Our politics in America has failed us. We’ve broken the political system and wallow now in its dysfunction and decline. Both major parties put party itself ahead of nation and scoring quick victories over principle. Political debate has deteriorated to lying and name calling.
Thus I feel the need at least to attempt to describe an alternative. I don’t believe either national party can return to its true roots (originally “conservatives” in the Burke/Hobbes tradition were pro-government as a bulwark against change and chaos, and originally “liberals” were for people being free of interference in their private affairs).
I am therefore surrendering to the siren song of a third party and offer here a brief for what I’ll call the “Commonwealth Party” [no relation to the short-lived twentieth century UK party of the same name]. I present below what I propose as its major stances and policies.
TAXES AND REVENUES
Everybody must contribute to the revenues necessary to run the country. The exact appropriate tax rates must be determined through the legislative process, but clearly we need more revenue than we are currently taking in. I would propose letting the Bush/Obama tax cuts expire for EVERYONE, eliminating the current cap on the Payroll Tax (while exempting the first $20,000 of earned income from it and applying it to all income earned or unearned), taxing earned and unearned income at the same higher rate, and linking my tax proposals to my immigration proposal (see below). Corporations should pay corporate income tax on every dollar they make in the US regardless of whether they own a post office box in the Cayman Islands. Expenses involved in off-shoring US jobs must not be tax deductible. I’d urge a 1.5% tax on all financial transactions to capture revenue being lost in the complex financialized securities swapping that pervades Wall Street today.
We spend too much. Spending on almost everything must be cut. I propose cutting spending on everything but education, infrastructure, and health care (and I only exempt those as I believe that spending on them now will save money in the long run). I’d end the wasteful boondoggle of the “War on Drugs.” I’d end the expensive federal death penalty. I’d look at alternative sentencing possibilities for all non-violent federal offenders. I’d make very deep cuts in military spending and foreign aid. I’d very quickly wind down the foreign wars in which we currently are engaged and bring our troops home.
We need to increase our ability to meet our energy needs without being dependent on parts of the world whose politics and populations might interfere with the supply of energy. I’d VERY RELUCTANTLY support the building of a handful of new nuclear power plants in places where they are less likely to flood or be damaged by an earthquake. I’d support tax subsidies for alternative/renewable energy. I’d be willing to permit more arctic and offshore drilling and the Keystone pipeline if the legislation authorizing such activity specified that EVERY SINGLE DROP of energy obtained through these sources must be sold in the US. I’d use tax incentives to encourage retrofit of existing buildings for energy efficiency and require as part of building code new construction to be energy efficient.
We find ourselves at a point in history in which we face both a change in the notion of what we perceive “civil rights” as “meaning” and when we’ve abandoned central elements of what we’ve traditionally assumed civil rights to be. I’d undo the damage done to civil rights by the Patriot Act and the Defense Reauthorization Act and restore the guarantees of due process and probable cause these laws erased. I’d have employers (and shareholders) whose companies discriminate in hiring or pay or promotion on the basis of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, or disability face prison time. I’d have the benefits of secular, civil marriage available to same sex couples on an absolutely equal basis with opposite sex couples.
Our largest long term liability as a nation is paying for health care. I believe health care should be a right of citizenship. While I’d personally prefer socialized medicine, I don’t believe we have the stomach to enact it and we would waste time and energy and resources arguing over it for perhaps a generation, so I advocate single payer, Medicare for Everybody. We need to reduce costs. By far the largest amount health care cost occurs in the last year of life on medicines and treatments and procedures that do little to extend longevity or increase quality of life. We must recognize that everyone will die and that we cannot afford to spend virtually unlimited amounts of money and resources on people who are near death. I believe preventative medicine (vaccines, diet/weight loss, smoking cessation, addiction treatment, cancer screenings, and such) is a health care bargain and we should invest in it substantially.
Our obligation to the coming generation is to give it the same opportunity that we had. I believe a quality education should be a right of citizenship. I also believe we need to abandon the current paradigm of measuring educational achievement solely by standardized testing and also abandon the model of seeing education as training for the world of work. Businesses and corporations should pay for the training of their own employees. Public education should be preparation for citizenship and for life. Our current methods for funding education are badly broken and are rapidly approaching a crisis point. Any student who maintains, say, a B average should be able at no cost to obtain any level of education up to and including the PhD, MD, JD, MBA, DVM, etc. States must meet their traditional burden of supporting education and must stop reducing the percentage of the costs of education that they underwrite either through property taxes, state income taxes, state sales taxes, or some combination of these. Educational institutions must put their resources mainly into the classroom and abandon the “top heavy” administrative model that has become prevalent and must stop building glamorous athletic and dormitory facilities.
We are at a place in our history when many millions of people live and work here without legal documentation to do so. Indeed, our society as it is currently configured depends upon their presence to harvest our food, clean our homes, care for our children, and so on. It simply is neither possible nor desirable to deport such large numbers of people. I’d propose a pathway to legal residence and citizenship for every undocumented worker who is otherwise without a criminal record, has a job or is in school full time, and who either pays a 10% federal income penalty every year until citizenship is attained or serves in the armed forces. The children of such undocumented workers must not be penalized for their parents’ wrongdoing and are entitled to an education and to health care just as the children of US citizens would be.
