MANIFESTO

Here it is, in its entirety (entirety placed below a cut to save space on the main page).

PREAMBLE

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are a political people in a political time. No one wants to be “political,” but I believe that is because we misinterpret what politics is. We have become convinced that politics is merely the electoral horse race. This is not politics in its truest sense; it is a media-driven phenomenon, and there are elements in our society who exploit this nasty business to divide us for their own gains. Rather, politics should be the process by which we assume the burden of self-governance and work through the vital questions facing all of us. I refuse to succumb to cynicism and to haughtily retreat to a safe distance. I embrace politics.

THE IDEA OF GOVERNMENT

“…to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” – The Declaration of Independence

“…provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty…” – The Constitution of the United States of America

“Government is the name we give to the things we choose to do together.” – Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts)

I endorse the idea of the social contract, as promoted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others. Believe it or not, I reject the idea of big government for the sake of big government. I don’t think there is a correct size for government, and I don’t think a default position (i.e., Grover Norquist and his “drown in the bathtub” mindset) serves our political discourse. Instead, government should be no bigger or no smaller than it needs to be to fulfill whatever it is we as a citizenry ask of it. Government is the correct size when its citizens are secure and free. And for the record, security and freedom are not mutually exclusive concepts. Security has got to be more than military/personal safety, and freedom has got to be more than low taxes and access to guns.

The thing that most forget is that, at the end of the day, we are the government, through our duly-elected representatives. We owe it to ourselves to actually study the issues. This leads us to…

A CITIZEN’S RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES

We as citizens of the United States have many, many rights. Our Founders designed a government that allows us to participate in the full expression of those rights. We owe it to them, our fellow citizens, and ourselves to understand exactly what those rights are. It is the right and the responsibility of every citizen to educate him/herself on the important issues of the day. It is the right and the responsibility of the citizen to make sure s/he has the best, most accurate knowledge about the situation. It is the right and responsibility of the citizen to speak on behalf of their causes, beliefs, and worldview.

The whole system is contingent upon an educated population. This is why public schools were initially established. Government support of public education predates even the Constitution – see the Land Ordinance of 1785, which dedicated one section of each surveyed township for public education (“There shall be reserved the lot N16, of every township, for the maintenance of public schools”). Clearly, the Founders wanted us to know what we were doing. We owe it to them, to our fellow citizens, and ourselves to study and be informed. However, we must also be logical, practical and skeptical. We cannot get our information from just one source, and we cannot deny reality. Carl Sagan said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and no matter our biases, we cannot accept conspiratorial claims at face value without a preponderance of evidence. This is where a solid education with an understanding of statistics, science and culture comes in. We must not allow lies and half-truths to diminish our national discourse. These are important issues at an important time, and charlatans who spread disinformation are a threat to our ideals of self-government.

WHITHER FEDERALISM? FEDERAL/STATE/LOCAL GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBILITIES

I go for the practical here. Local governments provide police and fire protection, deed registration, disability/MR/DD services, water/sewer trash, things like that. State governments focus on transportation/transit, education funding, civil and criminal codes, authorization/certification of trades and jobs, overseeing of elections. The federal government handles big-ticket stuff – taxes, tariffs, defense, things like that. However, I believe that there is precedent for as well as cause for the federal government to get involved in things like education policy. We’re not fifty different educational systems on the world stage – we’re one nation. I would sum up my view of Federalism this way:

Local control where possible, state oversight, federal standards. I believe this to be especially true in education. You need to have local control over techniques and materials, but the state has to be able to guarantee as much equitability as possible and the federal government needs to provide clear expectations and standards on issues where we compete as one nation. I believe in giving state and local governments a wide berth to determine the best way to meet the standards, but I also believe in giving state and federal governments the power to step in when a local government can’t – or won’t – do what is best and necessary. We have to be unified in goals, even as we have a diversity of ways to get there. E pluribus unum.

