Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Real Issue in 2016 - Electing a Democratic Congress

In the recent Democratic presidential primary debate, the candidates trotted out programs that they would sponsor to address a variety of problems our nation is facing.  But an article in the New York Times  astutely noted that no one said anything, nor were they asked, about how they would get these programs through Congress given the current control of the House by Right Wing Republicans.  

An excellent point.  Whether it’s Bernie Sanders with his more liberal ideas or Hilary with her more centrist policies, none of them could get through a Congress where the Right Wing has a virtual veto power over any proposed program through their de facto control of the House despite their small numbers.  

If the public elects the Democratic candidate President because they want his or her programs to be enacted, then they have to elect a Congress where Democrats have majorities in both houses.  And if the Democratic candidate does not want to have a presidential term like Obama’s, then that candidate needs to make changing the makeup of the House and Senate a high priority.

At a minimum, no person who votes for the Democratic candidate should vote for a Republican for Congress.  This should be obvious, but the voting public needs to be reminded that this isn’t like the old days when a split in the control of government was often considered good by many because it resulted in more tempered, centrist policies.  Given the current nature of the Republican Party, we have seen that split control means total deadlock.  A government in total dysfunction.  A government by crisis.

But these votes won’t be enough to bring about the desired change because many House districts have been redrawn in such a way as to make them “safe” Republican seats, and so not in play for the Democrats.  Short of changing those district lines, the only tool the Democrats have is to convince droves of traditional non-voters to register and vote.

Even in Presidential election years, voter turnout ranges from bad to worse.  In a good year, like 2008, the turnout rate was 58.2%.  That means that 41% of eligible voters didn’t bother to vote.  In a bad year, like 2000, the turn out rate was only 51.2%.  So 48.8% of eligible voters … almost half … didn’t vote.

But here’s the kicker … studies consistently show that non-voters are disproportionately poor or less well-off, younger, and tend to favor higher taxes and more government spending.  For example, 46% of nonvoters have household incomes below $30,000, while the percentage among voters is 19%.  43% of nonvoters are people of color, while only 22% of voters are.  And 34% of nonvoters are under 30, while only 10% of voters are.

For it to work, this has to be more than your traditional get-out-the-vote campaign.  Not even resurrecting the Obama coalition will suffice, although that’s going in the right direction.  These traditional non-voters need to be touched by the campaign and galvanized to vote.

The Democratic Party has to find a way to convince these voters that their vote would make a very real difference to their lives and to get them to the polls, even with reduced hours, voter IDs, and all the other barriers Republicans are setting up.  Given the experience of the past 6 years, it is not too much of a stretch to say that the fate of our country’s welfare hangs in the balance.

To accomplish this, the reference point for the campaign should be the equality and value of all citizens as stated in the Declaration of Independence, and the policies that logically flow from that premise as stated in my book, We Still Hold These Truths.  See also my post, “Growing a Stronger America - More Self-Sufficient, A Stronger Citizenry, a World-Class Infrastructure,” September 15, 2015.

This need not and should not be made to sound like a class struggle.  This proposed strategy is not anti-rich nor anti-big business.  This country needs a strong business community to provide good jobs for our citizens, and so government policies need to continue to support business growth.  

All this policy is saying is that the influence of big corporations and wealthy individuals on government policy has increased too far to the point that they for all intents and purposes control it.  And so the balance between private rights, government, and the public good is currently out of whack.  The influence of big money in elections and the influence of lobbyists in Congress has rendered meaningless the concept of one man, one vote.  A proper balance needs to be restored.

Every citizen should be valued and have a voice.  But almost one million children are born into poverty each year.  22% of all children, around 18,000,000, live in poverty.  Because of this accident of birth and the poor education and other negative life factors that typically come with it, these children do not have a meaningful equal opportunity for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  

Many people who had been solidly middle class and had enjoyed the fruits of their labor now find themselves as a result of globalization and the recent recession to be struggling to keep their heads above water financially.  They are no longer middle class but teetering on the edge of poverty.  

As part of the responsibility of being a citizen, those who have made it big because they have been able to take advantage of our system, and yes their hard work, need to give back more.  Both to help the government provide those less well-equipped for the economic struggle with the foundation needed to have a meaningful equal opportunity, and to enable the government to replace our archaic and crumbling infrastructure with one that will support a strong economy into the future. 

This proposed policy is ultimately about fairness.  It does not “gouge the rich;” they will remain very wealthy even after paying their fair share.  It is about treating our fellow citizens with humanity rather than cruelty.  It is about being true to the maxim found in the core morality of all the great religions and any civilized society … do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It’s about being true to the principle first trumpeted in our Declaration of Independence … that all men are created equal and that they are endowed with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.