A proposal for a progressive agenda

Over the course of the last several years, we have experienced the results of failed Republican policies. The subjugation of all other foreign policy objectives to national defense has created a situation where we are literally less safe for having our soldiers fighting abroad1. Lower taxes are bankrupting the government, leading to a wholesale crumbling of our roads and public buildings, public education, public health and safety, and even our national security2 due to lack of maintenance. Smaller government, originally intended to improve efficiencies by moving supposedly bloated government programs to private industry, has created a government that is unable to perform its most basic duties, such as protecting its citizens and enforcing its laws. Freeing markets from strict federal regulation has resulted in the corruption of Enron and Adelphia Communications3 as well as a massive increase in real poverty. And the focus on family values has produced a cultural environment that is singularly unfriendly to non-traditional families, scientific and medical research, and even immigration.

There are many, many reasons that the Republican agenda has failed. The Republicans have had near total control over all three branches of government for much of the last seven years, giving the GOP the opportunity to run the country very nearly as they would choose. In the process, the United States has seen what the present Republican Party leadership wants the country to look and function like, and the United States is not generally happy with what its seen. A small sampling of examples include a war of choice in Iraq that has increased the threat to U.S. citizens internationally and has created a cause celebre for al-Qaeda and copycat organizations4, Enron swindling citizens and shareholders out of billions of dollars with the tacit approval of the federal government5, the utter failure of the federal government to manage the Katrina disaster6 and the ongoing failures of leadership in the rebuilding of New Orleans, across-the-board cuts to programs designed to help alleviate poverty7 and educate our nation’s youth along8 with massive unfunded federal educational mandates9, and an increase in the number of hospitals and pharmacies refusing to dispense medical treatment and drugs due to personal moral qualms that conflict directly with professional codes of conduct10.

While these specific examples, along with too many others to list, could explain the failure of the Republican agenda, there is actually another equally important reason the Republicans have failed. Fundamentally, the ideas of the modern Republican Party leadership have been found incapable of addressing the problems facing the United States, both domestically and internationally.

Thankfully, progressives have their own ideas that will prove successful at addressing the myriad of issues that We The People will face over the next several years.

First, progressives should focus on repairing United States’ national authority. Our ability to get things done internationally is not only dependent on the massive military stick we possess, but also on our dynamic economy, our diplomatic prowess, and our historical position as the “city upon a hill”11 that other nations look up to. In order to strengthen our economy, progressives should push for a repeal of many of Bush’s tax cuts12 and oil company subsidies13, continued fiscal discipline with “pay-go” budget policies14, inclusion of all the costs of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan in the annual budget15, and federal policies that inspire personal savings over personal debt. Diplomatically, progressives should oppose the appointments of political donors to ambassadorial positions16 over better qualified professional diplomats, bring the United States into multilateral organizations like the International Criminal Court17, and ensure that the United States government treats all prisoners according to recognized international standards of conduct, such as applying the Geneva Conventions18 to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and prosecuting military officers for the illegal actions of underlings over which they were responsible19. At the same time, progressives will show that the United States again deserves to be looked up to as a model for human rights, especially if the policies of extraordinary rendition20, CIA detentions in secret prisons21, and torture22 are publicly reversed, apologized for, and restitution is made to individuals affected by these policies. And finally, our degrading military power could be bolstered by initiating a phased withdrawal of troops from Iraq, hiring more soldiers in order to reduce the length of deployments, and reducing our national dependence on mercenary units23 and corporate profiteers24 to feed, transport, and equip our soldiers.

