Then it's high time for. . . . [drum roll]The Thrasymachus Institute For Policy And Analysis!!
The Democratic Party's losing streak is at least partly due to its lack of fresh ideas. For lack of fresh ideas, we've conceded the entire Midwest and the South, and are now spending our time squabbling over how many tiny steps right or left we have to take in order to make a play for those last 100,000 votes in Ohio.
For lack of fresh ideas, we've reduced ourselves to the role of National Anchor, playing a timid Ed Norton to the GOP's jubilant Ralph Cramden. The Republicans have a whole multimillion-dollar industry churning out their policy initiatives (I know; they actually pay for ideas that bad!), and the Democrats have. . . well, nobody. Except, perhaps, for us.
With new ideas, I think the Democrats could menace the Republicans in places where they presently think themselves secure. We could force them to spend time and resources and political capital on countering our moves instead of the reverse.
With new ideas, we can make the entire country competitive again, and have at least a fighting chance of sweeping them from power in 2006, as they so richly deserve.So- what have you all got??? Contributions are more than welcome!I'm going to keep my own thoughts here brief, and just present a few possibilities in an abbreviated outline form.
These are not, fully researched, fully vetted, or even fully baked. But they are, to the best of my knowledge, new. Or, at least, I've never heard them from anyone else. If the GOP wants to "up the ante" on tax reform and privatizing social security and social issues, and throw fiscal responsibility to the wind, then we should be delighted to meet them on that ground.
They think that the Democrats will plant their heels and dig in for an unsuccessful defense of the status quo. . .But I think it'll be more fun to take their issues, steal their constituencies, slash them, burn them, tumble them from power and high-five each other, laughing, as the entire corrupt edifice of their political dominance comes crashing down around their ears.
I can't promise that any of the following initiatives will actually do all that, but I think they at least indicate the sort of thinking that could, with proper honing and polishing, point us in the right direction. Without further ado, then-
POLICY ONE: FLANK THE GOP ON CROP SUBSIDIES
If you look at your electoral map, you'll see a long vertical line of Red states, running unbroken from North Dakota to Texas. On the county level, the very reddest of the red counties in those very red states are exactly identical to the map of "nonmetro farming-dependent counties" identified in the 2000 U.S. Census.
Those red counties, in those red States, represent the heart of the Republican base in the Midwest, and also the geographical area known as the Great Plains. Those counties also form a vertical, almost identical, blue stripe in the map of farm program payments as a percentage of county household income, rising as high as 20% or more. These farm counties suffer from heavy "outmigration" of existing residents.
Did I mention that the GOP is now looking seriously into using their brand new 54-seat Senate majority to cut farm subsidies in the name of "free trade?" No? I'll come back to that. http://farmpolicy.typepad.com/farmpolicy/2004/11/a_tough_road_ah.html
Cutting farm subsidies is also seen among Republicans as a necessary belt-tightening in light of the Federal budget deficit. . . . which, the GOP, no doubt, would like the electorate to believe was imposed on us from Mars. It's likely to be worth reminding folks in those hard-pressed counties just where the deficit actually came from. http://farmpolicy.typepad.com/farmpolicy/2004/11/farm_policy_ele.html
I'll come back to that too. Existing farm programs have their origin in the 1930s, a period when the well-being of U.S. farm households and rural communities were tightly linked. In 1930, there were 30.4 million people living and working on 6.3 million farms. In 2000, there were only 3 million people living and working on 1.8 million active farms. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/Adjustments/overview.htm
As America's farms have gotten bigger, the families owning them have gotten wealthier; and many farms and a majority of America's farming land) aren't owned by farmers at all, but by large agricultural corporations. The result is a skewed balance of payments that makes a few families wealthy (and a few corporations obscenely wealthy), and leaves surrounding communities (and employed farm-workers) poor and economically depressed. http://www.onrc.org/programs/klamath/latimes6.10.02.html
Moreover, the basis of the economy in these rural areas is no longer agriculture, but industry. Rural industry is a development strategy; under pressure from foreign competition. . . but . . . quality of local labor and inability to attract professionals is always cited as the major problems by rural manufacturers. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/AIB736/Aib73603.pdf
So here's my policy prescription. Stop pretending that the farm subsidy is just a subsidy for farmers, and remember what it actually is, and what it was originally intended to be: a subsidy for the economy of the rural, non-metro heartland. The Great Plains are a part of the country that's always had a hard time competing.
