If You Don’t Stand for Something…You’ll Fall for Anything…Some advice to Howard Dean and the Democratic Party looking to the 2008 elections

Posted by Dwight Owen Schweitzer Thursday, February 22, 2007
Former Editor & Publish of The Jewish Star Times
and Syndicated columnist of the Knight Ridder-Tribune News Service

First of all, so there is no misunderstanding here, I am so staunch a Democrat that in my entire life, hard as I might have tried to make these kinds of decisions in a purely rational manner, I have never voted for a Republican candidate, ever. That being said, I have run for political office 3 times and lost two times less than Abraham Lincoln. Of course he persevered whereas I took the position of thanking God for unanswered prayers. The country is therefore that much safer I am sure.

Nonetheless, I stayed in the water and did such things as chairing Sen. John Glenn’s Connecticut campaign committee when he sought the nomination for the Presidency in 1983. I subsequently served as an aid to the Finance Chair of the DNC at the Mondale and Dukakis national conventions among other odd jobs. In more recent times I helped qualify a little known governor from Arkansas to enter the presidential primary in my home state of Connecticut and after having attended his nominating convention, was his invited guest at his inauguration as President of the United States the following year.

My loyalty however, did not come easy. It was won, time and time again, by the simple fact that virtually every advance our society has achieved in making the human condition better, has been the result of Democratic initiatives, not the least of which are social security, workers compensation, voting rights for women, Medicare, the Securities & Exchange Commission and the Pure Food and Drug Act to name a few. Presidents, congressmen and women, United States senators, appointees to the courts, and especially those to the Supreme Court, have changed the social and political landscape of America in ways too numerous to mention and mostly for the better. More importantly when good was not the result, the motivation was to do good and in that process, make this a fairer, safer, cleaner, healthier, and more just nation for all its’ citizens and not just a select few.

Looking at the Supreme Court of the United States, and comparing the judicial legacies of Democratic appointees with that of their Republican counterparts, we are confronted with a striking example of the mentality and priorities that divide the two parties that vie for out hearts and minds on election day. Republican appointees, especially in recent years, have repeatedly demonstrated that they value political loyalty over intellectual integrity; a formula for disaster from what unquestionably is the most powerful institution existing in our society.

Now, the wife of that Arkansas governor, who almost put me to sleep with a less than inspired speech at the Dukakis convention, has announced her interest in becoming the first woman president in our history. Before counting her out we should remember that she possesses qualities that, were she a man, would make her a shoe in. In it’s absence, she has the unique advantage of being able to campaign, sub-rosa to be sure, with the yet to be even more popular slogan…”buy one get one free”. For those of you who do not grasp the significance of that benefit, a recent Gallup poll found that President Clintons’ popularity, at 63% favorable, not only exceeds Hillary’s by 10 percentage points but has been on the rise ever since he left office. I suggest that had he been able, William Jefferson Clinton would likely still be President of the United States for all his flaws, which thankfully seem to diminish with age. The power of his intellect, spirit and focus on the other hand, are a testament to what Democratic Party values have been since another accidental Democratic president was elected due to a three way race, Woodrow Wilson. Interestingly, if Wilson had the political shrewdness of Bill Clinton we probably would have joined the League of Nations and likely avoided World War II as we had so many lost chances to do, but I digress.

It seems that the race may come down to an Obama vs. Clinton blood bath, and I say that because each in their own way, touch so many of the hot buttons of those who are passionate about politics and especially Democratic politics that it will be a close contact fight. Obama has a problem however, that were he a Republican, would not exist due to the ‘fundamental’ difference (pardon the pun) between the two parties. Barak Obama was a Moslem before becoming a Christian and while that in and of itself might actually be a plus, apparently his biological father was a radical Moslem who might just make Barak the poster child for the adage that the sins of the father are visited upon their offspring. Now you may ask what difference his party affiliation makes and the answer is that Republicans have demonstrated repeatedly in recent memory that they are a very mean spirited bunch. .

Let no one make the mistake of thinking that were the shoe on the other foot in each instance, Ronald Regan would not have been impeached for Iran-contra and Casper Weinberger would likely still be in prison for treason (he was pardoned by Bush Sr.). Bill Clinton’s lack of discretion on the other hand, from any rational perspective, would likely have resulted in little more than a raft of bar room humor. In fact, the Supreme Court, had it been controlled by Democratic appointees would not, I believe, have allowed the Presidency itself to be sullied by allowing some Playboy magazine layout wannabe, to be able to sue the President of the United States while in office, for civil wrongs allegedly done to her. Wrongs which, if they occurred at all, happened to her prior to his taking the office of President of the United States. Parliamentary immunity from prosecution after all, is an old idea and a sound one, and that applies to criminal matters as well as civil ones. The idea of allowing that lawsuit to progress from the same people who refused to allow Florida voters to have a legitimate recount of literally thousands of uncounted ballots there, is as clear an example of why I have concluded that the Republican party is, and has been, the axis of evil in American politics during my political lifetime.

