Dear Democrats: The Road Less Traveled Needs Paving
On November 8th, many voters entering the voting booth will be checking the box for who they dislike the least. Sadly, our political culture is now defined more by what we oppose. This election will mark the end of a unique, if not historic campaign season punctuated by demagoguery and hate filled speeches by one candidate, and the culmination of a long and controversial public career by the other.
The pollution inhaled by our electorate from the Trumpian strain of identity politics and his alarming ignorance will take several election cycles to disinfect. As importantly, the Democrats must continue to rebuild with new, non-establishment, forward thinking candidates who are not lifetime political careerists, and who they intuitively trust.
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This change should not occur by moving to the left or right but by moving towards a new practicality that embraces fiscal imperatives critical to our economic survival. With these economic imperatives come moral imperatives, and together they define our country's soul.
The Practical Democrat knows that numbers and analysis matter, that balanced budgets should be a common goal not a practice in ideological finger pointing. This will also necessitate a painful reallocation and even a possible reduction in our budgets which will be critical as the times and circumstances of our state and country change.
Practical Democrats need to be evidence based and transparent to the electorate. The NJ state pension system is a case in point. The underlying assumptions of the number of years remaining before our teachers face a crisis are misleading, and, in fact, mathematically wrong. Simply put, the expected returns of the portfolio against the real liabilities (pensions) to be paid to retirees is untenable and unsustainable. In short the teachers' pension system will be bankrupt in ten years -- it's called unfunded liabilities. This is a crisis happening in real time, and our teachers need full transparency with immediate solutions.
The Practical Democrat concedes that there are unnecessary programs, duplicative programs, inefficiencies, mismanagement, and fraud in our federal, state and local governments. Should our Congressman and Congresswomen receive the best free healthcare in the world as their constituents struggle with monthly payments on theirs, and our veterans fight another battle for the services they deserve?
The Practical Democrat will make sure no student receives his/her college diploma burdened by an inordinate amount of debt. We should begin by making all state and private tuition payments tax deductible for every parent or guardian immediately, and freeze that same tuition for at least three years. In addition, our commitment to education must include every student. The new American College of Building Arts in South Carolina, which is the first school in the United States to offer a bachelor's degree in traditional building trades, is the kind of innovation that we must seek.
Our distant wars, fought mostly by our underclass, should never be entered into without clearly articulating the threat to our homeland and the financial burden these unjustified endeavors place on future generations. Finally, we should demand a detailed explanation of the endgame after we decide to take out a country's strongman leaving a political vacuum. Certainly, our soldiers deserve that.
Over half of all those who’ve died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are under the age of 24 with little or no college, and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, reports that black veterans are more likely than their white counterparts to be unemployed upon returning.
FDR summarized it: "War is young men dying and old men talking."
This Practical Democrat will embrace our changing demographics, yet understand that the thirty-year year plight of the shrinking middle class exposes our Millennials to a shrinking economic pie where our savings are smaller and our debts larger. This is unacceptable. We can't only listen to those who have achieved financial success, - it diminishes our history and what we, as Americans, truly stand for.
Our disenfranchised citizens must be brought into the 21st century including all women who, sadly, are still paid less than their male counterparts. This will mean a judicious and proactive line by line budget review of spending on everything from our failing war on drugs to defense. It will also mean solving our country's mass incarceration crisis where six million people are under correctional supervision at huge costs to society.
The Practical Democrat will not attempt to pull up the drawbridge on technology, or overly tax and vilify successful entrepreneurs and the newly rich. The Practical Democrat will expose those who deny science to fit a political narrative - whether about global warming, technical progress, or globalization.
No doubt technical progress is, over time, the bedrock of our rising prosperity and lengthening life spans, but it is now being questioned due to the prolonged aftermath of the Great Recession. Our representatives must stop using this transition as a bogeyman for protectionism and xenophobia.
If we truly believe that our moral and economic obligation is to our children's children, we must all commit to rebuilding a middle-class economy. We need to restore their hope. Mark Twain puts it simply: "Plan for the future, because that's where you are going to spend the rest of your life."
First Vice Chair of Summit Municipal Democratic Committee
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