Monday, December 9, 2013

Bah Humbug Said Society to the Poor

I am absolutely shocked at the increasing number of stories I have seen on television by people arguing that we should be reducing assistance for the poor, whether it be through “in kind” payments for food and housing or direct financial assistance such as unemployment or “welfare.” These “experts” and “talking heads” couch their opinion with arguments based on combating fraud and stimulating changes in behavior: Let’s make their lives more miserable as a way of motivating the poor to work harder, to try harder to find jobs, and to save more money as a means to move out of poverty. They seem to think that these people, already living on the margins of society, have the means and aptitude to behave as they desire.

This assault on the poor is classic Social Darwinism, and if you listen to the language of these “policy makers” you will hear the clear suggestion that there is something inferior about the poor, that they are poor because of some immutable characteristic in their genetic makeup. Not all of them express this belief, but they are all unified in a philosophy that believes that the lives of the poor should be made more difficult, that they must “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and not expect help to come from society.

As much as I despise this callous attitude, I am equally disturbed by the hypocrisy of these thinkers, because when it comes to their attitudes towards the wealthy they display a completely different belief in how to motivate “personal growth.” When it comes to the rich, their belief is that we should “liberate” them from the reach of government by reducing taxes and regulations that impose a “cost” on their businesses and personal ventures.

So the poor will “grow” and try harder if we in essence make their life more difficult, but the rich will “grow” and try harder if we make their life easier. Are they serious? Do they believe that the poor are content with their lot in life, or that they are incapable of personal improvement? While there are clearly poor people with little financial literacy, poor financial IQs, and sometimes questionable spending habits, by and large all or their money is spent on necessities; they have little if any money for discretionary spending or saving. If we want to improve their quality of life, help them in their quest for social mobility, and promote overall economic growth, it would make sense to help them secure their needs so that more of their income is available for saving or increased consumer spending. Wouldn’t it?

The wealthy have the means to either make due with less or find some avenue for accruing what they have lost; the poor do not. Let us find a way, either through an increase in the minimum raise or some increase in government transfers, to give motivated poor people the opportunity to improve their quality of life. Economically, it is the right thing to do. Morally, it is the right thing to do. And societally, it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, doing the right thing is the last thing that our policy makers, most of whom are far wealthier than their constituents, seem ready to do. Happy holidays! And to the poor, a good night.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Showing Support for the Rise in "Payment Plans" for the Poor Who Can't Make Bail

Poverty and crime are endemic in the inner city, and as a consequence the issue of bail hearings oftentimes becomes a consequential event. Many poor people accused of crime are not able to afford bail, and so they end up languishing in prison while awaiting trial. In many instances, especially for non-violent or "minimally violent" crimes like an assault such as a fistfight, I think that the courts are creating a situation that can cause irreparable harm to individuals and families, and frankly I believe that the issue raises serious 8th Amendment implications.

Let's remember that these people are simply accused of crimes and hence presumed innocent. When a poor person is unable to make what I believe are unreasonably high bail, given their circumstances, forcing them to remain in prison often times leads them to lose their jobs and in some cases their families, further exacerbating the poverty issue. I find it unconscionable that judges set bail that has the consequence of causing these innocent people to lose their jobs or their family status.

The reason I raise this issue is because an article appeared in today's Trenton Times that for the most part seemed to decry the recent trend of bail bondsmen offering "payment plans" for those accused of crimes but unable to afford the relatively high bail amounts. I think this idea is wonderful, especially for those accused of non-violent crimes. These plans are obviously being done out of self interest and not some noble gesture, but the effect is the same. Rather than try to reign in these arrangements, I hope they are expanded and opportunity is afforded to more and more people to find a way to remain free while they await trial.

How does society possibly benefit by having a poor person accused of a non-violent crime to be forced to remain in jail and either lose their job or lose the ability to look for work. Our jails are full of such people, and I find it nothing more than another example of the disdain or disinterest we show to the poor in our society. I think it is unconstitutional, and I would love to see the issue challenged in court. Citizens with the presumption of innocence should be treated more fairly, It is as simple as that.

Monday, November 25, 2013

An Abortion Question The "Pro Life" People Can't Answer

The abortion issue will now and forever be a divisive issue in American politics. The Pro Choice people now have to deal with the reality that science has impacted the utility of Roe v. Wade, pushing up the moment of viability for a fetus by several weeks. They also need to realize that showing rigidity on the issue of late term abortions is turning off many people that would otherwise support their position.

On the other side, the new strategy of "Pro Lifers" to use zoning issues and hospital staffing requirements is being seen as a cynical attempt to deny women the constitutional right to the procedure. This "end around" debating the actual issue is revitalizing those on the other side and helping the Pro Life camp to garner support they might otherwise not have had.

Now to the issue at hand. Throughout the nation the Pro Life camp is pursuing legislation defining life as beginning at conception. Amazingly, some states have actually passed such legislation, though I can't imagine them ever holding up in court. Here's the problem for the anti-abortion/life at conception crowd: most abortions that occur are called "natural" abortions, meaning that they occur when a fertilized egg fails to attach to the uterus wall. The egg is then passed out of the women's body.

This natural abortion is thus "G-d" aborting a fetus, so anyone in this camp has to accept the logical conclusion that, in the language of anti-abortionists, G-d is committing murder! I have yet to hear anyone in this group respond to this question, but then again I have yet to hear any journalist or pro-choice advocate challenge pro-lifers on this question, and I wonder why? It would seem like a great way to put pro-lifers on the defensive, yet the other side never raises it. So I will. On the oft chance that a pro-life person is reading this blog, could you please explain it to me here?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Scary World of Conservative Talk Radio and Its Failure to Realize We Are A Coalition Based System of Governance

The local talk radio station in Philly, WPHT, provides air time for a group of ultra conservative, reactionary broadcasters that project a view of American government that can only be termed subversive, derisive, and perverse. What's worse, they seem to have an audience of sycophants that project the kind of delusionary views one would associate with followers of cult leaders like Jim Jones. There is no real fact checking because the hosts are masters at raising non-sequiturs, innuendo, data this is either made up, dated, or incomplete.

None of this would be so bad if it weren't for the weaknesses in our electoral system, one where a small group of motivated people can affect elections where turn out is historically low. As a former Republican who fled the Party with the rise of the Tea Party, I am fearful not just because of the anti-social, anti-poor, racist, Social Darwinian views of the hosts and listeners- none of whom have a true grasp on our Founders in spite of their insistence to the contrary- but because their prescription for growing the Party and its influence is completely wrong.

I heard to Pa. state reps on the air yesterday defending their support for an increase in the gas tax to pay for improving our roads and bridges. They made reasoned, pragmatic arguments that (ex)Republicans like me fully appreciate. These are the kinds of actions Republicans used to make with regularity, which was also a reason they had such a diverse base of support. But all I heard from the host and callers were accusations of them "selling out," how they lacked principle, and how they should be defeated in a next election.

Don't these people realize that it is these displays of pragmatism that are going to win over those in the middle. The center is dominated by pragmatists, I consider them The Pragmatist Party, and they will form a coalition with whichever Party offers the most pragmatic solutions to the issue(s) they care about the most.

