Kilroy Was Here
January 27, 2003
What Bush Should Propose in the State of the Union
Tonight, President Bush's State of the Union will role out some of the same tired, small-minded policy ploys aimed more at achieving tactical political goals than true social change. You'll hear about the War on Terror and the War on Iraq. And if Condi Rice's opinion piece in the NY Times is any indicator, Bush's State of the Union will be long on rhetoric and short on evidence.
You'll hear about prescription drugs for seniors (but only if they opt out of Medicare and into an HMO), and faith-based initiatives, a a "ploy," David Frum admits in his book The Right Man, designed mainly "to unite conservative evangelicals, urban Catholics, Minority pastors and traditional noblesse oblige Republicans."
But, in the interest of improving our political system for all, here are a few great political ideas that you won't hear about tonight.
But you should.
The 21st Century Homestead Act
In the Atlantic, Ray Boshara re-proposes a great idea--provide every one of the four million babies born in America each year an endowment of $6,000 in an American Stakeholder Account. According to Boshara:
If invested in a relatively safe portfolio that yielded a seven percent annual return, this sum would grow to more than $20,000 by the time the child graduated from high school, and to $45,000 by the time he or she reached thirty (assuming that the account had not yet been used). Funds in the American Stakeholder Account would be restricted to such asset-building uses as paying for the cost of higher education or vocational training, buying a first home, starting a small business, making investments, and, eventually, creating a nest egg for retirement. Withdrawals would of course decrease the account; work and saving would build it back up. Family members and others could also add money to the account.
There are several good reasons why a Republican President should propose such a policy program:
- It will help minorities in a race-neutral fashion - This type of program could be an alternative for Republicans to propose in their opposition to affirmative action. Since African Americans and Latinos are the ones who have the least amount of assets to help launch their lives and since a greater number of them are in, they will be helped in disproportionate numbers.
- It's a program that will not feed class-resentment - Of our attempt at our social programs, the ones that last the longest and gain the most public support are those that are targeted at everyone. Social Security and Medicare help everyone regardless of income. As a result, few people are opposed to these programs. (Interesting anecdote. One senior in Kansas is quoted as saying: "Keep the government away from my Medicare.") In contrast, programs that are targeted to a segment of our society (Welfare, Affirmative Action, Native American grants) quickly feed class resentment and, because of the attitude of the "left-out" majority, toss up additional obstacles they were trying to avoid.
- It's cheap - According to Boshara, this program would cost Americans approximately $24 billion a year, or "only about a sixth of what the government gives in tax breaks to corporations every year."
- It's market driven - Much like the block grants to states that Republicans pushed in the nineties, this program is market driven rather than bureaucracy driven.
- Most importantly, it would work - If the Homestead Act of the 19th century and the GI Bill of the 20th century are any indications, this social program would do much more good for American and our society than it would cost us.
Real Election Reform
As a man who holds office under the cloud of Bush v. Gore, the President could and should do more to really improve elections in America. Campaign finance reform may be difficult (and unconstitutional) but improving our current elections need not be. Here are just two proposals:
- Iowa Style Redistricting - According to the Economist, in our last mid-term elections "no more than 20 of the 435 races look competitive" and the reason is redistricting. Since state politicians are the ones who draw up the districts for our congressman, our representation is chosen for us even before the campaign begins. Luckily, Iowa has found a solution. By having an independent commission draw up districts according strict rules that disallow considering voting patterns and party registration, as a result, "four of its five seats have competitive races--more than California, New York, Texas and Illinois combined can muster."
- Instant Runoff Voting - Instead of our current plurality of voting rules that give us things like the 2000 Presidential Election fiasco, and president's elected with only 42% of the vote, instant runoff voting allows voters to rank the first, second, and third preferences, and, if no candidate wins a majority (at least 50.1% of the vote), then voters second choice will come in to play. Imagine, if this form of election was in place for 2000, Gore would have won, but in 1992, Bush I would have beaten then-Gov. Clinton. More importantly, voters would never have to choose the lesser of two evils, and they could feel safe about choosing their conscience first.
The good thing about this type of reform is that it's safely within constitutional borders, and, more importantly, it can blunt some of the more pernicious evils of our electoral process. Campaign financing will have less of an impact, because voters will feel safer to go with third party candidates. Lobbyists will have less of an impact because congressional seats won't be as safe and representatives who wish to remain in office will have to pay more attention to their constituents. Congress will get more things done since competitive seats won't harbor the ideologues as much as the pragmatists.
These are just two real proposals that President Bush could propose that would have real meaning and effect for the people of our country. Not to mention the things our government should do to insure access to health care for all Americans, economic stimulus, and corporate corruption.
But let's just take small steps in places where we all could agree.
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