2014 MID-TERM ELECTIONS: HOLDING THE SENATE, RETAKING THE HOUSE
This letter is to provide a template for retaking the House and keeping the Senate. Please share it with Democratic incumbents, candidates, and persons responsible for national campaigns to raise money for and provide strategy and advice to candidates for both houses of Congress.
First, a brief recap: I’ve been a Democrat all of my voting life- I voted for McGovern in 1972- and I follow politics on the local and national level fairly regularly, but at this juncture I could not name a single program- a single plank of a national platform- that Democrats would enact if they regain control of the House and retain control of the Senate.
What that means is, if I can’t tell you what Democrats would do (I can tell you things they would NOT do, but that’s not the same thing) if they controlled Congress, then it’s highly unlikely that any voters who go to the polls in November can either. That also means that the only reasons a voter would choose a Democrat would be because of personality, character, or experience issues of a candidate in that particular race, or, because they have come to realize (as most intelligent and sane people have) that choosing a Republican and letting that party control the reigns of power has become, since the year 2000, extraordinarily dangerous to the health and security of the country (i.e. 9-11, Iraq invasion, Katrina, the 2008 financial catastrophe - much of the last of which can also be laid at the feet of the Clinton Administration in 1998-1999 with repeal of Glass-Steagal, signed by Clinton and backed by his Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin).
So what do we do to change the equation in Congressional and Senate races in 2014? In 1994, the Republicans came up with an idea that was a game changer politically (if not in actual effect): the “Contract for America.” The game changing aspect was that voters were given a list of simple ideas (i.e. term limits, balance the budget) that the Republicans vowed to enact if given the opportunity. The Contract itself got as much or more publicity that any single candidates. It had the advantage of simplifying mattes for voters and appealing to their yearnings for the national government at the same time. After all, who doesn’t like the concept of term limits for Congress (other than those serving in it) or a balanced budget (other than Keynesian economists in a recession)?
The obvious solution is that Democrats come up with some simple, effective (in real life and politically) and very attractive proposals that they (we) will promise to enact if given control of Congress. The elegance of some of these ideas (as my old Torts law professor would say) is that they are directly opposite of what Republicans propose to do, and will put them in the worst possible political situation should they continue to advance their proposals.
1. ESTATE TAX: “The Death Tax.” In the Spring 2002, I spent an hour on the phone with Max Cleland’s legislative director and also with his campaign adviser. I had a suggestion he didn’t adopt, because he was trying to do what too many nominal Democrats have done lately: they’ve tried to be just like the Republican opponent and supported the same- and very bad- ideas. I suggested to Max’s people that Max come out 100% in favor of the Estate Tax, but make it a “dedicated tax.” Every dollar would go to providing relief to seniors who need help paying for their prescription drugs, to save their lives. My slogan was: “let dead millionaires pay for life saving medication for the living elderly.”
In 2014, I’d update that, since a prescription drug benefit was added to Medicare in 2003. The 2014 idea is that the “estate tax” (and go ahead and call it the “death tax” since no one can say they were fooled by the name) should be retained and 100% dedicated to health care for military veterans. Let the dead millionaires (I’d probably put “billionaires” in the campaign ad with a photo of huge mansions, like the ones on Royal Pains in the Hamptons) pay for wounded veterans. The political advantage is obvious: Republicans would be opposing expanding (or paying for) veterans’ health care. I’d like to see them argue that side in a debate and be in favor of dead billionaires like the Waltons or Koch brothers.
2. HEALTH CARE INSURANCE: A second idea is the Health Care Reform Act- Obamacare. The only thing the Republicans can really rail at in their requests for repeal are the mandate on individuals and employers to provide it. The solution is simple (and should have been the original template of the plan in 2009): decouple health insurance from employment and completely remove the mandate. Instead, provide a public option: any person under 65 can sign up for Medicare, paying the incremental cost of adding another person to Medicare, with subsidies for persons who don’t have the financial ability to pay the full monthly premium. In one fell swoop, we’ve taken away all of the issues with States not participating, all of the political arguments against the program (the Hobby Lobby case will be reduced to an historical footnote), and reduced overhead for employers (for which they should be grateful, but probably will not be). In addition, although it will be voluntary for any person under 65 to sign up, the law should provide that if a person incurs medical expenses greater than $X (where “X” can be a number like $1,000, $5,000, or $10,000) and has not had them covered by insurance or paid them within 12 calendar months, then signing up is mandatory (and they will still owe the prior medical expenses). There is not only no political downside to this, but it will greatly expand the number of people signing up for health insurance, especially in the "No" states controlled by Republican governors.
Putting this in a national Democratic platform will also jerk the rug out from Republicans in a lot of local races, where repealing Obamacare will be the centerpiece of their campaign ads.
3. FREEDOM RESTORATION ACT: For some reason, Democrats have not united against the gross violations of their civil liberties, most obviously in the realm of privacy from government interception of e-mails and other social media communications. Democrats should make clear that they are the party of individual freedom, and that causes of action under the 1860's civil rights laws (i.e. 42 U.S.C. §1983) will be extended to violations by the Federal Government (without depending on case by case BIVENS v. SIX UNKNOWN FED. NARCOTICS AGENTS, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) type of judicially created remedies) and remove all governmental immunity for violations of individual’s rights under the Bill of Rights, including 1st, fourth, fifth, 8th and 14th (which should be explicitly expanded to cover the Federal government) amendments. In other words, no more State Secrets exemptions from civil suit, no more complete or qualified immunity, and make clear that in the 21st century, we care more about our freedoms from government intrusion than we fear a potential boogeyman hiding under the bed. BUT: rather than individuals being sued, the theory of Respondeat Superior should be the sole measure of relief, so that judges, prosecutors, and police will no longer be subject to civil liability (but would still be, as they are now, subject to criminal prosecution for the serious and intentional violations of civil rights). The NSA will no longer be able to spy on ordinary Americans or collect so called "metadata" and they can mothball that building in Utah. One of the huge advantages of this proposal is that you will get a lot of support from Rand Paul Libertarian types.
Those are just three ideas, but all of them should be made the subject of national campaign ads: in other words, every Democratic candidate will benefit from them. I think that putting out a short, simple, easily understood national platform can change the results in the November 2014 elections: Dedicating the death tax to veterans’ health care, repealing the individual and employer mandate in Obamacare and replacing them with a public option to enroll in Medicare, restoring individual freedom from governmental excesses.
I would also limit the platform to a maximum of three ideas (the rule of threes). Each one would be the subject of a separate, national ad, which can be slightly modified in each State to have an addendum listing local candidates who support that platform.
And, like Will Rogers, if he were alive today, I will be astonished if the Democratic Party ever does anything so sensible and effective. But one can always hope!