Talk radio hosts will have none of this. They do not believe in negotiation, they do no believe in compromise, and by taking this position they are basically "history deniers." They are smug, superficial, and frankly do little to inform their listeners of the information they need to best understand the issues of the day.

The Tea Party and the reactionaries on talk radio are the primary causes for the demise of the Republican Party, and until Party leaders can show the guts to take them on, the Party is doomed for irrelevance, soon to take a place in history next to the Know Nothings. Come to think of it, at this point in time I can't think of a more appropriate place for them to be.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Let's Hope President Obama's Mea Culpa isn't too Late to Save the ACA

President Obama has finally offered his mea culpa, admitting that his Administration "fumbled the ball" with the roll out of the ACA. He went on to expose the Republicans for their naked obsession with repealing the ACA, making clear that Republicans not only don't have a plan to offer but that they philosophically do not believe in the concept of universal health care. They venomous attack on the ACA represents a complete shift in thinking about governance. Contrast the Republicans with the Democratic response to President Bush's prescription drug plan reform. Democrats strongly opposed the bill, but once it became law they grudgingly agreed to work with the law and, over time, offer technical corrections and reforms to improve any problems that emerged with the plan's implementation. We see none of that cooperation today, clearly signaling the true intentions of Republican legislators to sabotage and destroy the ACA rather than work to improve it.

Republicans seem to believe that if you repeat a lie often enough that it will become fact. The problems facing the ACA today involve 5% of the population, not the 70% one often hears from opponents. They claim that premiums will go out, but fail to acknowledge that those rises are the direct result of their strategy of discouraging the young and healthy from participating. And while it is true that some premiums will rise as people are in a sense forced to give up their junk plans for more comprehensive ones, they neglect to point out that for years the young and healthy have benefitted from years of having costs shift to those who were chronically ill or had pre-existing conditions. This telling of half the story is typically of my former Party, a Party now dominated by hucksters, charlatans, fools, and liars. The incessant attacks by these people on the ACA has poisoned the debate and, by appealing to the public's most base instincts, has increased opposition to a law that will benefit our society, reduce costs, and fulfill our obligations under the social contract.

The next few months will prove critical if the ACA is to succeed. The fortunes of both major parties is directly tied to the future of ACA. The Republican Party's shameful behavior is tearing at our political fabric, and they deserve to fail in their "mission" to destroy this law. If that happens, maybe voices in the Party, now otherwise quiet, will "grow a set" and restore order to a Party I would desperately like to rejoin.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Hey Ted, Pragmatism IS a Principle

Senator Ted Cruz and his fellow "radical conservatives" had nothing but back handed compliments for Chris Christie after his overwhelming victory in NJ's gubernatorial election, instead saving his true compliments for losers like "Cooch" in Virginia. He apparently "had the courage to stand for principal," whereas Christie apparently does not.

Well Ted, Governor Christie is a true conservative, but one who understands that pragmatism is a principle as well. Is it so hard to understand that someone can have conservative ideas but be pragmatic in principle. A principle is a "professed rule of action or conduct." It in fact differs from having a "philosophy," which is more akin to the study or search for principles; it is the mindset one possesses in their application of principles. Christie's ideas are conservative, but he believes in a principle based on searching for and applying practical solutions to problems. It is more than an idea, it is the application of philosophy to problem solving.

Conservatism may define "who you are," but pragmatism defines "what you do." Conservatism is "schoolhouse philosophy," and its success can only be predicated on convincing a majority of people to think as you do, then to act as you think. Good luck.

Radical conservatives have ruined the Party I once called home. I despise what they have done to the Republican Party, and I despise what they have done to political discourse and to political action. Our style of democracy is anathema to their way of thinking about governance; they are an insult to our Founders and their application of scientific reasoning to the issue of governance, government, and politics. They are the legacy of parties like the Know Nothings or any of the other "itinerant" parties that have come and gone. The Tea Party will no doubt suffer the same fate, it is just a shame they are taking my Republican Party down with them. I only wish that true Republicans would have the guts to stand up to them.

Governor Christie's pragmatism is in the proud tradition of past politicians with a conservative philosophy and pragmatic principles that are the only path for conservative philosophy to establish credibility in our society, a society guided by pragmatism, regardless of their "philosophy." I don't personally agree with much of Christie's policies, but I applaud his understanding of the populace and the dominance of pragmatic thought. He, and those like him, are the last great hope for our Party.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Pragmatic Party (the "vast middle") is Defined by Principles that Honor Our Founders

I am tired of hearing people like Ted Cruz insinuating that they are seemingly the only people standing on principle, and that those who seek compromise are all without values or principles themselves, or more to the point that they are willing to put aside their principles when it is convenient.

Now for some politicians that may be the case, but Cruz also seems to suggest that the so-called “vast middle” is without principle and easily manipulated by those on the left and right.
I respectfully disagree, and in fact believe that those in the “middle” are expressing a principle as old as our nation, and that those expressing this principle are more steadfast in their belief, less willing to compromise, than those on either end of the political spectrum. This of course is the pragmatic principle. It is no doubt expressed in many ways, but in essence the principle states that “given situation X and choices A and B, I will select whichever choice has the greatest likelihood of resolving situation X.” The premise of this principle is that progress is the primary goal of society, with progress being defined as the removal of impediments to the “motion” of society. It assumes that society must be on a continual path to growth, and that the only way for that growth to be manifested is by resolving any problems put in its path by using the power of reason.

Pragmatists don’t always agree on a particular decision to achieve that growth, but they all share the belief that their choice is defined as that which has the greatest likelihood of achieving progress. Stasis is anathema to a pragmatist. A pragmatist would view those who hold steadfast to premises (the free market is always a preferable choice) that have been proven to be untrue as unreasonable; those that hold these seemingly recalcitrant principles are denying the power of reason, which is of course the foundation of our political system and its social contract.
Reason is the true “religion” of our nation, a nation borne of science, and pragmatism is the only philosophy that truly embodies the use of reason. Those in that “vast middle” are expressing a philosophy that honors our Founders. Its “members” may not be part of a political party, but maybe it is time they be thought of one. A strong Pragmatist Party is the only true hope for our future.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Just Who Exactly Makes Up The "Vast Middle," and Why Understanding Them is so Important

I read Kathleen Parker's Op-Ed today in the Trenton Times on the NBC/Esquire poll, and believe there is a very important element of the “vast middle” that is being overlooked but may be the single most important characteristic of the group.

The research I believe broke those in the middle into 5 distinct groups, each with its particular group of issues that supposedly motivates the “members” voting behavior. However, there is one unifying principle among all of these groups that defines them better than anything suggested by the poll, that being their pragmatism. 
Pragmatism IS the truly defining characteristic of the middle. I would in fact argue that pragmatism is one of the core values of our culture dating back to our Founding Fathers. Understanding those in the middle as pragmatists goes a long way in explaining their absolute frustration and disdain for our political parties. I would argue that most Americans would identify themselves as pragmatic and identify their position on issues like abortion, affirmative action, gun control, etc.. as being the most pragmatic.
FURTHER, this belief in pragmatism leads to another important yet never mentioned political fact: Voters in the middle do not shift liberal or conservative; the idea that our citizens are becoming “more liberal” or “more conservative”  shows a total misunderstanding of the pragmatic center. It is actually somewhat insulting to try and argue that their opinions are so fungible and “mushy” that they can so easily be swayed left or right. The strong opinions among those in the 5 groups is clear evidence that those in the middle do not shift. Rather, and this is the salient point, it is the parties that move to the middle, offering policies that they hope will be seen as the more pragmatic and thus garner the support of this “vast middle.”

