Wednesday, November 24, 2004


by James Finkelstein, Albany, Georgia (11-23-04 draft)

Democrats don’t have to be a moribund party. We have plenty of thinkers, plenty of ideas, and, unlike the divisive and destructive policies of our opponents, many of our ideas have the elegant combination of being both politically popular and useful to the nation- the whole nation, not the favored few.

Highlights of essay include:

* transforming medical malpractice into a no-fault system which will eliminate ALL malpractice insurance premiums for doctors and provide compensation for the vast majority of patients who currently receive nothing

* an abortion policy which will attract pro-lifers without sacrificing a woman’s right to choose

* national defense which takes dollars from useless and expensive high tech weapons systems and puts the dollars where they are needed- in the pockets of ordinary soldiers and in the defense of our ports, borders, and nuclear and chemical plants

* A reform of Social Security which takes over the privatization scheme but makes it revenue neutral by removing caps on taxable income and requiring taxation of interest and capital gains

* campaign finance reform that allows attacked candidates free air time immediately following the attack ad

* catastrophic health insurance which puts labor and big business on the same side of the issue

* putting Republican tax breaks for the rich- like mortgage interest- out in the open where they can be seen for what they are- $25,000 a year for the mansion owner, $500 for the middle class homeowner

* A constitutional amendment that limits federal justices and judges to 10 years and requires that they have prior experience both as trial lawyers and in the State judicial system.


Although it’s long past time Zell Miller enrolled in an anger management course, if we are honest with ourselves we will admit that he has inadvertently revealed the two biggest failings of the Democratic Party:

(1) we as a party have no core principles; and

(2) we have no ideas with specific plans for implementation.

Democrats have lost the last three elections (2000, 2002, and 2004) by running a “safe” middle of the road strategy or by aping Republican tactics. We heard way too much about John Kerry’s military history and how he would- apparently single handedly, like a superhero- hunt down and “kill” the terrorists. No one bought it- least of all the Republican faithful who stuck to their commander in chief in spite of his spectacular, record setting ineptitude.

Time after time Kerry promised that he had a “plan,” and even after he was mocked for it on Saturday Night Live, he never produced a single detail or specific proposal in debates, on the stump, or on his website. Promising to provide health care for 45 million without it isn’t a plan- it’s an aspiration. Promising to bring in the allies to help us in Iraq, when a military solution is clearly making things worse, was useless and counterproductive on Kerry’s part. Promising to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term was identical to Bush’s promise, which was equally devoid of details as to how to reach that modest goal.

Pointing out that Bush lost jobs, had run up record deficits, and had made America less safe, was merely stating the obvious. Voters already knew that. What they wanted to see was a road map out of the swamp in which the Bush administration has mired all Americans.

It’s now long past time to retire the strategy of nationally prominent Democrats who abandoned their ideals and supported destructive Republican programs such as tax cuts for the super rich which led to record deficits, and who cowed in the face of illegal and disastrous military adventures, such as voting to authorize Bush to use force in Iraq (Kerry, Edwards, and Max Cleland all got on that bandwagon) in a vain attempt to keep their seats or win a national election.

It’s time to stop acquiescing in the destruction of our fiscal integrity and the loss of our global moral authority. I propose we take the moral high ground back and at the same time espouse programs and real solutions to problems which will resonate with most Americans who aren’t on the extreme right. In other words, let’s do the right thing, but be politically astute at the same time.


First principles: Democrats should make it clear that we adamantly oppose going back to the days when abortions were criminal, which allowed rich (Republican and Democrat) women to fly to other jurisdictions where it was legal and have an abortion, while poor women ended up with dangerous and sometime fatal back alley abortions.

However, we should all find areas of agreement and work together as much as possible to prevent unwanted pregnancies, especially among teenagers, and provide loving homes for unwanted children. First, we should support federal legislation that would include financial and other incentives to teenagers which would keep them from becoming pregnant.

I recently saw an interesting statistic that there have been more abortions since Bush was elected than in the last four years of Clinton’s administration. It may be related to Bush’s lousy job with the economy (too many unemployed mothers or wives of laid off workers who can’t afford another mouth to feed?), or it may be other factors, such as the welfare reform act of 1996 which cut off TANF benefits after 48 months. In any event, Democrats should do what has heretofore been virtually unthinkable: find common ground with pro-lifers. We do this by advocating programs and policies that reduce the total number of abortions.

One proposal would be to create a right of fathers to veto an abortion and raise their children. So far as I know, a woman’s “right to choose” has never been held by the Supreme Court to include the right to prevent the father’s child from being born, especially if he agrees to raise the child (a quick search turned up no Supreme Court cases on this point).

This may be heresy to the NOW and pro-choicers, but their logic is faulty if they say a woman has a right to choose- but the person she chose to be the father (or potential father) of her unborn child should have no say in the matter. They both chose to have relations that could conceive a child. This leaves the woman in a poor position to argue that the government is somehow infringing on her right to privacy if it allows the father- whom she chose to help conceive the child- to veto an abortion. The political advantage of this is that it allows the Democratic Party (as with trial lawyers in malpractice cases) to show its independence of a group to which it has been linked in extremely unflattering ways by Republican propagandists.


