Thursday, June 28, 2018

What is the winning Democratic philosophy to defeat the radical right?

The Democratic Party is not going to win the minds of Americans with a platform or philosophy that advocates for more government, pits corporations against people, or advocates greater redistribution of wealth.

While I agree that the billions in tax breaks given to corporations could be better spent on investing in the future economy and giving the tools to the next generation to succeed, if this philosophy drives the Democratic narrative exclusively, it will face an uphill battle against the Republican philosophy which connects better with the Founding Father's ideals around individual responsibility and the potential of every man and woman.

While I agree that investing that money in everyday Americans could result in the next genius that drives our economy and creates jobs, saves the environment, or cures an incurable disease, this will not win over a specific demographic Democrats need to convince.  This demographic includes those disgusted by the lies and character of our current President but recognizes the inherent differences between individual responsibility and expanding government.

So, here is where I come from.

I work for a corporation, mutually owned by our members.  I make a good salary.  Our company touts social responsibility.  We may not live it fully everyday, but we are certainly not without a conscience.

My parents worked hard as teachers to locate in a community the afforded me the best public education possible.  I am blessed.  My parents saved enough to pay for my college and graduate school.  I am very blessed.

I recognize the vast majority of those living next to me in Detroit have not been blessed with what I was provided by my parents.  I recognize there is a long history of institutional racism and discrimination that has acted to minimize the opportunities to Americans, my fellow citizens, who I consider my neighbors, yet I still believe in loving thy neighbor as thyself.

I realize there are many individuals that have not been treated fairly over time, particularly in a nation with great wealth.  We owe it to our fellow neighbors to ensure we respect one another, give opportunities to those born to less fortunate circumstances, and that the rich are not able to profit on the backs of the poor.  I believe that Corporations share an equal social responsibility to provide for the welfare of the community and their employees, and to not undermining the communities and environment they occupy.

I care about the environment and slowing climate change.  I feel blessed everyday to have the freedom to travel this earth, live in a beautiful part of the country, and enjoy nature when I am afforded the time to engage.  I am a creature of Mother Nature, and want to protect our earth for all those to come.  I feel we should invest more in initiatives that both preserve our environment and grow our economy sustainably.  I envision a day we don't have to continue to rob the earth of all of its resources to maintain a high quality of life.

I believe in individual rights.  The right of a woman to choose what to do with her body, the right for those in love to be together regardless of sex or gender, and the right for all Americans to live free of racism and discrimination.

As Democrats, there is mostly a universal agreement around this set of beliefs and philosophy, an din many ways, these beliefs reflect the fundamental religious teachings to love thy neighbor and the earth we have inherited.

Yet, basing our policies off of these core beliefs isn't going to win over the minds of moderate voters like myself who recognize that there is a balance between building an accountable, fair government and individual and social responsibility.

Instead, Democrats need to win over moderates and Republicans disgusted by the radical Right while exposing the fundamental hypocrisy and flaws of the GOP.

One thought is to turn the term "liberal" on the radical Right.

  • The Hateful Right is liberal when it comes to policies to destroy (not conserve) the environment.
  • The Hateful Right is liberal when it comes to allowing the President and Congress to run huge budget deficits which acts to devalue the money we call make.  
  • The Hateful Right is liberal when it comes to passing laws to infringe on the individual rights of Americans to live how they want, and that infringe on their privacy.
  • The Hateful Right is liberal in the way they change their mind based on whatever our President tells them to believe.
  • The Hateful Right is liberal when it comes to trampling on family values, allowing our President's immigration policy to conflict with the fundamental values of being a Christian.   
  • The Hateful Right is liberal in terms of lying and changing the dialogue to make their followers believe whatever the President wants them to believe.
  • The Hateful Right (media) is liberal in making people feel like disempowered victims of Democratic policies and fact based reporting instead of individuals with the ability to control their own destiny and think for themselves.
  • The Right is liberal when it comes to being complicit to the truth that our President's campaign colluded with Russia to undermine the democracy our parents, grandparents, and forefathers built.  True patriots should be disgusted with the truths that are to come, let alone the truths that have already been revealed.  
But that narrative is negative in nature.  You don't have to tell a person who voted for the President (just because they hated Hillary or thought that they would benefit financially) that the Hateful Right does not reflect the whole of the Republican Party.  Moderate Republicans know that by now, and they have either accepted they made a mistake and kept quiet, they became very public and defected from the party, or they are staying quiet out of fear of appearing weak.

