Saturday, May 5, 2018
A Pie-in-the-Sky Blueprint for a New Political Party
If I had the time and money (hence, pie in the sky), I would love to start a new political party, since the current major parties have too much loyalty to big donors and powerful corporations and are therefore unwilling to tell the American people the truth—about pretty much everything. The Republican Party, in particular, is unwilling to propose policies that we really need, and I believe the majority of Americans would respond positively to the truth, even if it is painful, simply because they know we have significant problems and our current elected officials are unwilling to deal honestly or productively with them.
So, I would like to outline a basic philosophy for what I would call the THIRD Party, short for the Totally Honest, Intelligent, Responsible, Decent Party. As one might expect from the acronym, this party would espouse the following principles:
1. Honesty is important. We the voters have been lied to about too many things for far too long. The Republicans are especially guilty of this. They have been lying for almost 40 years about economics. They know it, and most Americans know it. That’s why less than 30 percent of Americans polled by Gallup before the Republican tax “reform” was passed viewed it favorably. It’s why Republican politicians have stopped touting it as something to be proud of. Most Americans know that the rich don’t need more money. They know that giving them more money doesn’t create stupendous growth or millions of new jobs. It simply gives the wealthy more money, which they often use to invest in technologies that replace human labor with machine labor. Corporate executives admitted beforehand (and are now following through on that admission) that they will use the extra money from the tax cuts not to add jobs or to pay their current workers better but to give out more dividends and buy back stock, which benefits primarily the wealthy investors and the executives who own stock. Most American see through this scam.
They also know that the debt needs to be dealt with. We can’t go on living beyond our means. But we can’t balance the budget and pay down our debt by cutting taxes or by slashing spending. We have significant infrastructure needs. We have a generation of Baby Boomers retiring who have not been able to save enough for retirement. They will rely on Social Security and Medicare. There are also many poor, sick, elderly, unemployed, and disabled who depend on Medicaid, CHIP, and other government “safety net” programs to avoid disaster. We are not so cold-hearted as to leave these people to their own devices (even though Republicans like to talk as if they were). So, massive cuts to these programs are simply not in the cards. These are simply facts. Another fact is that teachers in many states are woefully underpaid. They are starting to demand fair treatment, and legislators have no choice but to cave in to their demands, because fairness is on the teachers’ side. So let’s be honest about our predicament. We need to start talking about increasing taxes, a lot, in order to pay for all the things we expect and demand of government and to pay off a lot of debt that politicians have simply refused to deal with. People like me need to pay more. But those who need to pay the most are those who have benefitted most from the lax regulations and irresponsible taxation schemes of the past 40 years. So, the THIRD Party will campaign on raising taxes and balancing the budget. We’ve tried supply-side, trickle-down economics for almost 40 years. It doesn’t work. It never will work.
And the dire predictions about the effects of a tax increase are pure political rhetoric. We tried a little experiment with raising taxes on the wealthy when we allowed the Bush tax cut on the highest earners to expire. What happened? Well, the rich kept getting richer. There were no negative effects on the economy. None at all. The wealthy probably never noticed the increase. If they did notice, it did not affect them at all. It did not cost us jobs. But it helped decrease the deficit.
Honesty is extremely important in campaigning. The American people are cynical about politics because they have been lied to by politicians of both major parties for so long. Much of this involves making promises on the campaign trail that the candidate has no intention of keeping. Donald Trump was, of course, a master at this. Buyer remorse has already set in among many Trump voters. This past week, even Fox News started taking him to task for his constant lies. THIRD Party candidates, by contrast, will not campaign on lies or half-truths. That is why the first word in the acronym is so important. Being somewhat honest is not enough. THIRD Party candidates will be totally honest. They will tell the whole truth about what our country needs: higher taxes, responsible government, a smaller and more agile military, less welfare for corporations, means testing for social programs, facts about the changing economy (no promise to restore jobs, for instance, that have been made irrelevant by technology or market forces), significant efforts to combat climate change, reasonable gun laws, and a clear plan to meet our actual infrastructure needs. I believe voters are tired of hearing empty promises. They are cynical. They would find total honesty appealing, even if it hurts. I also believe that many politicians would also be relieved to just be able to tell the truth and would gravitate to a party that demands honesty. I believe Donald Trump will create a huge backlash against dishonesty. Having elected leaders who tell the truth would be an extremely popular notion. Digging ourselves out of the mess we’ve created with decades of lies and half-truths is not going to be painless, but we need to address this and not leave it for our children and grandchildren to clean up.
2. Expertise is important. The Republican Party has been waging a war on intelligence. The GOP used to be serious about policy. No longer. It has become a party that governs by sloganeering and a bankrupt ideology. If someone actually knows something (is an expert), the Republicans label that person as “elite,” which has become a right-wing pejorative. But we need to listen to intelligent people. These include climate scientists, tax experts, macroeconomists, policy analysts, health-care specialists, intelligence operatives, diplomats, and education specialists. We need to embrace intelligence and the people who are experts in important fields. Trump may claim to love the uneducated and go to great lengths to avoid facts and knowledge, but we’ve got to stop assuming that uninformed people know how to run a country in the highly complex twenty-first century. Intelligence is not elitism, and it certainly isn’t something to demean and degrade. We are seeing the results of stupidity in the GOP’s “repeal and replace” efforts, in their horrific tax “reform” adventure, in their efforts to increase pollution and greenhouse gases, and in their ideological responses to crises that could be solved by intelligent, reasonable policies. Ignorance ain’t pretty. And we’re currently getting a double helping.