The ramifications of this help explain why the Republican Party is doing so poorly. The Party has shifted so far to the right that they have a “longer distance” to travel with their policies to connect with the center. The left, on the other hand, is situated much closer to the middle, making it far more likely that they will construct policies that will appeal to this pragmatic center.
For the immediate future Democrats have a decided advantage over Republicans on the national scene, and Republicans will be unable to cut into that advantage until they restore the diversity of opinion and commitment to policy making that they had prior to 2008. That was, of course, about the time of the Tea Party's ascendency, and my decision to leave the Party.
It is time for true conservatives and moderates in the Party to show the guts to confront this insurrectionist, obstructionist faction of politicians, politicians who came to Washington not to help make policy and strengthen government, making it more effective and efficient, but who came to D.C. to disrupt the political process.
The Tea Party, is, frankly, ill-suited for our system of government with its separation of powers. It is, rather, designed for a parliamentary system. In such a system  loyalty and unanimity is necessary; this is a system where party discipline is expected and being in a party means you all share core beliefs. LIbertarians, conservatives, liberals, they each ARE a party, not part of a larger, amorphous body.

You can use many words to describe the Tea Party, but pragmatic is not one of them. As long as they are able to have such disproportionate influence over the Republican Party, the Party will never be able to connect with the "vast, pragmatic middle. This is tragic for our democracy, because two vibrant, healthy political parties is essential for our system to work.  We need a healthy Republican Party with the capacity for pragmatic action, and the only way that will happen is by attacking the Tea Party virus that has weakened its body and placed it on life support.

Pragmatism has a long history in this nation and is consistent with what is called “the American character.” Our Founders were pragmatists. The center is in fact “The Pragmatist Party.” The implications of this are very important to understand.

It is time to recognize the power of pragmatism in American politics, and the crucial role it plays in “picking winners and losers.”  I would argue that we have always been a pragmatic nation, and that this will not change. The Pragmatist Party will forever rule the day; the thought of a  coalition between Republicans and Pragmatists is laughable, as long as Democrats recognize this and don’t start believing that the nation is becoming more liberal. I wonder if they are that smart.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Battle for the Pragmatic Center

Anyone following the lunacy now passing for governance in Washington will be relieved to see that when it is all said and done, the true victors will be the pragmatic political center. This center has and will always be the true "majority party" in Washington. In interview after interview, moderate and "true conservative" Republicans such as Peter King have expressed the opinion that the current government shutdown will only be resolved by devising a "CR" that is pragmatic, a solution that the majority determines is reasonable and practical.

As I've declared time and again, the center in American politics is neither Republican or Democratic, regardless of their expressed allegiance to one party or the other. Those declarations merely place them on the left or right side of the continuum, but still tethered to the center. These pragmatists DO NOT become more or less conservative or liberal based on the policies of either party. Rather, the parties will move from the left or the right towards the center. In this vein, it is the Party that starts its "journey" already near the center is more likely to emerge victorious. Currently, that would be the Democratic Party. The "policy making," agenda setting wing of the Republican Party is so far to the right that it simply cannot make sufficient concessions, even if it actually wanted to, that would have any appeal to the pragmatic center. For the Republican Party to survive this upheaval, it is absolutely necessary for members in the center to recapture the role of "policy makers," meaning that they have to reassert themselves in the public eye and be able to be the agenda setters of the Republican Party. This will allow them to engage in the type of "priming"- through the cable and network news- that is necessary to isolate the Tea Party and drive them towards irrelevance.

The salient issue in all of this is that for the conservative yet pragmatic Republicans to accomplish this job they must engage in an all out, overwhelming assault on the far right of their Party. This internecine battle will split the Party but will restore the long term health of Republicans at the national level. Personally, as a former Republican that fled the party in 2008, this battle would force the Tea Party to see that the only way to stay viable would be to create its own political party. Such a move would lead to my return, and no doubt the return of countless other moderate Republicans who have been waiting for the center to "grow some balls" and put the Tea Party in its place. Let's hope that this is that moment. PLEASE

Friday, September 6, 2013

American Foreign Policy and the Misplaced Idea of "Making the World Safe"

At today’s G20 Summit, President Obama made a simple statement that shed great light on his Administration’s foreign policy and similarly enunciated a goal that is a key reason that this policy will forever be doomed and will never accomplish its desired aim of maintaining credibility and legitimacy on the world stage. It is a policy goal that has been expressed by prior Presidents and gets to the heart of the reason that, since the end of the Cold War, we have never been able to establish the stature we attained while “head” of the so-called Free World.

The simple statement was that the role of the US “was to make the world safe.” This is a far cry from our Cold War policy. In a bipolar world, preventing the spread of Communism and protecting our nation security were much more clearly delineated. In this multipolar world, with so many regional actors determined to establish their own regional primacy and with so many indigenous actors now relatively free to pursue their own parochial goals, a policy designed “to make the world safe” is fatally flawed.

First, the pursuit of that policy has resulted in our almost complete disdain for the notion of nation-state sovereignty. A look at the UN Charter shows that respect for sovereignty is the quintessential foundation for relations among sovereign states. The post- Cold War era has exposed the random and problematic way that many sovereign borders were drawn during the Age of Imperialism, but disrespecting their existence is not the most appropriate way to address their design.

Further, disrespecting sovereign borders leads to our legitimizing taking action within another nation’s borders in the aim of “protecting citizens” from their government or from other indigenous actors. This creates an issue of consistency, as we now are forced to take action across the globe when apparently identical threats to human rights (the fundamental issue in a policy of “making the world safe”) seem to exist. Since it is impossible for the US to extend its resources and power to all instances of human rights violations, our foreign policy is exposed to the ancillary problem of deciding where we take action, choosing the specific groups we will support, and in some cases deciding when to acknowledge a right to self-determination. This deep involvement in the sovereign affairs of another nation actually ends up making us more like a “small” power rather than a great power that is acting out of self-interest rather than any truly lofty goals. This was not the case during the Cold War, where our actions were seen as an act of leadership that challenged threats to global peace and security. Is it any wonder we have so much trouble organizing coalitions?

Obviously the goal of preserving our national security is an expression of “selfish” behavior, but in a Cold War environment our actions were also simultaneously seen as “selfless” acts since we were acting on behalf of our national security and often that of others by extension. Such is not the case in a world where human rights and “fighting a war on terrorism” are our primary motivators.

And finally, our growing involvement in indigenous, sovereign issues has created a diplomatic environment where we are no longer simply involved in negotiation among sovereign states (the true actors in international law) but we now have the most powerful nation on earth engaged in efforts to build coalitions and deal with individuals and the indigenous groups they speak for. These groups are much more diffuse and unstable than nation-states, and so the problems of friction and unintended consequences become more probable and problematic than had ever existed during the Cold War, where our ability to control events and anticipate outcomes was much more predictable.

