Practopian Perspective Issues
Vol 1 Issue 29 - Looking for Balance in our Next President
2019 Mar 29
Welcome to Issue # 29! Feel free to share generously with like-minded friends. If someone forwarded this issue to you, then you can sign up at no charge to receive your very own copy in the future.
“I consider myself a realist. I have certainly seen my share of the world as it really is and not how I wish it would be. What I’ve learned is that it is foolish to view realism and idealism as incompatible or to consider our power and wealth as encumbered by the demands of justice, morality and conscience.”
– John McCain, from an Op-Ed in the New York Times
News and Analysis
“We are told that America is divided and polarized as never before. Yet when it comes to many important areas of policy, that simply isn’t true.
“About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.
“The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it the oppression of the supermajority. Ignoring what most of the country wants – as much as demagogy and political divisiveness – is what is making the public so angry.”
– from “The Oppression of the Supermajority” by Tim Wu in The New York Times on March 5, 2019
Blog Post # 1: How a Balanced Candidate Might Win the Presidency
I wrote recently to express my skepticism about the chances of a centrist candidate becoming our next U.S. president.
I write today to share my belief that a balanced candidate might well win.
What do I mean by political balance?
Avoid the Extremes
There are certain positions, phrases and characteristics that will clearly scare away large numbers of voters. Here are a few examples.
- Talk of “open borders” or any seeming blanket endorsement of all immigration.
- Any argument for social welfare programs starting with the assertion that “We are the richest nation on earth.” (Most voters don’t feel wealthy, so all this phrase does is make them reach for their wallets to make sure their money and credit cards are still present.)
- Support for a new “Tommy Guns for Teachers” program as a means of reducing gun violence in schools.
- Comparisons to other countries that make it sound like all our problems would be easily solved if we would just copy Sweden. Or Australia. Or some other country so different from the U.S. that comparisons immediately mark the speaker as out of touch with the realities of American history and geography, as well as contemporary reality.
I would also argue that it would be good to find a balance between youthful enthusiasm and the wisdom of experience. Our Constitution provides useful limits on one end (no chance of AOC running until she turns 35!), but leaves it up to the discretion of parties and voters to draw the line on the other side. For my money, I’d draw the upward bound at 69 years of age. Trump was our first president to enter office at the age of 70 or over, and I’m not convinced the experiment has turned out all that well.
Barry Goldwater famously asserted that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” but the results of the 1964 presidential election indicate that self-identifying as an extremist never won anyone a national election.
A Balanced Set of Experiences
Managers often talk about the difference between an employee who has had ten years of experience, vs. someone who has experienced the same year ten times.
I think voters instinctively assess candidates in a similar fashion, and distrust those who seem to have spent their entire careers focusing on one particular niche. It’s hard to trust a one-dimensional candidate, because all they’ve proven is their ability to master one narrow area. But once a candidate shows you how they have behaved in two or three different areas, voters gain a better sense of who they are as a person.
A Balanced Set of Stakeholders
Want to help out labor?
That’s great, so long as it’s not done to the exclusion of business interests.
Want to protect the environment?
Super. So long as you keep the needs of business and workers in mind.
Want to lend a helping hand to business?
OK. Just remember the legitimate rights and needs of consumers.
Labor, capital, consumers, communities: a balanced candidate needs to keep all of these in mind.
A Balanced Set of Issues
Here is a list of potential issues for voters and candidates to wrestle with in the 2020 elections:
- Immigration and border security
- Income inequality
- Environmental protections
- Foreign relations
- Military strength
- Social services
- Equal rights for all citizens
- The influence of money in politics
- Government inefficiency
- Complexity of laws and regulations
- The dominant power of large companies
- Gun violence
This is an intimidating list, and no candidate can effectively talk about all of these at once. Yet all of these are discussed regularly by the media, and all of these are on voters’ minds, and all of these are hot buttons for significant numbers of voters.
It’s hard to see how a candidate focusing on only one of these issues – or even any two or three – can win the confidence of a majority of voters. I contend that a successful candidate will need to craft meaningful positions on all or most of these.
For additional thoughts on this topic see my post below, offering “My List of Requirements for our Next President” in greater detail.
Despite what it may sometimes seem, there are a number of things that most Americans care about:
- A better future for our children
- The American dream, offering an opportunity for all to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
- Mindful use of our abundant natural resources
- A successful, shared culture
- Caring for our neighbors when they’re in need
- Meaningful labor with decent wages for those willing to work
- A chance for everyone to build a better life for themselves and their families
A well-balanced candidate will touch on all of these themes.
A Balanced Set of Principles
Issues come and go, proposed solutions appear and then fade away, and voters can often and sometimes unpredictably change their minds about both.