So what will those chaps do to candidate Obama you ask? I’ll tell you because by now I know how they think. Some splinter group that cannot be traced to the Republican National Committee will run anti Obama ads with a turban drawn on his head and….well you can guess the voiceovers, and to that crowd he is not half-white or even half-black, he is black. At a time when we cannot get the image of the World Trade Center from our minds, we will have a knee jerk reaction to anyone even vaguely dressed in that garb. The signature headdress of a group we see as having no compunction about killing women and children by the hundreds if not thousands to advance an agenda that is equally foreign to us. Link candidate Obama to that ideology by the slightest inference and the movie ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ will rise to the level of a documentary.

That being said, Obama is too valuable a resource to lose if we can keep him from being defamed and his vision for America distorted by the antics of the under the rock contingent of our Republican friends and neighbors. He is, after all, as good an example of the best this country can produce in sheer talent and intellect as the last Democrat to hold the office he seeks and presumably, he is free of some of his predecessors’ flaws to boot.

The answer would have been a simple one a few generations ago when a small group of men (and only men) put the national ticket together in what, would you believe, was actually referred to as a smoke filled room. Let me take you on an imaginary peek over the transom into that room and tell you what the conversation would likely have been. (and I actually knew some of those guys…yikes!).

“Let me tell you what I think” says ‘John’. “We need a ticket that can win and with Hillary, the people who would never vote for her, like her husband enough to convince themselves that they are really voting for him, so we get two for the price of one.” “But I gotta tell you guys….I like this Obama guy for the second spot.” “With him, hell, he’s half black you know, so we get the black vote but he is also half white so we won’t lose the margins, those voters who just aren’t ready to vote for a black and he speaks English better than me or for that matter any of the rest of you. Now here’s the best part… we are really running four candidates not two…Hillary and Bill and the Black Obama and the White Obama; a ticket that damm near covers the waterfront.” A voice at the table pipes up…“Hey don’t forget he is a former Moslem too, and that crowd is feeling pretty far out of the loop here these days and you know for them, once a Moslem always a Moslem. They won’t hold his conversion against him.” “What do you guys think?” “Yeah John, sounds good to us and we can promise Baraks’ people that he can have the shot after he is seasoned for a couple of terms as vice president and more people have a chance to get to know him like we do, a solid guy with a good head on his shoulders.”. .

“Yeah John, and let’s not forget that he will follow Dick Cheney so the standard for the office of Vice President is low enough now so he can make a real difference in that office” (laughter)… “and if Hillary is half as smart as we know she is, she will elevate him to a position of real responsibility because every woman needs a good right hand man. Bill is canny enough to stay in the background and out of her limelight just getting things done. Don’t forget that if anyone thinks she has a thing going with Barak, at least they will think she’s entitled.” (more laughter) “What a ticket….lets go tell them.” “Ok” (pipes up some obscure voice) “what are the platform guys doing?” “No idea says John, let’s go find out.”

Believe it or not, that was pretty much the way it was and let’s face it, I think they would have reached the best decision for the party and the country for the 2008 election and for the very reasons they stated. Those men with the cigars were called ‘power brokers’ because that is exactly what they were. They knew how to get out the vote and they knew that if their voices were not listened to, all they had to do was sit home to insure an election would go the other way. Those men were not ideologues; to them the party platform was just slightly more than the wrapping paper they put around their candidates to give them something to talk about. We have evolved or devolved, depending on you point of view, since those days when men could actually find a room where they could smoke those cigars they liked so much, and the chances are they were Cuban cigars. It is enough to make one momentarily nostalgic, especially when you add that the definition of ‘politically correct’ in those thrilling days of yesteryear was (loosely) defined as ‘whatever wins.