Second, progressives must focus on increasing public investment. The government relies on public investment to run our courts, to maintain the nation’s roads, dams, and public education, to ensure our national authority, and to keep Americans healthy and safe in their daily lives. Without greater public investment, and the financial sacrifices such investment entails from all Americans, the federal government will be unable to perform its duties. Our entire justice system is overtaxed, and significant investment is necessary to increase the number and quality of our public defenders25, to add more immigration judges to expedite immigration cases26, and to rehabilitate criminals so that recidivism drops. In addition, our nation needs significant public investment in addressing the fundamental social and economic factors that convince too many youths that crime is their only way out of the projects27. A significant public investment in our nation’s crumbling interstate highways and bridges, collapsing or leaking flood-control levees and dams, high-voltage electricity lines that are insufficient to prevent brownouts and blackout28 is required to reverse years of neglect, and we must fully fund the numerous unfunded mandates strangling our public education system with weeks of testing and administrative corruption29. As mentioned above, the national authority of the United States is suffering due to insufficient public investment of time, attention, and money, and progressives must correct the GOP’s mistakes in this area. And finally, without significant new investment in public health and safety, our nation’s citizens will not feel safe eating the food they purchase from their grocers30, nor will they and their employers be able to afford medical treatment. This will ultimately lead to a loss of competitiveness in the globalized marketplace and losses in productivity on the job.

Third, progressives must push for the government to become more effective. In order for government to be effective, it must have the most accurate information upon which to make decisions, the resources with which to act upon those decisions, and the confidence of the citizenry. The government needs good information, ranging from economic indicators that accurately represent poverty31 and unemployment to well-analyzed and carefully gathered covert intelligence to accurate weather data and predictive weather and climate models. And all this information needs to be presented to a government that makes decisions based off of facts and analyses instead of making “faith-based” decisions32. But the government also needs sufficient resources to act on the information that it gets. To that end, progressives must ensure that the government has sufficient public investment and low enough national debt to be effective financially, and the national service plans currently in place must be significantly expanded to ensure that the government has enough people to perform all the tasks that must be accomplished33. Unfortunately, without regaining the confidence of We The People, good information and sufficient resources will not be enough to make the government effective. For that reason, progressives must correct the myriad of failures that have led the citizens of this great nation to lose confidence in their government. These corrections must including reforming FEMA and intelligently rebuilding New Orleans, instituting wide-ranging import inspections of food in order to detect melamine-spiked gluten and similar tampering, and government reforms as varied as pork-barrel spending34, Congressional redistricting35, and reforming the Presidential primary system36.

Fourth, our commercial markets and related legislation must be reformed to make our markets fair. In order to do so, progressives must tackle problems regarding intellectual property, existing market regulations must be changed and new regulations put into place, employees must again be treated as a valuable asset instead of an expendable resource, and the government must take on at least one new major responsibility. Our nation’s vague patent laws must be updated so that obviously derivative ideas are no longer patentable and, in the process, the many Internet commerce and software patents37 that are stifling innovation and clogging up the patent office will become unpatentable. In addition, we must protect our national intellectual property being created in our universities and corporate labs from state-sponsored corporate espionage38. Government regulations must be retuned to ensure that Enron and Adelphia Communications-style corruption no longer occurs but also so that the regulations do not become so onerous as to stifle smaller entrepreneurial companies39. Existing environmental regulations must be enforced and the Cold War-era International Trade in Arms Regulations ( ITAR) should be reexamined in light of the global economy40. And corporations should be strictly limited with regard to the personal information they’re allowed to store, data mine, and sell to other corporations and to the government41. As far as employees are concerned, progressives must work to ensure that the government works to shrink the widening gulf between the wealthy and the poor42, to ensure a living minimum wage43, and to stop the shrinking of the middle class44. But perhaps most importantly, the government must provide a carefully and wisely designed national health care system45 that offloads the costs of health care from our nations corporations in order to enable our companies to compete more effectively with corporations outside the United States.