On the other hand, a simple set of balanced principles, if observed consistently, can impress voters with their powers of endurance.
Here are some suggestions:
- The primary role of U.S. government is to protect and serve U.S. citizens. It cannot be seen to be a burden on its citizens or on industry, and it cannot operate for the benefit of other countries and their citizens.
- We need to strike a balance between the welfare of current citizens and the welfare of future generations. Both are important; neither can be sacrificed for the other.
- Our society rewards those willing to work, with greater rewards for those who work smarter and harder.
- We believe in the value of competition when it is exercised on a level playing field.
- We can embrace change in the form of progress, especially when it comes about via new technology that makes our lives easier and more rewarding; we will resent change that makes our lives more difficult and less rewarding.
- Education must be available as needed to help all of our citizens become and remain informed and productive members of our society.
A Centrist by any Other Name…?
Is balance just another name for centrism?
If the times were different, one might make that case.
The chief challenge for an avowed centrist is their willingness to define themselves in relationship to the left and the right, based on the assumption that they both stray too far along a single spectrum from some ideal norm.
These days, though, it’s hard to reach agreement in our society on what a desired norm might look like, it’s hard to figure out exactly what either the right or the left stand for, there is no single primary spectrum separating the two, and it’s hard to understand how far to the left or the right might be too far.
So much for centrism.
The idea of balance, though, can be applied more broadly in a variety of contexts, as I’ve tried to show above.
I ended my previous piece by conjuring up an image of a centrist as a jet ski that’s lost its rider, endlessly circling in one place until someone comes along to claim it.
A more inspiring image is that of a balanced athlete, ready to embark on a new journey and prepared to face new challenges.
I know which one would get my vote.
– Herb Bowie, first published at Practopian.org on Mar 25, 2019
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Blog Post # 2: My List of Requirements for our Next President
While many of us are waiting for our 2020 presidential candidates to hit the road and give us a chance to to get to know them better, I decided to stop waiting and let them know what I’m looking for in a new president.
I mean after all, it doesn’t seem fair to make them guess.
Note that these requirements are presented in what is intended to be a logical sequence. Except where otherwise stated, all of these requirements are intended to be of equal priority.
I’m eager to hear what others think about this list, and am open to revising as I get feedback. I’ve numbered everything to make lines easier to reference in comments.
A. Under 70, and in good health.
B. Capable of connecting personally with Americans from all walks of life.
C. A clean past record of public service.
D. Thoughtful, informed and articulate.
II. Things to Avoid
Here are things I don’t want to hear.
A. “We are the richest nation on earth.”
This phrase always seems to signal that the speaker is a socialist who thinks we are a nation of infinite riches that can afford to be spend endlessly on any number of new programs.
Following is a suggested policy values framework. I don’t want to dictate policy, but I do want agreement on what is real and what is important.
A. Immigration and Border Security
- Our nation needs strong borders that minimize illegal immigration.
- Our immigration policy needs to be focused first and foremost on our own national interests.
- As a nation, we cannot continue to absorb large numbers of the globe’s growing human population. We need to stabilize the size of our US population so that we can meet our commitments to adequately provide for our own citizens in the future.
- We need to respect the human rights of all people, including those desiring to immigrate, as well as the rights of our own citizens.
- Long-time residents and their families, assuming they are working and without any criminal history, should have a path to citizenship available to them.
B. Income and Wealth Inequality
- We need to acknowledge that our society must serve four different (and often overlapping) sets of stakeholders: Workers, Business owners and executives, Consumers and Communities.
- We must acknowledge that, for the last several decades, the playing field has been tilted heavily in favor of business owners and executives, while often paying scant attention to the legitimate needs of consumers, workers and communities.
- It is important that we preserve significant financial incentives for businesses, business owners and execs.
- We must begin to undo the excessive transfer of wealth that has operated in favor of the top business owners and execs.
- We must find a way to provide legitimate living wages, including decent healthcare, for all citizens working legally in our country.
- We must vigorously defend the rights to safety for consumers and communities, including environmental protections.
- We must do all of this by bringing legitimate representatives of all stakeholders to the table in order to forge agreements that will be equitable and workable for all four major interest groups: workers, business owners/execs, consumers and communities.
C. Family Planning
- We must provide strong support for all humane methods of family planning, first in our country, but also around the world. The ever-growing size of our global human population is a destabilizing force that will wreak havoc worldwide unless it is slowed and stopped. We must face the reality that global ecological and human systems cannot expand indefinitely to support a continually growing human population.
D. Our Natural Environment
- We must acknowledge that human activity is causing negative impacts on our natural environment in multiple ways: Depletion and overuse of natural resources; Pollution of our land, sea and air, including the emission of greenhouse gases, and including global warming; Extinction of species.