MILITARY AND FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY
Our current model for engaging with the rest of the world is based on the balance of power that obtained at the end of the Second World War and is thus outdated and outmoded and must be radically altered. I have already above suggested a sharp reduction in spending on the military and on foreign aid. In order to make these cuts work, we must reduce our “footprint” in the world and demand that other nations and other organizations (the UN, NATO, the Arab League, the OAS, and so on) bear more of the expense, risk, and burden of policing the world. That will mean that we less often will “get our way” and will have “less say” in how things are done worldwide. That may mean that US forces are under NATO or OAS or UN command in certain situations. Our membership in the UN, and indeed the UN itself, must be brought into line with the realities of the current world situation. In particular, the Security Council –with its permanent members being the WWII victors who have a veto over the rest of the members—is a relic of the past. Membership in the Security Council must be by election (either open, worldwide elections or regional elections to ensure appropriate geographical representation) and no one nation should have a veto (though perhaps actions by the Security Council authorizing the use of military force should be by a supermajority). We must cease to insist that other nations not behave in ways that we permit ourselves to behave. The days of “American exceptionalism” are over and we cannot and should not bring them back. We should work rapidly toward worldwide nuclear disarmament and securing fissionable materials. While I do not advocate isolationism, we must be more willing to let other parts of the world solve their own problems and decide their own direction, even when their goals and tactics differ from or conflict with our own. We must recognize that the way we do things in America may not be right for other parts of the world, but if we wish to continue our traditional policy of spreading democracy, we must be willing to accept the fact that democratic elections in foreign nations will not always result in governments friendly to American interests. We must close up avenues through which we may be attacked whether by conventional forces, asymmetrical terrorist events, cyber warfare, or weapons of mass destruction. It seems obvious to me that the place to start is by increasing security on the goods that ship into and out of our ports and airports, as currently very little of this now is subject to any security screening at all. Another early objective should be modernization and security for our electrical power grid.
ISRAEL AND THE MIDDLE EAST
President Truman very bravely and wisely recognized the state of Israel immediately. It is long past time for the US to recognize a Palestinian state and to work to make that state viable and secure. Israel’s neighbors MUST change their behavior toward Israel, but Israel must change too. Israeli citizens of Arab ancestry must be treated as full equals in Israeli society; the age of apartheid anywhere in the world is over. Our policy must be for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. I would urge the US to stop ALL economic aid and military/intelligence cooperation with any Middle Eastern nation that does not demonstrate openly that it has no nuclear weapons in six months’ time. Illegal Israeli settlements must be abandoned and Israeli ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem must cease immediately and permanently. The Israelis have the same right as any other nation to decide what their capitol will be; if they decide it is Jerusalem, we must concur with that. I believe the “Security Wall” is a deliberate provocation and that its dismantlement is a key condition for peace in the region. We must give support and advice to fledgling democracies in the Middle East even when we disagree with the results of the elections that brought them into being. The Iranians must relinquish any hopes or plans to build a nuclear weapon but must also be assured that they will not be unilaterally attacked by the US and/or her allies. The Kurds must decide if they want an independent nation of Kurdistan.
We have wasted too much of our national attention on abortion for a generation now. Feelings on both sides of the question are strong and raw. I do not believe that reason will lead us to any consensus on this issue which deeply divides the nation. What I propose is admittedly arbitrary, but many facets of legal questions are arbitrarily decided; if your eighteenth birthday falls the day after an election, you cannot vote even though there is no appreciable difference between you on election day and on your birthday the following day. Thus, I propose that a person who is born has “more rights” than the unborn. I’d suggest that, through the sixteenth week of pregnancy (admittedly an arbitrary number and not decided upon with any regard to “viability” or physical resemblance to a person or neural development or any other such criteria), a woman is completely free to end her pregnancy with no interference from the government. After sixteen weeks, some limitations may be put on that freedom, but a woman should still be able to choose to end a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or which endangers her life or health, or which would result in a very badly disabled child being born. I would say to my friends who disapprove of abortion under any circumstances that we as a nation have already decided we don’t agree with you and that it is unproductive to continue to re-argue a decision that has been made and won’t be changed.
Human life exists in the context of the life of the planet of which we are apart. If we exploit, exhaust, and poison the planet, we commit suicide as a species. There is no alternative to our immediately reducing the damage we to do the planet and begin working to undo as much existing damage as we can. We must accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is resulting in changes to the climate and begin to address what those changes will mean and how we can reduce the way our activities continue to contribute to them. We must invest in infrastructure to protect low-lying areas (New York, New Orleans, Miami, Charleston, and so on) from rising ocean levels. We must begin a crash course to reduce our carbon emissions with a handful of years. We’ve repeatedly been told about the possibilities of a new generation of “clean coal” power plants and various ways to sequester carbon; it’s time to build these plants and start this sequestration on a large scale. We must replant deforested areas and work to recover land and water resources damaged by extractive mining of fuel and minerals. Superfund cleanup sites must be a high priority.
Our Constitution includes a mechanism for amendment. In our history many amendments have been proposed, but relatively few have been adopted. While recognizing that the odds say my proposals for amendments likely would fail, I offer them as an indication of where I would like to take the country. I’d propose an “expanded ERA” amendment to guarantee in the Constitution that discrimination by the government or in public accommodation on the basis of gender, race, religion, creed, ethnicity, national origin, sexual preference, or disability be prohibited. I’d propose an amendment limiting all constitutional rights to actual people and denying them to artificial persons, such as corporations. I’d support an amendment guaranteeing that all workers public and private would have the right to bargain collectively for all matters related to employment. I’d support an amendment allowing for direct election of the office of President (i.e., doing away with the Electoral College). I’d support a balanced budget amendment if it united the now separate processes of taxation and appropriation; that is to say, when Congress votes to spend money on some project or policy, it must in the same bill identify or create a source for funding that activity. I would support an amendment prohibiting the death penalty.