Finally, progressives must ensure that everyone becomes strongly involved in their communities. In the process, strong community involvement will reduce the crime rate and, with some additional cajoling, invoke both greater personal tolerance and a renewed focus on the welfare of the entire community over the welfare of the individual. Progressives should inspire people in their communities and nationwide to focus on policing their own communities, and in the process the communities will become safer from general crime and gang activity. As a result, property values and development will increase, property tax revenues will rise, and the quality of our chronically underfunded public schools46 will improve, reducing the perceived need for private school vouchers and charter schools47 in the process. Progressives should also work to guide communities toward greater tolerance of gays and lesbians as parents and spouses and greater integration of immigrants and various ethnic groups into communities as a means to integrate individuals and families into a strong, dynamic community. And we must ensure that the government focuses on the welfare of our communities over the welfare of individual professionals. This is especially true in cases where professional ethics conflicts with personal morality, such as religious hospitals being allowed to not inform rape victims of their emergency contraception options when the hospital is the only one for an entire community.

Broadly speaking, the five policies outlined above – national authority, public investment, effective government, fair markets, and community involvement – represent the progressive answer to the failed Republican agenda and policies that have been in place since January, 2001. They represent an agenda that is quick to explain and easy to understand, but that is also broad enough to harness most progressives to a common set of policies. And once we have embraced this agenda, progressives can lead United States and the world in tackling the conflict between the West and fundamentalist political Islamism, prospering in a global market being flattened by globalization, and de-carbonizing our economy and civilization in order to mitigate and reverse the effects of global heating (aka climate change). As such, these policies should be publicly embraced by progressives nationally.

[Crossposted: The Daedalnexus]

References:

  1. ‘We’re Less Safe,’ say Counterterrorism Experts
  2. Is aging infrastructure slowing the U.S.?
  3. Adelphia Founder, Son Convicted of Fraud
  4. Iraq War Swells Al Qaeda’s Ranks, Report Says
  5. FERC: Addressing the 2000-2001 Energy Crisis
  6. Hurricane Katrina: One Year Later
  7. Federal Budget Hurts the Poor, Grows the Deficit
  8. Head Start “Downward Spiral” Seen in Growing Number of Program Closures and Painful Cutbacks in Service
  9. NEA Files Lawsuit Challenging NCLB Unfunded Mandates
  10. The Surgeon General, medicine, and morality
  11. John Winthrop, City upon a hill, 1630
  12. Bush Tax Cuts after 2002: June 2002 CTJ Analysis
  13. Big oil companies reap windfalls on U.S. incentives for drilling
  14. Reinstatement of Pay-As-You-Go is a Welcome Step Toward Fiscal Responsibility
  15. Supposedly Supplemental Budget Requests
  16. Bush’s patronage appointments to ambassador exceed father’s, Clinton’s
  17. International Criminal Court: Home (english)
  18. Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War
  19. For Abu Ghraib, a limited prosecution
  20. Man sues CIA over torture claims
  21. Bush acknowledges secret CIA prisons
  22. CIA’s Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described
  23. Blackwater Mercenaries Take Risks for Right Price
  24. In Iraq, private contractors lighten load on U.S. troops
  25. Search “public defender caseload” on Google and read the many news reports from around the country
  26. Imigration Crisis Tests Federal Courts on Southern Border
  27. Crime Prevention Through Social Development
  28. Blackout
  29. Cuomo calls Student Loan Corruption Widespread
  30. FDA: No Sign of Human Illness from Hogs Exposed to Melamine
  31. The Mismeasure of Poverty
  32. Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush
  33. Voice for National Service: Presidential Candidates Memorandum
  34. The Sunlight Foundation
  35. Common Cause’s redistricting reform webpage
  36. Primarily SNAFU – Redux
  37. Location search and software patents
  38. The Corporate Spy: Espionage in America
  39. RAND Study: Small Public Firms Felt the Effects of Sarbanes-Oxley
  40. U.S. Government Policy and the Defense Aerospace Industry – Summary
  41. the Safeguards Needed for Government Data Mining
  42. Rich-poor gap gaining attention
  43. The Economic Policy Institute’s living wage issue guide
  44. U.S. Losing Its Middle-Class Neighborhoods
  45. Physians for a National Health Program website
  46. Underfunded Schools
  47. Study of Test Scores Finds Charter Schools Lagging

16 comments on “A proposal for a progressive agenda

  1. Enron was a slow-motion disaster that you could just as easily blame on Bill Clinton. The result has been a global review (especially after Leasurenet in South Africa and Parmalat in Europe – all the same problem). the result is a gradual move to a unitary international form of corporate governance and reporting; based on broad intentions rather than specific rules (as the US now is, leading to the weird disclosures).

