I used to believe that it made very little difference for whom we voted. Indeed, the choice between a Bush and a Gore did not strike me as that important; each took most of his money and all of his ideology from the same sources and were as like as not to have the same results, in a merely slightly different version, one a bit more left-ward, the other a bit to the right. And so I usually turned in a blank ballot or voted for a third-party candidate. The last seven years have revealed to me my mistake and my naivety. I could not have imagined the naked grab for power by the executive branch, the fiscal irresponsibility, the constant wars waged for ambiguous reasons, the huge debts, the complete indifference to growing inequality, the waste of the environment, the “free” trade agreements that drain the nation's wealth and industrial base, and all the other horrors perpetrated on the people by Dick Cheney and what's-his-name. Who could have foreseen in the year 2000, for example, that in a few years torture would be something seriously debated in American politics? It is a sign of how low the people have sunk and how high the government has risen. High enough, I believe to lord it over the people, and more than high enough to threaten our most basic liberties.
In truth, I have discovered the obvious (since it is the obvious that takes the longest to learn): that even small differences are still real differences and can have large results. Indeed, I believe that we are being frog-marched to a fascist dictatorship with the mere trappings of a republic. It is not that I am looking for a distributist hero, or the quick conversion of the land to something approaching sanity, if not Christianity. Rather, I would like to see someone capable of addressing the major problems and doing at least something about them.
And so, here is my list. It is a pragmatic list; that is to say, these are the issues that are, in my opinion, the most pressing and immediate; other issues are important for a longer term, but I don't think we can begin to address them unless we give the Republic some breathing room. The object is not to get to utopia in a day—or ever—but to hold the Republic together for another day until a better day comes with better politics.
Repudiate the illegal powers seized by the President. The past seven years has seen hundreds of “signing statements” (promises to break the law), the suborning of the justice department into a political apparatus, the open flouting of the courts (even the already impotent FISA court), the use of torture, the illegal rendition to third-world death camps, the illegal surveillance of citizens, and an hundred other violations of the Constitution and common sense. The great temptation by the next president is that he (or she) will say, “Yes, Cheney and what's-his-name used these powers for evil, but I will use them for good.” But that way lies madness. The temptations of power can prove irresistible. The powers must be repudiated from the start. The candidates should be specific about what they plan to do, and should be held to account by both the public and the public's representatives. I could wish that the founders, in their wisdom, had left the appointment of the Attorney General (and all the judges as well) in the hands of the Senate rather than in the Presidential gift. But as things are, we must rely on the Senate to be vigorous in vetting the next Attorney General to look after the interests of justice, and not just the interests of a particular political party.
Restore Fiscal Responsibility. Promises of tax cuts will fill the airwaves, but “cuts” financed by borrowing are not “tax-cuts” at all; they are tax-shifting, a moving of the burdens of this generation onto the shoulders of the next. Borrowing is simply another form of taxation, and the one with the least representation, since the generation that has to pay has, as yet, no voice and no vote. I am more interested in a balanced budget than in cuts which are not cuts. First finance the government (which will mean, in the current situation, cutting off all the illegitimate uses of tax funds) and then cut the taxes if you can.
Inter-generational Justice. There is, of course, another reason for not burdening the next generation with more debt, since we have already burdened them with debts that they cannot pay. I refer of course to the Social Security and Medicare messes. Justice here is tricky, and I don't have any real answers. The “baby boomers” have, since the Reagan “reforms,” paid far more into the system than was necessary to support its payouts. That would have been okay, had the money been sequestered and invested in something other than Government IOU's. But it wasn't. It was treated as ordinary income to defray the day to day expenditures of the government and to hide the true size of the deficits (see Social Insecurity.) Now, it is justice that the young support the elderly, because once the elderly supported the young. The obligations here are mutual. However, the situation is totally out of hand, and some way through this thicket will have to be found, and that right soon.
End the “Free-Trade” dogma. America is the most productive country in the world with the most productive work-force in the world, and has little to fear (and much to gain) from trade that is both free and fair. But the current trading regime is neither. We trade against an artificially price Yuan; we trade against laborers in so-call “free-trade zones” which are actually “justice-free zones” paying slave wages (see Battling the Swooshtika.) If our industrial base disappears, then America has no future, because the only real way to prosperity is to actually make things. We will learn what is is like to live in a third-world country, because we will become the world's largest “banana republic.”
Address the Income Gap. This may strike some as a purely “moral” problem but it is in fact supremely practical. What characterizes poor nations is a permanent gap between the wealthy and the poor. In fact, that gap is what makes a country poor. When capital over-accumulates at the top, it cannot find profitable investments, and so begins to take absurd risks, or to invest overseas (which also entails certain risks).
Return the Abortion Question to the States. Some will criticize me for putting this so far down on the list, but in truth we have made this the single-issue for 35 years and have almost nothing to show for our efforts; they have taken our votes and sneered at our cause. By lowering the intensity, we may actually accomplish more. A Constitutional Amendment is likely out of the question. But in fact this is not a federal issue, and never should have been. The congress has the power to return this issue to the states, and should. We can win at this level in most states.
Address the Environment. Yes, Virginia, time is running out. The costs of pollution must be charged back to the polluters. The full costs.
Address the Health-care mess. We pay twice what any other industrialized nation pays on a per patient basis, but get results that are far worse.
This is the list I will use to evaluate the candidates. You are welcome to correct me on any one of these, or all of them, or to suggest items I should add or delete.