- We must treat as real the latest and best projections of the majority of our scientists in terms of future impacts of human activity on our natural environment.
- We must make it our top priority to ensure that future generations inherit a world at least as habitable as the one we enjoy today.
E. Foreign Relations
- Our top priority is always to care for our own citizens.
- We must acknowledge that we live in a world of ever-increasing global interdependencies.
- We cannot provide unlimited help to other countries, and other populations, that refuse to take sensible steps to help themselves.
- We must support global legal and economic systems that provide a stable, enduring basis for peaceful and productive relations between nations.
- We must work with the international community to discourage players who threaten our joint peace and prosperity, including those who refuse to work within legitimate and established frameworks governing international relations.
- We must maintain a preeminent military capability, and must work to counter reasonable projections of realistic threats.
- We must continue to provide for the wellness and financial security of our population of senior citizens through Social Security and Medicare.
- At the same time, as human lifespans lengthen, it may be reasonable to continue to adjust retirement ages upwards, without impacting any citizens currently receiving benefits, or within five years of receiving benefits.
- We must continue to provide free public K - 12 education for all children of our citizens.
- We must work to ensure that a high-quality education is provided equitably to children from all of our communities.
- The goal of our public education system should be to produce adults who are ready to be constructive members of our society, with the tools they need to continue lifelong learning throughout their lives.
- We must support the continued, ongoing education of our citizens with a balanced variety of programs.
I. Citizens’ Rights
- All of our citizens must be given equal and fair treatment before the law, without regards for skin color, ethnic origin, socioeconomic status, gender orientation or religious labeling.
- Our legal system must respect the rights of all of our citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
- We must reduce the amount of time politicians have to spend on fund-raising. Once they are in office, they must be focused on public service.
- We must reduce the influence of lobbyists and political advertising. In their current states of excess, neither help our voters or our political leaders make fair, informed decisions.
- We must support the activities of a free and independent press to help inform our citizenry.
- All politicians, no matter what their affiliations, must be committed to working together with others for the benefit of their constituents.
K. Government Actions and Operations
- We must actively manage government to make it more efficient and more effective.
- All branches and levels of government should have transparent and meaningful metrics that can be used to judge their success, as well as reasonable improvement goals.
- All laws and regulations should be subjected to regular review, and should be simplified, streamlined and kept up-to-date on a regular basis.
- Regulation and enforcement should provide reasonable protections for workers, consumers and communities, without creating an onerous burden for businesses.
- Our government should strive to balance income and expenditures, with the goal of gradually reducing our national debt.
L. Technology and Business
- We must encourage and ensure, to the greatest degree possible, a reasonable degree of competition in as many areas as possible.
- We should not allow companies to defy reasonable public expectations for open and fair competition.
- We should actively work to develop and promote standards that will allow competitors to interoperate on a level playing field.
- We should not allow particular companies to gain and indefinitely retain exclusive, privileged access to information and systems that should best be shared for the benefit of all members of our society.
- We can and should establish standards for usage of limited, shared resources that should best be used for the benefit of all members of our society.
- We have to ensure a level playing field that continues to allow for the entry of new and innovative players. Since larger players often have inherent competitive advantages, this will sometimes mean that smaller players will be given additional help to allow them to compete.
M. Use of Personal Information by Large Organizations
- Citizens must have easy, continual, digital access to whatever agreements allow large organizations to collect and use information about them, and they must be able to easily opt-out, at any time, from any such agreements.
- A universal template should be developed for the definition of such agreements, with emphasis on common language and formats, and ease of understanding by private citizens.
- All organizations should use this common template for crafting such agreements.
- Governments must enforce adherence to these agreements, including opt-out provisions.
- Included in these agreements would be rights for mass contact using emails and telephone numbers; without specific agreements for such mass contact, this sort of contact (phone banks, robocalls, mass emails) should be forbidden by law.
N. Public Health
- We must help collect and leverage and distribute the best information available about threats to the health of our citizenry, in order to inform both private and public actions, including policy decisions.
- We must be willing to take reasonable actions to minimize threats to our public health.
O. Gun Violence
- See Citizens’ Rights and Public Health. We must be willing to make reasonable trade-offs between the two.
If this list seems long and detailed, then that’s because governing our country is a complicated business, with lots of moving parts. Trying to make it seem simple by boiling it down to a few slogans is a fool’s game, and I’ve certainly had enough of fools trying to pretend that our national priorities can be communicated to us 280 characters at a time.
So what do you think? Do you find yourself agreeing with most of this? If not, then where have I run off the rails?
Looking forward to hearing your feedback!
– Herb Bowie, first published at Practopian.org on Mar 24, 2019
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