In addition to the automatic veto that fathers should be given, we should also advocate legislation to create a registry to raise unborn children. People signing up would enter into a binding contract to raise an unborn child. If they breach the contract, then they would be liable for child support through the age of majority, and they would have to post a bond to ensure financial responsibility. They would also be screened for parental suitability and security in the same manner in which adoptive parents are currently screened. This will give any woman who has a financial reason for needing an abortion an out- she would know in advance if a person on the registry was willing to raise the child. Moreover, the woman bearing the child would have access to the people in the registry, and could choose the parents to raise the child. By giving the mother this option, it would reduce the total number of abortions and give the pro lifers an opportunity to put their words into deeds.


Too many American companies have shown little or no loyalty to those workers who served them faithfully for decades. Corporations have jettisoned their jobs at the slightest hint that their profit margin might be increased by relocating to countries where environmental concerns are little or non-existent and child labor is exploited. We can’t keep them from cutting jobs in America- but we can make them pay a premium for the privilege and use the money towards education and retraining Americans displaced by outsourcing. Our policy should be as follows:

(1) No American business may deduct any business expense for any labor costs incurred outside the U.S.;

(2) An additional flat tax of five percent will be levied on the gross income for any American company whose labor force is more than 25% outside the United States. The proceeds will be used to retrain and educate Americans laid off by companies which outsourced their labor. In communities where plants have closed, funds will be used to employ laid off workers in public works programs until they have found new jobs in the private sector.

(3) Any American company which relocates abroad (i.e. the Bahamas) in an attempt to avoid U.S. taxes will pay an additional federal flat tax on all U.S. sales of five percent of the gross. Proceeds will be used to fund health care, retraining, and education for American workers.

(4) Salaries of all employees not subject to overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act will no longer be deductible as business expenses. In other words, companies now desperate to redefine employees as exempt or management will lose the business deduction for all expenses related to those employees.


Many good people refuse to be involved in the campaign process because of the mud slinging. Many voters are turned off by the relentless (and ridiculous) negative advertising. And many people feel that they are shut out of the process because they don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to “contribute” to candidates for public office. I put “contribute” in quotes because campaign contributors expect- and receive- something for every dollar donated. Whether it is simply labeled as “access” to the Senator or Congressman or “influence” over legislation makes little difference to the rest of us who are completely shut out of the process.

Unfortunately, the recent campaign finance reform legislation did nothing to correct these abuses. Consequently, we should propose the following:


The airwaves belong to the public, and every FCC licensed radio and television station receives a license with a requirement that a portion be devoted, free of charge, to the public service. To end the vicious downward spiral of endless vicious attack ads funded by millions of dollars, every television ad of a candidate will be previewed to his or her opponent, who will be allowed to air a free ad, of the same duration as first, immediately following the ad of the opponent. However, only the candidate may be seen or heard speaking in the free followup ad. If the candidate airing the followup ad wants to add other speakers or have other visual material in the ad, then he or she will pay full freight for the followup ad.


Federal law already makes it a crime to give money for the purpose of influencing any public official in the course of his or her job. There should be no exceptions for money paid during political campaigns. Everybody- the contributor, the candidate, and the public- knows that the money is being given to either pass favorable legislation or block unfavorable legislation. Consequently, federal law should be amended to prohibit any campaign contributions by persons or political action committees who stand to financially benefit from any legislation which comes before Congress.


Most people don’t know that oil companies, drug companies, and insurance companies, heavily lobby- and contribute funds- to Congressmen and Senators from distant states. Voters are entitled to know who is financially backing the candidates, and one way would be to require that every candidate’s public appearance, including all television ads, include “sponsored by” stickers on his clothing, clearly visible, for any three campaign contributors chosen by the opponent. Once public financing becomes the law, this requirement will no longer be needed.



Most people don’t realize it, but racial quotas are already illegal under federal law unless ordered by a federal court as a remedy to redress prior discrimination, and then only for a limited period of time. So coming out publicly to end “quotas” really means giving up nothing. Since the phrase “affirmative action” has been effectively redefined by Republicans as “quotas” (and, to be fair, some large companies do use “targets”, “goals” and “guidelines” to avoid being sued that in practical application are quotas for race and sex), we should explicitly abandon the phrase “affirmative action.” Instead, we should come out foursquare for color blind laws, but at the same time, we should propose legislation which bans criteria which have the effect of discriminating on the basis of race, sex, or other protected groups, but which have no useful purpose. In effect, discrimination will be easier to prove, so the overall effect will be a greater representation of minorities in colleges, graduate schools, and high paying jobs.

Using the University of Michigan Law School case as an example, if the school rejected black applicants because of poor LSAT scores, the school would have the difficult (if not impossible) burden of showing a high statistical correlation between academic performance at the law school and the test scores of the students. Even harder would be the burden of showing correlation between high LSAT scores and success after graduation. If we factor in judicial appointments as an indicia of “success,” we will have many academically unimpressive but ideologically pure Reagan and Bush appointees to the federal bench as proof that impaired intellectual ability and a lack of academic accomplishment are unrelated to a successful career after law school. Talk about hoist on their own petard!

This does not mean in any way, shape or form that we will back down on the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equality. But we should always recognize that affirmative action is a means, not an end, and we should make an explicit trade off of all laws and regulations that smack of quotas in exchange for a relaxation of the burden of proof in discrimination cases that will allow victims to successfully challenge policies or employment decisions that have the effect of excluding minorities. If the Fourteenth Amendment means that no person may be treated disparately because of race, then we should acknowledge that morally and politically it is better to have a color blind Constitution and color blind laws and regulations, while discouraging overt and covert acts of discrimination.


