Monday, November 21, 2005

Dreaming Big For 2006

by Tom Bozzo

Ben at Badger Blues has a pointer to Matt Stoller's post at MyDD suggesting a 2006 platform for the Democrats, and I agree with Ben that there's a lot to like there. Stoller says to "dream big," and comes up with this list of, as he puts it, ends and not means. Stoller's list in bold, quick commentary of mine in purple.
1 Impeach the Secretary of Defense and all other responsible parties for incompetence and criminal negligence in the prosecution of the war in Iraq. While this would be a start, I like this one the least, as it distracts from the ultimate end, which should be an end to the war in Iraq. The Democrats need to get out in front of the issue: Public opinion makes the McCarthyite reaction to Murtha just look pathetic, and clearly someone in the West Wing can still read polls. Meanwhile, on the present path political realities will lead Republicans in Congress (including, as Frank Rich notes, the Republican senators up for re-election) to discover that they were "against the war after they were for it."

2 A Constitutional Right to Privacy. That is, an explicitly codified right to privacy. This probably won't create a lot of appeal among hardcore opponents of reproductive freedom, but with the Bushists promoting domestic spying to an alarming extent, it has useful additional applications.

3 A Higher Minimum Wage. In a perfect world, increasing the minimum wage should be such a little dream it should be indexed.

4 Universal Health Care. Amen. I won't necessarily begrudge candidates support for incremental reforms that may help people even if they're primarily dependent on the charity of Bushist Republicans. But no Democrat worthy of the name shouldn't advance such proposals except as steps towards universal health care.

5 Universal Free University Education. It's nice to see this initiative from the Jed Bartlet administration hop over into our universe. The value of parallelism aside, I wouldn't necessarily say "universal," as the economy will require people with skills not typically in the university curriculum for the foreseeable future, and it doesn't make sense to flunk some of those people out of college first. Looking at the bigger picture, however, it's a very useful antidote to the program, which seems to be well past any point of usefulness, of shifting the cost of higher education onto students. The risks of providing too much education seem much lower than those of providing too little.

6 National Mass Transit. It'll give libertarian and pseudo-libertarian think tanks lifetimes of complaining to do, but a sensible forward-looking energy policy shouldn't assume a return to cheap oil. Obviously, the specifics should address inter- and intra-city transportation infrastructure.

7 Full Corporate Governance Reform to End Corporate Corruption. As an end, no argument from me. The means would be tricky, though I want to scream when I read corporate law types prescribe even less fettered corporatism as medicine for the excesses of millennial corporatism. I would be inclined to start a counter-revolution against executives' incentive pay packages. Anyone want to debate the proposition that incentive structure of the cradle-to-grave era, on the face of it, more closely approximates that of primitive capitalism.

8 National Free Internet Access and Copyright Reform. It should be a national disgrace that our titanic telecoms firms can't deliver faster and cheaper data services than France's. Also, let's add patent reform to the list. This is an area where Democrats could take the side of the angels and get loads of credibility with the libertarian-leaning pro-technology set. I also see it as ultimately a pro-business and pro-competition reform, as it is costly to navigate around hundreds of thousands of monopolies whose legal life, in some areas, seemingly exceeds their economically useful life.
Later: What's missing from this picture...
Well, you've convinced me to keep voting Republican...
See you in hell, then, Brian (sic). Why do you hate America?

I would think that normally in a two-party system that when the electorate shifts towards one of the two parties, that over time, the other party would move toward what is the new middle. The Democratic Party is trying something potentially crazy - promoting a strong left agenda instead of trying to move to the new middle and attract Republican voters. This shoot-the-moon strategy might work in 2006 and 2008 due to general discontent over the war in Iraq and the fact that Republican politicians are very close to worthless, and thus is a feasible strategy for getting more lefty-policy bang for the buck than if Dems moved towards the new middle. If this works in the near term and the Dems take the House and the Senate, as a long-term strategy I think it is still dangerous. After the country has moved on from the war in Iraq, Repubs will be set up to take back the House and Senate, as the electorate still leans towards them and possibly will lean to them even more if Dems push heavy lefty policies.

But, it is a risky strategy in the short-term too. As much as the war in Iraq has destroyed my political allegiance to the Republican Party, I look at the alternatives and think WTF? Am I going to vote for a party that wants to pass universal free university education, a higher minimum wage, national mass transit, national free internet access, national free pianos for everyone, etc.? No. But I might vote Libertarian.

Of note, all of this analysis assumes the electorate has shifted towards the right. I have noticed several, including The Columnist Manifesto, who have blogged about how the electorate hasn't moved to the right, but that the right has kept winning elections via some nefarious means. If that is the case then ignore everything I just said, but I do believe that since the 60s, the electorate on average has moved towards the GOP (which includes the GOP changing its policies to encourage this). The Dems moving left seems like a bad idea to me. But, if it works, good for them. It's time for a change. It's just a matter then of how long that will last.
Bryan: Since when does the national electorate lean Republican? Remember, Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and won narrowly in '04 when at the GSAVE highs Rove was expecting a Reagan '84-style landslide. As the Republicans head further into religious right wingnuttery, there's ample room for the Democrats to move too far to the right if they were to follow your (and, to be fair, some center-right Democrats') advice. It's not necessary to split the coalition so much as get a portion of it to stay home to have a substantial effect on election outcomes. (See, 2000 presidential election.)

