Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Welcome to What To Think

Welcome to the first posting on "What To Think." The mission of this blog is to declare in plain terms what you should think. The focus will be largely on matters political, but may wonder off into other areas should I develop the sense that people need to be told What To Think about other topics.

I pretend no special knowledge, skills, background, insight or even intellgence. I am just exactly dumb enough to think that these deficits are no bar to being able to divine and explain The Truth. So, pretty dumb.

Opening thought for the day:

The liberal critique of the conservative movement is now well-defined and in high dudgeon. If liberals are to avoid the same pitfalls as the conservatives (whose entire point of view is a critique of the left), we must move the discussion onto why liberals are better for most Americans.

It's great to have a liberal attack machine that is starting to compete with the well-oiled machine of the right. But we must start to talk about things that we will do in office that will meaningfully improve the lives of most voters.

I believe that liberals' future lies in focusing on the value of government services. All voters value clean air, pure water, etc. All voters value national security and law and order. All voters value adequate investments in infrastructure (roads, sewers, etc.). All voters value quality education.

The way to capture the necessary portion of voters who now support the bad guys (repubs) is to help them see that the things they value most -- environment, security, infrastructure, education -- are best promoted by the dems. The repubs have no credibility on these issues.

To those that say that the repubs will simply continue to lie to voters about their positions and accomplishments I can only say, there has never been a time in our history when the truth didn't prevail. When the "greatest generation" stood on the brink of annihilation in 1941, they didn't see how they could win. All they had was faith -- faith that the righteous will prevail. So too am I consoled by the same faith.

Americans are not a petty, smug or arrogant group. On the contrary, we are large-minded, generous to a fault, humble. We live in a free and open democratic system, and we will have a government that reflects our will. It may take a bit of patience tog et there, but we will get there. In fact, we are already well on our way.

Here are some basic principles.

1. The government is not the problem. It is not a foreign entity that has landed here from another planet. It is the instrument through which we take universal action as a nation. It is exactly the kind of government we want. It can be effective or not, large or small, dedicated or indifferent, but we are not without ability to shape and control it. Just as repubs are fond of saying when dems bash corporations, "hey, companies are just collections of people," so too are governments just collections of people.

2. The government provides significant value. Taxes are by and large a good deal. Government services benefit each of us in numerous ways each and every day. All those services cost money. For what we pay, we get decent value. The debate should be around how to get the best value, not how to get no value. Money paid in taxes is not wasted. Much of it goes to worthy causes.

3. We deserve a society that takes better care of its needy. My experience is that under republican rule, recipients of government services are too often made to feel that the government is doing them a favor they don't really deserve. When I see how schools are build using cheap designs, cheap materials, etc., the message I see us sending is, "we don't really care enough about school children to spend a decent sum on them." When I see a welfare center that looks like a waiting room at a bus depot, the message I see us sending welfare recipients is, "you have failed and we can hardly stand to support you at a subsistence level."

Wouldn't we really prefer school buildings that said, "Welcome leaders of tomorrow! Enter the temple of knowledge!" (When I look at older schools, this seems closer to the message we used to send.) Or welfare offices that said, "Worry not. We will help you get back to the life you deserve."

4. Our government must weigh the interests of all its citizens, not just those who have access to capital and power. Minimum working conditions should provide a life of dignity to those at the bottom rung -- even if it means those who own businesses must make a little less. Men and women who choose to work in public service, like the military, should earn a living wage, even if people could be found to do the work for less. (I think of the NYPD -- most of whom could use a raise, but don't get it for fear that the taxpayers won't fund it. You know what -- most taxpayers would never miss the extra 3 cents a week they'd pay so that civil servants could do a little better.)

5. Truth matters. Just getting up and saying things because they advance your position without regard to their truth or falsity is simply not acceptable. There is a line -- which can be hard to draw -- between spinning and lying. But draw it we must, or else we end up with things like "John McCain is against breast cancer research," or "Ronald Reagan saved our economy by cutting our taxes." Or that global warming is just a theory, or that evolution is just as legitimate as the Bible. Our society needs mechanisms to talk about issues. When truth is irrelevant, we damage those mechanisms.

6. There is more that unites us than divides us. As a nation, we are in many ways quite homogeneous. We should focus on the common values we broadly share, and de-emphasize the areas where we strongly disagree and are fractitious. The debate around abortion is of course important to our society; however, it ought not to drown out discussion of other importnat things like economic justice, racial inequality and the need for quality education.

7. Those with more means should pay more than those with less. Progressive taxation is a simple issue of fundamental fairness. Rich people can afford to pay a larger portion of their incomes to support necessary government services than poor or middle class people can.

8. Our future lies in strengthening our ties to the other humans on the planet. Americans are a great and wonderful people. So too are the Armenians, Brazilians, and Indonesians. The Koreans, Mexicans and Swedes. The Peruvians, French and Vietnamese. And on and on. One day in the not-too-distant future, the idea of nationhood will be more like city-hood today. One can hardly imagine the good citizens of Houston rising up in arms against the evi-doers of Dallas. Someday, we'll think like that about Americans and Russians, Chinese and Indians, even Iraqis and Iranians.

Well, that should get things started. Fire away.

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