The party should endorse legislation to end loopholes currently used by State and Federal governments to avoid responsibility when they wrongfully injure their citizens. Politically this should be a no lose situation for Democrats, especially if we find anecdote after anecdote of innocent persons injured by incompetent or malicious acts of government employees. It would also be nice to hang the phrase “activist judges” around the necks of the judicial conservatives who invented the phrase “qualified immunity” and grafted it onto the Civil Rights statute that allows persons injured by government malfeasance to recover damages for their injuries.

“Qualified immunity” is akin to the dog bite case where judges have ruled the dog gets one free bite, then his owner is on notice and can be sued for the second bite. In the civil rights arena, this one phrase has doomed more otherwise meritorious suits than any other doctrine, and essentially has gutted civil rights protections except in the most egregious cases. And the sad irony is that the phrase appears nowhere in the statute, but was created out of whole cloth by the Burger/Rhenquist Court.


The Democratic party should stand for taking politics out of judicial selections. Our stated platform should be that all recommendations for judicial nominations will come from members of the bar who practice in that court rather than from the President or senior Senator of the State.

We should also (for once) beat the Republicans at their own game and advocate a Constitutional Amendment to limit all federal judges to 10 years of service. Included with that limitation should be a requirement that every judicial appointment go only to lawyers with a minimum age of 50 years, and include a restriction that no judge should be nominated or allowed to serve on the federal bench- from the Supreme Court on down- unless he or she has tried both civil and criminal cases as a lawyer, and has also served some period of time as a judge in the state system. This will ensure appellate judges who have experienced reality as a trial lawyer and have also had an opportunity to display their judicial temperament- or lack of it!- on the bench.

Many groups have attempted to impose a so-called litmus test on judicial appointments in an effort to seat judges who will rule one way or another on particular issues. The Democratic Party’s litmus test should be to vote to confirm only judges or justices whose career has demonstrated broad experience as both a trial lawyer and a judge, and an outlook which amply demonstrates a 100 percent commitment to the United States Constitution- most especially, the Bill of Rights and the 13th through 15th Amendments, which guarantee that the government will not infringe on freedoms enjoyed by all Americans.


Does anyone understand why it would be appealing to ordinary Americans who label themselves “conservatives” to see American kids being blown up in Iraq instead of foreign mercenaries or U.N. troops? During the debates, Kerry completely dropped the ball on this issue with his “global test.” Instead of the “global test” for use of American troops abroad (the term was received gleefully by Bush’s handlers and may have been the key gaffe that lost the election for Kerry), we need simply point out that the test for use of American troops abroad is, as noted above, whether or not there is an imminent military threat to the United States. The test is simple and compelling: no imminent threat, no dead Americans thousands of miles from home.

In situations like Bosnia and the Sudan, where no American security interests are directly affected, we should do everything possible to engage and, if necessary, create, international security organizations which can act more swiftly to halt genocide or aggressive war than the U.N. and NATO, which have dropped the ball in both the Balkans and in Africa. Unilateral American acts to stop genocide are morally and legally permissible, but a structure should be put in place to provide a relatively quick response without the constant need for ad hoc, case by case, measures, such as occurred in Kuwait in 1990 and Bosnia in 1997.

In sum, we should advocate a foreign policy which takes the human toll and the financial burden from the United States when foreign intervention is necessary but not related to an imminent attack on the United States (i.e. the present genocide in the Sudan). Our military should be available for self defense- not for foreign adventures to advance the political agenda of fantasy addled neo-conservatives who imagine a U.S. hegemony in the Middle East by planting our army on top of oil fields.


The party should take a stand against the export of cigarettes and the sale of weapons to foreign countries. Simply put, it is hypocritical of us to castigate Mexico or Columbia for drug smuggling when we openly export the means for other countries' citizens to kill themselves or each other.


Once upon a time the Republican Party was perceived as the party of limited government and axing unnecessary federal agencies. With Bush they have abdicated that position- and we can and should take it from them by proposing a law to sunset all federal agencies and departments (except essentials like the Defense Department, Justice Department, State, and a few others). Ten years should be the standard for departments like education, labor, and homeland security. Five years for federal agencies. They would have to be reauthorized in order to continue to exist. If they are vital to the national interest, then Congress will keep them.

This proposal will put Congressional Republicans in a bind- agree, and they concede that the Democrats have the better idea. Oppose it, and they have lost the support of the anti-big government conservatives they courted once upon a time.



Republicans think they can pound on us all day long if we come out for national health care, or even something so simple as a single payer plan which otherwise leaves the present system in place. They think that all they have to do is shout out the magic word “Socialism!” which scares small children and adults with a distant memory of the Red Menace. (They remind me of Marty Feldman’s character in the movie “Young Frankenstein” who would say the name of the evil Frau Blucher to scare the horses.) In 1994, Democrats controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress. Yet they went scurrying for cover rather than fighting for a policy that would have kept 45 million Americans from being left outside the health care safety net.

In response, we should use the art of political judo, and turn this one around on the Republicans. We only need point out the obvious- right here, right now, we already have socialized medicine- our public hospitals, which are required to treat everyone in need at great expense to the rest of us. Where do they think the 45 million uninsured go when they are injured or seriously ill? Rather than cowering in fear of the word “socialism,” we should be screaming to the rafters that Republicans are in favor of keeping a socialized health care system that is the most expensive and least efficient- those are our tax dollars paying for the 45 million uninsured when they get sick or injured.