Let's also consider who's out of the mainstream here with these policies. You're equating transportation infrastructure, free higher education and public provision of data infrastructure with "free pianos for everyone." This, when our supposed comparative advantage is in advanced knowledge work, and the cheap oil train has left the station. How do you think we're supposed to maintain that place in the world? And the minimum wage? A growing body of economic research suggests it's not harmful to low-wage labor or businesses, contrary to the economics 101 arguments that are trotted out by business lobbies to try to forestall increases. So what's it to you?

As for the "nefarious" means, there are two of note. The truly nefarious one is the "southern strategy," whereby the Republicans, beginning in earnest with Nixon, exploited the resentment of the conservative white South against the Democrats for the passage of civil rights legislation. (How do you think Bush derailed the Straight Talk Express in the 2000 primaries?) The one that isn't nefarious as much as mendacious is that the Republicans talk a moderate game in elections, because moderate-to-progressive policies are actually popular, and then proceed to enact contrary policies when possible. So, as public surveys have mentioned, a portion of the Republican-voting public -- probably not card-carriers so much, but probably a class of independents -- basically thought they were voting for Kerry, policy-wise, when they voted for Bush.
Since when doesn't the electorate lead Republican? The House has gone from large majorities of Dems to a majority of Republicans over the last 30 years. The Republicans have kept roughly the same amount of seats since the Repub Revolution in 1994 (232 now vs. 230 in 1994 vs. just 144 in 1975). Some of those gains are now cemented in by gerrymandering (which I'm against), but still this is a better measure of the electorate than a choice between Bush or Gore or Bush or Kerry, IMO. The Senate is similar, though that's not a very good measure of the electorate, as states with small population (that usually lean Repub) get to pick as many Senators as bigger states.

I think Dems are setting themselves up for disaster if they truly believe that the policies you mention and others are favored by a majority of people who actually vote. I'll grant that the Republicans have gone too far to the right, especially on social issues - but that's precisely where the Democrats could pick up more moderate voters if they moved a bit towards the right of where they are. (One area where they've already done this, e.g. - Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Howard Dean, et al. are against gay marriage but for civil unions, when I would think that the left's position ought to be equal marriage rights. Some, like Hillary, have been more hawkish on war on terrorism matters too.) Even if you split the left, you'll still split the right. What seems to be happening now, is that the Dems are solidifying the left - but look at me for example - they are solidifying the right too. If the war on Iraq doesn't bring enough voters over to the Dem side to cancel out the extra number of Republican voters (as measured by the number of House seats), be prepared for more misery.

As for policies outside the mainstream - universal health care might be reaching the point where a plan could easily pass, but national transit or free tuition? Gimme a break. Those are non-starters more than SS reform turned out to be. As for minimum wage, why don't we just give everybody $1 million dollars a year? Oh, am I being ridiculous? My personal viewpoints, are of course, meaningless.

It may be nefarious to court conservative white voters, but last time I checked, people could vote regardless of how horrible they may or may not be. You've got to win the war of ideas with these people too - not just give up on them. Howard Dean realizes this - even though he was chastized for saying he wanted to appeal to the guys with confederate flags on their trucks. As for Republicans acting all moderate during campaigns, I don't buy that they do it any more than Dems. One of Bill Clinton's strategies was to pick a conservative issue and take it as his own - welfare reform for example. And even if they are guilty of this more than Dems, hello!!!!! Make this part of the message of the Dem campaigns. Show clear-cut examples, make some ads, etc. People don't like the bait-and-switch.

Finally, I presume that whoever wins in 2006 and 2008 will largely depend on the economy. I personally think the economy is roaring right now (and if not, I'd like to know how long it would take to get out of the Weste Towne Malle parking lot if the economy were good - as on Sat, it was like 20 min). If oil prices get lower than they are now, and the Iraq situation improves, prepare to be wamboozled. Whether or not that's right or whether or not that's good for the country in the long term or whether or not you can keep your sanity are all irrelevant.
We'll see how bad the Republican screw-ups end up being, and how much they've shredded their credibility.

I detect a lack of substantive response on the policy issues themselves. You seem to concede the point on Iraq, and perhaps that corporations care secondarily as to the means by which they're freed of their health care obligations.

On the other fronts, we've already done an experiment in free college education on a large scale. Remember the GI Bill? You want to argue that didn't turn out well? That 12M college students and their parents don't vote? That they love playing the financial aid game? That it's fair that the opportunity to go to college depends on the wealth and financial acumen of one's parents? That it's good policy to have state legislatures effectively deciding national economic policy through their variable support of public colleges?

Or re public data infrastructure. Do you want to argue that we have better, or cheaper, data services than other advanced economies? Are the Baby Bells trying to kill off municipal wireless broadband projects because they're unpopular?

As for the state of the economy, we'll see. I have no desire to see anything other than prosperity. However, the situation is far from clear, and it's tough to extrapolate from the far southwest side to the state of the macroeconomy.
as for projecting the local economy to the national one, haven't you heard the phrase, "As goes Madison, as goes the nation"?

Thank god not.
Yeah, the country would just suck if it were all fully-employed, prosperous, and well-educated.

BTW, what's with the "Brian?"
He loved Big Brother.

BTW. Oscar Madison keeps spelling my name like that, so I figured I might as well too.
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