League of Women Voters of Elmhurst
Voters Guide for the General Primary Election: March 20, 2018

Democratic Candidate for the 5th Congressional District — Steven Schwartzberg

Opening Statement

Hi, I’m Steve Schwartzberg, and I am running for Congress in the 5th District as a Bernie Sanders supporter. I am running for Congress because I am a lifelong social democrat who thinks that it is time for a moral as well as a political revolution in this country. My training is as an historian—Yale PhD 1996—a scholar of the history of American foreign relations who believes that we can draw from our common past to build a shared future.

My favorite revolutionary among the founders of our country and the framers of our Constitution is the Pennsylvania lawyer James Wilson. Years before Thomas Jefferson, Wilson had written that “all men are, by nature, equal and free.” According to Wilson we—the American people—are “sovereigns without subjects.” This was—and is—a succinct way of stating the most basic ideal of the American Revolution. It took the Civil War, and the civil rights movement, to even begin to make this true for African-Americans. It took the suffragists, and the women’s rights movement, to even begin to make this true for women. And it took the organization of trade unions, and the labor movement, to even begin to keep this true for working people: to prevent the power of the state being used on behalf of corporations to make subjects of workers. In our own day, it will take a moral and political revolution to keep the 1% from making subjects of all the rest of us and destroying the promise of the American Revolution. And it will take repentance on the part of the American people to cease attempting to rule over the Indian nations as if they were in any way our subjects, or subject to our jurisdiction.

We must begin with a vision of the kind of society we want to be. I believe we want to be a social democratic society: just, prosperous, ecologically-sound, and self-governed by we the people. It is in order to help build such a society that I am for running for office.

1. What can be done to help improve civic discourse and reduce the level of rancor and partisan bickering in national politics?

We must begin with an understanding of where the rancor and the partisan bickering comes from.  It comes from the fact that the country is fairly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats and there is no broad consensus on where we have been and where we are going as a people.  In the absence of such a consensus, intense partisanship, “gridlock,” and frequent shifts from party to party are inevitable.  They are rooted in divisions of opinion among the American people that will take time and effort—and dialogue and organization—to resolve into a new majority consensus. 

We—especially those of us in positions of political leadership—must find ways of talking to each other in an effort to persuade rather than at each other in an effort to mobilize our core constituencies.  And, all of us, while seeking to persuade, need to find ways of embracing all of the members of this nation as fellow citizens and as fellow children of God.

There is much that a free people can and should do through government to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.  There is also much that a free people must do for these purposes as individuals, families, neighborhoods, and other private institutions.  Abraham Lincoln had it right when he said in 1864 that “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.”

When Ronald Reagan said in his inaugural address in 1981 that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” he was mistaken.  If he had meant to say that there are more important things in life than politics, and that politics cannot solve our most important problems, that would have been correct.  Love and forgiveness, compassion and civility, enter our lives independently of the government.  But that was not what Reagan said.  For more than a generation—under the spell of his antigovernment rhetoric—we have pursued policies that have neglected America’s roads, bridges, railways, water systems, mass transit systems, airports, and electrical grid, while favoring the 1%.  It is high time to repudiate Reagan’s philosophy and return to Abraham Lincoln’s.

2. Where do you stand on gun control legislation?

I think guns should be regulated at least as strictly as cars are regulated.  Gun owners should be required to take training, pass an examination, and purchase insurance, before acquiring a gun and then required to renew their training periodically and their insurance annually.  This process of registration and insurance should help to cover civil penalties, which should be established by law, in the event a gun is used (whether by the owner or by someone else) in the commission of a crime.  There should also be penalties, covered by insurance, whenever a gun is lost through carelessness or stolen; penalties that increase for repeated losses.  Those who refuse to follow the law and register and purchase insurance should face stiff penalties if convicted and particularly severe penalties in the event their gun(s) are used in the commission of a crime.  Background checks should be made universal and comprehensive with no exceptions.  Assault weapons should be banned as well as high-capacity magazines.  And those convicted of a domestic violence charge should be unable to own a gun.

