The presidential contest has begun, as usual, with the “money primary,” in which major donors choose their favorites and weed out other candidates, long before any citizen has an opportunity to vote. The “media primary” accelerates the process of elimination by imposing its own random prejudices on the field. The Nation will promote a rival contest–the “vision primary”–in which candidates are evaluated in terms of how forward-looking their ideas are. (The first of a series of candidate interviews, which is part of that process, begins on page 17.) Here are some elements of a proposed “visionary” agenda, against which candidates’ programs can be measured:
§ Economic and Social Justice. We need a universal healthcare system–one only government can construct–that will insure equitable access and control prices. America’s ten-year experiment in letting insurance companies and HMOs manage the healthcare system has failed spectacularly. Both employees and businesses have suffered, because it did not contain fierce price inflation for drugs and medical care.
We also need universal access to decent housing and education, as well as a national “living wage”–a required minimum floor that provides a basic living standard for all workers. Instead of whipping poor people at the bottom, the government should act as “employer of last resort,” a form of safety net that would serve as an economic stabilizer in bad times, then recede in good times. And we need to do a better job of providing for older citizens: The scandal of Social Security is not its financial crisis but the shameful fact that half of the country has nothing else to rely on for their retirement years. Beyond these basic human needs, we must fix our broken cities and our criminal justice system, afflicted by a failed drug war.
The much greater challenge is to reorder American capitalism itself, untangling the malformed power relationships that allow a relative handful of insiders and financiers to organize society for their benefit, abusing employees, communities and even shareholders while trampling on essential public values. For starters, a reform President would promote new civil rights legislation for workers, restoring their right to organize, and require independent representatives of consumers and workers on boards of trustees.
§ An End to Empire. The Bush Administration has made military dominance the defining feature of its international policy, justifying it in terms of the “war on terror.” But dominance has not made us more secure, nor has it resulted in a more stable and democratic world. Progressive candidates must speak bluntly about the perils of American imperialism and offer as an alternative a commitment to a global order based on the rule of law. Democrats need to challenge Bush for his systematic assault on global initiatives, from the Kyoto Protocol to the treaty banning landmines to the International Criminal Court. The goal of the United States ought not to be to hold power over other people but to help build common institutions for keeping the peace, eliminating weapons of mass destruction and assisting all people to build viable societies. The coalition forged after September 11 that has tracked down Al Qaeda networks in scores of countries is an example of the efficacy of such global cooperation. The rush to war in Iraq demonstrates the perils of the Bush doctrine of unilateral pre-emption.
Even as it works to root out terrorism, it is essential that the federal government adhere to the principles for which the nation stands. In the domestic arena, we should not selectively impose on foreign nationals burdens that we are unwilling to tolerate for ourselves. In the international arena, we should not act as if we are immune in the long run from the rules of international law, which are essential to global peace and security. Secrecy, unfettered surveillance, unmonitored covert actions and kangaroo courts do little to advance the war on terror and much to erode the liberties for which that war is being fought. Democrats should be prepared to argue that we cannot defend American liberties by trampling on them.