In containing Putin, we must not lose sight of priorities at home

By doing what's right for our own people we can better defend democracy and human rights abroad

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In the midst of Putin’s attack on Ukraine, it’s hard to keep our minds on domestic priorities — such as protecting voting rights, delivering economic security, and fixing our woefully expensive and unfair healthcare system.

Yet maybe this is exactly the time to focus on these domestic goals. Doing what’s right for our people strengthens our moral authority to defend democracy and human rights abroad. Protecting voting rights lends credibility to our claims of the superiority of democracy to autocracy. Providing more economic security shows the world that our system is fair and just. Fixing our healthcare system enables more Americans to live fuller and more productive lives. Surely we can afford to do far more than we are now doing. Containing Putin while also attending to our domestic priorities fortifies opponents of tyranny in Russia and elsewhere who know they don’t have the luxury of supporting a vast military while also attending to domestic needs.

Last week (which seems like an eternity ago) I testified before Congress on why we need Medicare for All. I’ve posted below a video of my testimony and my responses to followup questions from members of Congress. I can guess what you’re thinking: But what about Manchin, Sinema, and senate Republicans? Maybe you don’t believe there’s a chance in hell of protecting voting rights or strengthening social safety nets or enacting Medicare for All. The window of opportunity never opened wide enough to do any of this, and if Democrats lose the House and Senate it will close.

But before you throw in the towel, you should know how strong the green shoots of reform are right now.

For example, the powerful Congressional Budget Office, led by a Bush administration economist, just issued a report suggesting how a Medicare for All–style system could fix the mess of our current healthcare system — and save money at the same time. As I told Congress last week, Medicare for All — or some variant of a single-payer system — is inevitable because current healthcare trends are unsustainable. The only real question is how much unnecessary pain, suffering, and cost Americans will have to endure before we get there.

Stopping Vladimir Putin from taking over Ukraine will be difficult if not impossible in the short term. Containing his aggressiveness beyond Ukraine will demand great energy and resolve, both from us and our allies. Compared to this, reforming America — so the richest nation in the history of the world improves the lives of most Americans instead of only a super-wealthy elite — is straightforward. It should be part of our strategy for strengthening democracy everywhere.

In 1941, on the eve of America’s entrance into World War II, when the darkening shadow of fascism was spreading across Europe, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his “Four Freedoms” address to a joint session of Congress. He proposed that people “everywhere in the world” should enjoy the freedom of speech and freedom of worship, and also the freedom from want and freedom from fear. The benefits of democracy, FDR asserted, included economic opportunity, employment, social security, and adequate health care. Roosevelt was speaking both to Americans and to the rest of the free world. He was saying, in essence, that the sacrifices we were about to make should be understood as investments in our collective future. It is much the same today.

I hope you have a good and safe weekend, despite all the troubling news in the world.

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