President Obama is steering our foreign policy, a policy that he was not the first to express, into dangerous new areas. By showing contempt for the historic primacy of sovereignty and driven by a humanitarian desire to “make the world safe,” it has set an example that quite frankly we do not want other nations to emulate. This is not leadership, and it is unsettling. We have sacrificed much, and from my vantage point, gained very little. We have made ourselves “small” at a time where our “bigness” is more important than ever.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

MSNBC Apologists Going Off the Deep End

I admit to watching MSNBC as my "default" source for televised news and commentary, but I have to tell you they are quickly driving me away. Their latest example of ridiculousness involves critique of a website that identifies "the most safe and most dangerous ghettos in the US." Now I would admit that the word "ghetto" can be seen as a "charged" expression raising images of overwhelmingly black communities, and that many might find that objectionable. However, it is worth noting that one of the major differences between white and black poverty is that white poverty is much more diffuse, so you don't as often get a multitude of "white ghettos."

The MSNBC host called for taking down the website, presumably because of the racial element. As long as the site doesn't contain a variable "percentage of black residents," which is insensitive and inappropriate, I don't see the problem.  But why? Don't both white and black citizens have a right to know more about the communities they are considering living?

The host pointed to Bernie Madoff as a rationale for taking down the site. Since people like Madoff would not be included in such a calculation, it can't be valid. What a crazy non-sequiter. I certainly would prefer not to have Madoff as my neighbor, but I am hardly concerned about him adding to the violence.

MSNBC continues its crusade against racism and somehow "proving" that America is still a racist society. My G-d if you want to find anecdotes to support your position you will have no problem, regardless of the issue. It is a disingenuous strategy for building a position, and I find it shameful that its commentators would resort to such tactics.

If there is evidence of disparate treatment by government that effectively perpetuates racism, but all means go after it. But that is not what this is, and by declaring that this website has somehow forfeited its First Amendment rights, the network has shown a horrible darkside. Let's hope they realize that sometimes they really just need to chill out and stop trying to mold everyone to fit their ideal of a citizen. What a scary thought!

The Damaging Human Rights Policy of President Carter and its Impact on Syria

President Obama’s decision to approach Congress and receive formal approval for his “limited strike” plans inside Syria is indicative of a person appearing suddenly uncomfortable with the wide latitude given Presidents in this era of the Imperial Presidency. His concern with credibility is certainly valid, but a much more pressing issue for the President is the legitimacy of his actions. I was taught in my International Relations classes that credibility is one’s reputation for effective action, whereas legitimacy involves the efficacy of one’s actions.

In the book National Defense, James Fallows introduced the concept of “friction” when deciding on proper courses of action. Friction includes everything that could possibly go wrong, from weapons performing at the tail end of their curve to other actors behaving in ways contrary to what was anticipated. This is clearly the problem with Syria and the reason why I am apprehensive about taking what will be seen as unilateral military action.

My real reason for writing today is actually to trace back the genesis of this preoccupation with acting in support of human rights issues, and in this regard we need to assign blame to our well- intentioned President Jimmy Carter. Prior to Carter, human rights were never considered a core variable when creating foreign policy. Foreign policy has always been built with the lenses of national defense and national security. By making protection of human rights a key part of the calculus he has left our policy forever trapped in the morass evident in the internal affairs of unstable nation-states. This has further led to a situation where “nation building” has suddenly become a goal of US foreign policy. It is a wonderful thought to stabilize nations and introduce democratic institutions, but unfortunately those two goals are often times mutually exclusive, given the way sovereign borders had been constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Frankly, if you really want to bring greater stability to regions like Africa and the Middle East, we would need to sit down at a huge summit where borders are constructed that actually reflect the demographics of the region.

President Obama has put himself in a major bind, a bind that has its roots in the human rights imperative advanced by President Carter several decades ago. Until someone will renounce human rights as a fundamental determinant when constructing foreign policy, our Presidents will forever struggle to construct a coherent policy regarding the use of force. Let’s hope Obama gets it right with Syria. The stakes grow starker and starker.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How Racist is America, Really?

On this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr.King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” I guess it should have been expected that we would be inundated with stories telling us how rascist we still are as a society, and how that racism has become less overt as if people are intentionally trying to hide their racism. Enough of this already. Of course it is always possible to find anecdotal evidence of racist events, and policies such as the Republican push on voter ID clearly has a racial dimension, though personally I think their efforts are driven by socioeconomics and not race.
I am reminded by that classic Marx Brothers line: “Who are you going to believe, me or your eyes?” Having spent 20 years teaching at perhaps the most racially and socioeconomically diverse school in New Jersey, I have a somewhat advantageous perspective to observe this issue. What I found in school is, I believe, reflective of the greater society. What I did find is that in non-academic settings, our students had little problem conversing and working with students from other racial groups. This does not mean prejudice had been extinguished, only that it had no influence on a person’s behavior, and isn’t that what truly matters most. At lunch, another setting where students were free to associate with whomever they wanted, there was admittedly strong evidence of self-segregation. Such behavior has also been shown to exist among adults when they choose a place to live. This self-segregation did not preclude students from getting up and talking with other races, but the evidence is pretty clear that self-segregating behavior is common among all warm blooded animals; those who see it should just chill out.
The only setting where racial tension existing was in the classroom, but only when the conversation turned to issues of race. This is the result of people not wanting to be labeled racist by staking out positions other people might find objectionable. More to the point, this anxiety was typically expressed by people who would otherwise never be considered racist; they frankly did not want to “muddie the waters” and create misunderstanding.
It is clear to me that this nation has done an excellent job moving away from our racist past, but that there is still work that must be done to reinvestigate public policies that show evidence of disparate treatment. I suspect, though, that this investigation will likely show that on issues of disparate treatment, class prejudice rather than racial animus will be the true source of concern.

The only people convinced that America is still steeped in racism are those who profit by it. They get their face on television, they get to run workshops, they get to sell their wares. Meanwhile, the truth about racism gets lost in the fog of false perception.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Time to Do Something About Out of Wedlock Births

The 50th anniversary of Dr.King’s “I Have A Dream” speech has led to a general reassessment of progress being made within the black community, and one particular area of interest has been the status of the black family, especially the issue of black matriarchy. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan presented his controversial report on the black family, 24% of black families were single parent, female headed families. By 1990 the percent reach 64, and today it is 72%. That’s right, 7 out of 10 black families are single parent families! The purpose of this post is not to critique the causes being advanced to explain this rise, for there are no doubt a multitude of valid explanations. My concern is with the consequences of so many single parent homes in what are invariably concentrated geographic areas, and with the attitude of liberal women, white and black, almost all of whom seem to think that this rise is harmless and in fact an affirmation of women as equals, that somehow this reality demonstrates the fact that women “don’t need a man” to raise a family.

I recently observed a “conversation” on CNBC discussing this new reality, and was disappointed to see so many commentators seemingly comfortable with this horrible breakdown in traditional families and more interested in discussing how to help these “families” rather than thinking critically on how to reverse this trend.
I suspect that if we looked more closely at black women involved in this discussion of black matriarchy we would find that most were raised in traditional middle class homes and far removed from life in these urban neighborhoods. They seem disinterested in those arguing for changes in public policy designed to encourage parents to raise their children together. They seem unfazed by the fact that this liberalization leads to destabilization of both the community and the children growing up in it.

