By Ralph Nader
I often ask Congressional Democrats these days is: “If you agree that your Republican counterparts in Congress are the most craven, corporatist, fact-denying, falsifying, anti-99 percent, militaristic Republicans in the party’s history, then why are you not landsliding them?” Their responses are largely in the form of knowing smiles and furrowed brows.
There are answers that are more specific to account for the large election losses in 2010, the loss of the House of Representatives to John Boehner and Eric Cantor, and the prospect of losing the House and the Senate this November. Chief among them is that the two parties are vigorously dialing for the same commercial dollars to finance their campaigns. The resultant inhibitions and self-censorships bring the parties’ real agendas closer together, erasing the bright lines that make elections clearer choices for voters. Here are eight initiatives that could landslide the Republicans in November’s Congressional contests. It starts with a ringing declaration that recalls the legendary labor rally challenge: “Whose side are you on?” With the two parties often seen as Republicrats or DemReps, due to the lack of credible, distinct differences on military, foreign policy, trade, agribusiness, energy and corporate crime/welfare subjects, among others, such a proclamation of “we the people” helps frame the details of this fresh approach, as follows.
First, resurrect the old Democratic Party’s historic safeguarding of federal minimum wage and labor laws from Republican dissolution. It is astonishing that, since the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy, there have been so few high-profile champions in Congress for restoring the minimum wage – now $7.25 per hour – to its inflation-adjusted level of 1968 which today would be $10.00 per hour. That long overdue move would pour tens of billions of dollars into job-producing consumer demand during this recession. It would end a decades-long windfall for employers who have been increasing their prices and salaries while receiving many tax breaks during that period. To objections from the curled-lip House Republican Eric Cantor, the reply is: “You don’t believe workers in your district should make as much as workers made 44 years ago when their productivity was half what it is today, Eric?”
The scholar who showed that keeping minimum wages current doesn’t cost jobs is Alan Krueger, now President Obama’s chief economic advisor. In 2008, Mr. Obama himself pledged to push for a $9.50 minimum wage by 2011.
Second, announce the filing of legislation that declares immediate drafting of all able-bodied and age-qualified children and grandchildren of all members of Congress any time that branch or the president plunge us into another war. Besides forcing Congress to pay attention to its Constitutional responsibilities to declare or not declare war, this legislation would ring with the authenticity of responsible humble servants becoming part of the risk presently hoisted on a few million, mostly low income, families.
Third, cut the huge, bloated, wasteful military budget, really end the wars, and switch the expected savings into repairing and renovating America through a public works program all over the country with good-paying, non-exportable jobs.
Fourth, shift much of the tax burdens to activities we do not like, such as pollution, huge Wall Street speculation, corporate crime waves and profits from systemic product waste. Even Exxon/Mobil supports the idea of a carbon tax, which would help the environment. The motto: tax what you burn before you tax what you earn.
Fifth, announce a national energy conversion campaign based on efficiency and renewables. The only true energy independence comes from the sun in its many manifestations. This will create more local employment and small businesses down to the community-neighborhood levels. Goodbye to the toxic fossil fuel and atomic energy cartels.
Sixth, crack down on corporate and governmental violations of our Constitution and laws. No more no-fault government and no-more no-fault big business. If the law is to be observed in the streets, then it must be observed in the suites. People are being pushed around, disrespected, defrauded, injured, and given the runaround from arrogant corporate bureaucrats using nameless, robotic and tyrannical “fine print” barricades. There have to be accountabilities that the abused citizens can invoke.
Seventh is a proposal to establish a national complaint-handling system using the internet to help consumers, taxpayers and workers, for a change. You got a beef with your insurance company, bank, energy company, pension fund, cable company, hospital, telephone/gas/water/electric utility, or some government agency you can’t get through to file your complaint.
A complaint-handling system will save billions of hours wasted on just trying to get through, much less getting your complaint heard. It will also be a good way to aggregate complaints to detect patterns for policy-making and enforcement corrections. Patterns lead to deterrence, fewer complaints, and fewer dollar losses. What a way to show sensitivity to the daily irritations and frustrations of the American people!
Eighth, create a democracy movement based on simple facilities for people who choose to band together in various roles. In return for what you the taxpayers have had to spend to bail out and otherwise privilege these large companies, the Democratic party can press for inserts in their billing systems and other corporate carriers inviting you to voluntarily join and contribute dues to a nonprofit staffed with full-time champions of your causes as consumers, patients, workers and taxpayers (inserts could also be sent in the communications from tax collecting agencies) directly accountable to you. No results, then no dues next time, and no taxpayer subsidies. These facilities would shift some power from the haves to the have-nots.
Imagine the public discussion, excitement and participation these eight proposals would provoke. Previous non-voters along with regular voters would see they have a stake in these elections and that one of the major parties at least wants to be on their side, and strive to earn their trust by empowering them directly.