A New Deal Moment
In the southwest corner of Michigan, where I am running for Congress, the median income is lower now than it was two decades ago. People are working longer hours for less. Both of those factors are true across the country, but are worse in southwest Michigan. The performance of Michigan schools is declining as compared to schools throughout the nation.
On the political front, last year Bernie Sanders decisively won the Democratic primary in my district and Trump won the general election.
I would like to share my political thoughts and invite feedback.
People here are angry about being left behind by Washington, as they have the right to be. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump spoke to that anger. But Trump, in his response to the anger, made many promises he could never keep and told many lies. I believe the anger is still there.
Alongside this anger we see the exhaustion of Republican ideology (if not of their ability to stir fear and resentment.) We saw it in the nomination of Donald Trump in a field of mainly doctrinaire Republicans. Now that Republicans hold the White House and majorities in the House and the Senate, we see it in their failure to get things done. Their health care plans were opposed by doctors, nurses, and hospitals, by advocates for seniors, children and the disabled, and even by much of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The only reason those plans were proposed was to keep promises that never should have been made in the first place. Their proposed tax plan is mainly a giveaway to the wealthy, undermining the rest of government and exacerbating economic inequality, based on the discredited theory of trickle-down. President Trump finds “accomplishments” mainly in knocking down accomplishments from President Obama. Many moderate Republicans in southwest Michigan feel abandoned.
Trump’s election mobilized new political energy in southwest Michigan, new progressive energy, like nothing I’ve ever seen. Trump’s lies, betrayals, and failures are chipping away at his political support, and he continues indiscriminate attacks on women, minorities, and various other Americans. In November 2018 it is probably fair to expect stronger turnout for Democrats and a drop off among Republicans.
But what are we asking people to vote for?
I believe this is a New Deal Moment, and we need to seize it. I will campaign on a practical agenda focused on changing the conditions that give rise to the political anger.
The rising tide of money in politics has given us an economy that is rigged in favor of the wealthy. We certainly need campaign finance and tax reform.
If we want an economy that works for the people of southwest Michigan we have to ask what is holding our economy back. We have to ask what it takes to build a strong and inclusive economy for the 21st century.
A health care system that costs twice as much as that of other countries and which delivers worse health outcomes holds us back.
Being 31st among 35 industrial countries in high school scores, limiting access to higher education, and failing in vocational education holds us back.
A crumbling infrastructure holds us back.
A criminal justice system that keeps too many people in prison too long, that wrongly targets people of color, that criminalizes substance abuse, and that fails to support reintegration holds us back.
To focus on bringing back coal jobs instead of building technology for the 21st century holds us back.
At this political moment we have a unique opportunity to launch a new New Deal, a practical program that addresses these fundamental challenges.
This is a transformational agenda, and if you base political expectations on recent political experience it may appear fantastic. Voters have the right to hear about immediate priorities, so at campaign events I also talk about three issues I want to work on in Congress from day one, that I want people to remember:
Move to single payer health care, starting by opening an expanded Medicare to all. Our health care system is in crisis and in limbo, and the evidence shows we can get cheaper care, universal access, and better health by moving to single payer.
Increase job training, apprenticeships, and vocational education. In southwest Michigan, like in the rest of America, we do vocational education badly. This is an enormous missed opportunity for our young people and for adults who lose their jobs, and it hurts businesses that need machinists and computer programmers and people who need plumbers and nurses.
Raise the minimum wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit. In the richest country in the world it’s time for a living wage. People who work full time should be able to support their families.
These changes would make an enormous difference for millions of people. They are urgent, they speak directly to our federal government’s failures, and they form an appropriate kernel for a transformational agenda.
Nevertheless, if we consider the challenges and opportunities our nation faces in the 21st century, these changes are only a start. If we consider our federal government’s accomplishments at other times in history it is clear that we can do more. I want people to have three issues to remember me by, but we need to change the political conversation. We need a new New Deal.
In order to release the dynamic potential of our citizenry and to address the competitive challenges of the 21st century global economy, we need to do much more. We need improvements in quality and access across the whole scope of our education system, from preschool to university and beyond. We need 21st century roads, internet access, energy production and distribution, and public transport. Evidence indicates that we could move half our incarcerated population into the community and productive employment without compromising public safety. Besides many other benefits, this would be a great economic boost. We need to promote continued technological leadership in areas of growing global demand. We cannot carry out and sustain these reforms without tax and campaign finance reform. Each of these reforms can be considered independently, but it is their collective potential that can recharge our economy. With cheaper and better health care, with the best education, infrastructure, and technology in the world, with a million more Americans contributing in the workforce instead of costing us in prison or jail, the 21st century can be our economic Renaissance. This is how we unleash America’s entrepreneurial culture. This is how we bring good jobs with good pay back to southwest Michigan. This is why we need a new New Deal.
In putting forth these priorities, there are other areas I do not neglect.
I do not neglect the long march towards political equality, for women, people of color, and our LGBTQ fellow citizens, even in the face of setbacks from the Trump administration.
I do not neglect the urgent need for American leadership on global warming, protection of the environment and our natural resources, or else all bets are off.
I do not neglect fixing the student debt crisis, or strengthening Social Security, affordable housing, consumer financial protection, and community banks.
Our economy is rigged. It’s not working for most Americans. Our democracy is in deep trouble. In their own unique ways, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have given us an opportunity to begin to turn a corner. It is easier, in politics, to focus on a few significant but ultimately marginal improvements. Now is a moment when I believe we in Michigan’s sixth district, the Democratic Party, and we across the country need to take courage and build the pathway America needs for the 21st century.
The world needs the American democratic experiment to succeed. This will only happen if we can get our government working for the people again. It’s time for a new New Deal.
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