Instead of the current mess, we should re-propose the “credit card” idea that Clinton first touted in his 1994 State of the Union speech. The government will be the conduit of the payments, and the onus will be taken off the health care providers to administratively figure out who is paying their bills, reducing overhead by billions. The amazing thing about the failure of this proposal the first time around is that there was no natural constituency of voters to oppose it, but every patient and every provider would have benefitted from it. This proposal should be separated from the catastrophic insurance proposal (that was Clinton’s mistake- trying to do too much at once), because this legislation can (and should) stand alone.

Many people do not get regular checkups or see a physician unless it is a real emergency- because they can’t afford to. However, many people on medical benefit programs see a doctor or go to the emergency room even when they don’t have to. The “Clinton Card” (a useful phrase that will nostalgically recall the halcyon era when the nation was at peace and was running surpluses instead of huge deficits) can be used for every visit to the hospital, doctor’s office, or other medical provider. The patient will be billed the actual cost just as if he or she had paid by a credit card, and his or her insurance company or other provider will be notified to pay back the government, with the patient paying the rest at a low interest rate as he or she can. To cut down on abuse of emergency rooms and such, every person, no matter how poor, will pay something at the time of every visit- even if it is as low as $10.00. This proposal will save huge amounts of administrative costs in the health care system


We can also drive a wedge between Republicans and their oldest constituency- big business- on this issue. And I’m surprised that the AFL-CIO hasn’t already picked up on this. If the government provided catastrophic health insurance covering expenses over $3,000 annually to every American, including every employee of big business, then big businesses’ health insurance costs would be dramatically cut, saving them billions in overhead.

The average worker fears losing his health insurance almost as much, if not more, than losing the income from his job, because if a serious illness hits him (or her) or family members, they can be wiped out financially. Democrats should deal with this issue directly, by promising a system that will alleviate the fears of employees while shoring up the economic strength of America. Legislation to provide catastrophic health insurance for every American, paid for by a national sales tax of one percent, would provide a means for American businesses to be on a more even footing with foreign competition. Foreign companies in countries with national health don’t have medical costs and insurance as part of their overhead, so they can sell the same products at lower prices than American companies.

Why organized labor and large American corporations which presently provide health benefits for employees haven’t yet figured out that they are on the same side of this issue is beyond me. But if they ever do- and it’s our job to point them in that direction- then Republicans in power will have to explain to their core constituency why they can’t be allowed to compete on an even playing field with foreign companies selling the same products to Americans.


Republicans whine that because of evil trial lawyers, runaway juries (I think I’ve seen their pictures on some milk cartons) and frivolous lawsuits, malpractice premiums have soared, driving obstetricians out of their specialty and taking doctors away from small communities. Their main solution: cap non-economic damages that can be awarded at $250,000. Of course, the fact that this has already been done in some jurisdictions without reducing malpractice insurance premiums doesn’t faze them- after all, Bush’s handlers arrogantly asserted that they “create their own reality.” Unfortunately, the rest of us have to live in the real world, where their “tort reform” benefits only insurance companies, not doctors or patients. Rather than fighting them on this issue and looking like the tool of “trial lawyers” (a phrase which actually refers to a subset of trial lawyers- plaintiff’s lawyers who handle tort cases on contingency fees), we should leapfrog them on the issue and put doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies completely in the Democratic camp.

How? We replace the current tort system with a no fault system that will end all malpractice insurance premiums for doctors, hospitals, and drug companies.

Zero- that’s right- they will pay zero dollars in insurance premiums.

Instead, the no-fault system will be funded by a one percent tax on all medical goods and all medical services (note: services are currently completely untaxed). The money will go into a fund, and claims will be paid similarly to workers’ compensation programs without regard to fault. Defense lawyers will be unnecessary, as the money will be paid out of the fund, so no medical provider would have a stake in opposing a particular claim. Plaintiff’s lawyers would be permitted but not necessary, because fault would not have to be proved and payment would be based on the severity of the injury.

I liken this to the old flight insurance- buy $100,000 flight life insurance for a buck. If the plane goes down, your family collects without having to prove negligence of the pilot, the carrier, or the plane manufacturer.

To deal with incompetent doctors, all claims paid for medical related injuries (with patient confidentiality assured) will be reported and posted on internet websites. Before going to a doctor or purchasing a medicine, the consumer can check out the site.

This proposal will completely trump the Republicans’ suggestions for a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages or a reduction in drug related class action suits, neither of which provide any guarantee that malpractice premiums will be reduced by even a penny. The Republicans will be left to explain to doctors why the Democrats’ proposal- which eliminates all of their malpractice insurance costs- is somehow worse than the Republicans’ proposal, which rewards only insurance companies and which provides continued employment and retainers for insurance defense law firms.


As an overall approach to fiscal policy, Democrats need to learn that general taxes are unpopular, which is why no one ever got elected promising to raise taxes or cut spending. However, most people understand and agree with the concept of “you get what you pay for,” and most taxpayers and voters will be more sympathetic and understanding when taxes can be 100% dedicated to a particular program, especially if the tax isn’t onerous or is imposed on a group eminently capable of paying for it.

For example: Republicans have been beating the Democrats over the head with proposals to phase out the estate tax (which they call the "death tax" to avoid the elitist connotations of the word "estate"). We should take this one head on and propose an estate tax which is "dedicated" like gasoline taxes are for highway construction and repair. In this case, "dedicate" estate taxes to a prescription drug benefit for the elderly. I would just love to see any Senator or Congressman try to explain to the elderly why that would be a bad thing- that it would be better to save money for rich dead people than to provide low cost or no cost prescription drugs for live old people who are not wealthy.