TAX/FISCAL POLICY

You may be surprised to learn I would be OK with a slight – a slight – lowering of tax rates if various loopholes were closed. However, I refuse to accept the Laffer curve as axiomatic, and I refuse to accept the fetishization of corporations and the wealthy that permeates so much of our fiscal policy discussion. When corporate taxes are too low, corporations choose to pay out dividends rather than reinvest in the company. Short-term profit is king, and no one thinks long-term. Couple this with things like the Norquist pledge and the supermajority requirements, and this is a recipe for fiscal disaster.
In addition, we do need to examine long-term spending habits. I believe we should seek cost savings and minimize administrative bloat wherever possible, including the Pentagon. We should raise the cap on the Social Security tax. While I don’t like to draw comparisons to household budgets (economies of scale tend to render the comparisons meaningless anyway), I know of no household that would, given a fiscal crisis, attempt to solve the problem using nothing but spending cuts. People would go out and seek additional sources of revenue. You have to get the budget in order with a balanced approach, and cutting off the idea of additional revenue or giving people who are already beyond wealthy an even bigger tax break doesn’t seem very balanced to me. The Clinton-era tax rates seemed to work pretty well, so I’d be OK with that. I will also point out that, under Ike, the top marginal rate was something like 90% and economic growth in the 1950s was insanely strong. I know there are other reasons for this (we’re the only superpower, retooling for the consumer economy post-WWII, rise in American manufacturing), and I don’t believe in those kinds of tax rates. I’d be happy with the mid-to-late 1990s.

One last thing about the Laffer curve: If you accept it – which again, I do not – at what point are you on the other side of it, where tax rates are too low? I actually had someone tell me once that, barring tax rates of zero percent, there was no such point, and that taxes would always be too high. I find that approach simultaneously simplistic and nihilistic.

DOMESTIC POLICY

Abortion – This decision must be between the woman and her doctor. If she chooses to include anyone else in the decision, she has the right to do that, but the only people who should have any say are the woman herself and her doctor. For all the parsing about “legitimate rape” and whatnot, the fact that (for the most part) the same forces going after abortion rights are also going after contraception tells me that (once again, for the most part) this isn’t about babies. It’s about shaming women.

Agriculture – We need to get away from big agribusiness and support family farms as much as possible. Farm subsidies are too geared toward the corporate farms, but I don’t think we should get rid of them all together. I grew up on a farm, and know firsthand exactly where food comes from. Family farms need those subsidies, for in a truly unregulated market, food would either be prohibitively expensive or so cheap no one could make a living from it, and possibly both (depending on harvest any given year).

Church and State – If you don’t know, I came from a church where we were keenly aware of even the most minor of differences between denominations. If you believe this is a Christian nation (which it isn’t – Treaty of Tripoli, 1798: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,[…]” The only people who believe this have been brainwashed by the likes of pseudohistorian David Barton), then my question to you: Which church? I guarantee you that pablum about “general Christianity” won’t play with the more conservative Baptists and Church of Christers out there.

I don’t have a problem with getting Christmas off. I have a problem with explicitly denominational prayers before school/community events. Any time you use religion as an excuse to exclude people from the public sphere (or to use that public sphere to proselytize in a nakedly sectarian way), you are violating their rights as an American.

Civil Rights – Not up for a vote. Sorry. You should be able to marry the person you want. You should be able to vote without paying a poll tax in any form. You should be paid at an equal rate for equal work. The USA PATRIOT (yes, they strung together a bunch of Yang Worship Words – extra credit if you get the reference! – to create that acronym) Act needs to be repealed in its totality.

Education – This builds on what we were talking about earlier. We have to have national standards in a global economy. However, I believe in letting states and local communities have as much flexibility as possible in how they meet those standards. I also believe in having as much flexibility as possible in determining how those standards are met. Standardized testing has destroyed K-12 education in this country, and if you can prove that children are learning basic skills and critical thinking without filling in bubble sheet upon bubble sheet, you should be able to.

I also agree that we need more job training, but (and this may be the single most controversial thing I say), it shouldn’t be our universities doing it. The purpose of a college education has got to be greater than “get a job.” I would like to see more (non-profit) trade schools. I would like to see community colleges expanded and better funded. I would like to see trade and labor policies that bring manufacturing jobs back to our shores. Everyone needs an education. Not everyone needs college.