The most dangerous aspect of this black matriarchy is its cyclical nature; many of those variables often identified as causative of black matriarchy end up as the consequences: ridiculously high incarceration rates, inferior education, lack of jobs, and  increased dependence on government  to name a few.

Getting these self-righteous well off “thinkers” to open their eyes and accept the truism that traditional family structures are a critical component to rehabilitating impoverished communities is tantamount to accepting a conservative point of view, and unfortunately few of these “independent” women are willing to do that.  When it comes to other issues of public policy, all I hear are complaints- justified-  about the intransigence of those on the far right. On this issue, the “other side” might have the better argument.  On this issue, it would be nice if those on “the left” demonstrated how intransigence gets in the way of progress. It would be nice, but apparently fundamentalism is a switch hitter, dangerous from both sides of the plate. Batter up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cynical Voter Reform and A Shamless Party Purge

The Republican Party is determined to shrink the electorate, seeing that as a preferable policy than trying to expand the base. Expanding the base requires accepting people of differing political philosophies and priorities; such a move is tantamount to debasing the strict, doctrinaire position of Party members from the far right wing, and that is completely unacceptable. The shameless way in which members of the far right have openly acknowledged their goal of a smaller, narrower national Party makes it clear that was once a proud political party has been transformed into an interest group.

Participation in our political process is already shamefully low. For example, their are currently 70% of citizens 18 or older registered to vote. Of that 70%, 50% vote in most presidential elections. Of that 50%, roughly 53% vote for the eventual winner. Applying Bayes Theorem, this means that only 18 1/2% of voting age Americans actually elect our President. This is an appalling number, especially when you consider that those who do vote are not a representative cross section of the general public but tend to be older, whiter, and more suburban than your average voter. What this tells me is that there is a huge segment of the population accessible to an open, inclusive Republican Party, but that the Part has no interest in reaching out to find them.

This is no longer a Party that has room for people like me, nor would it have room for now deceased Republicans like Hugh Scott, Arlen Specter, Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, John Heinz, or Abraham Lincoln. Those in the far right claim that anyone holding beliefs contrary to their own are RINOs, when in fact it is those on the far right, especially Tea Party members, that are the real RINOs. Their misinterpretation of our Founders thoughts, their unwillingness to engage in negotiation and compromise, and their willingness to abuse the mechanisms of government all place them at odds with the Party's noble past. It is time for Republicans like Colin Powell, Olympia Snowe, Jeb Bush, George Bush, and Chris Christie to stand up to these right wing radicals and expel them from the Party. I realize that Party purges are more often associated with communism and other authoritarian systems, but the Party is quickly losing those features that made it definitive of a democratic form of government.

A narrow, exclusive political base is not a goal worthy of a major political party in a republican form of government. The Republican Party has become a fundamentalist party reflecting the views of a limited constituency. The fact that so many people still identify themselves as Republican should not be seen as affirmation in this policy shift. It is, more correctly, the result of media manipulation and a lack of choice in our current democracy.

A vigorous, legitimate democracy requires an engaged body politic that, at the very least, stays well informed and participates in the electoral process. By openly advocating policies that will shrink the body politic and create greater exclusivity, the Republican Party has demonstrated complete contempt for our institutions, our history, and our system of government. They are a shameful example of what can happen when a small, influential group of people have the capacity to hijack the organs of government for personal gain. They must be stopped

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Social Darwinism Alive and Well in the Republican Party

I am having a really hard time finding anything positive to say about the Republican Party I once loved and actively supported. The far right's unwillingness to engage in meaningful debate and compromise is not consistent with the philosophy of our Founders, the group supposedly at the nexus of Tea Party thinking. Time after time, whether it is their reading of so-called "original intent" or their belief in governance, Ted Cruz and his brethren take advantage of an ignorant populace by claiming a virtue that is non-existent. But their duplicity extends beyond their understanding of what republican government is- they would fit more comfortably in a parliamentary system- and infects their approach to motivating people to succeed.

When it comes to the rich, the far right believes that public policy should be liberating, removing any regulatory obstacles so that they have an unfettered ability to achieve personal wealth and gain. If you make life easier, they will work harder. But when it comes to the poor, their approach is just the opposite, that we need to make life more and more difficult for them. It is by confronting these mounting obstacles that they will endeavor to persevere, work harder and harder, and thus achieve personal gain.

This approach to the poor is reminiscent of good ol' Social Darwinism and the belief that people are poor because of some innate character flaw they must overcome. This notion that the rich are rich because they are "better people" is perverted and wrong. At the most fundamental level this way of thinking not only denies the existence of real barriers to upward mobility, but also denies the "luck of the draw," that children have no choice what type of socioeconomic strata they are born into, no choice of whom their parents are, and no choice where they live. That is a lot to deny, and the far right is very good at living in denial.

If far right Republicans truly have an interest in appealing to a broader population, and the evidence is actually that they don't, that they prefer a smaller party populated by older, whiter people, then they should at the very least be consistent. Unless, of course, I am correct in my understanding of how they view rich and poor. And if that's the case, then it is time to come clean and be honest about how they truly feel. The Republican Party is fast becoming little more than an interest group rather than a political party, and that is a dangerous development for our democracy. We need, at the very least, two strong parties. I'm afraid that as the far right is sabotaging its own Party, it is sabotaging our democracy as well. If that's the case, we are all about to pay the price for their actions.

Would the MSNBC hosts please shut up

Don't get me wrong, I am actually a regular viewer of CNBC. The network, while admittedly a bit liberal, does seem to make an effort towards objectivity and rational discussion of contemporary issues. But what drives me crazy is the incessant interrupting of guests by the show's various hosts.

I experienced behavior quite a lot while working as a teacher. You can literally see that the hosts are really listening that intently to their guests, that they have something prepared to say and all too often just can't wait to blurt it out. Some of them- Martin Bashir is probably the greatest culprit- are so contemptuous of opinions they disagree with that they reduce what might have been a reasoned discussion to personal attacks and intellectual snobbery. Shows led by Chris Hayes and Ezra Klein are the clearest exceptions to this, and I value their time on the air- although I wish they would answer my tweets and read up on Mancur Olsen :)

I can't ever really object to a Philly guy like Chris Matthews, he is the embodiment of us guys from the city.

All I'm asking is that when these hosts tackle subjects with the participation of stakeholders (I'll give them a pass when they jump on the wackos on the far right) that they give their guests more time to speak and that they do more moderating and less "speech giving." It would make their shows more objective and more watchable. I already know where Melissa Perry and Martin Bashir and Rachel Maddow stand on the issues. Can I please hear more from the people you invited to speak!!!

My Heart Sinks as Our Democracy Flounders

I have been away from this blog for several months, as I was with my education blog. The reason, frankly, is sheer frustration. It's great to be able to vent, but when you have something to say but can't find people to listen, at some point you just need to step away. Well its time to step back.

As I begin to blog again, I started asking myself: "Which of these topics are more toxic, inner city education or our political system?" As a former political science and government teacher, I look back in laughter when I think about the sanitized version of our democracy and political process presented in our standard texts. That travesty, when combined with the fact that so few of our adults have even the slightest interest in our government or the rule of law, or know little more than the sound bites they hear on Fox and CNBC, leaves me troubled that our political system has come under the control of a very select group of people, people utterly detached and unaffected by the true needs of the citizenry.