The land is flat, the summers are hot, and the winters are wet. That makes for great farmland, but a lousy place to live, and the communities out there are dying. They need the central government's help now, as much as ever, to slow the "outmigration" that's bleeding them dry. Back when farming was the basis of America's rural economy, helping rural communities by farm subsidies alone made sense.
Now, though, the rural economy is all about manufacturing and consumer service jobs. And we should be subsidizing those. And not by making payments to business owners, but by making them directly to rural workers themselves. A redistribution of the farm subsidy money will benefit the local economy and make jobs there more attractive to people born there. It will also make recruitment from other areas of the country a lot easier.
And did I mention that manufacturing and service workers
in those red states outnumber farm owners
If the GOP wants to have a fight about farm subsidies, they deserve one; and when they find themselves bereft of everything from North Dakota to Oklahoma, with Texas as a swing State, they'll have only themselves to blame. . . . IF the Democrats have the balls to call them on it.
POLICY TWO: FLANK THE GOP ON TAX REFORM
Another brilliant Republican idea being floated is tax reform. Bush has said he wants to propose something "bold." The last time he used that dread word, he invaded Iraq. This time, rumors suggest, he's thinking of a flat income tax, or even replacing income taxes with a national sales tax.
The Democrats are presently moaning that these taxes are regressive and transfer more of the burden of taxation to the poor and middle class, to the benefit of the enormously rich; and so they do! But that's no reason for the Democrats not to play ball. In fact, I think tax reform is a wonderful opportunity for the Democrats to seriously start fucking the Republican cheese.
A national sales tax, for example, sounds great. Only. . . . let's make it a sales tax on everything, and not just the consumer purchases that poor people use all their money for. Let's also tax transfers of capital investments, of the kind that rich people make. It's only fair. Buying stock? Pay the tax! Buying a house? Pay the tax! Buying a business? Pay the tax! Again and again and again. An economist might tell you that this would make investments more "sticky," and disincentivise investors from moving their money around too fast. I'd respond that broker commissions don't seem to have that effect (much), and to the extent that they do it's probably beneficial.
Ah! And here's another "bold" tax reform idea! Let's have a flat tax, but let's just tax wealth. Why penalize income, when accounting has gotten so easy? Every year, everyone gets to tally up their total net worth and write the government a check for 10%. That means that if you're the median American who has a total net worth of $47,000 (i.e.: the average American), then your total yearly tax bite will be $4,700. Which (if you're the average American) is less than you're paying now. Of course, the top 1% of this country owns 200 times the wealth of the bottom 40%, so they might pay a bit more. O.K., they might pay cataclysmically
more. Actually, this method of assessment would yield almost twice the amount of money that the Federal Government actually requires. Go figure.
POLICY THREE: FLANK THE GOP ON SOCIAL SECURITY, TERRORISM, AND IRAQ
If the Republicans want to come up with a "bold" (but alas, unfounded) initiative to channel Social Security money into private accounts, where will the money be coming from to pay today's beneficiaries? And where will the investment money be going? Will there really be no security?Well, here's another bold plan. Channel the money to investments in strategic American industries. Help Boeing the way the Europeans help Airbus; help American auto manufacturers the way the Japanese government banks help theirs. Focus on the broader effect of creating jobs with the money, and not creating an artificial windfall for those already in the market.