Or they are just don't care as they got what they want through the tax cut and everything else the President does doesn't effect them while it may offend them and certainly offends others.  They are the silent majority of Republicans who say "I don't care.  Leave me alone.  Don't tell me how to think."  Those who keep quiet want to deny their accountability for the current President.   Their silence is a reflection of their shame, powerlessness, and apathy to attempt undo the past.  They know they voted for a person that they knew was horrible and reflected the worst of American greed and hate politics.  But they got their tax cut.  And accepting that they are complicit to his actions is asking them to take too much accountability.  

While this may sound condescending and harsh, this is something that democrats have to be able to let go, forgive, forget, and convince Moderate Republicans to rejoin the right side of history and the ongoing story of America's progress and success.

So, knowing Democrats will not win by calling out our disgraceful President, we instead need to win the narrative around values that will win over those that see beyond the hate and ignorance our President spews everyday.  

So what are those values?

1. Democrats have to accept that more government is not always the answer.  The notion of a utopia promoted through more government in a country founded upon revolution and the individual rights of man is not going to win.  We have to accept that government is expensive, terribly inefficient, and that simply adding to government isn't going to solve the fundamental challenges we all face.  Government deserves a better manager - not one who has declared bankruptcy several times - but rather a leader that can build a smarter government and find a way to continue to deliver value to the public with less tax dollars.  

2. Democrats have to speak less in ideals and concepts and more in tangible policies that appeal to all Americans.  Appealing to blanket policies around healthcare for all or free college for all isn't going to appeal to average families who have done their best to save for the education of their kids. Instead, focus on building infrastructure that supports all Americans and allows us to compete with Asia and Europe, and programs that result in giving those receiving social assistance the tools to get off social assistance.  Social programs for those of working age should be less about a safety net and more about empowering individual responsibility.  

3. Democrats have to recognize that we all hate taxes, but we can ask more responsibility out of Corporations and the business community for the welfare of society without penalizing those corporations and businesses that provide incomes for Americans.  That means those Corporations do more to support the social good through education, skill development, benefits, and by delivering on a social mission that provides direct benefit to the communities they occupy and support.

4. Government and business should be a partnership.  Both should be accountable to the people they serve and the people they employ.  

5. Democrats should focus more on building a sustainable economy here at home that rewards "Made in America."  Free trade may benefit emerging economies and simplify trade, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about investing in a lifecycle economy that promotes jobs at home.  Democrats should call out that the trade policies of our President are bad for the economy, will eliminate jobs, and will mean less income at the end of the day as prices rise on common goods.  Democrats have to do more to directly help communities left behind by globalization even if those communities continue to support our President.

6. While the treatment of immigrants trying to come to America is despicable and there is no excuse for their treatment, Democrats need to embrace the idea that we need to invest in Americans that are here now if we want to build a sustainable economy that can continue to support new immigration.  

7. Democrats cannot play victim or feel that these moderate policies are insensitive to those struggling to make ends meet in America.  Democrats need to show we can find common ground with Republicans and that we are able to compromise if it means moving all of American forward.  Let the voices and policies of the Hateful Rate bring doom upon themselves and continue to appeal to the sensible people on the other side of the aisle.  

8. While Democrats agree unions should act as a check on excess profiteering, those same hard-working union workers want to make sure their taxes are invested wisely here in America and not simply being redistributed to those who fail to put in the effort they do to support their families.  Democrats have been losing support in this regard by appealing to the old agenda of labor vs. management and erosion of the middle class instead of speaking to the notion of making sure you have more take home pay and that your taxes are spent to benefit all of us and not just to redistribute to others.  

Democrats need to promote rhetoric and a positive agenda that moderate Americans can get behind.  Let the Hateful Right destroy itself through it's own hate, and isolate them from a new narrative
around reconciliation, healing, unity, and bipartisan progress.   This strategy and philosophy has a better chance of winning over the hearts and minds of average Americans than suggesting more government or just attacking the President and the complicity of his Republican supporters to policies that are counter to their morals or belief in fiscal responsibility.  

The war against the Hateful Right will be won with unity and a return to the values that brought us together to defeat tyranny and injustice.  Democrats need to lead the charge and embrace a philosophy that appeals to rationale individuals.   


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Time to go big on Regional Cooperation

When I read that Brooks Patterson had pulled his support for a ballot proposal to raise property taxes to support mass transit, I was disappointed yet not surprised.  Sure, Brooks doesn't represent the views of all or even necessarily a majority of Oakland County voters.  Brooks was simply appealing to the fiscal rationality of property owners in his county, a majority of which do not leverage mass transit today nor would leverage it tomorrow with the expansion of bus service, the centerpiece of the proposals put forth by the RTA. 

It's not even clear that those voters would tax their own property to pay for better roads despite the fact that our roads and bridges continue to deteriorate.  Metro Detroiters won't bat an eye when given the opportunity to complain about potholes or the cost to repair their car or the threat poor road conditions pose to their personal safety, but when it comes to using property taxes to pay for better transportation, most voters want those tax dollars spent as close to their home as possible - on their local roads, their schools, and their police and fire.

