…because I’m an economist and a mom–that’s why!

Talking Points for Courageous Democrats

September 3rd, 2009 . by economistmom


I’m currently reading a “self-help” book on “humane virtues” by a favorite writer/therapist (the book is “Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love” by Stephanie Dowrick).  The first of the “virtues” she discusses is courage.  So I’m reading these wise words about courage and thinking that not only is personal courage often required in order to live our individual lives honestly and fully, but these days, political courage seems very necessary on the part of our leaders if we’re to get our nation to a better place as well.  On “courage,” Stephanie Dowrick writes (my emphasis added in bold):

Without courage there can be little consciousness.  Increasing our consciousness or awareness of who and what we individually and collectively are–and may be–demands courage and allows it.  It takes courage to wake up to how mysterious and profound life is, and not to avoid, deny, scorn, repress or contain what doesn’t fit easily with our world view.  It takes courage to know how wrong we can be, and allow our minds to be changed as well as broadened

There is a great deal in everyday life that pulls us away from being courageous.  We do not live in courageous or even heroic times.  In a culture that overtly and persistently thrives on divisiveness and competition, that lauds winners then cuts them down, and that condemns losers while also relying on their complicity, it is all to easy to see ourselves as victims and to blame others for the difficulties that are part of every human life.  Within such a culture it takes a deliberate commitment to the cultivation of self-love and care for others to remain responsible for each and every banana skin we drop–and to look around us to check that no one else is skidding.

We live in a culture that adores talk.  Despite that, it remains a rare and moving experience to hear someone actually take responsibility honestly for something they have done, to hear someone say: “I did that.  I am sorry. How could I do things differently?”, or “I am sorry that happened.  I deeply regret it.  How can I now help?” Such simple honesty requires courage.  And it builds trust.

Instead we are far more likely to hear others or ourselves say versions of “I only did it because…”, or “She made me”, or “I never did it at all.”…

–from Stephanie Dowrick, Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love, 1997 (pages 15, 56-57).

A few days ago I argued that the Republicans are showing a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to the health care reform debate.  I’ve thought about what bothers me about how the Democrats are handling the fiscal policy issues, and I realize they don’t deserve the charge of being “hypocrites.”  But I do think they deserve to be called “wimps”–in that they have lacked courage in their control of the legislative and (now) executive branches of government over the past couple years.  President Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress have the power to really change things, and in fact were elected to change things.  They no longer have to roll over on their backs about the “unaffordable” and “unfair” Bush tax cuts.  They no longer have to put up with a president who wants to continue to subsidize the oil industry through tax preferences and doesn’t believe that climate change is a real problem.  And they no longer are powerless to do something about the millions of Americans who are uninsured.

They’ve got control now and hence the potential to really change things for the better, yet it seems they still lack the courage required to turn their convictions into policy.  The missing link is a fully honest presentation of those convictions to the American people–a courageous “telling it like it is” about how things have to change in order to achieve policies that are consistent with the deeply held values and desires, not just of the politicians and policymakers, but of Americans more broadly.  Change is always difficult, but especially when it involves tough choices.  Only when the politicians start talking honestly with the American people will they earn the people’s trust and gain support for their policies.  As Stephanie Dowrick put it above:  “Simple honesty requires courage”–and that courage “builds trust.”

How would the Democrats talk about policy choices if they were more courageous?  I have just a few ideas/examples of some “talking points for courageous Democrats”:

  • On the Bush tax cuts and letting them expire:  “You’re damn right it’s the largest tax increase in American history–because we refuse to continue the largest and most fiscally irresponsible tax cut in American history.”  (By the way, the banana peel reference in the Stephanie Dowrick quote brings me great joy!)
  • On health care reform:  “We cannot afford to subsidize every form of medical care, no matter how costly it is, for everybody, no matter how rich they are.  And anyway, some of the health care we buy right now is inefficient, no matter who pays for it.”  (”And here are the specific ways in which we’re going to save money on our health care spending: [fill in the blanks!]“)
  • On climate change policy:  “In order to reduce global warming, we do have to reduce our carbon-intensive energy consumption, which means we do need a policy that will indeed raise the price of (carbon-based) energy.”
  • Regarding President Obama and reconciling the proposals in his budget with the economic reality and his campaign promises:  “Yes, I did that (promised no tax increases for households under $250,000 and then proposed to keep most of the Bush tax cuts–that I actually don’t like that much).  I am sorry. (I didn’t think the budget outlook would be this bad.)  I still want to do health care reform though.  How can I now help?“…and then some smart advisor of his or maybe even the American people will tell him they’re actually ok seeing their taxes come up if it helps pay for better health coverage, and they understand that it will be easier to keep up with rising health costs if we reduced the largest tax expenditure which happens to be tied to health expenditures (the exclusion of employer-provided health insurance).