In today’s America however, the platform will be much more important than even in recent elections because the issues are so pervasive that people across the political spectrum will want to know what the parties and their candidates actually stand for. The policies of the past eight years have caused virtually everyone to be affected, and added numerous policy questions that the next administration will have to face and address. The issues range from deficit mandated tax increases, defense spending, our war policy, immigration, abortion, stem cell research, energy, inflation, access to healthcare, not to mention prescription drugs at affordable prices. Were that not enough to galvanize interest in the 2008 race, the ability to pay for any, let alone all of them in an unpredictable economy where the cost of living is increasing faster than personal incomes offers the Democratic Party a unique opportunity on election day to materially change the American political landscape for the better.

The Democratic Parties’ unique opportunity to address these issues in creative and inspirational ways, coupled with the ability to disseminate information available today, offers an unprecedented opportunity to let people know for what and where the Democratic Party stands. The Democrats are the only party that owns a relatively clean slate to write on as they have lacked the opportunity to get things even introduced in a congress where they didn’t dominate even one house for the better part of a generation. There is an increasing degree of unease about the future running rampant in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I believe that we are approaching more than just a fiscal crisis but a crisis in confidence, which before long we will be unable to cure and which threaten our very way of life. I believe the time has come as it came to Franklyn Delano Roosevelt almost a century ago, to go beyond the safe and mundane while advancing the essence of what the Democratic Party stands for; constructive and forward thinking change. I believe the party platform should contain the following initiatives:

I. Legislation that calls for an excess profits tax on drug companies when they sell their products in the US for more that 10% of the median price for that drug formulary made or licensed by them anywhere else in the world. The proceeds of that tax when imposed, will go to reduce the negative cost of Medicare. The result of that tax even if never imposed will be to reduce the cost of the prescription drugs both within Medicare and to the population as a whole.

II. A call for the adoption nationally of the Massachusetts’ plan for universal health care which taxes high end receivers of company plans on the value of their benefit and uses that income to subsidize the premiums of lower income wage earners who do not have coverage and do not qualify for Medicaid. (see III below).

III. To successfully accomplish number II, we should repeal the McCarran-Ferguson Act, federal legislation which leaves insurance regulation to the states. This is necessary to enable the Federal Government to selectively regulate insurance, especially as it relates to healthcare, in lieu of 50 state Insurance Commissioners. By centralizing insurance regulation on the federal level we will have deprived the insurance industry of their ability to play one state off against others and impose some uniformity on the process. The companies after all are, for the most part, national and the entity that regulates them should be as well.

IV. An excess profits tax on Energy producing companies coupled with a tax credit for any research and development costs for ways to reduce green house gasses or advancing alternative energy sources to supplement and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels.

V. A comprehensive energy policy that frees petroleum for automobiles as they can’t burn wood or coal or most other alternative energy sources and allocates energy supplies to their most cost effective and cost efficient use coupled with support for clean air initiatives as an integral part of that energy policy. .

VI. A new G.I. Bill that gives real value to, and recognition of, those entering the armed services, weighted towards those who are in combat zones and increased in tandem with the amount of time they spend there. A program that would offer free higher education, student loan forgiveness, and tax credits for up to 15 years after their separation depending on length and type of service. This should be coupled with a new federally mandated, interest free loan program for the families of reservists who were called into service and forced to leave jobs at much higher rates of pay to enable their families to have the ability to carry on with their lifestyles while their husbands or wives are serving in the military especially those in combat zones. The college benefit should be transferable to the children of those serving in combat zones.

VII. The argument against a national sales tax has always been that it is regressive, that is to say that it affects the poor harder than the rich but that presumes a level tax percentage on all goods and services. I believe that the computers ability to crunch numbers and integrate variables now enables us to abolish the personal Income Tax entirely and replace it with a graduated national sales tax coupled with a value added tax. In this approach, the tax escalates as the necessity of the particular item diminishes, and imposes a system where more valuable items such as more expensive cars would carry a higher rate of tax to offset the lower tax rate for cheaper cars and a still lower rate based on fuel efficiency. That plan, in one fell swoop would end the vast underground economy that pays no income taxes, ends tax cheating, encourages personal savings and enables the government to use tax policy to effect and manage the economy in ways it is not able to do today other than by the contentious process of changing income tax rates. The power to regulate not only the economy but to control the revenues needed keep a sound fiscal policy is exercised simply by adjusting the rate of tax either on a given commodity or across the board. This will encourage or discourage sales by using its’ now higher price to reduce demand to more accurately correspond with supply. More importantly, adjusting tax rates to keep pace with expenditures will enable the government to be more fiscally responsible as it could quickly respond to potential deficits by across the board increases of miniscule amounts. This tax structure will encourage increased personal savings rates which are at an all time low. What this process does is apply to the entire economy what the Federal Reserve does to the price of money and is a much more effective producer of revenues than the current system. A system which is almost universally perceived to be inefficient and inequitable, and is estimated to ‘miss’ billions of dollars in potential revenue every year which must be made up by those who do pay.

