Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Forthright Democratic Challenge

A Forthright Democratic Challenge

The Democrats have been strongly and rightly criticized for not having a program to sell in the 2014 elections. The Republicans have been pushing pretty much the same program for the last half-century – government is the problem, and low taxes are the cure. They haven’t been especially consistent in applying these principles, but they have been consistent in advocating them, especially for the past 35 years.

The Democratic Party response has been an uncertain trumpet indeed. Much of the Party has been focused on the claims of special interest groups whose agendas are remote from or inimical to those of many other Americans – Blacks, Gays, immigrants, environmentalists and single urban women. They have been paralyzed by the conflicts between the demands of those groups, who form the base of Party, and their conflicts with the priorities of other Americans. Moreover, the hoped for future of the Party among the young doesn’t vote.

There is no particular mystery about how you build and weld together coalitions of diverse interests – you have to appeal to their common interests. If there is one overwhelming issue that unites most of the Democratic base with the rest of America, it is the economy. Yes, it still is the stupid economy. So how does one at once advance a popular agenda and differentiate oneself from the Republicans? Step one, you need to forthrightly attack the Republican agenda, and figure out how to blame them for all the things wrong with the economy – most of which they really are to blame for, though Dems certainly collaborated on some of them. The big Republican claim was that cutting back government would put more money in the hands of the “job creators,” supposedly benefitting all. In fact, the money saved did go overwhelmingly to rich people and corporations, but the jobs they created were mostly in China and other low wage countries or else in European yacht shipyards. The US economy has grown, and the very rich have gotten very much richer, but almost nobody else in the US has done well.

The government cutbacks have meant that US roads, railways, telecommunications, education, and healthcare have lost a great deal of ground compared to our overseas rivals. Our best universities are still the World’s best, but the rest of higher education has suffered greatly from financial cutbacks. Meanwhile, the new cheaper government has produced a generation of graduates with mountainous debts that prevent them from forming families or starting businesses. Similar stories exist in crumbling highways, dilapidated schools, unsafe bridges and railroad crossings and our increasingly archaic internet access – a despicable shame here where the internet was invented.

The vast economic progress of the fifties, sixties, and seventies was built, in part, on government investment in people and infrastructure – the GI bill, the Interstate Highway System, and more – and at that, while top bracket income taxes were above 90%. A world class economic infrastructure is needed to compete in today’s world, including a highly educated and healthy workforce as well as good highways, harbors and airports; telecommunications networks, and a vigorous national research program. Where industry cannot or will not invest in critical needs, the government must. These principles have been at the center of US economic development for a century and a half, and Republican lies to the contrary can’t be allowed to go unchallenged.

The American people’s continuing faith in Social Security, Medicare, and Public Schools and numerous other public institutions amply demonstrates that they don’t believe the big lie that the “government is always the problem, not the solution.” This lie needs to be aggressively challenged.

A program that would build our human and technological capital, while at the same time aggressively working to reduce impediments to entrepreneurship needs to be articulated as a coherent whole, not a patchwork of rewards for special interests.