The polls suggest we are nearing the end of the Bush era. But conservative scandal and failure won’t lead to a serious progressive resurgence as long as Democrats remain stuck in short-term tactical thinking. Republicans and the tame-dog media tell us, ad nauseam, that Democrats have no new ideas. Enough! Tough, bold, important ideas are plentiful–and it’s time to start talking about them, to stake out serious positions and to demand action. No, they can’t all be achieved right away. But the sooner progressives start saying what we really want, the sooner the debate will be about our issues, not theirs.
Here’s a “top ten” list to get the ball rolling–and to plant the flag for positive, aggressive post-Bush (and post-New Democrat) near- and long-term change:
1. Real National Security.
The United States is protected by two oceanic moats; the only truly serious security threat we face is the possibility that terrorists will acquire nuclear weapons. We should shift half of the roughly $500 billion we now spend on a cold war-style defense posture and counterproductive interventionism to a fully funded antiproliferation strategy, to homeland protection and to the elimination of energy dependence on the Middle East. The first priority should be an all-out effort to reduce nuclear arms and nuclear materials. And we should begin a massive campaign to reduce proliferation pressures in Iran and North Korea, including the use of economic incentives, and work to ease the Pakistan-India nuclear rivalry.
2. Single-Payer Universal Healthcare.
More than 45 million Americans have no health insurance, yet we devote an incredible 15 percent of our GDP to a wasteful system that enriches insurance companies. Meanwhile, health costs are forcing major corporations like GM into bankruptcy. We should demand the obvious: Only a government-organized single-payer system can challenge pharmaceutical profiteering and eliminate the huge administrative costs of insurance companies, which compete to limit treatment of seriously ill patients and nickel-and-dime others. A 2005 Lewin Group study estimates that such a system could save $344 billion over the next decade in California alone.
3. Real Social Security.
This is the wealthiest nation in the world. A serious progressive strategy should go far beyond the current debate by demanding a bountiful future for Americans when they retire. A good place to start is with a proposal put forward by former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill that would produce the equivalent of a million-dollar annuity for every citizen–enough to guarantee $50,000 or more a year for everyone in retirement.
4. Universal Daycare.
France provides free daycare for all children 3 years old and above, with subsidized care for younger children. Belgium provides free care for those over 2 and a half (subsidized for younger). Finland provides free care for all low-income children, subsidized care for others. It’s time to demand the same. This June voters in California will consider a proposal that would tax the top 1 percent of income earners (individuals making more than $400,000 and couples making more than $800,000) to provide quality preschool for all 4-year-olds.
5. A Rebuilt Educational System.
Let’s start at the top: Many nations provide tuition-free college education to all students; we should too (one cost estimate: $60 billion). And if we really want to leave no child behind, we’ll have to reduce K-12 class size, reward the best teachers and make the teaching profession attractive to our most talented young people (a serious start could be made for $130 billion). Finally, we should upgrade preschool programs like Head Start, which nurture critical skills and emotional development ($22 billion would cover most eligible children).