We are getting used to the roller coaster costs of oil and gas and take it in stride. A graduated sales tax would be a powerful tool in the hands of the government to bring fairness into the economy and insure that everyone pays as they go because the tax is collected at the point of sale. Properly applied it can also ameliorate wide disparities in our balance of payments and capital account balances without the imposition of now illegal tariffs on imported goods by simply raising the sales tax on those items to reduce demand. A further, and not insignificant benefit to the economy is the tens of millions of man hours saved every year in the households and business’ now freed from finding their way through the most Byzantine tax code in the history of mankind. A tax code that encourages lying and cheating in virtually every level of our society, requires the honest to carry the tax burden of the dishonest and does so without any corresponding reward to those who comply with its’ labyrinthine requirements. A tax code that in its present form is as sure a formula as any I can think of to insure the alienation of the governed from their government. We now know enough about the buying habits of the various strata of our society to fashion a sales and value added tax code that ends the IRS as we have come to know and love it.

It is an idea whose time has come if not long overdue. More importantly, as a political matter, it is an idea that will win the thanks and perhaps the loyalty of virtually every taxpayer in the country, will spread the revenue collection process across the entire economy and will enable people to take control their tax expenditures by imposing a higher level of choice into the process.

I cannot in good conscience end this litany of suggestions and observations without commenting on the situation in Iraq and where the Democratic Party ought to stand on the situation there. The fact that our mission there was flawed from the beginning, our planning inadequate, our focus distorted and the lack of an end game ever present, the easy answer of just leaving would be a mistake of infinitely greater magnitude than all the mistakes up to now put together.

What we do need is a coherent strategy coupled with specific objectives that are sound, achievable and do not make a mockery of those who gave their lives and will give their lives there in the interim. That strategy should have at least the following features. The US should turn over the reconstruction of Iraq’s oil infrastructure to a consortium of oil producing nations under the auspices of the United Nations and we should not be a member. We should use all of our power and persuasiveness to encourage the Iraqi parliament to adopt a state/federal system similar to our own, whereby there would be three states under a well defined central federal government. We should advocate for a Sunni state, a Shiite state and a Kurdish state under a federal system. The Federal government would be patterned after our own model and it would be in charge of national defense, the allocation of oil revenues and all of those other things that our system confers on the Federal government.

Baghdad would be analogous to Washington D.C. but would have voting districts drawn on ethnic and religious lines for the lower house but not the Senate which would have an equal number of senators from each of the three states. In the interim, we should bring 20,000 +/- Iraqi volunteers to the US to train as an officer corps for a reconstituted Iraqi army and an additional 10,000 volunteers chosen from throughout the country in proportion to the populations of each of the three states to study democratic institutions in the US for a year, to then return as a domestic ‘peace corps’ to Iraq.

Their mission would be to help the communities they cane from to understand and put into practice the democratic institutions necessary for them to create a viable democracy in its own form in each of the three states created there. Most importantly, the plan must be defined in such a way that it is clear that its’ intent is to clean up the mess created by the Bush Cheney debacle. The Democratic Party must put forth a comprehensive plan that will enable us to leave the country with our heads up and one that will call upon the world to remember that we go to war for idealistic goals that achieve practical results, and that we temper our power with justice and our justice with power.

I for one do not want to be ashamed by our either turning tail and running away, or having our goals there misunderstood and our legacy be that of a failed imperialist power who were simply there to carry out the objectives of the Treaty of Versailles which created Iraq to insure Great Britain of access to their oil supplies.

A separate but no less important issue is what is happening to the detainees at Guantanamo naval base in Cuba. The idea that the protections of the US constitution do not apply to potential civilians in any area of the world that is entirely within control of US forces is to make a mockery of the very ideals that brought forth this nation. The world will never be safe for democracy if democracy ends with where you happen to be standing at the time. That is not to say that those known to be combatants should not be accorded any more than the Geneva Convention requires. What we have in Cuba however are 400 or so men who never wore a uniform and against whom the right to treat them as prisoners of war is often suspect at best. We would do well to keep in mind that when those 400 are set free, they may not have been radicals when they were interned but surely will be when they are released.

It is time we memorized the words “if you want peace, fight for justice.”

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