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Thursday, July 27, 2006

"They Make Me Sound Like a Damned Liberal the Way They Act"

Republicans say they are the party of ideas. Too bad they've been such bad ideas, one right after the other. It's also too bad so little has been done to help struggling workers and their families. For example, this is David Broder describing a conversation with "one of the founders of the postwar Republican Party in the South":

He went on: "How the hell long can they refuse to raise the minimum wage?" He was furious, he said, with the Republican leaders of Congress who keep blocking bills to raise the minimum wage, which has been stuck at $5.15 an hour for years. "I'm a conservative," he said, "but they make me sound like a damned liberal the way they act. They spend like fools, they run up the deficits and they refuse to give a raise to the working people who are struggling. How the hell are you supposed to live on $5.15 an hour these days?" "If it wasn't for Pelosi," he said, "I'd just as soon the Democrats take over this fall. Get some checks and balances and teach these guys a lesson."

The Economist looks attempts by Democrats to let voters know that Democrats have ideas to address their concerns, and that they understand ''It's the American dream, stupid":

Hillary's American dream, The Economist: ...Why ... did Hillary Clinton bother to reveal this week that she is for “performance-based governing, not photo-ops; hope and fairness, not fear and favouritism”? Because she is a politician, obviously. But also because the Democrats have been trying to sound constructive this week, giving Bush-bashing a rest and floating a fleet of new policy ideas. ...

But the speech had substance, too. The DLC recently produced a book on security policy, arguing, roughly speaking, that Islamist terrorism is as big a threat as George Bush says it is, but needs to be fought more intelligently. This week came the domestic-policy sequel: “The American Dream Initiative”. The promise of America, said Mrs Clinton, is that if you work hard, you and your children can succeed. But the middle class is squeezed between sluggish pay rises and the soaring costs of health care, college and petrol.

Globalisation, although it makes the world richer, causes economic insecurity. Workers worldwide are worried that someone, somewhere can do their job for less. Americans, despite low unemployment, are especially nervous because losing their job can mean losing their family's health insurance. This is one reason why the Democratic Party's core supporters are reflexively hostile to free trade.

Mrs Clinton and the DLC represent the party's centrist wing: tough on national defence, liberal (in the European sense) on trade and distrusted by the left. “The American Dream Initiative” is an attempt to make globalisation sound less scary by supplying cushions and ladders. The cushions include more tax breaks for home-ownership, a free $500 bond for all new babies (an idea copied from Britain) and a subsidy for retirement savings. Small employers burdened with health-care costs would be able to use a nationwide “purchasing pool” for insurance. The ladders include more subsidies for college and a proposal for longer school hours.

All this will cost money. Mrs Clinton promised to find savings by curbing tax-breaks for rich businesses and axing 100,000 unnecessary consultants, though she wisely refrained from naming any potential victims besides Halliburton. At the same time, she promised to restore the fiscal discipline that has slipped so dangerously under Mr Bush. Democrats, she said, would restore the “pay-as-you-go” budget rules that, until 2002, obliged Congress to match any spending increase with a cut elsewhere or a tax rise.

The next day, in Washington, DC, another group of centrist Democrats called the Hamilton Project offered a complementary set of proposals. One gem: a young wonk named Austan Goolsbee suggested that 40% of American taxpayers should be exempted from filling in their own tax returns because the Internal Revenue Service already knows what they earn, having demanded records from their employers and banks. This, he said, would save $44 billion in compliance costs over ten years. It would be good for family values, he argued, since people would be able to spend 225m more hours with their loved ones instead of wrestling with incomprehensible forms.

I'm not a big Hillary fan, but I'll give her credit for getting out in front of the policy issues this early (that's not saying I agree with all of them). I haven't heard anyone else talking with this degree of specificty about proposals to help the middle class. The mention of Hilary Clinton reminds me of today's post from Robert Reich:

Rules for a Sane Vacation, by Robert Reich: I'm sitting on the beach last week trying to relax into an abbreaviated summer vacation when someone I barely know comes up to me with a scowl. "Did you read that dumb-f#&% middle-class agenda Hillary just put out? If that's all the Dems have to offer to deal with widening inequality, we're screwed," he says, and walks off. I feel my spine tingle, my shoulders begin to ache. To distract myself I pick up the paper and skim the headlines -- Hezbollah and Hamas attacking Israel, Israel bombing Lebanon, Iraq tumbling into civil war, more chaos. Bird flu deaths rising in Indonesia, Iran and North Korea closer to having nuclear weapons. Famine in sub-Sahara Africa. Genocide continuing in Darfur.

By now I'm feeling nauseous. My cell phone rings. It's my good friend John, a welcome distraction. "How'dja like to go to a movie tonight?" he asks... Great, I say, eager for any escape. "Fine, he says, I just got tickets to Al Gore's film on global warming."

As a general rule I don't believe in escapism. I think citizens ought to get involved, be engaged in the world. Don't put your head in the sand. But in order to be engaged most of the time, you have to disengage a bit of the time or you'll go nuts. Before instant communications, before we knew everything going on everywhere, all the time, vacations were about taking a break. Even during the Great Depression and World War II my grandparents once a year trundled off to some remote spot to get away from it all for a week or two. At least they looked happy in the photos.

So how is it possible today to have a real vacation, to get away from it all when it all comes to us and when so much of it is so awful? For the last day (the last day I'm here) I've followed three simple rules, and frankly I feel much better. First, don't read anything. Second, don't watch anything. Third, don't talk with anyone.

    Posted by on Thursday, July 27, 2006 at 03:33 PM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (8)

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