Hundreds of thousands of Metro Detroiters drive across county lines each day for work.  Tens of thousands more travel across counties on the weekends to go to dinner and see a concert or sporting event in Detroit, to shop at Somerset in Oakland County or Partridge Creek in Macomb County, to see a concert at DTE Energy Music Center in Oakland County, to get on a plane at Detroit Metro Airport in Wayne County, or to go to a football game in Ann Arbor or Lansing.  Despite our tendency to identify ourselves by our actual city, most of us actually live regionally.  Most people don't think twice about the cost to access the market for restaurants, shopping, sporting events, concerts, or even to visit family and friends that live on the other side of town.  Even fewer think about the cost involved with delivering the food to that restaurant or the goods to the mall or the gas to the gas station we need to stop at to make sure we make it back home.  Even fewer think of the costs of transporting the goods that they order from Amazon.com.

But there is a cost to accessing the people and things we want to consume, and unfortunately, the costs to access those things isn't being accounted for, resulting in deteriorating roads.  Worst is that we have allowed sprawl to go unchecked in our region, resulting in more roads and infrastructure to maintain and repair.  In some cases, we paid for major infrastructure to access a new shopping center only to see that strip mall close, leaving crumbling concrete boxes dotting our landscape.

To make matters worse, we happen to live along a major trade corridor between Canada and Mexico, and we allow overweight vehicles to pass through the state and degrade our roads without paying the full cost of using those roads. 

So, to put myself in the mindset of the average property owner and taxpayer, why would I want to pay higher taxes on my house to pay for roads I may never use?  The same argument can be made for transit by folks who live in Armeda or Clarkston who may never use that transit system they would being paying for through their property taxes. 

Yet, those same residents in Armeda or Clarkston might drive down to a few Tigers or Lions games a year in Detroit.  Some of them might even work in Detroit.  They might drive to Metro Airport to catch a flight and take their family to Florida during our gray, cold winters.

Residents of Detroit commute out of Detroit into Oakland County and Macomb County for shopping and jobs too.

As for me, I live in Grosse Pointe in Wayne County.  My closest Costco is in Macomb County.  The closest Apple Store is in Oakland County.  My favorite restaurants are in Detroit.  I split season tickets to Michigan football, so I find myself in Ann Arbor at least 3 or 4 times each fall.

So if you want folks to begin paying for the true cost of accessing the things they want, leverage a sales tax which doesn't penalize you for where you live, but does tax you for what it costs to access the goods you want.

Years ago, the voters in and around Denver voted to tax themselves .5% to build a modern transit system.  To make the math simpler, that's a quarter more (25 cents) on a $50 restaurant tab. 

In Michigan, cities and counties don't have the ability to raise a local option sales tax.  This is not allowed according to the Michigan constitution.  So even if we wanted to raise a regional sales tax to pay for transit or even roads, we couldn't.  For a region that is proud of its heritage, it's sad that we don't have all the tools at our disposal to build regional assets.

What may be worse, however, is that Michigan "home rule" has resulted in three county executives and a mayor that aren't even legally bound to work together with one another.  Whereas other regions like Minneapolis have leaders elected at a regional level to a regional body, we still allow geographic borders to determine our regional destiny.  Instead, we have SEMCOG, a body not elected by people, but by mayors and supervisors from governments that choose to participate and fight for the limited transportation resources we have.

This isn't to say that the ability to raise a regional sales tax or have a regionally elected transportation and planning body is the solution for our regional dysfunction.  Our auto companies are also vested in mobility and exporting the next generation of mobility options - autonomous vehicles and shuttles - to the market as well.  There is a grand opportunity in Metro Detroit to forge a truly public private partnership to deploy and export new transportation options to the U.S. and the world.  And this opportunity doesn't have to pit transit against auto mobility or Oakland and Macomb against Wayne and Washtenaw.  It can work for all residents of this region and other metro regions in our state.

What's clear is that the taxation and government model we have here is not working to serve regional interests, and the "big 4" getting together on a stage at a pancake breakfast to joke about our regional dysfunction is no longer funny. 

My proposal?  Create a regional elected entity with authority over transportation, infrastructure, and land use planning.  Levy a sales tax that goes not to just transit or roads but transportation sustainability that promotes efficiency and quality over sprawl and exclusive dependency on the automobile.   

It's time to change the conversation on transportation in Metro Detroit.  It's time to go big and revolutionize how we cooperate as a region and compete as a region against other regions for employers like Amazon.  It's time to quit fighting each other and scrapping for limited resources and instead build something together.  In a region with people known for their endurance and innovation, anything is possible if we work together.