3. Fixing our health-care system is important. The ACA was never perfect. But it was a step in the right direction. The opposition to it was purely political, if not personal (the GOP had sworn to oppose anything Obama did). The ACA was actually based on Republican ideas and a conservative blueprint, which was part of the reason it was imperfect. It didn’t go far enough, but it would have worked after a fashion if it hadn’t been repeatedly sabotaged by the very people who should have embraced it. But it was incomplete. It still left people uninsured. It didn’t deal well enough with exorbitant medical costs and the profit motive that has taken over the health-care industry. Other countries are doing far better than we ever did. We can learn from them. The THIRD Party will select carefully from the best features of those other systems and propose a health-care system that covers everyone, reins in prices, and provides quality care. It is possible. Other countries are doing it. We just need to have the political will to get the profit motive out of medicine. Health care should be seen as a public good, similar to education, not as a product to be sold to whoever can afford it. We need to stop being the stupidest country on earth when it comes to health care.
4. Greater economic equality is important. While there will always be rich and poor, studies show that countries with a smaller gap between the wealthiest and the average citizen have the healthiest economies. Rampant inequality, such as we have in America, is not just economically unhealthy; it is unsustainable. If wealth keeps migrating to the top, demand shrivels for the products businesses need to sell in order to keep the economy going and debt explodes. The wealthy don’t spend the same percentage of their income on consumer products as would be spent if that same money were spread around a large middle class. The wealthy invest, and if there is insufficient demand to justify investing in new production capacity, the wealthy will seek other options—often speculative financial instruments that are not tied to the creation of actual products or services people need. When the consumer classes receive a greater share of income, they generally spend most of it, driving demand and keeping the economy healthy. They also save more, which reduces demands on the government in the long run.
The statistics all show rapidly increasing inequality. By 2014, the wealthiest 1 percent possessed 40 percent of the nation’s wealth; the bottom 80 percent owned 7 percent. And the gap keeps increasing. All you have to do is plot this on a graph to see where this trend will take us, and it is not a future we want to experience. When income is drastically unequal, over time wealth becomes even more unequal, especially since the wealthy invest while the middle and lower classes have to spend pretty much everything they earn (or more, by going into debt). Eventually, this creates a society in which too many families and individuals cannot afford the necessities of life and will either require help from government or will slip through the cracks. The former will cause further strain on the federal budget; the latter turns us into the wealthiest Third World country on earth.
So, the big question is, how do we reverse this unsustainable trend? The most reasonable answer is to increase employee ownership in America’s businesses. This will spread profits to those who create them but all too often don’t receive a fair share of them. We can easily increase employee ownership by simply offering tax incentives to companies that share ownership and penalizing those that restrict it.
5. Freedom and government are important. The Republican Party has co-opted the word freedom and has misapplied it in numerous ways. Primarily they have insisted that Americans need freedom from government. The problem with this philosophy is that this creates unprecedented freedom for authoritarian institutions that only government has the power to control. I am talking about businesses here. Anyone who has worked in a typical American business—anything from a small sole proprietorship to a mammoth multinational corporation—has seen authoritarianism up close and personal. If you liken most businesses to nations, the employees are not the equivalent of citizens. They do not have a vote. They are merely used for their labor and compensated as little as the business owner can get away with. A reasonable analogy is that they are slaves. They almost never earn enough that they can become independent of the authoritarian wage-labor system.
Depending on the organizational structure, capitalist businesses may resemble monarchies, oligarchies, plutocracies, dictatorships, aristocracies, fiefdoms, or theocracies, but almost never can they be described as democratic republics, in which power resides in the employees. In essence, we have embraced an economic system that is almost totally at odds with our political ideals. Put another way, free enterprise may exist between businesses, but it rarely exists within them. This is a result of the system of capital ownership we have adopted.
The problem with this form of capitalism, as William Greider put it in his classic One World, Ready or Not, “is not that capital is privately owned, as Marx supposed. The problem is that most people don’t own any.” Eighty percent of corporate stock is owned by the richest 10 percent of the people. And that number is increasing over time.
Why is this significant? Because the economic authoritarians—the owners and controllers of capital (including human capital)—have an inordinate degree of power in our country, which has the ultimate effect of turning our government into a black market in which both policy and politicians can be purchased. We now have a government of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation.
One of the basic functions of government is to regulate business so that it is neither dangerous nor burdensome to the average citizen. But the tail is wagging the dog in America. The THIRD Party would reverse this. Instead of freedom from government, the THIRD Party would promote freedom through government. Let me use a simple example. I have good health insurance. Expensive, but good. And yet I do not have the freedom to seek medical care from some of the best providers. Why? Because they are out of network. My friends in Germany feel a good deal more freedom in this regard because government has intervened in the health-care industry. Some Americans are in far worse shape than I am. They cannot afford health insurance and must rely on emergency care, the least effective and most expensive option. Their freedom is restricted because government is not doing what it should be doing. Instead, it is allowing authoritarian corporate entities to extract a profit from the health woes of American citizens. Who has freedom here? Corporation do, not American citizens.
