Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Progressive Agenda

Our two failing political parties have led America into a dead-end. The Republican Party – in control of the US federal government and many states and in the hands of ideological and religious extremists – has been captured by an immoral egotist with no capacity for governing. In pursuit of elite interests and “conservative values,” Republicans have launched an assault on everything good in how our government has come to serve the common welfare since the days of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. Democrats have not been on the playing field. They threw away the 2016 election by passing the presidential nomination through a politically correct form of primogeniture. She threw it away through own goals and writing off voters in certain groups and states. Lacking any coherent vision to address the economic and social effects of globalization, the Democratic Party instead played to niche politics and now has no program beyond waiting for Trump to crash and the Republicans to burn.

Democrats do have some heart. That most clearly beats with Bernie Sanders. But there is no cohesive progressive agenda to go with that heart. Presenting voters with one could begin the process of putting the country on the right path again. A progressive agenda must begin with embracing the progressive income tax. Government needs money to serve the common good. Our tax system must be made more fair and taxes sufficient to meet needs. (The Republicans have sought to subordinate needs to cutting spending and a regressive taxing system favoring the owners of capital.) It need not be confiscatory but should treat the fruits of labor and capital equally with progressively higher tax rates on individual and corporate income no matter where it comes from and with very limited exemptions.

With adequate funding, the federal government can attend to the chief challenges facing American society in the 21st Century: healthcare, jobs, inequality and education.
  • Healthcare should be treated as a basic right as it is in other advanced Western societies. It need not be done through a government entity but perhaps with needs-based expansion of Medicare, a non-profit public option and/or payments to purchase insurance on open markets. 

  • In the 21st Century, technology and globalization have conspired to reduce the need for human labor. There simply may not be enough good paying jobs for everyone. A reduction in the work week from 40 to 32 hours plus an increase in the minimum wage may help in opening job opportunities to a greater number. Federal funding to pay for some of the increase in the minimum wage could help reduce the burden on small businesses. Insofar as training will help prepare workers for new roles, government needs to fund that as well.
  • Inequality undercuts democratic community through making life for many nasty, brutish and short. The federal government should ensure some minimum income for those unable to work and those for whom jobs do not pay enough to rise decently above poverty.
  • Federal funds should support quality, free public education by focusing on providing modern facilities and adequately paid teachers and staff for all local public school systems. Federal oversight of local schools should be kept to the minimum required to ensure equal access.
Some elements of a progressive agenda need not require additional funding:
  • Money’s role in politics needs to be removed through campaign financing reform. A national commission on redistricting should oversee the drawing of congressional districts. Each vote should count equally.
  • A pathway to citizenship should be created for those now in the US “illegally.” A cross border agreement should be made with Mexico (and possibly with the Central American countries) so seasonal workers may go back and forth legally.
  • The role of contractors and lobbyists in the budgeting process – especially as concerns the military – should be subject to tight limitations.
Progressives need to develop such an agenda and present it to the American public over the next 18 months focusing on the upcoming 2018 and 2020 elections. Waiting for the Republicans to march lemming-like over their cliff may not be enough and would still leave the country without a clear direction forward.

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