In their groundbreaking essay, The Death of Environmentalism (2004), Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger called for an end to enviro-scare tactics and the beginning of a positive vision of a low carbon energy future.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream speech” is famous because it put forward an inspiring, positive vision that carried a critique of the current moment within it. Imagine how history would have turned out had King given an “I have a nightmare” speech instead.
I think Liberals (including Liberaltarians) need to put forth an inspiring, positive view of the future that will provide a counter-narrative to the “I have a nightmare” vision of Glenn Beck and his Tea Party cohort. Having just posted George Carlin’s rant that ends with the phrase “Thats why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to enjoy it”, I can rightfully be accused of a bit of blarney. But I defend my sequencing in the following way. Carlin, like the more sober, Edward Luce, asks you to wake up from your delusions about the past 30 years.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French chronicler of early America, was once misquoted as having said: “America is the best country in the world to be poor.” That is no longer the case. Nowadays in America, you have a smaller chance of swapping your lower income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy – even Britain on some measures. To invert the classic Horatio Alger stories, in today’s America if you are born in rags, you are likelier to stay in rags than in almost any corner of old Europe.
But once you have woken up, you have only two choices. You can throw your lot in with a demagogue like Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin, who promise you a restoration of an older, whiter, more Christian America, where magically the 1950’s will be restored and all the socialists will be purged. And if you choose this route, you will be like a character in Inception, willingly plunging into a more complex dream world. Or you can choose the path of liberty and equality represented by Lincoln, the Roosevelts and John Kennedy. Despite all the bombast here, I am going to assert that the Presidency of Barack Obama is firmly in that Liberal Tradition that seeks freedom and equality of opportunity for all Americans. I have been critical of Obama when he has not adhered to those principles, but he still has a lot of opportunity to set this country on a new path to prosperity that is not fraught with such rising inequality. As Luce says,
It is one thing to suffer grinding income stagnation. It is another to realise that you have a diminishing likelihood of escaping it – particularly when the fortunate few living across the proverbial tracks seem more pampered each time you catch a glimpse. “Who killed the American Dream?” say the banners at leftwing protest marches. “Take America back,” shout the rightwing Tea Party demonstrators.
So what are the basic elements of this positive vision? The answer is fairly simple—there is a way forward towards an American future with good schools, transportation and health care; with decent employment opportunities in the businesses of the future; and a great measure of freedom, privacy and opportunity for all of our citizens. Here are 8 steps that could get us there.
- Let all the Bush Tax cuts expire.Higher income and capital gains taxes did not slow down the rising economic tide of the Clinton Administration.
- Withdraw from Afghanistan beginning on the President’s timetable of July 4, 2011. Let it be a true Independence Day-independence from the burdens of empire.
- Commit to a target of reducing our oil imports from 11 million barrels per day to 5 million per day by 2018, most of which we would source from our hemisphere.
- Begin a targeted program of public-private partnerships to assure we are the world leaders in Energy Technology (solar, wind, geothermal and battery). The example of the Obama Administration support for the electric and hybrid car battery business is a clear win. As the President recently stated, “Just a few years ago, American businesses manufactured only 2 percent of the world’s advanced batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles. … But because of what’s happening at places like this, in just five years, we’ll have up to 40 percent of the world’s capacity.”
- Institute the recommendations of the Sustainable Defense Task Force, reducing the Defense budget by almost $200 billion per year. Launch a large scale Defense Conversion initiative to move factories from making war machines to making wind turbines.
- Return control of schools and their budget to local municipalities. Much of the success of Obama’s Race to the Top education initiative has come from regional experimentation. We need to amplify this a thousand percent.
- End corporate welfare now. That means the hundreds of billions of government subsidies to Big Agriculture, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Banking and the Military Industrial Complex.
- Enact the Fair Elections Now Act. Until we get institutional money (both corporate and union) out of politics nothing will change.
To my mind this is the platform the Democrats need to embrace for the next two years. I’m well aware the Republican party will fight like crazy to defend the top 1% earners, Military Industrial Complex and their other corporate welfare allies. But if we are going to have a real fight for the soul of America in the Presidential Race of 2012, let it be a battle worth fighting for.