In much of America, government is seen as the enemy, the source of our problems. But government is us. It is our tool for creating a more equitable, prosperous, and just society. We must embrace government, make it more efficient, but allow it to serve us as it was intended to do. It is not the enemy. We will only enjoy full freedom through government, not from government.
6. Transparency is important. Any politician, party, or organization that keep secrets from the people, unless for national security reasons, is neither honest nor well-intentioned. Therefore, the THIRD Party will require all candidates for office to make public their tax returns for the previous 10 years. It will also require all candidates to reveal the sources of their funding. It will restrict giving by corporations and other large impersonal entities, preferring smaller donations from individuals. It will refuse interference from Super PACs, and if any insist on interfering, the THIRD Party will disavow them. They are not welcome in America, and THIRD Party candidates will campaign on the promise to overturn Citizens United. Big money has no place in politics. This will require the creative use of less expensive methods of campaigning, primarily through the Internet and social media. Donald Trump has abused this method of campaigning, but he has shown how effective it can be. The THIRD Party will take this lesson and apply it in an honest and decent manner.
7. Global warming is real and is human-caused. This should not even be a political issue. It is a partisan point of division only because of the Koch brothers and the instrumentality of Mike Pence in getting his fellows in Congress to deny a massive consensus among climate scientists (see this New Yorker article). The science is overwhelming, and we need to join the rest of the world in doing something about it. The THIRD Party will therefore propose and support strong measures to rein in carbon emissions.
8. Guns do kill people. The Second Amendment is fairly easy to interpret. Its context is a well-regulated militia. It says nothing about self-defense, hunting, shooting ranges, or anything other than providing for the protection of our nation against foreign powers. It certainly was never written with the assumption that Americans would need guns to arm themselves against their own government. What this suggests is that legislators should have broad discretion in restricting the ownership of a variety of weapons. We regulate hand grenades. We regulate tanks. We regulate missile launchers. We should be able to regulate such weapons as military-style rifles that serve no other practical purpose than to kill as many people as possible. The THIRD Party will therefore propose reasonable legislation to limit the ownership of the types of weapons used in the growing number of mass killings that occur on this scale only in America. Gun registration will also be a high priority.
Other advanced countries have mentally ill citizens. Other countries have extremists. Only America has the number of mass slaughters we see with increasing frequency. The difference? Other countries have sensible gun laws. Most Americans, even Republicans, want stricter gun laws. Only the politicians who bow to the NRA refuse to do anything about our situation.
Our current mess is partly due to the conservative Supreme Court decision in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller, which overturned two hundred years of court precedent in interpreting the Second Amendment. For a history of the court’s views and an argument against this radical change, see the dissenting view by Justice Stevens.
9. Immigration reform is important. Immigration is important to the economy. Creating a path to citizenship for those who were brought here as children is important. Welcoming refugees is important for our national soul. To turn our backs on those desperate individuals and families who are fleeing oppression or danger is unconscionable. The THIRD Party will insist on comprehensive immigration reform to create a safer, more systematic, but more humane immigration system.
10. Decency is not just important; it is essential. With the GOP’s embrace of Donald Trump, our political discourse has become crude, offensive, and reprehensible. Before Trump, the two parties were mudwrestling in the swamp. With Trump, it has gotten exponentially worse. The THIRD Party will therefore insist that its candidates and elected officials refrain from personal attacks, name calling, and even innuendo. It will insist on a discussion of crucial ideas. If the other parties choose to campaign in the gutter, that is their choice. The difference will be distinct and will be noticeable to the American people. I believe they will welcome a return to common decency. That does not mean, however, that the THIRD Party will turn a blind eye to corruption or foul behavior by politicians and elected officials. Speaking out against morally reprehensible behavior is crucial. This is also the responsibility of the press.
11. A free press is crucial. Contrary to what Donald Trump is trying to convince his followers of, most of the mainstream news outlets are not publishing or broadcasting “fake” news. They are doing their best to make sense of the constant stream of lies and contradictions that flow from the White House. Unfortunately, polls show that a majority of Republicans believe Trump more than they believe the press. In case you’ve ever wondered how Hitler could have possibly gained power in 1930s Germany, just look at what is going on in America today. When people are willing to believe lies and propaganda instead of using their brains to question what’s being said, democracy is in danger. The free press is sometimes our best defense against dictatorial tendencies in leaders. The press is certainly not perfect, but if it is not free, it is useless. The THIRD Party will therefore strive to support the constitutionally established freedom of the press and not undermine its efforts to hold power accountable.
Well, I could go on, but since eleven is a nice, clean prime number, I’ll stop here. You get the idea. This is the sort of political party I believe America needs, and I suspect this is the sort of political party Americans would flock to. Maybe someone with more time and money than I have can give it a try.