That, for all of us liberals and advocates of good government, is the good news. The bad news is that Obama and the Democrats in Congress will come to power holding a plethora of campaign promises they will find difficult to keep. The political and economic situation is not that great, to say the least: the U.S. is bogged down in two guerilla wars, the economy is headed toward recession, the financial sector is in complete chaos and any money left over for Obama's middle class tax cuts or spending programs has largely been spent. Furthermore, the voting public has high expectations. They want the Democrats to solve all the problems of jobs, healthcare and education without raising taxes.
In fact, it will be virtually impossible to do all the things that need doing while only raising taxes on those making over $250,000 per year. Realistically, the Democrats will have to allow budget deficits to increase in the short-term to help get the economy back on track. But at the same time, those same Democrats will have to be looking toward the future, where some programs will have to be cut and tax levels on the middle class will have to reflect the reality of all the services the American public want from their government. To accomplish this high wire act will require planning, and lots of it. In American government, planning is quite difficult given that political winds can shift at a moment's notice. And it is not clear whether Democrats in the Senate will have a filibuster-proof majority: 60 seats would ostensibly be what is necessary but they may be able to push through much legislation with 57 or 58 votes, if they can pull moderate Republicans to their side. Still, without a clear direction, the Democrats could actually deepen the economic, foreign policy and moral crises confronting the nation.
With that in mind, here are some 'back of the napkin' thoughts from one Democratic voter, namely myself. Here is how I would prioritize the nation's many needs:
1. Wind down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
While I realize Obama has pledged to withdraw troops from the latter to increase them in the former, I think he should re-consider. Escalating the war in Afghanistan is folly; we've now been there seven years with nothing to show for it. Although it would be a bitter pill to swallow to completely leave Afghanistan without killing Bin Laden, the reality is that the world's number one terrorist may be dead already. I expect the U.S. to keep a token presence for the near future, but a ramp up of troops is one of those promises I hope Obama does not keep. One thing Obama does not need to do is try to act like Mr. Tough Guy and conduct macho posturing to 'prove' he is strong on national security, like Clinton did when he first attained office. He may gain some temporary popularity from such measures, but the long-term consequences could be catastrophic.
2. Cut the Militay Budget and End Pretensions to Empire
The Democrats will be reluctant to do this, afraid it will give the GOP an opening on national security. Liberals, however, must do a better job of explaining that the Pentagon is a giant chasm down which their tax dollars fall, and the overwhelming majority of the money being spent does not increase our national security, but ends up in the pocket of politically-connected contractors and in missions like the ones in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans that are about building an empire which we can no longer afford. How much can the budget realistically be cut? Personally, I would like it cut in half, but realistically, 10-15% is a good start.
3. Investigate, Investigate and Prosecute (Where appropriate)
One of the big mistakes of the Clinton Administration was to let bygones be bygones with the previous Administrations of Reagan and Bush. There were scandals still lingering that a Clinton Justice Department could have pushed forward, including the illegal search into Clinton's passport records. Clinton decided to go along and get along. Instead of reciprocating, the Republicans launched investigation after investigation of the Clintons, all of which amounted to nothing, except for Clinton's lying about an affair in a civil deposition. Obama must learn from this and not make the same mistake. There are several ongoing investigations and more that could be started. From the U.S. Attorney firing scandal to the prosecution of Don Siegelman, an Obama Justice Department must see that real justice is done, in a nonpartisan way. To simply sweep the scandals under the rug will invite more of the same when the GOP grabs power again some day.
4. Make Long Term Commitments to Spending Money on Education and Universal Healthcare
These two areas, in my opinion, are the Achilles Heels of the American economy. The lack of government-backed health insurance and cost-controls is really squeezing the American consumer and makes U.S. companies less competitive globally. The decay in our education system, especially in regards to math and science, imperils our future. While I am not a fan of No Child Left Behind, the American tradition of leaving everything up to the States does not strike me as sustainable in a competitive, global economy. The federal government will need to make large injections so that every child in America, regardless of where they live and how much their parents make, has the right to a decent education.
5. Give Aid to Struggling Families
Many have accused Obama's plan to give a tax credit to working families who don't pay income tax but do pay Social Security tax as backdoor welfare. This is an insult to these struggling families. Obama needs to keep this promise. Not only is it the right thing to do, it will help increase aggregate demand and stimulate the economy.
6. Raise Taxes on the Rich- But Not By Too Much
Though I am a liberal, I am not a Socialist, nor do I think Barack Obama is one. I still think capitalism is a system that works better than most, and that we need to keep alive the entrepenurial spirit. Obama's plan to reverse the Bush tax cuts on the rich in the short-term seems about right to me: it will restore the idea that one can still get rich in America, but with increasing wealth comes increasing responsibility. Even Joe the 'Wannabe' Plumber, would benefit.
7. Re-Regulate the Financial Sector
Not much needs to be said about this, except that the $750 billion bailout without returning to old regulations that served our country well after the Great Depression is prescription for another disaster.
8. Make Massive Investments in Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation
This is a no brainer. Although Al Gore's targets of 100% reliance on renewables within a decade are probably unrealistic, how about 25% A commitment to spending taxpayers' money on clean energy like wind, solar and geothermal and on energy conservation activities, will more than pay for itself in the long run. And it will create jobs, right here in America.
9. (Once the economy is back on track) Restore a Reasonable Tax Rate on the Middle Class
I know, we all hate to pay taxes. And we'd love it if only billionaires would foot the tab. But the reality is that military budget cuts and increased economic growth cannot, in and of themselves, restore our nation to fiscal balance. Taxes will have to go up at some point. The best time to raise taxes would be after Americans achieve goals in healthcare and education. Once middle America realizes taxes are increasingly spent at home- instead of abroad in foreign wars- political support to tax increases might not be so dicey.
10. Campaign Finance and Elections Reform
Senator Obama's great success at fundraising has been the tens of millions raised through small contributions. Are 'bundlers' and 'pioneers' necessary anymore? Can the contribution limit be brought down to a reasonable level, say $500 But this is a tricky problem, for the role of 527s have made it easy to do an end run around current regulations. I don't claim to have the answer here: perhaps the real solution is to ban T.V. ads, which seem to be the root of the problem. In any case, something must be done about our campaign finance system, if the people are to have any say. Just as important is to fix the broken voting system. If Obama wins, it will mean that Democrats have overcome the voter suppression efforts of the GOP. But they can't count on that happening every year. Never again should an eligible voter be knocked off the rolls, or should a vote not be counted because of computer software or other machine problems.
There you have it. Those are my 10 'back of the napkins' steps that I would suggest to the Democrats to achieve a better American in the next decade or so. In summary, get out of all these foreign wars, pare back the empire, restore the concepts of justice and civil liberties, invest in education, health care and renewable energy, restore reasonable amount of taxes to those who can afford while giving aid to those who cannot and reform and reregulate the financial sector and the campaign system.
I know it is a tall order, not to mention there are a plethora of other social and economic issues that also deserve attention. And I would not want to be in Senator Obama's shoes. But unless the Democrats, assuming they win the election Tuesday, move forward with a coherent plan that addresses the myriad of challenges we as a nation face, they will be deemed a failure. I, for one, am optimistic.
But I think success is dependent not just on the politicians, but on the grassroots. The Democrats will need a little prodding now and then, especially now that the coporate money and endorsements from the likes of Colin Powell is flowing their way. From what I have seen this election season, as long as us average folks stay engaged and hold our elected Democrats accountable, are chances for success in restoring our distressed nation to its former greatness are very good. Let's keep up the good work.