When Republicans attempt to paint the estate tax as destructive of small businesses and family farms- as Bush did during the Presidential debates- Democrats should counter by accurately pointing out that unless the dead person had a million dollars free and clear, his federal estate tax burden was zero (it was a $600,000 floor a few years ago, and was scheduled to go up to a million when it was repealed by Republican demagogues). To ice the cake, we should include an exemption that leaves small businesses and family farms untouched by estate taxes. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain on this issue- the Republicans will find themselves labeled as the Party for dead millionaires and their drone children who live off their inheritance, clipping coupons and collecting interest checks.

By dedicating the proceeds of the estate tax to a prescription drug benefit for the elderly, the Democrats get a two for one: (1) the elderly who might otherwise oppose estate taxes are the beneficiaries of the tax while they are still living; and (2) the Republicans are even more closely aligned as the party of the rich- in this case the dead rich (!) versus the people who are in need right now.




The purpose of the United States armed forces is to defend the people of the United States. Putting American soldiers or Marines in harm’s way should only happen when the security of our nation absolutely requires it, and our military should never be used to serve the political agenda of any politician or bureaucrat in Washington. That trust has been breached by the Bush Administration, and John Kerry failed to make this point in his campaign. So long as Americans are dying in Iraq, we should be relentless in pointing out the failures of the Bush Administration until the killing stops.

Political leaders from both sides have said publicly that “we can not afford to fail in Iraq.” It was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place, but now that we are there, we must decide how and when to leave. Since none of them has bothered to provide a specific measure of what we need to achieve in order to leave, I will do it for them.

Success is fulfilling the mission America started out on March 19, 2003, when we launched a missile attack in an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein, and a day later, when we invaded Iraq by crossing the border with our Army and Marines. That mission was to remove Saddam Hussein from power and to safeguard America from Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction.” By May 1, 2003, we had succeeded in accomplishing both stated goals. We discovered that there are no weapons in that country which are capable of being used to attack the United States. Saddam Hussein was removed from power, captured later that year, and is now in custody awaiting trial.

Failure is the Bush Administration staying in Iraq with no definite exit strategy. Failure is the Bush Administration pursuing unspecified goals and changing its mind about the mission there after the invasion revealed that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Failure is spending tens of billions of dollars rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq while allowing America's infrastructure to languish. Failure is having worldwide television broadcasts of American soldiers abusing Iraqi civilians in Saddam’s torture chambers. Failure is making it easy for Americans in uniform to become recruiting posters for Al Qaida and other fanatical Muslim terrorists. Failure is committing acts such as the killing of an unarmed, wounded, and helpless Iraqi in a mosque. Failure is enraging fundamentalist, fanatical Muslims and increasing the risks of terror attacks on Americans at home and abroad.


We should announce to the Iraqis and to the world that we will be gone from Central Iraq in 6 months. That is long enough to finish training police and an internal security force (police academies and boot camp take far less time), and any Iraqis who want to fight for their own freedom are welcome to sign up. After six months, we should leave Baghdad and every major city in Iraq, keeping only enough troops in the north to protect the Kurds and in the south to ensure the oil fields are not seized. As soon as possible, we should then turn those tasks over to United Nations peacekeepers and leave the country.

In consideration of the fact that Iraq has viciously attacked two of its neighbors- Iran and Kuwait- in the last 25 years, we should absolutely prohibit the new government of Iraq from having an army or any military force other than the police necessary for keeping order.

Finally, we should keep the Iraqi oil revenues out of the hands of future dictators or terrorists. We should not allow the government of Iraq to have the use of revenues from southern oil fields, which should remain occupied by a neutral outside military force. Half of the oil revenues should be used to compensate families with killed or injured from Iraq’s aggressive wars and to repay the United States for our costs. The other half should be held in trust for the Iraqi people by non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross, Care, Doctors without Borders, OxFam, and Unicef. Not one dollar from oil revenues will go to purchase weapons, to pay the families of suicide bombers, or to support terrorism.


Democrats need to assertively challenge unnecessary weapons programs like the Osprey, Seawolf, F-22 Raptor, and missile defense shield (Star Wars) which are wasting hundreds of billions of dollars. Up to now most Democrats have been afraid of being labeled “weak on defense” and have voted for virtually every useless boondoggle, with the effect that our national security has been compromised. The first way to challenge these programs is by pointing out that these weapons systems were designed to fight an enemy that no longer exists- the Soviet Union of the 1970’s and 1980’s (the F-22 Raptor being built by Lockheed-Martin originated in the 70’s as a fighter to duel advanced MIG fighters). The second, and more potent attack, is to publicly trumpet the campaign contributions by every defense contractor to every Republican who has voted for the funds. Most Americans can recognize a bribe when they see it, and that is precisely what has been accomplished by General Dynamics, Lockheed-Martin, Halliburton, and so on.

The Democratic proposal should be to transfer the funds now appropriated for these useless and expensive programs and earmark the money for better pay, benefits, and equipment for soldiers; screening of cargo on ships and airliners; more border patrol, security in and around nuclear and power plants, and so forth.

To rebut an anticipated Republican claim that the weapons systems provide jobs in the communities where the plants are located, we should immediately respond and ask them if their party now advocates Socialism where the government is the employer of last resort? And we should suggest that if they are advocating government employment as an official policy, we ought to at least come up with programs that put all of the money towards job creation that actually does public good: border and port security, public works, hiring tutors, cleaning up communities, and the like.

