18 August 2007

Domestic Platform 2008

A.D. Freudenheim, The Editor

Politicians do not do well at telling the truth. Another typical weakness is an inability to see problems – and solutions – holistically. When it suits, when it is politically expedient, many issues are connected; when it does not, no connection will be found no matter the logic presented. It's a shame, really, because this inhibits both clear thinking and much action. Not all issues are connected, but where government is concerned, in fact, many are interrelated – if not by philosophy, then simply by budget.

In the field of presidential candidates for 2008, one candidate is worse than the next. Both parties (and the country) have been dragged down by President Bush’s stupid Iraq war, but the Democrats in particular are in a bind because this is their election to lose: Bush is in the doghouse, the GOP is terribly unpopular, Rudy, Mitt, Fred, and Captain John all support for policies in the vein of Bush-as-is. Presidential and Congressional candidates of each party have also twisted themselves in knots over issues and challenges that they are too afraid to face honestly and directly, like immigration.

What we need in the United States is a kind of democratic revolution: a president and Congress capable of clear thinking and with the guts for tough projects and intelligent change. Ironically, this has happened before: think Clinton-era welfare reform. Alas, the current crop of elected officials and candidates don’t have the same tough stomach. We need leaders who will tell us the truth about the health and welfare of our nation, and who will push to make real improvements, even changes that may inflict a little pain on every citizen. As the cliché goes: no pain, no gain. So, here is my 10 point domestic agenda for presidential and Congressional candidates, to clean up the country and help us right the ship of state. (Foreign policy items to come.)

1. The biggest issue and the number one policy priority should be to address the future of Social Security. Concisely put: the Social Security system was never meant to act as America's pension program: it was designed to help those who literally could not help themselves. With the exception of Depression-era America, this is only a small portion of the population. Social Security needs to be fixed, along the lines of the reforms I outlined two years ago in this article.

2. The second biggest priority should be the elimination of Congressional earmarks – of which there were more than 14,000 in 2005, adding billions of dollars to the federal budget. Every instance of funds that a member of Congress wants to channel to a pet project in his/her state should have to be “peer reviewed” by both houses of Congress as part of the budget process, with the public well-informed in advance, too.

3. Fixing Social Security and eliminating earmarks would free up funds to address the U.S.’s healthcare conundrum. Americans like to think that we favor market-based solutions (except when we don't, as with private Social Security accounts), so the mildly "socialized" medicine programs of Canada and Great Britain do not appeal. The likely best solution is a system similar to what Massachusetts enacted: require all citizens to have insurance, and subsidizes those costs when needed. We must also accept that successfully insuring everyone will be impossible; therefore, the system needs to have financial flexibility to cover those gaps. A “luxury” tax on elective cosmetic surgeries (like breast enhancements or liposuction) might help offset the more basic healthcare costs.

4. With the first three items addressed, this is the time to focus on the tax structure, too. Here, both the American political left and right have valid perspectives. We need a better balance between taxing those who can most afford it – and not overtaxing to the degree that we inhibit economic growth. Some guiding principles? Don’t tax savings, even savings not specifically designated for retirement. Increase the earned income tax credit: better to support the working poor, than to create more people in need of non-working support. Increase limits on tax-free inter-generational transfers of money AND ensure a strong estate tax; people spend money when they’re alive and young, so transfers from (say) parents to children are more likely to ensure that money is put back into the economy. And lastly: fix the alternative minimum tax, which is crunching the middle class within increasing frequency.

5. Decriminalize drugs. The so-called “war on drugs” is a stupid, wasteful, morally-driven element of our government that has produced very little good for the nation and its citizens. Eliminating it would free billions of dollar for other purposes (including better drug education), and would have a positive impact on the environment by not poisoning both land and crops from the Andes to Afghanistan. Lastly: tax recreational drugs, thus generating revenue at both the federal and state levels.

6. The next big domestic priorities are bundled: jobs and education, as I wrote a few years ago. We need a system that honestly recognizes that not every member of our nation needs a college education for employment purposes – and where not having a college degree does not automatically condemn them to a low-wage life. We need talented vocational workers as much as college- and graduate-educated managers and leaders. Not every American is highly intelligent (just look at President Bush), and not every American will succeed equally, but we can do a better job helping everyone succeed enough to be contributing members of society.

7. Once we have addressed the challenge of educating people for non-white collar jobs, we need to help them keep those jobs and protect them from harm. To do so, we need to fix the laws governing unionization. Unions have done a lot to help clean up labor abuses in this country, but they've also wrought a lot of damage, too. The laws should be changed to allow unions to form more easily, so that companies like WalMart cannot block them so easily; at the same time, the laws must protect those workers who do not want to unionize, and more flexibly allow firms to hire non-union workers.

8. Immigration. Allow it, more of it. (Even Lou Dobbs comes from a family of immigrants.) Immigrants do compete for jobs, yes; but they also bring new skills, new ideas, and new cultural elements that make our society stronger by increasing its diversity. Moreover, the best antidote to illegal immigration is legal immigration. Our system should be flexible enough to accommodate both those who wish to live here permanently, and those who wish to come, work, and eventually return home.

9. Of the eight items outlined above, all of them depend on the degree to which we Americans have and exercise the freedom and liberty that is our Constitutional right. We need a president and a Congress (to say nothing of a judicial system) the remembers and understands that the Constitutional protections offered to American citizens are ours, not theirs: protections against intrusive government, not protections for government action. This holds true regardless of whether there is a “war on drugs” or a “war on terror” taking place.

10. The last item for the domestic agenda is also the segue to our foreign policy priorities: globalization and the environment. The two go together because solving the latter involves components of the former. We Americans need to accept the truth about the term globalization: it represents change that is here to stay, and so much the better. Globalization does have risks, but its benefits are greater, increasing the availability of (economic) opportunities for people everywhere. We need to use foreign policy, and the economic components of globalization, to protect ourselves and our environment, including addressing the overuse of fossil fuels and the imbalance in their use between the United States, western Europe, and nations that are just now undergoing massive movements of industrialization and urbanization.

It doesn’t all sound that difficult, does it?


Anonymous Ulysses said...

What about privacy rights, including abortion rights?

11:06 AM  
Blogger The Editor said...

In reply to Ulysses: Platform item #9 address this, implicitly. We have very clear, Constitutional rights, which need to be (more) respected.

We do not have an explicit right to abortion -- or privacy, for that matter. But the Constitution does protect these rights by enshrining them as state-specific issues. Would that we had more of that: we might have more control over our lives at the state level, where it is easier to affect and effect policy change.

9:16 PM  

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