Making a List; Checking it Twice

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.”

  5. 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).

  6. 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.

  7. Address the Environment. Yes, Virginia, time is running out. The costs of pollution must be charged back to the polluters. The full costs.

  8. 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.

8 comments:

John Kindley Tuesday, January 1, 2008 at 11:52:00 PM CST  

Your point on ending the free-trade dogma is well-taken. As you know from my comments on your previous post I self-identify as a libertarian (more precisely, a Georgist who admires Lysander Spooner), which is normally all about free trade, but the scenario of trading with foreign governments and companies that are essentially engaged in extorting slave-labor and by virtue of that crime are able to sell cheaper than our domestic manufacturers highlights some real moral complexity. It's like buying what you know to be stolen property for a better price than you could purchase it legitimately elsewhere. I've always been distrustful of the idea that tariffs should be enacted simply to protect American jobs and American salaries, because people in other countries need jobs too, and consumers are generally entitled to purchase things as cheaply as they can, and if something can actually be produced more efficiently elsewhere then it doesn't seem like the end of the world if those American workers are thereby led to find a more meaningful and productive place in the economy. (Ideally, with a Georgist taxation system -- and even more ideally a "citizen's dividend" -- leading to distributist goals, they could find their place as capitalists themselves.) But the reality is that only a pittance from the type of trade your describing goes to the foreign workers and the bulk goes into the pockets of the exploiters.

Theoretically, it seems like it might be perfectly in accord with "natural law" to cut off trade entirely with a government or with a company whose government allows it to exploit and cheat its workers. (No black and white lines there, though, because just about all governments oppress their people to one degree or another, and total embargos have done serious harm to the populace -- rather than the ruling class -- of foreign countries.) If that's the case, then tariffs on the same kind of exploitive trade (and where an embargo would do more harm than good) would seem to be acceptable as well, if designed to prevent or reduce the foreign interests' profit from their injustice by leveling the playing field. But it seems that such tariffs should be imposed on a case by case basis and premised on just such moral considerations, rather than a simple desire to protect American jobs and salaries. E.g., there would be no basis for a tariff on goods coming from a worker owned co-op in a foreign country.

I'm obviously a total amateur on this subject. Thanks for pointing out something that I'll need to think more deeply about.

Brad C,  Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 8:50:00 AM CST  

I would add ending the policy of open borders illegal immigration. It is a widescale rejection of the rule of law. It makes American industries structurally dependent on illegal labor. It creates an unassimilated third-world nation within the nation. It exploits the immigrants by, in many cases, not paying them minimum wage. In short, it benefits all parties involved in the short term, but harms everyone in the long term.

John Médaille Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 10:41:00 AM CST  

Brad points out that I ducked the issue of immigration. A definite oversight, perhaps because I don't have any good answers. It is one of those issues where nearly everything you hear from both sides is true, or nearly so. The problem has been allowed to fester since the Reagan amnesty. Further, many felt that the NAFTA agreement would make the problem go away, since Mexico would become rich from "free" trade. But the exact opposite happened. Quel suprise!

Ross Perot said that NAFTA would create a "giant sucking sound" of jobs going south. That was partially true, but the real sucking noise was Mexicans, impoverished by NAFTA and the incompetence and greed of their own govmint, would be drawn North in every greater numbers.

Abouna,  Friday, January 4, 2008 at 2:39:00 AM CST  

I see a man who tries all his best to correct what is becoming a shame in our American politics that made a lot of people hate us as Americans.

As a person from the Midele East, I may add another thing on what should change.
We need to work for justice and TRUTH, we cannot in any way speak about democracy, freedom and justice for all when the people of Palestine is abused for many years.

When the people of Palestine had trusted us Americans as honest brokers for peace and justice and find themselves wrose than ever because of our foreing policy who made Israel the only reality that we support, protect and forgive every injustice.
And even when we accept one settlemt on the land of the people to whom we promised that they should have their own INDEPNDENT state at last; OR when we do not want to see the discreminations, the racism of an aparthaied wall who distroyed the life of a people. And when call of a Jewish State that would exclude the Christians and Muslims for thier own land and send them some where one day.

And when we think that for the sole right of Israel to defend itself Israel has the right to jail, kill and do what ever to the Palesatinians who from their side should never have the right to resist occupation, or come back to their own lands or homes; but accept as fact their FATE (made in America) and bless the people who are taking their lands and their resources...

We should call for non-violence from both parts and not see one side as terrorist and the other side as victim when everybody is killing everybody: one is killing with weapons that we Americans send, the others kill with weapens of their own. Non-violence and real dialogue and justce for all is the solution.

American that I love and I serve should absolutely, as my beloved country, correct the injustices and work HONESTLY, yes at last HONESTLY for peace, freedom and TRUTH.

Enough is enough, we need to be proud of ourselve as Americans at the end and not ashamed of what we have done to the people here and there....

Abouna Labib Kobti
www.Al-Bushra.org
http://www.al-bushra.org/updates2007.htm

Quintus Arius Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 7:35:00 PM CST  

John, I disagree with your harsh assessment of the Bush administration, as though it was a power grab as an end in itself. In my opinion the successful attack against America on 9/11 was a traumatic event for George Bush personally.

It was seen by him a failure of the United States government and by him to "provide for the common defense against all enemies, foreign and domestic". A sworn commitment.

He made a personal commitment, i.e. 'Never again' at least not on my watch.

Now as time erodes our memory and partisans such as you see political oportunities to attack the president's aggressive measures.

I favor intense interrogation methods (hardly torture when measured against our enemy), I favor data-mining phone and emails against potential jihadists. I favor the Patriot Act.I could go on. I do not feel threated by these defensive measures at all. On the contrary. John, if this sounds too hawkish, so be it. I'm driven by an intense love of my grandchildren.

As far as the invasion of Iraq - it was a monumental break down in intelligence. A breakdown caused by a decade of benign neglect fostered by the end of the cold war. Everyone, including most influential Democrats believed Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat.

I think history may well look at the Bush legacy in the middle east with favor, but not for us now.

Now on another topic, health care, we have much more common ground, as well as your views on abortion.
Thanks for your efforts.

John Médaille Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 8:35:00 PM CST  

Quintus Arius says, I favor intense interrogation methods (hardly torture when measured against our enemy), I favor data-mining phone and emails against potential jihadists. I favor the Patriot Act.

And how will you know that they are using all these things just against "jihadists" and not merely against political opponents? And while you may trust Bush, you must remember that the powers you give to him, you are also giving to (perhaps) a Clinton, an Obama, or people yet unknown and whose characters are unknown. Would you feel just as comfortable if they had these powers?

Who is it that said, When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.

Quintus Arius Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 10:01:00 PM CST  

John, we really don't know. Lincoln didn't know. FDR didn't know. Truman didn't know. Bush doesn't know.

But in the FINAL analysis, these were men who loved their country and did what they thought was the right thing.

I would delegate you as one of many to the task of making sure that those who follow are people of good will and continue to revere America as we do.

Mel Thursday, January 10, 2008 at 7:23:00 AM CST  

John, if you're interested, it was Sinclair Lewis who made the quote about the flag-wearing and cross-bearing American fascism. Perhaps it's in his novel, "It Can't Happen Here", based on that very topic, but I've been unable to find that out for sure.

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