We must frame the debate as choices between expensive, useless toys vs. necessities to save lives. We can also point out that by cutting useless weapons systems and putting the money into port and border security and securing nuclear and chemical plants in the U.S., we can be more secure but still save money overall, because all of the labor intensive security measures combined won’t equal even one useless high tech system like Star Wars missile defense or the F-22. We have to make clear the fact that nuclear submarines, missile defenses, and fighter programs, which have no role in the fight against terrorism, cost far more than the basic nuts and bolts of hiring personnel and equipping them.


An example of an idea which is simple, easy, and which will be popular among military and military retirees is to propose legislation which will establish a national vehicle registration for all active duty soldiers and all 20 year retired veterans. The US government would charge a nominal fee, and the vehicles would be exempt from local ad valorem taxes (impact money could be paid to counties or political entities with a high proportion of military registered vehicles, in the same way we pay that money to the public schools in such geographic areas). The registration would be good for the life of the vehicle or the end of active duty service, which ever occurs sooner.

A second example- which would be extraordinarily popular among retirees- would be to dismantle the VA hospital system and replace it with the highest quality government purchased insurance program which would be honored at every hospital. Instead of veterans driving a hundred miles or more to a VA hospital, every veteran, disabled or not, will get a credit card good at any American hospital or other health provider. The program should also include free prescription drug benefits. Currently, retired military feel that they are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to health care, and they should be afforded the very best that the nation has to offer.

One advantage of the free medical care for veterans proposal is that it constitutes the nose of the camel in the tent on national health. If the system works efficiently for veterans, then that deflates the Republicans' arguments that it can’t work at all. It can then slowly be expanded to cover persons currently without health insurance.


If we are victims of a nuclear attack in the next 10 years by a fanatical adversary created or inspired by our Iraq adventures- at present we are loathed throughout the Moslem and Arab areas of the world- we can thank the Bush Administration for creating new enemies willing to martyr themselves and take a million of us with them. Consequently, our overriding goal should be to eliminate the conditions precedent to a nuclear attack on the United States- and we should make that clear as a bell.

We need to support the Nunn-Lugar efforts to sweep up loose nuclear bombs and materials. In addition, we should actively recruit every nuclear scientist and technician and bring them to the United States- paying them whatever the market requires to keep them out of the hands of third world countries, religious fanatics, and terrorists.


We should make it a policy to protect and encourage whistleblowers who protect the military from dangerous or shoddy products and safeguard the public purse from white collar thieves. A potent current example: the U.S. has taken the position that whistleblowers exposing corporate fraud in Iraq aren't covered under the law because the companies were dealing with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), an artificial construct wholly funded by U.S. tax dollars. Democrats should take the opposite position in this issue. In addition, we should oppose privatization and outsourcing of national defense (i.e. Blackwater & Titan Corp. in Iraq, which employ former U.S. military in security roles at 10 times the expense).


Republicans want to spend tax dollars on vouchers to send kids to private schools; Democrats have opposed it while coming up with nothing to improve public education other than “more money.”

Republicans disengenously argue that vouchers are necessary to rescue the talented poor from underperforming schools. Democrats counter that siphoning tax dollars from public schools while skimming off the cream of the talent pool will only further degrade the quality of public education. Both are right- and neither is the best solution.

Instead, we should do an end run around the Republican proposal: vouchers for public school students that will be means tested- but not for private school tuition. The vouchers will be for private one on one tutoring for public school students who will remain in the public schools. The advantages of this proposal are:

(1) it doesn’t involve a back door subsidy for parochial schools in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment;

(2) it won’t be a covert means of subsidizing secular private schools;

(3) it will enhance the education in public schools rather than degrading it as students’ achievement increases;

(4) by providing private one-on-one tutors, the taxpayers get more bang for the buck than if a whole years’s tuition is paid to a private school, which may or may not result in increased achievement for individual students; and

(5) teachers will be eligible to tutor, meaning that instead of losing out they will gain from the voucher system.



The OASDI payroll tax is the biggest tax for most poor and lower middle class Americans. We should make it more fair by doing two simple things. First, save the program by means testing it, but to avoid controversy, start at a very high threshold (again, the nose of the camel in the tent analogy applies). If a person over 65 receives income (earned or unearned) of $100,000 a year or has a million dollars in the bank, he or she doesn’t need the “security” of Social Security.

Second, it won’t hurt to agree with the privatization proposal of the Republicans- but make it revenue neutral by removing the ceiling (currently just over $80,000 in income on OASDI) and apply the tax to unearned income (interest and capital gains) which are currently untaxed. Whatever additional amounts of revenue are obtained by raising the ceiling can be offset by lowering the Social Security tax on everybody and letting the remainder go into private savings accounts. No set percentage will be allowed for privatization- it will be wholly dependent on the additional revenue received from removing the cap and taxing unearned income.

This is a compromise which once again takes a Republican initiative and puts them on the defensive. If they resist raising the ceiling, then they will have to argue that cutting total revenues to let young workers invest their money is sound fiscal policy just as the baby boomer generation gets ready to retire. We get to be the party of individualism and sound fiscal policy at the same time.


Democrats are- wrongly- perceived as the party of taxes. That has to stop- and a 180 degree turnaround will put Republicans on the defensive. The party should promote a tax system which does the following:

(1) ends all loopholes and all deductions in exchange for lower tax rates for everybody- including the wealthiest;

(2) extends Medicare and Social Security taxes to all income, earned and unearned, without a cap, also in exchange for lower rates (see the privatization discussion, above, that we allow a savings plan which is revenue neutral in exchange for removing the caps and means testing benefits, starting at the highest income levels).