Energy and the Environment – We need to develop renewable and sustainable energy sources ASAP. So-called “clean coal” isn’t, and coal has destroyed the incredibly diverse and beautiful Appalachians. Yes, it provided jobs, but those jobs will disappear some day, and the region is making no plans or provisions for that. Besides, no matter how well those jobs pay, robber barons like Don Blankenship are still making a disproportionate amount of wealth from the service of the coal miners. Hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – is also destroying communities and even possibly causing earthquakes.

Solar, wind, and yes, even nuclear have possibilities. The complaints about subsidies and loans going to renewable energy sources in the past four years look rather hollow against the decades of subsidies given to oil, coal and natural gas. I am not saying we stop using fossil fuels all at once, but individual initiative in reducing one’s carbon footprint alone is not going to turn the tide. We need a concerted effort, led by government and industry, to both plan for and hasten the day when fossil fuels are not part of the system.

Guns – I have no problem with you owning guns. I have a problem with hoarding guns or owning guns that clearly are designed to kill a large number of people as quickly as possible. I don’t think reasonable regulation is a problem. I tend not to buy slippery-slope arguments, and think there is actually quite a lot of middle ground between no regulations whatsoever and ZOMG THE GUBMINT IS TAKING YOUR GUNS.

Health Care – Access to affordable health care is a basic human right. Access to health care should not be based on ability to pay, and doctors, nurses and health care professionals should receive a respectable salary for their expertise and skill. How to reconcile this contradiction? My problem with the Affordable Care Act is that it still allowed the for-profit health insurance industry greater access to the market. We need a single-payer alternative, and we need it now.

In addition, no matter what type of insurance is out there, we need to do a better job of expanding preventative care. The fee-for-service approach currently used rewards testing and dealing with health issues after they’ve developed, rather than stopping them before they start. I see my insurance company (Medica Choice of Blue Cross/Blue Shield MN, a non-profit) doing some good things, rewarding good behavior and regular examinations.

Finally, and because it is personal, I do salute the ACA for prohibiting companies from blocking coverage for pre-existing conditions. My wife has such a condition, and while she does everything she can to mitigate it, there is nothing she – or medical science – can do to make it go away. With treatment, it’s controllable. Without it…well, I don’t want to think about that. It’s genetic, and I really don’t think she should be made to go without affordable health care because of how 23 pairs of chromosomes interacted.

Infrastructure – People call this “pork-barrel” spending, but it is a proven job creator. Our national infrastructure – roads, water/sewer pipes, power lines, that sort of thing – is in serious disrepair. Look at what is going on in NYC right now – and that’s the biggest city in the country. Imagine how many issues are present in small towns and rural areas. We need a national overhaul of the infrastructure, and not just from the federal level. Our states, counties, cities, towns and townships all need to do their part as well. Infrastructure planning and rebuilding should also include provisions for high-speed rail and high-speed Internet. The last one in particular resonates with history. Rural electrification changed the face of this country, and access to information is to the 21st century what rural electrification was to the 1930s.

Jobs/Employment Issues – Are there problems with unions? Oh, sure. But unions created the middle class, and provide a counterbalance to corporate greed. As I said earlier in the discussion on taxes, we no longer have a system where profits are reinvested in the company. Instead, the goal is simply to get in, get as much as you can, and get out. This is not sustainable. We need to restart manufacturing here. We need to build things again (see Infrastructure). We need to respect employees and not treat them as interchangeable cogs.

Further, we should not be making it easier to outsource jobs to other countries.

Social Security – Raise the cap. Do that, and it’s solvent for a very long time. Al Gore got a lot of pushback over the “lockbox” comment, but that is fundamentally sound. We don’t need to raise the retirement age, and we certainly don’t need to make it subject to the whims of the stock market.

FOREIGN POLICY

This is my weakest area, so the thoughts here are a little more scattershot.

“To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” – Winston Churchill

General Thoughts on Diplomacy – I am not naïve enough to believe that all countries everywhere are good. I am, however, hopeful enough to believe that most leaders act with a certain amount of rational self-interest toward the goals, aspirations and dreams of their citizens. The most we can ask of our diplomatic corps (which includes the Secretary of State and the President) is that they serve our national interests to the best of their abilities, that they foster American ideals and goals, and that they treat their counterparts with respect and dignity. America is at its best when it shows the world what can be done when you treat your citizens fairly.