A few years back Jonathan Rauch wrote a wonderfully prescient book titled "Demosclerosis." In it he details the corrupted nature of our legislative process, much of it based on the work of Mancur Olsen, the late political economist whose understanding of law making and the debasing of our institutions is second to none. Both writers deserve a reading by anyone actually reading this.

I am a former Republican, but I left the Party as the influence of the Tea Party became ascendant. The failure of Republican leaders to expel these knuckleheads and thus compel them to form their own 3rd party was a defining moment that will potentially lead the party- at the national level- to become either (or both) inconsequential or dangerous to our future. The current lack of intellectual diversity in the Party makes them irrelevant to a majority of Americans. But, unfortunately, given the way our legislative process works, they have power to affect so many people whose lives they could not give a shit about. Their stridence and refusal to engage in meaningful negotiation and compromise, qualities essential to a functioning democracy, has turned our system into one that simply moves from crisis to crisis.

With so few of the citizenry actually participating in the electoral process, and with a system of gerrymandering that has created a permanent class of representatives, it is hard to be optimistic that our nation will have a stable future.

A main theme in this blog is that the majority of Americans are neither liberal or conservative, even if they may from time to time seem to gravitate in one or the other direction. Americans are centrists, which to me is another way of saying pragmatists. They do not "become" more liberal or more conservative over time, they simply accept the arguments and solutions or either side as the more pragmatic on particular issues.

The gravest problem our political system faces is that, unlike in most other Western societies, we do not have an impartial entity with the power to affect change that will keep our system inclusive. What a joke that the people empowered to change things "for the better" are the same people who are benefitting from the system as it is.

I was captivated by our politics at a very young age after hearing a speech by Hubert Humphrey. Since them I've been a "political animal," whether it is being President of Student Council, heading an interest group at college, working on the campaigns of John Anderson and Ernest Hollings, writing position papers for Congressman Lawrence Coughlin, getting a master's in political science, or staying current by reading books and watching the news. I BELIEVE in representative government, but I also believe that the current state of politics is an absolute travesty.

Democratic forms of government require an "informed consumer;" it is NECESSARY for all young adults to become engaged, civic minded, and well informed. Unfortunately, among the failures of our education system is its failure to prepare the next generation for the demands of democracy. The fact that government and history is required as part of New Jersey's Core Curriculum, but that this curriculum (weak as it is but that's for another day) is nowhere to be found in the State's graduation test makes absolutely no sense, holding neither the teacher or the student accountable for what is actually learned.

This posting has drifted off in many directions, but that simply reflects my concern that the troubles facing our democracy are so broad and deep. In the coming posts I intend to dissect each of these issues and try to offer answers to the critical question: "Does democracy have a future in America?"

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Political Pundits Have It All Wrong: Americans Do NOT Shift Left or Right

After every presidential election, and after every contentious legislative debate, political pundits can be heard declaring that “Americans are becoming more liberal,” or “becoming more conservative,” as if our way of thinking about the world is so fungible that it changes like the weather. This idea of a shifting electorate seems to be accepted as fact, and quite frankly it is an insult to the thoughtfulness of the American people.

Today the thinking is that we have become more liberal as a nation, this being based on election results, polling, and the language of legislation. I am here to argue that this is a lie, and that the whole notion of a shifting electorate is a falsehood that demonstrates an incredible lack of understanding about the political philosophy of the majority of American people.
The American people, since our birth as a nation, are pragmatists, and pragmatism can rightly be said to be the political philosophy of our citizenry. Pragmatism is as much a political philosophy as conservatism, progressivism, or liberalism (in the modern sense). As pragmatists, Americans in the “center” will support whichever political party produces a policy solution that they believe will best address the issues being debated. By the same token, Americans will support whichever party has “proven” that their priorities (ie. Job growth, austerity) seem the more practical one to pursue. Rather than the center moving left or right, the left or right moves to the center.

The problem for Republicans, and this is a problem they have failed to address, is that they have move so far from the center that their “answers” never make it back there. Conversely, the Democrats have shifted so close to the center that they practically live there, and this has been the case since the emergence of the Democratic Leadership Council during the Clinton era. During the Bush years Republicans also lived near the center; it wasn’t until the emergence of the Tea Party that the Republican Party has shifted so far from the center that few if any of their positions are seen as pragmatic solutions to address our nation’s needs.
Independent and moderate American voters do not suddenly “think differently.” The parties “come to them,” and they determine which ideas seem more pragmatic. Americans are problem solvers, and they don’t care where the solutions come from. The Republican Party is disconnected from the center; they have purged their party of those members who “lived” near the center. Their belief that it isn’t their policies but their failure to communicate their policies is a fatal flaw in their thinking. The American people will NEVER become more conservative any more than they will ever become more liberal. The pragmatic center isn’t going anywhere; with few exceptions it never has.

If the Republican Party is to regain relevance on the national stage, it must “open its tent” to people that may share their values but don’t necessarily share their solutions or their belief in what issues are most important for a pragmatic nation to confront. Unfortunately, I have little faith they will do the right thing, and so refugees from the Party, people like me, will remain on the outside looking in.

The Constitutionality of Gay Marriage and Why the GOP Should Suport It

Although I consider myself a progressive and a Republican, I have always been somewhat reticent about using the courts to mandate social change. My sense is that issues engender broader and deeper acceptance when that acceptance sprouts from the grassroots. On the issue of gay marriage, or more correctly the “right to marry,” society is clearly showing a great capacity to no longer marginalize homosexuality and gay marriage. But some issues are so fundamental that it becomes necessary for the courts to lead and recognize the existence of rights basic to all citizens. The right to marry is such a basic right.

The Declaration of Independence provides the foundation for our nation’s existence, and the belief that all men have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would seem to embrace a right to marry. I see marriage as an element of the right to life and liberty, but It is also generally accepted that the statement “pursuit of happiness” was code for the right to property; it cannot be denied that marriage can be seen as a contract that includes the transfer of property during the life and with the death of the parties involved.
The Preamble to the Constitution reiterates the primacy of these rights; it is hard not to see the right to marry as one of the “blessings of liberty.” Further, the Bill of Rights includes several rights from which one can argue this right. The Ninth Amendment, which I realize many people scoff at, was included to insure that rights not listed are nonetheless inalienable rights reserved to the People. The right to privacy and the right to vote are often mentioned as rights embodied in the Ninth Amendment, so to is the right to marry.

It could also be argued that the First Amendment’s right to association might include a right to marry. It is hard for me not to think that the decision of someone to “associate” with one individual in perpetuity (at least in theory J ) not be a protected relationship.
The 14th Amendment’s right to equal protection also provides a strong basis for acknowledging a right for gay couples to marry. The question here is what standard of scrutiny the court decides to use, and I would think that since gender is clearly a consideration, especially in the right of lesbians to marry, that a heightened scrutiny standard would be appropriate. This would present a serious challenge to government’s power to exclude gays from marrying as it must prove an “important government interest in a way that is substantially related to that interest.” Thus government must demonstrate why it is important that they preclude gay couples from marrying. At this moment in history, given the fast pace of acceptance for gays in our society, this would be quite a difficult standard to meet, especially if we accept the growing evidence that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic.