(3) lowers all income taxes once the national debt is significantly reduced.

Kerry looked foolish decrying tax breaks for the wealthiest two percent when he was at the very top of the pyramid. And it probably cost more votes than it won. In other words- end all class warfare, whether in rhetoric or reality. We must end the perception that the Democratic Party is concerned only with the poorest elements of society. If there is one lesson we need to learn, it is that people of every economic status aspire to be rich, which is why Republican promises to eliminate the “death” tax were popular with people who would never have paid a dime.


If Republicans want to give $25,000 in annual tax breaks to persons buying $10 million homes while giving $500 annually to those earning less than $100,000, then they should have to openly appropriate the money and send the big checks to the millionaires. Anyone care to guess how long that program would withstand public scrutiny or how long it would take for the outcry for fairness to eliminate the inequitable breaks the rich now get for having children and mansions?

We should come out foursquare for openness in spending policies rather than concealing government largesse through tax credits and deductions. If mortgage relief, children, or charitable giving are considered worthy of tax expenditures, then the money should be paid openly and not as part of a 1040 form check off. The one thing I learned in tax class in law school: the consequence of every tax credit is the same as a dollar for dollar expenditure from the U.S. Treasury; a tax deduction is a proportional expenditure related to the overall income of the taxpayer- the higher the bracket, the greater the contribution from the Treasury.


The party should redefine the war on drugs as the “war on drug addiction” (not addicts). We should advocate research for a cure to addiction, and in the meantime redirect resources presently wasted in incarceration towards treatment centers for addicts.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


OK, we lost, and lost big. Why?

Unlike the Republicans, who have attained in President George W. Bush an uneasy alliance between the business wing (cut taxes on the wealthy and their businesses, kill environmental regulations and OSHA, reduce or eliminate the rights of injured consumers or patients to sue for damages) and the religious right (outlaw stem cell research, abortion and gays, institute Christian prayer in the schools, discourage teaching of evolution, justify preemptive war, the death penalty, and guns) in recent elections the Democratic Party has had no wings, no core beliefs, no unique overriding principles or programs on which members of the Party can agree.

The unfortunate legacy of Bill Clinton and the “New Democrats” has been that the only unifying theme of the party is to elect Democrats. Thus we got John Kerry instead of Howard Dean as our nominee in 2004.

And the killer catch 22 is that without a unifying theme we Democrats have allowed ourselves to be defined by the opposition. Most notoriously, Newt Gingrich realized that by using certain buzzwords during electoral contests the Republicans could coat their Democratic opponents with a broad swath of mud, most of which would stick, all of which would leave the confused Democratic candidate spending most of his or her time on the defensive. Here’s a small sample of Newt’s handiwork from the GOPAC memos that helped wrest power in 1994: "sick, pathetic, liberal, incompetent, tax-spending traitors."

As an example as to how badly Democrats have failed in the psychology sphere, try this test: after each phrase, name the political party which first comes to mind, no matter how wildly inaccurate: “tax and spend” “liberal” “New York” “California” “activist judges” “strident feminists” “homosexual agenda” “anti-religion” “weak on defense” “anti-military” “pro-UN” “weak on national security” and “flip-flopper.” Now name the party personified by these: “strong military” “core values” “pro life” “true believers” “strong defense” “pro family” “family values” “Colorado” “Alabama” “the Stars and Stripes.”

By this time, the astute reader will realize that we have not been having elections so much as Rorschach tests where one side gets to pick the attributes for both itself and its opponent. No wonder we can’t win an election.

Not only have we allowed Republicans to label us, we have failed to give voters a reason to elect us. How much time did John Kerry spend- in the year he campaigned- laying out a vision for where he wanted to take America in 2005 and beyond? Answer: none. I was a Kerry voter who could not name a single thing- not one- that Kerry would do during his first six months- or four years- in office, other than not being George W. Bush


At the very least, the party should stand for a rationale, coherent, and politically smart national defense policy which focuses on the real threat to our security- nuclear proliferation, and which eschews high tech toys in favor of funding for soldiers, sailors, and Marines, a foreign policy in which human rights plays an essential part, public financing of campaigns and a ban on private donations to candidates, competence in the judiciary, a domestic policy which promotes fiscal responsibility, job creation, and concern for the public health, and fairness and simplicity in the tax laws.

In other words, we lost everything when we sacrificed our beliefs and nominated a safe centrist (Bush's "liberal" epithet notwithstanding). We ought to at least stand up for what we are and what we want our country to be.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Attack of the Unicorns: Reply to AJC Guest Editorial 11/8/04; Republican Myths and gullible voters

Dear Editor:

Regina Gulick writes that "Liberals need to listen to America's clear voice," but she reveals more than she intends about why Republicans win elections when she states "[o]n gay marriage, you imposed your abortion policies with activist judges 35 years ago, but we've gotten smart. . If you want your liberal polices to pass American muster now, you have to go through the normal American channels."

So what's wrong with that assertion? Only everything. Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, 31 years ago, not 35. Decided by "activist judges" who were presumably appointed by liberal Democrats? Only if you turn history upside down and reframe Richard Nixon as a liberal Democrat, because he was the president who appointed Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe v. Wade. Nixon also appointed Warren Burger, the Chief Justice who joined the majority opinion. Dwight Eisenhower appointed William Brennan and Potter Stewart, two other justices in the majority. Byron White, one of two justices who dissented, was appointed by President Kennedy. For the history challenged, Nixon and Eisenhower were Republicans, Kennedy a Democrat.

