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October 28, 2004

hopes for a Kerry administration

I think the odds favor the Democrats on Tuesday, although it will be close and nobody really knows who has the edge. If John Kerry is elected president, my hopes will be modest--not because I lack respect for him as a person, but because the situation is awful and good ideas are scarce. I will be more than satisfied if Kerry and a Republican Congress are able to get the deficit down somewhat; America is extricated from Iraq without a devastating defeat; and people in the executive branch and the congressional Democratic Party begin to work out solutions to problems that Kerry currently does not know how to solve. Those problems include:

  • The loss of manufacturing jobs or decent substitutes. Playing with tax policy will have only a marginal effect. Better education is a long-term strategy, and it's going to be hard to achieve big improvements in education now that we've solved some of the easier problems. So what should we do to provide stable, remunerative, rewarding employment for people with less than a college degree?

  • Dependence on foreign oil. There are chalkboard "solutions" to this problem: higher fuel taxes and tougher economy standards. These solutions are politically implausible. A real answer would come with a political game-plan that could work.

  • The highest incarceration rate in the world. (5.6 million Americans are in prison or have prison records.) They are disproportionately younger male African Americans and Latinos. Even if massive incarceration is a way to reduce crime, the cost is far too high. There has to be a better way.

  • This list could also include the 40 million without health insurance, al-Qaeda (and its clones), global warming, and nuclear proliferation. I think John Kerry's biggest contribution, just like Bill Clinton's, may be to keep the fiscal situation reasonably sound so that the government is able to act later on; and to veto the most dangerous ideas from the right. This would not be a small achievement, but it is disappointing that we have no better solutions to our deepest problems than we had 12 years ago.

    Posted by peterlevine at October 28, 2004 09:54 AM

    Comments

    I encourage you to read The End of Oil by Paul Roberts. It has some very interesting and serious thoughts on the future of energy policy. The short answer is that we must drastically increase our natural gas usage while we work towards an energy economy based on wind, and solar energy. "clean coal" is neither clean nor economically feasible.

    Tougher fuel standards ARE politically feasible, if paired with a carrot/stick approach to get Detroit to invest in higher fuel efficiency research and plant equipment. As Virginia, North Carolina, and Arizona become more democratic, the need to keep Michigan happy is lower.

    Posted by: niq at October 28, 2004 02:40 PM

    Peter,

    I disagree in one small respect. I think we have plenty of good answers to virtually all of the problems our nation faces, with the posible exception of the irresistable global forces that are tending to pit our workers against armies of unemployed and under-employed workers -- numbered in the hundreds of millions -- in foreign nations. But for the rest (oil dependence, health care, you name it), we have all kinds of viable, smart solutions. What is lacking is a national political consensus, and hence the continuing ability of the GOP to effectively stop almost ANY Democratic proposal that is more than marginal in nature.

    A lot of this, to be sure, is due to the tremendous infrastructure the rightwing has erected in the past 25-30 years (from dozens of well-funded conservative "think tanks" to conservative-dominated news media to their well-oiled fundraising system and activist network of true believers). But I think it also owes a lot -- maybe even more -- to the ratio of 38:1 between corporate lobbyists and legislators in Washington (I've taken that number from memory, after hearing it from Bill Moyers on PBS last night). Do not, for example, look for anything like the best health care reforms we could think up, because anything that good would be quickl annihilated by a flurry of slick corporate attacks.

    In the end, that's why I'm rather with you: I hope for the best, but think it's unrealistic to expect more from Kerry or any Democrat than modest improvements: reduction in the deficit, restoration of some of the tax load on high income people, and quiet but intelligent efforts to reduce our dependence on oil via development of clean alternatives (which are, in fact, broadly cost-effective already).

    -- Roger Keeling
    Portland, OR.

    Posted by: Roger Keeling at October 30, 2004 10:18 PM

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