Sunday, January 26, 2014


The seal on the podium says "President of the United States" Is this a foreshadowing for U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn?

Ms. Michelle Nunn
Atlanta, GA

Re: your efforts to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate

Dear Ms. Nunn:

I was recently invited to an event held in Albany to meet you and to contribute to your campaign. That was the first I became aware that you were a candidate for the seat in the United States Senate currently occupied by Saxby Chambliss. Curiosity caused me to check your website (where I learned nothing about you or any possible ideas or proposals you have), to read archived news stories about your history, and to watch the Lori Geary interview footage posted by Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was immediately obvious from the way you responded to Ms. Geary's "gotcha" question "have you ever voted for a Republican" that you either are politically astute or that you have excellent advisers and the ability to absorb their lessons to avoid common pitfalls in political races. You realized that if you answered the question, no matter what else you said during that interview, the sound bite- and headline- would be that you had voted for a Republican. From my limited information about you, it appears that you handle yourself well on camera and that you have a reasonable prospect of winning a state wide race in a fair environment. I'm not tuned into Georgia politics, but I would guess that your opponent would most likely be Congressman Jack Kingston.

However, politics isn't fair. And your opponents will do their best to define you, as Ms. Geary noted, by describing you as a "huge liberal," a "leftist" for "", and as "another vote for the liberal agenda of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid" (I'm paraphrasing here).

My sense is that many if not most voters do hanker for political leaders who will tell them the truth- but that they don't want uncomfortable truths that come without simple and effective solutions. I also think that a really good idea- one that would work, that attracts voters across party lines, that is unique- will do a lot to take you out of the realm of politics as usual that cause most voters to tune out politicians' messages and promises and to pay more attention to the negative attack ads that, sadly, have come to define modern American politics.

I'd like to take a moment and give you some examples. If this letter reaches you, and if, after reviewing my suggestions, you would like to have a conversation or exchange correspondence, my office information is on the letterhead.

HEALTHCARE REFORM: Three simple words: "Medicare for all." Otherwise known as "the Public Option." However, to avoid the pitfall of Republicans attacking big spending Democrats who want to force people to purchase health care they don't want, add the following caveats: there will be no individual mandate to purchase health care coverage (the call for repeal of that provision alone will remove that arrow from the opponent's quiver in a general election) , but coupled with repeal is a provision that any person under 65 who wants to opt into Medicare can pay a monthly premium equal to the incremental cost to the United States government for adding one more person to the Medicare rolls. In other words, it will not cost taxpayers one cent.

This will take the "Obamacare" argument (a possible albatross, based on the amount of lying and gross exaggeration that will continue after the program is more fully implemented) and turn it around against Republicans. Their biggest arguments are against the individual mandate and against the additional costs to taxpayers. In one stroke, you have taken both of those off the table, yet created a better system by adding a public option at no cost to taxpayers. You will leave a Republican opponent arguing that insurance companies should once again be allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, refuse to renew policies, and have a life time cap that will throw people into bankruptcy. As I once put it: Republicans want parents of a dying three year old girl to have to put out penny jars in restaurants to raise the funds for their child's life saving operation. That's a visceral image that makes them very uncomfortable- yet it is accurate, and most voters remember seeing those jars in restaurants and receiving fund raising letters to try to save a child's life.

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE REFORM: A little over 9 years ago, the Fulton County Daily Report ran a guest column I wrote in which I suggested a plan to eliminate all medical malpractice insurance premiums for physicians, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies, and replace it with a no-fault, workers compensation program. It's a no lose proposition for everybody. When I suggested it during a live debate in 2004 at the local Atlanta ABC station, a physician in attendance working for another candidate (Mary Squires) was so enthusiastic that he told me he wished he had two votes in the primary so that he could cast one for me. Here's a link to a website where I posted a similar article. (Note that Sanford Bishop also liked the idea, but Congressional Democratic leaders weren't so enthusiastic back in 2009 when they still controlled the House.)
The original article ran at:

GUNS, GUNS, GUNS: I listened to you tiptoe around the gun control issue by mentioning that your mother carries a 20 gauge shotgun around. Word of advice: the mental visual on that is not pretty. And it's irrelevant to insane people taking weapons with large clips into public places and committing mass murder. Most people just want to be safe- and many think they are safer if they carry a gun. Never mind that statistics show that people are twice as likely to be killed with a firearm if they own one, and about four times more likely to commit suicide if they have a gun in the house. It's kind of like the old seat belt debate- Americans didn't want to be told to strap in, because they had a vision of being thrown clear (not through their windshield) in the event of a wreck. Never mind that they are 100 times safer in a wreck if wearing a seat belt. My suggestions are to take the gun owners at their word- that they are safer with their guns, but require that all guns come with a technological lock (it was featured in the latest James Bond film, but has been written about long before) that will make it impossible for anyone but the owner to actually fire it. In one fell swoop, that reduces or eliminates gun thefts and accidents with small children. As for background checks- don't back down on that one. A huge majority of Americans want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable. Use the argument that we require tests and licensing to drive cars, which are dangerous machines, and we don't let children, drunks, or people with suspended licenses drive on the highways. Somehow we managed not to lose our freedom with those sensible restrictions. We should do no less for firearms- require people to pass regular tests and demonstrate their physical and mental ability to "operate" a firearm. And if it is in question, give them an opportunity for a fair hearing, just like we do in driver's license suspension hearings.

IMMIGRATION REFORM: point out that we need to be able to collect taxes from the illegals in this country who work but who don't file federal tax returns. The easiest way to do this is to issue green cards (not citizenship) for long time illegal residents, but to require that they file tax returns for the years they were already here and to pay any back taxes owed (but give them time and a payment plan so that it isn't a ticket back to Mexico- or Canada). Most illegals don't want citizenship- they just want to be able to live here legally and without fear of deportation. De-couple this reform from citizenship to avoid the argument that Democrats are just trolling for votes from non-English speaking illegal citizens (somehow, Canadians are never mentioned in this argument, but just for fun, I wish one debate would feature a focus on English speaking immigrants from Canada taking away American actors' jobs in the television and film industry- like Lorne Greene, who was Ben Cartwright on Bonanza, or William Shatner, Captain Kirk of Star Trek.)

NATIONAL SECURITY AND PRIVACY: I'm confounded that the Tea Party and the Republican Party (not co-equal) haven't been all over the issue of protecting ordinary Americans' privacy from the pervasive snooping of the NSA. It would fit right in line with their other diatribes against Big Government trying to control their lives- i.e., on gun background checks. So co-opt this issue. Go all in (or all out- it means the same thing) on reinstating Fourth Amendment protection from the big bad government. There is a warrant requirement, based on "Probable Cause," enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Let's resuscitate that antiquated notion. There's no downside to this argument, especially if you borrow the language of the anti-government zealots of the right wing, but apply it to people's right to be left alone by their government if they are doing nothing wrong. And don't forget to mention how much it is costing taxpayers to build that huge storage facility in Utah to house all of that useless data.

GOVERNMENT SPENDING: I've found that people rarely object to government spending on something tangible that they like. For example, they like being able to drive on highways without pot holes, and they don't mind paying a dedicated gasoline tax to build and repair highways. So take a subject- such as care for disabled veterans, and tie it to a tax the Republicans are trying to kill. Three of them are taxes on lazy rich people: the estate tax ("death tax" in Frank Lundz speak) which isn't a tax on the dead who earned the money, but on their ner do well heirs (think- Paris Hilton) and dividends and capital gains. Tie those specific taxes- every dollar collected- to projects that no sane politician would ever oppose. You won't find any shortage of subjects: life saving operations for children; medical care for veterans, and so on.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS: Every candidate talks about creating jobs, and the Democrats and Republicans differ only on means, not the end. Republicans want to give a lot to the rich and let the trickle down effect help the less fortunate. Democrats want to use tax credits, tax deductions, and some large spending programs. I'd like to see how a candidate would be received who would simply propose that we allow every unemployed person who wants to work but can't find it in the private sector to get a public works job (have you seen the Kevin Kline movie "Dave?"). Fund it through a dedicated tax on luxury items- i.e. top tier cars, mansions, yachts, and estate taxes on the super rich. Turn that trickle into a more substantial torrent.

That's about it for the moment.

Sincerely yours,

James Finkelstein