What do Americans Stand For

Language. Republicans have mastered it. They use carefully crafted talking points to appeal to the aspiring individualist in us all. And they’ve been effective.

Democrats, on the other hand, flail with language, and they lose.

Ultimately, language communicates what we stand for – or at least what we want people to believe we stand for. Again, this is where Republicans excel.

Democrats, on the other hand, fail to communicate much of anything other than that they dislike Republican policy. But what do they stand for. What should they stand for?

The Republicans have been effective. Not just at winning seats in Congress, but their rhetoric has resulted in streamlined government. Federal institutions are not the bloated beasts they were in the seventies. The IRS is a model of efficiency (and they’re kind and helpful when you call too – I know -I’ve called a few times). Social Security overhead costs are extremely lean.  They’ve gone from 2.1% overhead costs in the seventies to just 0.7% today. Compare that to the typical private managed funds of upwards of 1-5% and it’s clear the costs of administration are lean.

As an ex-Republican, who feels her party abandoned her back when Newt Gingrich proposed his disingenuous ‘Contract with America’, I wonder why Democrats have done so poorly. As someone who recognizes that the government is actually capable of delivering basic services, and indeed is often the best option for some services, I wonder why Democrats don’t talk about these things.

From my perspective, there seem to be many factors. For one, the disciplined talking points of the right have cowed democrats into using GOP language (for example death tax rather than estate tax, and climate change vs global warming). Secondly, both parties, under our system of privately funded campaigns, have been captured by a handful of very wealthy corporate and individual donors. So the Democratic party would lose a lot of funding if they started talking like populists.  In the end, they talk more about how bad the other party is rather than explaining what they stand for. And it’s hard for voters to rally behind a candidate who doesn’t explain – in very simple terms – what she stands for.

So then I wondered, irrespective of party (I’m unaffiliated personally), what do I stand for, and what do I expect my government to stand for?

  1. The Constitution – especially our individual rights called out in the first ten amendments (aka the bill of rights). The number one job of the government is to protect me from the government. So, for example, I expect the federal government to protect me and every other human from the  unconstitutional practice of civil asset forfeiture as practiced by so many local police departments across the country.  Civil asset forfeiture violates the 4th and 5th amendments and I expect the federal government to put an end to it. The Obama administration at least took steps to curtail it. But the Trump administration seems set to reverse course and actually support its use.  The current Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, doesn’t see anything wrong with seizing property from citizens without a conviction. This is scary stuff. He should at least know the law, being the top lawyer of the land and all.
  2. The Constitution applies to humans and government branches only. It should not apply to corporations.
  3. I expect Kindness and Equal Treatment – my government must treat every citizen as a human worthy of respect and kindness. Even criminals. Even poor people. Even lazy people. Even losers. Even the mentally ill. Even old people. Even artists. Even self-proclaimed racists, socialists, fascists, capitalists, or communists. Currently we seem to have rules for rich people and harsher draconian rules for everyone else. Somehow we think rich people have earned white glove treatment, and others are undeserving. It’s as if poor minorities are assumed to be criminals until they prove otherwise, while trust-fund babies are given the benefit of the doubt.
  4. I expect a Safety Net. I take no pleasure in the fact that millions of Americans must choose between death or bankruptcy when facing a cancer diagnosis. Single payer basic healthcare should be provided to all.  It’s really not an issue of free-market vs government provided care. We can put aside ideology and simply study other countries that have tried various systems. It’s called ‘looking for bright spots.’ We evaluate results and adopt policies that deliver basic services for the least cost. It’s pretty straight forward.
  5. I expect Worker Protections. If a group of workers want to organize, that’s their right. The right to peaceably assemble is in the 1st amendment, and as noted before, the top role of the federal government is to uphold the constitution for every single citizen. Corporations can work with these organized groups directly – I don’t want my government colluding with corporations against unions.  Sure – if a union is corrupt then the government can bring corruption charges. But outlawing unions outright is unconstitutional. ( In fact, I think corporations would do well to follow Germany’s example and mandate that a certain percentage of board members come from the workers. Issues could be dealt with as they arise, before they become problems. )
  6. I expect government policy to follow the will of the people, not the will of billionaire trust fund babies and corporate lobbyists. However, it’s clear that policy is driven (and squashed) by the will of donors.
  7. I expect elections to be publicly funded. Allowing unfettered money into politics has led us to a nasty place where super PACs and think tanks willingly embrace soviet style propaganda techniques to twist voters perceptions of reality, and nudge them to vote for money-backed candidates.
  8. I expect standards to be established for anyone purporting to report ‘news’. Right now, anyone can spew any bullshit and call it news. It’s creating havoc among voters who cannot tell what’s true and false anymore. We need a 21st century Fairness Doctrine.
  9. We need an overhaul to our electoral system to come up to date with modern life. People live in cities now. We have the internet and mail in voting. First past the post voting is anathema to democracy as it guarantees a two party system. This needs to be replaced with pretty much anything else.
  10. Abortions are bad. We should all work together to get the abortion rate to zero. Staking out ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ identities however stops us from coming together on this goal and finding solutions that work. This is because those identities presume their own solutions. Here again we can look for bright spots and adopt policies that work. It turns out, if you provide early reproduction education to to children, provide free contraception to everyone, and de-stigmatize sex, abortion rates decline. We should be talking about these solutions and putting them into practice.

So these are a few of MY values. I feel like democrats, by not talking about their values, or worse, staking out opposing positions makes them unlikable. They let republicans erect straw men visions of what they stand for. For example, a republican might say that democrats are ‘pro-abortion’. Uh, no, they’re not. But if they don’t stand up and say they think abortion is bad, this is how they’ll be characterized. And they’ll continue to lose.

Like I said, I’m unaffiliated with any party, after having been a registered republican for nearly 20 years. But I’m like a lot of voters. When I actually think about specific policy – free of party affiliation – my preferences tend to line up with progressive values. So for goodness sakes : Democrats, Progressives – take back the conversation and talk about your VALUES. Stop letting the other side paint your portrait. Because they make you look like a baby eating monster.

Learning Italian

For the past month, my husband Dirk has been laser-focused on learning Italian. I’ve been impressed with his rapid uptake of vocabulary. He’s got lots of the basics down, but sometimes, like me, he misfires. Here’s a recent example.

We were biking back to our apartment after class on Tuesday.  In Italian, he said that morning he’d encountered one of our neighbors, an expat from Finland.

“Sta mattina, incontro la donna di Finlandia.” … “Io vengo venti volte.”

I repeated his comment in English, you know, to check for understanding*:

“This morning you met the woman from Finland, and you came twenty times?”

Oh the look on his face. I nearly cried laughing. Of course that’s not what he’d meant. He’d meant to say that he stopped to talk with her, because he’d seen her around the place maybe twenty times, and thought he should say hello.

Dirk in bici a Piazza Bra

*He’s mostly learned present tense, so his comment was in present tense. But since he started with ‘sta mattina’ (this morning), I knew he was intending the phrase to be in past tense.  So that’s how I interpreted it. Just sayin’ for all you sticklers out there.