In exchange, offer workers a measure of security.And, incidentally, WHY are we committing huge funds of Iraqi reconstruction money to companies like Halliburton, which show aptitude for shuffling funds around until they disappear, but to no other discernable result as far as the Iraqi people are concerned? The Iraqis need an industrial infrastructure, and America's industrial infrastructure has the means to build it for them. Use American manufacturing to build the generators, tools, cars, machines and other products that Iraqis need to rebuild their country, and just drop them off. Save jobs here, and save lives over there. Not rocket science; and THAT would have gotten Kerry his 100,000 votes in Ohio.
POLICY FOUR: OUTCOME-BASED HEALTH FUNDING
Thanks to the fine Slate
poster Lem for this idea, which I think is bloody brilliant; I'm reposting it here:
"The problem with health care is what we buy. The economic incentive is to keep the sick sick because we pay for "cures" not for "health".What is wrong with buying health? We could contract for health, instead of insure for sickness.Japan, England and other socialized medicine countries let the health care provicers reach into the pocket of the taxpayer. They have some system of rationing, a point system in Japan, that lets the care provider reach into the system for the max for any particular illness or condition.My email to Peter Diamond at MIT'My material is in storage in CA and I am in Japan. The basic idea is to change the market dynamics so that we pay for health instead of sickness. We do that by dividing the states into grouped zip code areas. We then contract the health care for the areas by bid setting the standards for each area. (Because the needs of each area would be different the standards must be adapted)Bonuses would be paid for meeting different levels morbidity. For example, "live birth rate", "lost time illness", "number of influenza cases". etc.This would place a premium on preventive medicine--the better medicine and reverse the economic incentive. Health care providers currently make more money from the sickly than the healthy so there is a contra economic incentive to health.The Bonus system should be designed so that a contract bidder would expect to meet a provider target morbidity report for his contract area to get his profit. And the better the provider does for the contract community the lower his costs would become spiraling health care costs down instead of up.Payment for the Plan is based on the theory that "health care" is a tax on the rest of the economy. (Hitler's guns and butter) Health care is and will be paid for by the rich more than the poor because no matter how you look at it goods and services, economic benefit bears the tax of poor health of the working class. This will probably be amply demonstrated this influenza season because of the insufficient number of vaccinations. The economy will suffer.There are many enhancement ideas to make the system more palatable to the provider and the consumer. The main thing is that the negatives of the other single payer health plans would be eliminated. Promoting research would still be a goal of the providers."
POLICY FIVE: PUBLIC HOME SCHOOLS
This is probably one of the loopier ideas I've come up with, but maybe -just maybe- it's possible to outflank the Republicans with the evangelical Right.In this country, we don't pay nearly enough attention to adult education, and it's a shame. People who make an effort, late in life, to fill in the gaps in their education and learn skills are seriously motivated, and deserve all the help that society can give them.
At the other end of the age spectrum, we have the homeschooled. There are all sorts of reasons why parents want to keep their kids out of the public school system, but for Christian evangelicals, it's mostly it's fear that their children will be indoctrinated by the "pernicious liberal values" of the NEA.
The courts have said that parents have the right to do this; but the costs to the children are clear. Lack of socialization opportunities; lack of facilities like libraries, computers, sports, and gymnasiums; and a lack of teachers capable of providing instruction on subjects (like, for instance, foreign languages, sciences, and higher math) that homeschooling parents tend to lack the equipment or training to teach their kids.
So my humble and possibly loopy solution is simply this: why not create "community education resource centers" that parents can take their kids to? The parents can sit in and make sure that their kids aren't learning pernicious liberal values, use classrooms to instruct their kids en masse, socialize, compare notes, and (perhaps) learn a thing or two on various subjects themselves. Parents can go or not go, as they prefer and on any schedule they like, and sit in all the classes with their kids.
As a notion, it's likely to appeal to a group of people that, truly, Democrats have no other possible shot at getting votes from.