When FDR took office in 1933, he inherited a nation reeling from the Great Depression and set out to tackle the country’s many problems with the New Deal. Seventy-five years later, the country is suffering through the George W. Bush Depression, and the American people are ready not just for a change in who sits in the Oval Office but for a substantial change in our priorities as a nation.
In some regards, America has lost its way. The average American family is being completely taken advantage of by the right wing. The concentration of wealth has shifted dramatically with the wealthiest 5 percent of households now owning more than 57 percent of the wealth in this country. With a combination of outlandish tax cuts for these richest Americans along with cuts in domestic spending, the policies of this Administration have worsened the problem dramatically. And when you factor in that the majority of middle class wealth is rooted in homeownership, the housing crisis makes things that much worse.
As Democrats, we must clarify and distinguish the stark differences we have with the Republican Party. We must demonstrate that we are not only on the side of the everyday American; we have detailed plans that will dramatically shake things up, reverse and correct the damage of the Bush years, and lead this country in a new and prosperous direction.
While any twenty-first-century New Deal should include major reforms in housing, banking and education, there are four areas where I think much of the focus should be. First, we need to roll back Bush’s tax breaks for the very rich and provide long-term tax relief for working- and middle-class Americans, who, as FDR correctly understood, will use that extra income to spur business growth. Congress recently did this in a temporary way through the economic stimulus bill, but we need long-term initiatives.
Second, we need to heavily invest in our infrastructure, which is crumbling right before our eyes. The Bush Administration has been more concerned about re-creating the politics of Baghdad than it has been about rebuilding highways in America. By committing resources in a serious way to rebuild roads, bridges, railways, schools, hospitals and other essential infrastructure in our country, we’ll not only create jobs and spur more economic growth but will have tangible products that will improve our quality of life from coast to coast.
Third, we need to implement universal healthcare, because in a country as great as America, no one should be shut out of a doctor’s office. Implementing a single-payer system will not only ensure that healthcare is a basic right; it will also cut down on the cost that Americans currently pay for healthcare.
Finally, it’s time to invest in alternative energy in an unprecedented way. Quite frankly, raising fuel-efficiency standards to thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020 sounds nice, but it’s not even close to what can already be achieved, and it’s not what’s really needed. The signature hallmark of any twenty-first-century New Deal must be to dramatically invest in renewable energy, particularly solar energy, as we’re doing aggressively in New York through the Solar Energy Consortium–not just for research purposes but for real, everyday use that will also spur economic development and growth. The sun holds an enormous amount of energy, which we can harness and use for practically all of our energy needs. It’s simply a matter of investing the resources to make solar products better and more affordable so they can become mainstream. If we want to improve our national security, compete internationally, create an enormous new sector in our economy and save our planet from global warming, then we must lead by setting a goal of being an alternative-energy-based–not an oil-based–economy in twenty-five years.
In a twenty-four-hour cable news cycle, so much of today’s politics is driven by eight-second sound bites. Democrats must look beyond that because the only way to sustain support and to firmly establish ourselves as the party of the people is to back up our sound bites with real deeds and policies.