3. Immigration detention centers have a reputation for insensitive and inhumane treatment of those being detained, such as keeping families separated for an extended period of time. How could you or would you seek to improve these conditions at detention centers?

We, as a people, must restore and renew the sense of ourselves—of America—as a nation of immigrants. This is who we are and who we want to be: a hospitable people made up of individuals from every other nation on earth. As A. Philip Randolph used to say: our ancestors may have come over on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now. That is exactly right. And that is why there must be a swift legislative path to citizenship for all of the undocumented immigrants in the country. They are already part of who we are, but in a second-class status that they do not deserve and that weakens our unity as a people.

The American people must choose between maintaining an inhuman detention and deportation system and having more immigrants become citizens. I favor the latter course of action. One can compromise with the evil of the detention and deportation system in various ways: one can seek to reform it by eliminating solitary confinement for prisoners, then work requirements, then privately-owned facilities, then rules that keep families separated, etc. Or one can abolish the evil entirely which is what I advocate. For most of the first century of our existence, the United States simply let in any immigrants who wanted to settle in this country and become Americans. That would be a better system than what we have now. I strongly support English language and civic education requirements for those who wish to become American citizens, and I favor welcoming them, and I believe our inhuman detention and deportation system should be abolished.

4. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world, the Great Lakes. How would you work to help protect the Great Lakes Initiative?

We are in a battle for the soul of the country and need a moral as well as a political revolution if we are to succeed.  This is particularly evident in the dimension of that battle that concerns environmental justice, including protecting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  The majority of the country believes that we should pursue an ecologically-sound future and is concerned with global warming.  But there is a vociferous minority that is in denial and willing to trash the planet in its pursuit of economic growth; a minority that includes the president of the United States and many of his supporters.  The attack on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was not launched on the merits of the Initiative but rather from an ideological hatred for environmentalism that draws its greatest strength from climate change denial.

One response to this division in American politics is to stress not only the virtues of sound stewardship, but the economic benefits of a more sustainable green economy.  California now has more than eight times as many people employed in renewable energy as in fossil fuels and will have half of its electricity from renewables by 2020.  The commitment that California has made needs to be adopted, and intensified, by the nation as a whole. As renewables come on line, we need to phase out all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and then begin to impose new taxes on that industry to discourage its existence.  We need to stress that the “decarbonization” of our economy can and must be part of a Marshall Plan of investment in our nation’s infrastructure.  Mobilizing the American people behind such a program, and voting out of office those who fail to embrace it, is the most efficacious way to defend the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. 

What is true of the American economy as a whole—that it will be strengthened, not weakened, by being greened—is true here as well.  According to the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, $1 invested in Great Lakes restoration results in a $2 return in the form of increased fishing, tourism and home values.  The Muskegon Lake restoration project is expected to generate a 6-to-1 return on investment. “With a proven track record of success, Great Lakes restoration is one of the best returns on the federal dollar in the budget.”

Closing Statement

We, the American people, are all in this together.  As James Wilson wrote of the spirit behind American progress in 1790: “All will receive from each, and each will receive from all, mutual support and assistance: mutually supported and assisted, all may be carried to a degree of perfection hitherto unknown; perhaps, hitherto not believed.”  We must rebuild the hope-filled moral consensus on which our country’s progress rests—the consensus that was fought for by James Wilson and Bayard Rustin and Bernie Sanders and countless others—and transform our politics and our economics to serve the common good rather than the 1%.

If you support Medicare for All, if you support a Marshall Plan of infrastructure investment for the United States, if you support a Freedom Budget to abolish poverty, if you believe in respecting the sovereignty of the native peoples, if you want a foreign policy that is concerned with the global common good and that respects the rights and interests of others, then please consider supporting my candidacy.

The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan political organization, neither supports nor opposes any candidate.

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