General Thoughts on the Military – Up front: I never served. In my younger, more radical days, it seemed counterproductive. Also, even though Dad was in the Army, he never wanted any of us to go that route (and you can’t blame that on him being a wild-eyed radical commie; this is John K. Flinn we’re talking about). I do, however, have an immense amount of respect and gratitude for those who did and do serve. We do have to be careful, though, that we don’t fetishize military service vis-à-vis political and diplomatic concerns. Our fellow citizens who serve are just that – fellow citizens.

The reason we have the best military on the planet is only partially because of the training and equipment; it is primarily because we have the best people and that we have the civilian command. George Washington knew this. Abraham Lincoln knew this. We should remember that. We should also remember that the decision to put our military members into harm’s way can never be made lightly, and that those who serve deserve not just the thanks and praise of a grateful nation but also the benefits of the GI Bill and other veterans’ programs.

China – I don’t know a whole lot about the vagaries of currency manipulation; I admit that. I will say that sabre-rattling over the topic seems to be a stupid way to go about fixing the problem. China is Communist in their political system, but very much mixed in their economic system. You want to be patriotic and show those Chinese the ol’ what-for? Bring manufacturing back home.

Latin America – Ever since the Monroe Doctrine, we’ve tried to keep a short leash on what the rest of the world does to Latin America. Unfortunately, sometimes we did not extend that short leash to our own corporate interests. We need to treat all of our hemispheric neighbors with respect and not try to unduly influence their elections or take their natural resources without proper compensation. (That works for here in the US as well.)

Middle East – Braver souls than I have tried to solve the Israel/Palestine question. In my cheekier moments, I propose a three-state solution: Israel for those who want that, Palestine for those who want that, and Thunderdome for the ones who don’t want the other ones. This, of course, is not a serious proposition. The best we can do is defend our allies, but never at the expense of our own interests. More importantly, we need to find a way to get the religious angle out of that particular struggle, if at all possible – especially on our end. No more funding fundamentalists of any stripe, and no more cajoling crazy Texans buying up land and cattle in Israel to try to breed the pure-red calf that’s supposed to start Armageddon or whatever.

With regard to Iraq, we never should have gone in, but at least we’re now getting out. The sooner we get out of Afghanistan, the better as well. Syria is thorny, but at least most of the Arab League and its neighbors aren’t supporting it. Assad can be removed without sending some divisions. This leads us to Iran, and while I believe a nuclear-armed Iran is a bad idea I also believe the sanctions are working. Ahmadinejad is weakened within the regime. Of course, we must be vigilant, but as above, sabre-rattling is never the way to go.

Russia – As in the Cold War, we will rarely be forced to engage Russia directly. Where we must deal with them is in spheres of influence. Culturally, there’s no question we’re on top here. It comes down to this: Will other countries think they’d be better off under our influence or the influence of Russia? (This can also be applied to Chinese influence.) It’s our job to be a country worthy of influencing others.

If we’re honest in our dealings with the rest of the world (the famous “open accords openly arrived at”), I believe we can be John Winthrop’s City on a Hill and use our influence to not just advance our own interests but to make the world a better place. We shouldn’t be naïve, but we should be cautiously idealistic.

LAST THOUGHTS

The way I see it, these views make me what Garrison Keillor termed a “museum-quality liberal Democrat.” There is nothing wrong with being partisan.

Let me say that again: There is nothing wrong with being partisan. There’s also nothing inherently right about putting on airs and claiming you’re “above” partisan politics. We have parties for a reason – a group of reasonably like-minded people, attempting to influence the direction of their country, can and should band together to maximize their potential for electoral success. If you say you “vote the person, not the party,” that’s fine, but since no one person runs the country alone, you’re getting the party of that person whether you want to or not. A candidate’s political affiliation can tell you what kind of person he or she will install in the bureaucracy and policy-making offices, and that will affect you, even if you think you’re above the fray.

I’ll spare you the endorsements, since you can probably figure them out anyway.

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