And the "activist justice" who wrote the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case which overturned Texas' sodomy law was Anthony Kennedy, who was appointed by that other liberal Democrat- Ronald Reagan.

Karl Rove must be laughing in his sleeve at the whoppers he has managed to pull off to win elections: the epidemics of elective partial birth abortions, gay marriages, and activist judges imposing their ultraliberal views on America. If gullible voters are going to blame liberal Democrats for those shibboleths, in 2008 I expect we will be held responsible for the rampaging herds of unicorns which are eating all the shrubbery in the Republican suburbs.


Many commentators have attempted to explain the defeat of Democratic Pesidential candidate John Kerry by analyzing exit polls of voters. They are looking in the wrong place. Many also state that John Kerry ran a strong campaign and don’t assign him the blame for his defeat. They’re wrong.

From the get go in this election year, John Kerry was the wrong candidate, in the wrong place, at the wrong time (to borrow a paraphrase). He ran a presidential campaign worse than Al Gore’s in 2000, which is saying something, because Gore had all of the advantages of incumbency: a nation at peace running a $160 billion surplus in an excellent economic climate, running against an incoherent, simplistic opponent with no tangible record of accomplishment whose math was suspect and whose campaign slogan was a vague promise to be a “compassionate conservative.” (Which was ultimately defined by Bush visiting and praising a Youth Opportunity program in Oregon a month before cutting its funding out of the budget.)

The sad irony is that, like Gore, Kerry’s only decent speech in his campaign was his concession. Had either man during his campaign spoken from the heart, spoken the truth, with the same relaxed grace with which he conceded his respective election, he would have won in a landslide.

When 22 percent of the voters listed values at the top of their agenda, they weren’t necessarily meaning a belief in the divinity of Jesus or a homophobic response to gays. Values include having an elected official who is willing to speak the truth even when it hurts his electoral prospects. Values include the willingness to concede that the other side has a point- or even the better part of an issue- whether it be abortion or a concern for the institution of marriage. Values include the understanding that efforts to degrade, condescend to, or exclude any group of people (the wealthiest two percent, gays, evangelical Christians, immigrants, Muslims) do not enhance the likability or electability of the speaker. And most important, values mean that the candidate be genuine- not a patently insincere figure trolling for votes. Bush was believable when he said he opposed partial birth abortions and supported an increase in religious connections to government- scary, but believable. When Kerry lambasted the rich, one was always left with the question as to whether Kerry actually realized that he lived in several million dollar mansions with a billionaire wife. When his only response to the question as to what he would do different in Iraq was to bring in allies, perceptive voters wanted to shake him and ask: What if they don’t come? Or what if they come but the situation is exactly the same? What next? Pull out or send in more troops? No one watching him believed that he believed what he was saying, even those who voted for him, and that was part of his fatal flaw.

Strangely enough, had John Kerry followed the lead of his beloved Red Sox, he would have won the election. For 86 years the Sox were an exercise in futility. During most of those years, their teams weren’t very good. But several times they were good enough to get to the playoffs, and a few times all the way to a seventh game of the World Series. They blew it every time- until 2004. They blew it because they realized how important a win was- not just to them, but to the Red Sox faithful. And by trying so hard, they pressured themselves right out of a championship ring. In contrast, the 2004 version of the Sox were self described “idiots” who were loose and irreverent (one player had his pants grabbed during player introductions and didn’t make it onto the field). And without any self-imposed pressures, they staged the greatest playoff comeback in baseball history against the Yankees, then swept the Cardinals 4-0. Their lesson was simple: if you stop worrying about the outcome, but just play the game as best as you can, good things can happen. John Kerry was so focused on winning, so focused on not offending any group (except the two percent of the wealthiest), so focused on straddling issues and avoiding specifics on any of his vaunted “plans,” that he never realized what voters wanted: a man with whom they could relate, in whom they could trust, and who had a reason for wanting to be president other than just winning..

Had Kerry adopted the same relaxed attitude as the Red Sox, he would never have been goose hunting in an Ohio field 10 days before the election in a stiff, palpable and pathetic effort to ingratiate himself with white male gun owners who, as one late night comedian put it, would sooner vote for the goose than for Kerry. He wouldn’t have been reduced in the final week of his campaign, with bombs blowing up American soldiers almost daily in Iraq, to touting the lack of a flu vaccine as a reason for removing a sitting president. He wouldn’t have been attempting to explain away what couldn’t be explained- his vote to support the President’s use of force in Iraq, his criticism of Howard Dean for accurately stating that the removal of Saddam Hussein didn’t make America safer, and his unfocused, non-specific opposition to the manner in which the war is being waged. If it truly was the “wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time,” then he should have admitted his errors in supporting it and explained how he would extract America from the Iraqi brierpatch.

There is no doubt in my mind that, like Al Gore before him, Kerry will host a Saturday Night Live this season. Like Gore and his famous kissing scene with wife Tipper, the writers will have Kerry do a devastating mockery of his foibles, including his stentorian speaking manner and his penchant for repeating the phrase “I have a plan” enough times that debate viewers were begging him to just once describe what he might actually do. I fully expect at least one goose hunting skit in which Kerry will be adorned with an orange hunting cap complete with ear flaps. And unless we Democrats learn our lessons from the past two elections, four years from now, Hillary Clinton will lose to Jeb Bush.