Two More Years!

Bill Clinton made an appearance on the Daily Show two weeks ago, and he made the first strong case I’ve heard in a while — from a Democrat — for keeping his party in power after November: 18 months have passed since President Obama took the White House with the tough task of repairing the damage to the economy caused by the recession. Tough times and tough choices remain, but his administration has made progress. They deserve two more years before voters pass the keys back to the party mostly responsible for this mess.

It was probably a mistake to focus first on health care at a time when people were more concerned with their jobs. Yet it was still a good long-term move: as of last week, insurance companies can no longer drop people’s coverage when they get sick, children can no longer be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and limits on claims have been banned. All of these are positive and necessary steps forward for our country. None of these would have happened without Democratic control.

Despite unrealistically sunny projections by the administration that have hurt the public perception of their policies, the vast majority of economists believe that the stimulus bill prevented things from getting far worse. The bill protected a lot of jobs — providing states with money to prevent massive layoffs of teachers, policemen and firefighters, as well as creating jobs in the construction sector. Government spending has a far higher and faster rate of return than tax cuts, which people often save rather than spend in a weak economy. We desperately need more money for schools and direct spending on our infrastructure. Many of our roads, bridges and tunnels were built after World War II. Our rail system is the shame of the developed world. With interest rates at record lows and millions of Americans out of work, we might as well invest the money now.

If Democrats retain control of Congress, some of this might happen. If Republicans seize the reins of power, none of it will; these are, after all, the same people who attack both the first stimulus package and the Troubled Assets Relief Program, a program that has mostly paid for itself. There is no chance they will support the spending needed to help repair the economy. Instead, they’ll push through tax cuts that we cannot afford while doing nothing about entitlements and the ballooning defense budget. Don’t believe me? Read their recently unveiled “Pledge to America.”

The best arguments for a Democratic Congress come from the Republican Party. I have never enjoyed situations where the best reason to support one party is because the other would be so disastrous to America, but we have reached that point. The “Pledge to America,” promises to rein in spending and balance the budget, which sounds reasonable until you read their proposals for doing so. They pledge to make Bush’s tax cuts permanent — at a 10-year cost of $3.7 trillion — and promise not to cut money from Medicaid, Social Security or the military, which together make up nearly 60 percent of the total federal budget. To make up for this, they propose repealing Obama’s health care bill and cancelling the rest of TARP. The Republicans claim that ending the bank bailout will save $16 billion — hardly enough to fill the crater in the budget the tax cuts create.

I believe in a balanced budget. Now might not be the best time to focus on it, but we will soon need to make the tough choices necessary to close the deficit. Yet, based on history and the Republican “vision” for the future, they are not the party to accomplish this task; they don’t even appear to understand the math.

Democrats have been almost comically bad at building support for their agenda, but it’s tough to be the ruling party in the world of the 24-hour news cycle. And they deserve more time to fix the damage from the recession and the Bush administration; they deserve two more years. If they haven’t made any progress by then, I will gladly vote for a Republican in 2012. I just hope it’s someone reasonable, like Mike Bloomberg or Mitt Romney.

Unfortunately, the Republican party of today is anything but reasonable.

In Defense of the “L” Word

It’s been a frustrating year and a half for liberals. Despite hefty margins in the House and Senate, the Right has seized both the political narrative and substantial leads in most polls. While the Democrats have had some political victories – the stimulus package, health care reform, financial reform, and the appointment of two Supreme Court justices – each of these seems only to benefit the Republicans. On the face of things, it would seem as if these issues were unpopular. Yet that’s not the case – as least before the passage of the finished product, the Democratic bills had broad support.  The bills themselves are not the problem; the problem is that they lack an overarching theme.

Americans love a narrative. FDR pushed his “New Deal” with dramatic and lasting effects on American society; Truman followed in his footsteps with a series of programs known as the “Fair Deal.”  LBJ advocated for his “Great Society” and Reagan seized the metaphor of a “shining city on a hill” to share his vision with America. President Obama has articulated no such vision. His administration, instead, has been reactive, fighting skirmishes to win the daily news cycle when instead they should focus on setting the tone and defining a new, progressive agenda.

By definition, Conservatism is not an idea, but a response to ideas: Conservatives seek, above all else, to preserve the past.  Libertarianism – which has become fashionable with young people who only four years ago would have been staunch Democrats – is similar in that it rejects large government without a clear alternative. Yet the agendas of both movements are dominating at the moment because the President has not made a firm case for liberalism. Instead, the Democratic Party has cowered in fear of being labeled with the “L word,” allowing its meaning to be twisting into some kind of unrealistic, idealistic and vaguely sinister plot synonymous with communists (or fascists if you slept through your history classes).

The time has long past for Obama to explain why government is not the enemy. Instead of a lukewarm defense of apparently unconnected initiatives, America badly needs a positive vision for the future. We cannot allow the agenda to be set by extremists who would honestly like to abolish Medicare, Social Security, Welfare, the Department of Education, the civil rights act, and the 14th and 17th amendments to the Constitution.

“Liberal” and “Progressive” should no longer be shunned as smears.  They are not dirty words, but badges of honor – reminders that in these troubled times, Government by the people must remain for the people.  With one in ten workers unemployed, this is not the time to tell Americans to lift themselves up by their bootstraps; these people are trying their hardest, and they deserve our help.

Liberals believe in the safety net.  We believe that all deserve access to healthcare and to education, regardless of their ability to pay.  We believe that poverty benefits no one – not even the wealthy – and that the eradication of extreme poverty is a reasonable and honorable goal.  We believe in tolerance and acceptance in society; in equal rights and opportunities for all who are willing to work for them. We believe in second chances.  We believe in the basic good of the human race: that almost no one wants to be unemployed, that few people willingly choose a life of crime, and that wars are generally harmful to all parties. We believe in having the option to drink juice in the dining hall with dinner, even if it is marginally more expensive than soda.  Liberalism is not communism; we do not believe that everyone deserves the same wage – they deserve the same chances.  We believe in the freedom to choose and in freedom from fear.  And we firmly believe that this safety net benefits every member of society, from the poor and downtrodden to the rich and highly educated.

President Obama ran on a platform of hope and change.  The change has already begun, and will continue as long as Democrats retain their control in Washington.  What we really need now is some hope.