly effects fell increasingly on poorer, uneducated people. Mr. Fenelon has calculated that smoking accounted for a third to a fifth of the gap in life expectancy between men with college degrees and men with only high school degrees. For women it was as much as a quarter.
Obesity, which has been sharply rising since the 1980s, is more ambiguous. The gap between obesity rates for high earners and low earners actually narrowed from 1990 to 2010, according to an analysis by the National Academy of Sciences. By 2010, about 37 percent of adults at the lower end of the income ladder were obese, compared with 31 percent at the higher end.
More recently, the prescription drug epidemic has ravaged poor white communities, a problem that experts said would most likely exacerbate the trend of widening disparities.
Limited access to health care accounts for surprisingly few premature deaths in America, researchers have found. So it is an open question whether President Obama's health care law — which has sharply reduced the number of Americans without health insurancesince 2014 — will help ease the disparity.
At the heart of the disparity, said Elizabeth H. Bradley, a professor of public health at Yale, are economic and social inequities, "and those are things that high-tech medicine cannot fix."
Life expectancy for the bottom 10 percent of male wage earners born in 1920 was 72.9, compared with 73.6 for those born in 1950, the Brookings researchers found. For the top 10 percent, life expectancy jumped to 87.2 from 79.1.
The growing longevity gap means that benefits like Social Security are paid out even more disproportionately to the better-off because they are around for more years to collect them. Last summer, the National Academy of Sciences convened a panel of experts to study the implications. It concluded that disparate life expectancies are making the country's biggest entitlement programs, like Social Security and Medicare, increasingly unfair to the poor and suggested officials consider policy changes to address the problem.
Poor health outcomes for low-income Americans have dragged the United States down to some of the lowest rankings of life expectancy among rich countries. The Social Security Administration found, for example, that life expectancy for the wealthiest American men at age 60 was just below the rates in Iceland and Japan, two countries where people live the longest. Americans in the bottom quarter of the wage scale, however, ranked much further down — one notch above Poland and the Czech Republic.
"It's embarrassing," Professor Bradley said.
Some researchers noticed a pattern of diverging longevity in the 1990s, but many were doubtful, saying that it could be a statistical blip and that the data was not strong enough. The evidence continued to gather, but many researchers remained skeptical. In late 2007, researchers from the Social Security Administration identified the pattern in a large trove of earnings and death data. Now most researchers agree that the change is real.