Dr. Frankenstein Crafts a New Party
Some time ago I announced I was switching my party affiliation to Independent. Five months later a sort of personal malaise about politics has settled into my bones and I pay attention to public debates with only a passing interest. The converse of this is that I feel a renewed interest in policy, which was always my first love anyhow. Policy is about execution and (in theory) progress. I like the idea of forward movement and like most men, I arrogantly believe the solution to every problem simply requires careful thought and then application of the correct policy.
In our modern political discourse, there is no shortage of policy proposals. I picture a large warehouse, not unlike that one at the end of the first Indian Jones movie, with hundreds of policies in crates just waiting to be used. Since I am currently without a political party to call home, how interesting it would be to open those crates and try to craft a party with them. So with this in mind I thought I would put on my lab coat and see what I could build out of the pieces. The challenge to this project of course is that the proposals cannot be changed. We have to live with what we find in the crate. So here’s what I’m working with:
To be successful my new party has to have a heart. It has to understand the life of the average citizen and promote a policy that will help that citizen and show that the government cares about them. What better way to do this than to create a family-friendly tax code. In order to accomplish this I turn to Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam and their 2008 book, Grand New Party.
They advocate a family-friendly tax reform that vastly expands the child tax credit and provides both pension credits for household labor and tuition credits for years spent rearing children. They call for improving the stock of affordable housing and also for “progressive cost-sharing,” so that more out-of-pocket health costs are paid by the well-to-do. They want a reduction in payroll taxes for lower-income workers in return for means-testing Social Security benefits, along with wage subsidies for low-income workers to make less-educated single male workers more desirable marriage partners.
I know a lot of people that would benefit from this policy. I have friends that are stay-at-home parents. I know single women who are having trouble finding a reliable partner to raise a family with. Personally I believe that marriage is one of the best institutions for improving your adult life. My party will use these policies to show we believe in those things too.
For the whole of human history we have been a people on the move. It’s a natural impulse for some of us and our success as a people has often come when we moved into new places. With this in mind, we have to figure out how to deal with our natural impulse to migrate within a world of national borders. We have to figure out the best way to deal with immigration in a modern world.
I like some of the ideas proposed recently by the so-called ‘Gang of Eight’ but they lost me with a 13-year waiting period for full citizenship. So surprisingly I turned to a proposal not that much different. President Obama’s plan streamlines the legalization process while still securing the borders, although not as aggressively. It’s not perfect either, but for anyone that has ever gotten choked up at a swearing in ceremony, you have to believe making people part of this country has to be the most important thing.
For some my reason my wife always sits to my left when we’re watching TV on the couch. So naturally, I put my left arm around her. That arm makes me think about love and how lucky I am to have her. That also makes me think about how some people can’t enjoy the legal recognition of their relationship the way we can. This has to change. So for this policy there were many crates to choose from. Ultimately I settled on three and we will combine them into one kick-ass left arm. Those policies came from Washington, Maryland and Maine, where last year they became the first states to legalize gay marriage by popular vote. That is pretty darn cool.
A body needs food to survive and good food is one of the great joys in life. Regular readers probably know I believe in farm subsidies, or more importantly, that I favor crop insurance as a kind of national security measure. The problem is that the direct payment program is broken and in need of reform. Enter Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Under his guidance the Ag department is moving away from direct payments. This addresses a common complaint of liberals and conservatives alike. Additionally, he is asking farmers to consider urban audiences and begin to craft a message that educates them about the importance of rural economies and the role of farming in feeding the nation. This highlights the exurban-suburban-urban relationship that is vital to the strength of the country.
One additional policy I would propose for completely selfish reasons is to get city governments to become more friendly towards food trucks. Make the rules more simple so I can buy a Korean-inspired hot dog on the corner for a reasonable price. These things aren’t hurting established restaurants, they are making them get more creative.
When I wrestled in high school my coach said a strong back wins matches. I later learned that broad shoulders help shed the rain when bad weather strikes. The back of our country is the military. Let me be clear here: we need those folks. We need them to have the best equipment money can buy and we need them to be the best trained soldiers in the world. That isn’t cheap. But there is a problem with military spending first recognized over 50 years ago by President Eisenhower. As of late the only person I see taking a hard line on addressing this spending is Senator Rand Paul. He has been aggressive but he is saying the hard things. He has proposed an audit of the military’s spending practices. This isn’t an intent to weaken our defense but to stop wasteful spending. In my new party, we have to get our books in order and the military gets just as much scrutiny as any other institution.
I shoot right handed and let’s face it, the Right side of the aisle likes guns so we’ll use the right arm to hold our favorite weapon and at the same time try to figure out our gun laws. Recently there was a modest proposal made to expand background checks and this was voted down by a cowardly senate. My opinion is that the time is not right for reform because it still comes on the heels of Newtown and this creates emotional resistance. For policy here I am going to temporarily leave the big warehouse and look in my own garage (I keep a few of my own policies on a shelf next to the leaf blower). Gun reform is really pretty easy and I’m going to brag and say I think my proposals are solid. Improve background checks, take gun trafficking seriously and require a permit for magazines over 20 rounds.
Make marijuana legal. To do otherwise is just stupid. Colorado gets the prize for this one. Libertarians rejoice.
Our brains are sort of important. In this country we need to build those better. That means education reform. At the local level, let’s stop cheering for vouchers and charter schools. We have to work within the existing framework. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan has had success in creating competition for funding and we need more of that. Schools need to create a sense of elitism by crafting programs that are in-demand and have a high bar for admittance.
At the collegiate level, I want to see college loans reduced significantly and the Pell grant program put on steroids. A recent report by the New America Foundation calls for just that.
The government should make the funding for the Pell program an entitlement in the federal budget, shielding it from annual wrangling, and should boost the maximum amount of individual grants, the report says.
Beyond its recommendations on grants, the report suggests a wholesale overhaul of programs for student loans.
We’ve reported on the federal Parent Plus loan program, and how the lack of loan limits allows families to borrow more than they can reasonably afford to cover ever-increasing college costs. The government should end the Plus program, the report argues, as it “can encourage families to over-borrow and provides colleges with a convenient source of funds if they wish to raise their prices.”
Federal subsidies through loan programs have been a direct cause of rising tuition. My new party would stop that process by reducing the number of loans available and replacing them with Pell grants using money saved by reducing military spending. This is classic conservative policy, investing money in something with a promise of a good return i.e. our students.
And there you have it. This is the monster I have created. It needs a lot more than this to make it in the world but this is enough to get it moving. The important lesson to learn here is that the ideas are out there, we just have to be willing to use them.