    I agree with you on many of these points, particularly the tortured pre-emptive nature of US patent laws. Sarbanes-Oxley was a gut-level response to Enron that is a bit too painful.

    However, some of these things are beyond political parties to offer during a term of office. Tolerance for homosexuals? Companies to respect employees? There are great ways that a free market can offer these services as well.

    Consider non-financial ratings (plug for Whythawk): if a company was rated according to the way they treated their employees along a whole bunch of metrics important to those employees it would create a free market in relevant information. Where you have disclosure you have a significantly more powerful tool than laws that are only occassionaly enforced.

    Governments should regulate oversight but all oversight should be by independents. That way it doesn’t matter who wins elections.

    And I’d dispute your assertion of Bush as a fiscal conservative. He’s no Reagan. Bush has presided over dramatically enlarged bureaucracy with rising budgets even as he lowered taxes. Where do you think your deficit came from?

    I’d go so far as to say that many of his problems have been caused by bloated government departments with too many people in the chain of command performing esoteric functions, slowing down delivery and leading to abject confusion where one department has no idea what another does, but needs them anyway.

    What about redistricting? I’ve never seen anything so designed to remove democracy from the people than this perversion. And it is supported by both parties.

  2. Brian,

    Amazing piece of work. It may be too dense and policy-oriented for people to understand, but that’s what we need–the future of our country is too complex to reduce to soundbites.

    My hat is tipped to you, sir.

  3. 1. Whythawk: A couple of things. Reagan wasn’t exactly the fiscal conservative people think he was either – he boosted the national debt more than anyone before or since (at least until GWBush) in his bid to break the USSR by outspending them. It worked, but that doesn’t mean we should emulate it. True fiscal conservatism is staying within budgets, saving money in “rainy day funds,” controlling debt and figuring out a way out of it, etc. And right now, progressives in the U.S. are actually far more fiscally conservative than the Republican Party is. But you’re absolutely right – Bush is not even remotely fiscally conservative – “Tax and Spend” is inherently more conservative than “Spend but Don’t Tax,” which is the current GOP plan.

    I agree completely about oversight being done by independents – having the rats patrolling themselves is just a bad idea. That’s why mention that Congressional redistricting needs fundamental reforms – our government is too important to let partisan state legislatures gerrymander every 10 years (or every time the legislature changes party hands). I’ve discussed some suggestions for ways in other places, and didn’t want to go into detail in a broad agenda piece. I greatly like the idea of non-financial metrics, BTW. Something to consider when proposing specific ways to address the five policy items that make up the agenda.

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  5. You know, I think I’d automatically vote for any candidate who was able to articulate this roadmap in half so coherent a fashion as you have. If it was me I’d be jumping up and down on education a lot harder, but I get the clear feeling that ed would get serious intelligent attention under your plan, huh?

    Keep pounding. This is a working document we can refer back to again and again and again over the next 16 months.

  6. 5. Sam – there’s a reason I called out public education specifically as something that is seriously lacking in public investment.

    I have every intention of revisiting this agenda over and over and over again.

  7. Brian, I’m – as you’re aware – hugely interested in non-financial measurement. Any financial wizz, and I include myself here, can make the numbers do anything. But measuring specific things related to performance gives a much better context to the numbers.

    And it takes months of solid work and investigation to figure out what those non-financial metrics need to be. What I love about the US most is all those think-tanks, some partisan some not. It is the think-tanks that should be producing non-financial measurements. They already have the funds and the bright minds. So, why doesn’t more of it happen?

    Non-financial measurement can improve performance at schools, hospitals, … hell, everything.

  8. If you find a candidate who actually supports this agenda, will you let me know? Because the current crop of idiots just makes me ill.

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