I do have one concern: if there is a general right to marry, and if that right must include gays, could we not end up on a slippery slope where currently marginalized relationships, including some many consider perverse, also be tolerated if a right to marry exists. If homosexuality is an immutable characteristic, does it follow that being bisexual is as well. What if a bisexual wanted to marry both a male and a female; what justification could we offer that would not appear inconsistent with the arguments in favor of gay marriage. If marriage is no longer defined as “one man, marrying one woman,” are we now allowed to draw the line at “one person, marrying one person?”
I want to now turn to the question of whether the Republican Party should support gay marriage and the “right to marry;” frankly if they want former members like me to rejoin the Party I strongly suggest they do. In the past year several leading Republicans have expressed support for gay rights, including the right to marry, pointing correctly to the institution of marriage as something that promotes stability and fidelity. The institution of marriage has been in decline, and as a society we should be supportive of two people that choose to spend their lives together as a couple, especially if children are to be part of the equation. Conservatives believe in marriage, they see the importance of marriage, and it follows that they should expand the definition of marriage to include those making that commitment, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Gay marriage will soon be legal in all 50 states; there is no denying that is where the social winds are blowing. The Republican Party can continue to fight windmills, or they can join the real world, use the media to “prime the public” to their arguments in support of gay marriage, and slowly move towards the political center, that place most of us call “home.”


I Have A Dream: My Vision of a New and Improved GOP

In the past several years, more accurately since the rise of the Tea Party, the Republican Party has lost its way. More to the point, it has lost its membership, as people like me no longer feel welcome. In that time a purging has taken place, with the only remaining members being those identified- in some cases generously- as conservatives. There seems to be some sort of intellectualizing of the idea that Republican values and ideals can ONLY be expressed through a conservative perspective. As a matter of fact I’m listening to a Republican strategist right now on MSNBC that is making the continued mistake of conflating the conservative viewpoint of being representative of the entire Republican Party, and therein lays the crux of the problem.

 I am here to tell you that his view is wrong, and that there are “Republican values” that can be held consistently by both the conservative and more progressive wings of the Party. I know that because I am one of those progressives, and I was once a loyal member of the Party. For those who will listen, I would like to present those values and ideals that I believe the Republican Party should be espousing, that they should be promoting to the public as they seek to regain “market share” in the political sphere. They are values and ideals that would be attractive to a broad demographic, and they could even help make inroads in urban areas, currently little more than deserts to the GOP. I am going to limit discussion of individual issues like abortion, immigration, or gun control, as they should be somewhat tailored to reflect local culture and custom. This is also consistent with general Republican belief and consistent with, at least before the Tea Party came on board, the idea that governance requires negotiation and compromise in pursuit of pragmatic solutions to national issues.
What does it mean to be a Republican? What values and principles could conservatives and progressives both embrace? One is the idea of a limited but vigorous national government. Conservatives and progressives may differ on what issues the Party should emphasize, and that will no doubt be the subject of lively debate. The wisdom of our Founders must endure; their confidence in individuals-through their associations with others in the economic and social spheres- must be honored and promulgated. And their belief in federalism should be promoted through a relationship where the federal government “challenges” and rewards innovative states that meet federal goals and standards and continuously improves its citizens’ quality of life. Republicans must stop “bad mouthing” government as somehow in opposition to the People. We cannot have our elected officials damage the public’s perception of its government but instead do all that they can to make sure government is transparent, responsive, and representative or it will lose its legitimacy. The integrity of our institutions are essential if we are to truly honor the legacy of our Founders; this means foregoing efforts to “game” both the process for electing our representatives and the legislative process that creates our nation’s laws. The creation of our Nation was one history’s greatest experiments and I am horrified at the thought of Republicans actively trying to undermine our Founders incredible achievement.

  A second is the belief in fiscal restraint. Both “wings” of the Party agree that the body politic should not be seen as a bottomless pit, and that revenue should be judiciously allocated to accomplish short term needs and long term goals. Expenditures must be seen as investments in the American people; at the point where such expenditures are seen as creating dependence on the state then it must be reconsidered. This would apply to so-called “corporate welfare” as much as it does to individuals. Fiscal restraint does not mean being parsimonious nor overly austere. Democrats will continue to promote “demand side” policies, deficit spending, and the role of government in stimulating the economy when consumer spending and business investment contract. Republicans must accept this, but be the voice of moderation and discipline. Opportunity cost will be a hotly debated concept as Republicans seek to find the most productive uses for limited resources. Demonstrating restraint means that choices will be made, and it is important that as a result of those choices the Party does not appear aligned with those with the resources to care for themselves.
The legitimate use of military power is a principle consistent with these aforementioned values. The use of force should be limited to those situations where the national security of the United States is being threatened. This is not to be confused with our national interests, a much broader concept. This use of power necessarily includes the security of our borders and projects outwards to address other threats to our sovereignty. The Republican Party must not have an adventurous nature, nor should we believe that it is our sovereign duty to be the world’s watchdog. We must be willing to participate in military actions taken on behalf of the world community, but such actions must be multinational.

Economic mobility and economic efficiency are cornerstones of a well- functioning free market economy where participation is based on merit, where consumers are fully informed, and where businesses engage in honest competition. Opportunity for the poor to ascend upward to the middle class, and frankly for the wealthy and middle class to descend must be insured by the government in the name of justice and fairness. Support for a strong “entrepreneurial class” is inherent in this goal of economic mobility. There are an enormous variety of variables that affect an individual’s potential for economic success a nd mobility, and conservative Republicans must be willing to concede, for example, that a strong public education system and a strong public transportation system are important components of a free market that is fluid and fair. They must also resist efforts by small, well- organized special interest groups, or “distributional coalitions,” to borrow a phrase from Mancur Olson, from seeking the kinds of government protection that reduce efficiency, reduce aggregate income, and raise social costs. They represent a serious threat to both our economic and political systems.
Guaranteeing a dignified quality of life is another Republican value, one that is rooted in both the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution’s preamble. Whether this is provided through entitlements or earned benefits (these are not necessarily the same thing), adults, and especially children, have a right to lead a dignified life. These great documents are rooted in social contract theory, and as such they embody the belief that each individual, in exchange for giving up their absolute freedom and agreeing to abide by society’s rules, should not have to spend their life wanting for food, shelter, or good health. This concern for the dignity of the individual extends beyond these necessities, however, and includes actions by those empowered to maintain law and order within our communities. Dating back to Adam Smith, capitalism conceives of a role for government and it would be laughable to think otherwise, and providing a “floor” to support those less fortunate, those unable to care for themselves, and those that helped defend our nation. This notion of providing a “floor” is wholly consistent with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the social contract theory on which they were derived.

Engagement in civic life is essential for the vitality and legitimacy of a democracy, and conservative and progressive Republicans can agree that participation in political and social institutions, both public and private, creates important connections between the People and its government, and between groups and individuals living in our nation. At a time of growing economic inequality, these connections are critical if we as a nation are to maintain its character and our belief that political institutions are truly being representative of the body politic. De Touqueville noted that this involvement in groups and organizations was unique, setting it apart from Europe and a quality that helps us maintain our special character. These connections are also important because Republicans tend to be averse to using the courts to “force” change on the citizenry, and more inclined to believe that change should evolve and percolate through the culture. As of late Republicans have been seen as the party trying to limit participation by particular groups, and that is unacceptable. We as Republicans should be trying to broaden and deepen participation, lest we turn our backs on our nation’s heritage and exceptionalism.
There are two more “value pillars” on which the Republican Party rests. One pillar is energy independence. Many years ago I read a wonderful essay in the Atlantic about whether the US should pursue a “staying on top” or “tending the front yard” economic policy in the global environment. If you believe as I do that tending the yard is a more appropriate, practical goal, then you can see why energy independence is so critical. In a world with dwindling natural resources and the potential for other nations to exploit their advantages, energy independence affords us a greater sense of autonomy and security.

