Thursday 21 February 2008

On Democratic Values

Last night at the HELADA (Hellenic-American Democratic Association) meeting, I suggested that the only way Democrats will be relevant to Greek-Americans and US expats living in Greece is to have a clear mission and role in the community. I believe that politics should be relevant: we can’t go scurrying around every four years asking for votes, but be absent in the intervening years. We have to know what we believe in and express it clearly.

Yet this seems to be a difficult task, since our beliefs are often based on an intuitive understanding of right and wrong, of fair and unfair, which aren’t reduced to pithy soundbites.

So, I’m putting forth a list of sound-bites for Democrats who need an accurate and memorable description of what they believe in. As always, your comments are welcome.

As a Democrat, I believe in:

A fair living wage for all workers
Specifically, an annual raise in the minimum wage in line with inflation and productivity.

A national healthcare system
Specifically, a system which preserves choice, but which makes the opt-in to a national public system economically advantageous. The capping of medical malpractice suits to reasonable levels, and the right of the government of negotiate rationally (in the economic sense) with private healthcare and pharmaceutical providers.

A well-funded, competitive and cohesive national education policy
Specifically, a system financed on an objective budgeting process set at the national level, not on local real estate values. A well-funded system that is recognized as a key source of national cohesion and competitiveness, which allows dedicated students to advance through primary, secondary and tertiary public education based on merit. A system which pays teachers a living wage, invests in educational infrastructure and methods, based on clear national standards. The clear separation of church and state in public education.

Protecting the environment
Specifically, a growth policy that balances long-term environmental protection and restoration with short-term economic needs. The limitation of carbon emissions and other pollutants, the protection of endangered forests, oceans, lakes and species, and the shift towards an economy based on renewable sources of energy.

An ethical foreign policy
Specifically, one which respects international law and the rights of different countries, cultures and religions. One which does not violate the Geneva Convention and the core values of the United Nations system. One which does not seek of impose our short-term preferences with misguided military action, but seeks sustainable, long-term solutions to the pressing problems of poverty, religious extremism, failed states, climate change and the other root causes of terrorism and instability. The demilitarization of foreign policy.

A fair and regulated economy
Specifically, an economy based on a clear strategy of development, avoiding the excesses of short-term solutions which favour “insiders” or large capital interests. Incentives to promote savings, lower- and middle-income families. The mitigation of systemic problems, such as unregulated hedge funds, insider trading, an excessive reliance on real estate development or stock market “booms” for personal finance, and the unsustainable reliance on too few insurers and re-insurors, ratings agencies and other key actors in the financial system. A balanced national budget with active debt reduction. A reliance on fair trade that respects key priorities in environmental, labour and poverty alleviation.

A fair and predictable tax system
Specifically, one which guarantees the greater good of the majority of citizens, particularly those in lower and middle classes. A system which closes tax loop-holes for the affluent, and particularly companies who register in offshore tax havens such as Bermuda or Cayman Islands, but benefit from public subsidies and spending in from the US government (state and national). At the same time, the tax system must be fair to companies, and promote growth and employment, and be competitive compared to international competitors.

A viable pension system
Specifically, maintaining the right for personal choice in a portion of retirement savings, while strengthening the role of Social Security as an insurer of last resort, but also as a primary insurer for those who choose. An expansion of incentives for retirement savings, extending these to public (national and state) plans (such as CALPERS). An expansion of taxes to strengthen Social Security.

Educated, economically-aware citizens
Specifically, a population with the capacity to make intelligence, rational decisions on key issues such as retirement savings, healthcare choice, real estate investments and consumption. The expansion of adult learning as well as secondary and tertiary education, bringing courses such as “home economics” back into the curricula, and preparing our citizens for the economic challenges of the future. Everyone must be able to draft a personal budget, calculate mortgage payments, prepare their retirement plans and otherwise understand basic household finance.

A fair criminal justice system
Specifically, the design of a legal system that ensures fast and fair resolution of criminal cases, based on national standards. The capping of malpractise, class action and other legal practices which drive up costs and benefit affluent insiders. The availability of qualified legal representation for all income levels. The reform of the prison system, including the possible decriminalization of some narcotics offenses. The provision of a national narcotics programme which addresses the root causes of addiction, provides treatment on a large scale, and calibrates penalties to violent crimes rather than simple possession.

If I were to pick three short-term priorities above all else (similar to the enduring Republican platform on taxes, a strong military and individual freedom), these would be the first three on the list:

• A fair living wage for all workers
• A national healthcare system
• A well-funded, competitive and cohesive national education policy

For me, these are the key priorities in the next administration. Anyone who can make detailed promises and measurable progress towards the key, bipartisan priorities has my vote.

1 comment:

  1. Phillip, I agree with your estimation of a Democratic platform for Dems in Greece. But what I see lacking is the restoration and strengthening of our civil rights and our Constitution. I see these as paramount to both the campaigns and to us Americans living abroad. Just my thoughts, Charity Moschopoulos