Written Fall 2002
Energy independence from the Middle East requires a determination to reduce demand for fossil fuels, which entails shifting income tax to gas consumption taxes, improved mass transit, and redoubled efforts on renewable sources. Domestic challenges should be met with a focus on fairness in education, health care, and taxation, and a recognition of the looming fiscal disaster that awaits the baby-boomer retirement.
On domestic affairs, Democrats have great opportunities to craft innovative and creative solutions to America’s 2 most pressing issues: homeland security and replenishing the wellsprings of our prosperity.
Where national security meets domestic affairs, Democrats should grill the administration on its grossly misguided priorities in energy policy and law enforcement. The single-minded focus of the Bush administration on oil in Alaska is demonstrably pointless, as reserves there are nowhere near what we need to wean ourselves from Middle Eastern oil. Energy independence, an important goal, should be met through dramatic but achievable efficiency upgrades, emphasis on mass transit, technological investment in fuel cells, gasification, and gas-electric hybrids, developing natural gas and oil shale, harnessing renewable energy sources, and shifting imports to Russia, Mexico, and other friendly nations.
Democrats must also challenge the administration on why it feels 5th amendment protections of due process and judicial review are elastic but the 2nd amendment is inviolable, a position that, through the gun show loophole, has allowed Hezbollah and Osama bin Laden associates to buy assault rifles at gun shows in America itself.
The recently passed Homeland Security Bill is a prime example of the administration’s exploitation of good means for bad ends. Tucked within the bill are measures implementing an Orwellian “Total Information Awareness” program (led by John Poindexter of Iran-contra infamy) to track virtually every facet of Americans’ lives (except of course weapons purchases), exempting companies from prosecution under environmental, health, & safety laws, barring federal employees from “whistleblowing” such violations, and specifically exempting Eli Lilly, a major Republican campaign donor, from liability on using mercury derivatives linked to autism in children’s vaccines.
Turning to restoring the foundations of our nation, Democrats should berate the Republicans on their lack of coherent plans for economic revitalization, educational renewal, health care reform, environmental protection, and rediscovering integrity.
The fiscal irresponsibility of bankrupting the treasury to give hundreds of billions of dollars to the rich has kept long-term interests rate high despite the Fed’s rate cuts, sucks needed money towards interest payments on the ballooning national debt, and makes the day of reckoning with safeguarding the solvency of Medicare and Social Security that much harder. Blaming the deficit on 9/11 is the Republican’s latest installment of “fuzzy math”; what is clear is that the promises of paying off the debt, safeguarding Social Security, and a humongous tax cut for the very rich were based on fake math that continues to sap our economy and cloud our future prosperity. Targeted tax relief for the middle class, help for states and cities in dire fiscal straits, increasing limits on tax-deferred savings accounts, and rolling back egregious parts of the tax cut should all be on the table. Republicans remain obstructionist in reforming the accounting industry and pigheaded in privatizing Social Security despite recent events, both of which destroy credibility in economic policy.
On education, health care, the environment, and political integrity, the Democrats can come up with novel solutions, bearing in mind that national problems should be met with national initiatives. Public schools, students, and teachers should be challenged with rigorous standards and curricula and given the resources to meet that challenge to level the playing field. Small-bore maneuvers like faith-based vouchers supporting private schools without regulation blur the distinction between church and state, may open the door to future public funding of madrassahs and corrode the foundation of our society’s “melting pot.”
Health care has been taken over by insurance, drug companies, and administrators, transforming patients into “customers” and eroding the doctor-patient bond. A candid national conversation on what services should be paid for, curtailing the marketing of drugs that perverts medical care and drives up costs, regulation of pharmaceutical prices in exchange for free access enjoyed by drug companies to NIH-funded scientific breakthroughs, pragmatic copayments to prevent needless utilization, and a single-payer system that clears out administrative deadwood should all be considered.
On the environment, Democrats should insist that one of capitalism’s four pillars, exclusivity (that the costs and benefits of a product are borne by the product and consumer and not by society or the guy downstream of a factory), be met, e.g., in the form of pollution taxes. Renewed commitment to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, clean air & water standards, and clean-up of toxic sites is also essential.
With respect to restoring integrity in politics, the Democrats should push for public financing of campaigns, free TV time for candidates in exchange for the cheap licenses to public airwaves enjoyed by broadcast media, fairness in advertising to curb excesses of negative campaigning, and full disclosure of political donors.
And of course there are the ideas that capture the imagination, that stir the soul, rally the spirit, e.g., setting as goals cures for AIDS or cancer, or landing a man on Mars, ideas that define the American can-do spirit of optimism to rise to any occasion and meet any challenge.
Democrats and liberals have been sleepwalking off a cliff. When we stop, we will find a vast arena of opportunities for Democrats to dust off the ideals of liberalism, speak truth to power, and present uplifting solutions for national priorities.