Can any of you suggest some other “courageous” Democratic talking points?

4 Responses to “Talking Points for Courageous Democrats”

  1. comment number 1 by: SteveinCH

    Just for fun Diane, I’ll try:

    On climate change policy: The bill just passed by the house is a farce. There is simply no earthly way to reduce greenhouse gasses by 85% by 2050. Rather than a complex piece of legislation we are going to start over with a carbon tax while simultaneously exploring every conceivable avenue of domestic production.

    On health care reform: The most substantial issues in insurance are insufficient competition and lack of portability. Accordingly, we are going to do away with the group insurance market entirely, have individuals pool and buy and eliminate all barriers to competition across state lines, and expand Medicaid eligibility. After we see how that goes for a few years, we’ll work on the rest.

    Regarding taxes: Yes, I shouldn’t have claimed that I could not tax the vast majority of the tax base and make the math work; however, I pledge today that I will restrain the growth of spending to historical ranges and make a tax code that is as fair as possible for all Americans, not one that uses the tax code to “correct” for economic outcomes in the market.

    Of course, no Democrat, even a courageous one would say any of these things but a guy’s gotta dream.

  2. comment number 2 by: Brooks

    Here’s my fantasy Democratic Party declaration (although not in these words for public consumption), although I guess if I’m goin’ fantasy anyway, I may as well say it’s my fantasy bi-partisan declaration:

    We need true campaign finance reform: Under our current system, large campaign contributors representing special interests have vastly disoproportionate influence on who can mount a viable campaign, on who wins, on who gets access to members of Congress and the president (directly and via staff), and ultimately on what gets through Congress and is signed by the president. The result is not only a perversion of the concept of one-person, one-vote, but in practical terms, huge rip-offs of Americans as taxpayers and consumers through all the payback to those large contributors: unjustifiable industry subsidies, special tax breaks and other forgone revenues (e.g., cap-and-trade permits granted rather than auctioned; same with broadcast spectrum a decade ago ), favorable regulations that conflict with the public interest, import quotas and tariffs (that keep prices artificially high and, in the case of agriculture, that significantly limit how much farmers in poor nations can export to us; also the asinine tariff on Brazillian sugar ethanol that artificially boosts the corn ethanol industry – and increases food prices as production is diverted — even though corn ethanol is much less attractive from both economic and climate change perspectives ), and of course, pork-barrel spending. Large campaign contributors aren’t stupid. They get a very good ROI from their rent-seeking investments. And we pay the price in a variety of ways.

    Additionally, the public has enough basic knowledge and common sense to sense that the above dynamics play a big role in D.C. (and at other levels of government), and the resulting lack of trust – the often justified suspicion that politicians are not talking straight and are not promoting and passing legislation that they truly believe to be optimal or even good for the public – is a major obstacle to solving the huge problem of our long-term fiscal imbalance. Solving that problem will require the politicians to ask for real sacrifices (related to increasing taxes and reducing projected spending), and on top of the natural resistance that would exist even if the public didn’t think we had “the best government money can buy”, there is the suspicion that they are being asked to sacrifice more so that special interests who fund campaigns can gain or sacrifice less. Everyone seeking to rationalize opposition to sacrifice (in their own minds and in partisan rhetoric) finds this suspicion a handy resource, the material they need to erect a roadblock to sacrifices that actually are needed to avert a fiscal and economic meltdown (which will occur if we try to maintain current fiscal policies for another couple of decades).

    We need to move to a system of mostly public funding of campaigns. We need a mostly publicly funded campaign system, based on small contributions and a very high matching multiple. It should be voluntary (to avoid First Amendment issues), but so attractive that no one sees an advantage to opting out (with flexible spending cap and matching multiple to match higher spending of a rival who opts out). Will that mean a new type of federal spending? Sure, somewhere around a couple of billion dollars each cycle, but it will save us – as taxpayers and consumers – so much by eliminating much of the above rip-offs that it will be the best investment taxpayers have ever made.

    A bill that would move us in the right direction is the Fair Elections Now Act

  3. comment number 3 by: Brooks

    Oh, and if Democrats want to give the misleading rhetoric on healthcare “reform” a rest, they can discard the talking points I list here

    (and yes, Republicans have their own bullsh*t talking points, but this thread is about the Democrats)

  4. comment number 4 by: AMTbuff

    Voters are not ready to hear it, but I’d love to hear either party say “Here are the benefits we are going to cut and the promises we are going to break, because we just can’t afford them.” I want one party to think big, making proposals that could actually prevent the budget crunch.

    The party that does this will lose. After the government hits the wall, that party will be seen as having tried to prevent the disaster. The other party will be seen as having caused the disaster by inaction, when actually the voters caused it. Everyone loves to blame someone else, and the voters deserve a chance to do so!