Opinion

Opinion | Dan Wolf

On being pro-Bernie, and pro-business

Supporters listened to presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders at a South Carolina rally.
NYT
Supporters listened to presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders at a South Carolina rally.

More than 30 years ago, I was working as an airplane mechanic and pilot. A small handful of us started Cape Air, which today employs 1,200 people, shares ownership with employees, and is still headquartered in Massachusetts.

I have learned that being “pro-business” means involving frontline employees as well as investors in decision-making, engaging the communities we serve, and respecting our environment as we improve our bottom line.

When Bernie Sanders expresses anger and outrage about Wall Street’s money and control, what he’s really saying is that we have to recognize the fundamental difference between corporations that extract wealth out of communities versus businesses that remain rooted and responsible to communities.

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That means understanding that a healthy economy is built from the bottom up and the middle out, not from the top down.

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That means policies to encourage businesses that invest and re-invest in our communities, like local credit unions rather than multinational banks.

That means focusing on economic growth that will provide jobs in education, infrastructure, transportation, renewable energy and green renovations, health care, high-tech and biotech.

That means making good on the promise that every citizen should be able to reach the first rung of the economic ladder, in hopes that all can climb as high as possible.

Is there any doubt that Bernie Sanders understands this? Is there any doubt that when he talks about fighting Wall Street, this is where he’s coming from?

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That’s why shallow comparisons between “outsiders” Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump fall apart. The best way to put it is to say, simply: “Bernie Sanders is all about inclusion. Donald Trump is all about exclusion.”

Much also has been made of Sanders calling himself a “democratic socialist.” For this CEO, it’s clear what he means: He’s reaching back to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. And like Roosevelt, he’s profoundly pro-business, because being pro-business means being pro-worker, and pro-community.

People trust Bernie Sanders. Funny, the reason is that Bernie Sanders trusts people. They know, because he’s telling them the truth.

The overwhelming Bernie Sanders victory in New Hampshire left clear messages in the tea leaves for Massachusetts, though they aren’t messages the Tea Party wants to read.

Sanders’ honest, unpolished persona has rallied those who understand that the growing disparity of wealth in our country has hollowed out our middle class, belied the American Dream, and undermined our democracy.

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Our state holds the dubious distinction of having one of the greatest, if not the greatest, gap between the buying power of the wealthiest few compared to the vast majority. So the Sanders message should resonate here as much as anywhere in the country, and it does.

Yet there’s a disconnect. Unemployment rates, tax revenues, and other broad metrics would have us believe that our economic “recovery” is succeeding. And when it’s convenient, our political leaders trot out those stats to celebrate their efforts.

Bernie Sanders has caught fire because he says that those measurements defy reality: This so-called recovery has all gone to the top one percent. Stock market indexes and low-wage job creation have little or nothing to do with economic justice, or shared prosperity.

So the Sanders campaign is speaking truth about our political process and our nation. And as that conversation continues here and across the country, let’s add a new component:

Let’s wrest control of that self-righteous buzzword “pro-business” from people who use it to mean corporate performance, shareholder profit, and next quarter’s bottom line.

Dan Wolf is CEO of Cape Air and a state senator from the Cape and Islands District.