The final ideal that Republicans of all political temperaments must agree is environmental integrity. The Republican Party must connect with both the past and the future, and the delicate nature of our environment must be acknowledged. It must also be acknowledged that the condition with which we leave our environment is as much a part of our legacy as the condition of our economy or political institutions. The Republican Party has a proud heritage as conservators of our nation’s natural beauty, and true conservatives, as well as progressives, need to embrace this important value. America the Beautiful is a wonderful song, it would be a shame if future generations had no personal connection to its words. Whether domestically or internationally, the government must take a leadership role in promoting environmental integrity for the sake of our own well-being and the ability of future generations to at the very least maintain the quality of life enjoyed by the People.

Earlier in this essay I posed the question “What does it mean to be a Republican?” I have suggested a series of ideals and principles that can be embraced by both conservative and progressive Republicans. They may and likely will differ on the issues that should be atop the Party agenda, and they may and likely will differ on what it considers reasonable proposals in the spirit of negotiation with Democrats and the formulation of pragmatic solutions to the issues facing government. Quite frankly, it is likely that the Democratic Party shares at least some of these principles and ideals. So why be a Republican if there is so little difference between the parties? The answer to that question may lay with the “talking points” of the Party; the values that Republicans believe should have primacy in this nation. It is these values that further distinguish Republican approaches to Democratic approaches. Think of these values as the lenses through which Republicans view our nation. Thought of in terms of a “bully pulpit,” these are the values that Republican leaders should be espousing as the keys to our strength as a nation and as a people.
Yes, we are a diverse nation, but let the Democrats harp on the differences between people. The Republican Party should be promoting the oneness and unity of Americans, those things we have in common that make us Americans. There is indeed something exceptional about America, and one of the great features of our nation, what made us unique from the time of our founding is that Americans don’t, in contrast to Europe for example, “think with our blood.” It is that thinking that gave us the Thirty Years War, one of the many great tragedies that befell people who think that way.

On economics, Republicans should be promoting policies that reflect the importance of economic mobility, that we pursue policies that will not make being poor a generational certainty. Domestically, this means making a strong commitment to what are historically considered to be the engines of innovation and growth, namely entrepreneurship and small business. These are values that will resonate in the inner city and help Republicans make inroads into our increasingly decaying urban areas. Internationally, our economic position should be to support free trade among equal partners, and fair trade among unequal partners. We should also be pursuing policies that require countries we trade with to improve working conditions and regulation to increasingly reflect the higher standards we maintain; the alternative is a reduction in wages and conditions in our own economy, something we should not do.
Education should also be an important talking point for Republicans, and though it is ok to continue pushing vouchers, vouchers and competition alone are not sufficient. Most Republicans probably don’t realize this, but charter schools were not envisioned as competition for public schools but as “laboratories” that would collaborate with our public schools. Our focus should be on urban schools, and Republicans should be encouraging less government intrusion and oversight. Instead, we should support a more entrepreneurial approach to education; liberating schools to operate more independently, as if they were themselves charter schools. We value liberty more than equality; we don’t want urban schools to be like suburban schools, we want them to be unique, innovative, and fully integrated into the community. Republicans believe that the private sector should play an active role in urban education, that teachers should receive performance pay, and that the curriculum should be less focused on “college for everyone” and more focused on providing a practical, skills centered curriculum.

Republican social values and ideals should focus squarely on the primacy of the two parent family and the importance of “middle class values.” There can be no denying that the degree to which we value these ideals is inexorably tied to our success as a nation. The importance of family values and middle class values cuts across socioeconomic and ethnic lines. This is a unifying issue for Republicans from the most conservative to the most progressive.
On social issues, a “broad tent” Republican Party will have views that cut a wide swath. As the more conservative of the two parties, I believe that social and cultural change evolves locally. And as the more libertarian party, it should favor the legalization of behaviors that pose no direct harm to others.

If my dream party were to take a position on abortion, it should be simply that, in light of changes in technology and the quality of health care, that Roe v. Wade should be revisited as being outdated. The trimester standard may no longer be relevant.
Gun control is an issue of “domestic tranquility” and subject to regulation in some form. I would like my party to support registration and a limit on the size of “clips.” Most importantly, I believe that all gun owners be required to purchase liability insurance for the guns they own.

My dream party is committed to energizing the democratic process by working tirelessly to increase participation. Recent efforts to “sanitize” the voting process are a slap in the face of our forefathers. If we truly believe that the people are sovereign and value then we must be promoting policies to increase voter participation and participation in increase civic participation. DeTouqueville noted that this engagement in civic organizations was one of the great features that distinguished us from the nations of Europe.
On foreign policy, the my Dream Party needs to embrace Washington’s concern with entangling alliances and adventures overseas. Since President Carter elevation of “human rights” as a primary value that we will help safeguard, and since the end of the Cold War, the use of our military has become a nightmare, opening us up to a whole menu of potential uses for our military. Whenever possible, we should support international rather than national uses of force, reserving military force to only those instances where our national security is being directly threatened. Our traditional military branches must not get entangled in conflict to the point where “mission creep” keeps us in places they should not be. This has been a real concern in the modern age. I personally we should advance the idea of creating a new branch of the military, one whose mission is “nation building.” They can do the work our current military is being asked to do once they have completed their traditional missions.

This is my vision of a “dream party,” and a vision I would like the Republican Party to embrace. Embracing these values and ideals would, I believe, attract new members and encourage those like me to return. They are values and ideals that cut across ideologies, where conservatives and progressives can both find common ground; these values and issues “tap into” the interests and passions of both ideologies within the Party.
A free market economy that believe entrepreneurism and small business are the engines of growth and innovation, supports economic mobility and fairness through a strong public education system, protects individuals and our environment through sensible regulation, provides a “floor” to assist those that have been disadvantaged by circumstances, supports those who have “earned benefits” through their hard work and contribution to our society, builds an infrastructure to make our economy efficient and allows its citizens great mobility, two parent family and middle class values, states rather than fed, greater

One of the enduring problems that Republicans must grapple with as it considers a role for government is that American history displays both a libertarian and a puritanical nature, resulting in a somewhat schizophrenic “upbringing” for our nation. There are few people who can consistently take a strict ideological view to all of these issues, nor should they. Political solutions in our nation reflect the overwhelmingly pragmatic inclinations of Americans. For a Party to succeed, it must have members that reside somewhere in the middle, or the Party risks drifting too far away from that place where most decisions are made.
I have a dream today, a dream for a party that reflects my values, interests and passions. The Republican Party was once that party, but no longer, and I wish I could be more sanguine about prospects for its return. The Party has been kidnapped and is suffering from a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome. I guess I will continue to dream.