Here I am posting yet again; I guess being stuck overseas during the most exciting election outcome of my life is making me a temporarily prolific blogger.
Anyway, I want to offer my suggestion for "the most important thing for Democrats" to do right away, now that they have taken control of both houses of Congress. I agree with all the items in the 100 hours plan announced by Nancy Pelosi (reform of corruption and ethics, raise the minimum wage, negotiate lower drug prices, cutting subsidies to oil companies, etc.), and I just want to elaborate on something related to the first of those items: strenuously resisting the corporate lobbyist agenda. I can hear the vultures circling already, showering the newly powerful Democrats with cash and even qualified praise ("we can work with them"). Elite insider pundits and talking heads use code words like "moderate", "centrist", and "bipartisan" (as Stan Goff so eloquently puts it: "Any time you hear the term bipartisan, check 'your six' and check your wallet. It means the ruling class is united and on the move."). What they are really trying to do is mask policies they advocate that are, in fact, not popular with most people, but only with big donors.
"Move to the center" often means "do what big business wants you to do."--i.e. favors for big pharma, big oil, big finance, and all the rest. I'm all for being cautious on currently non-majority ideas such as legalizing gay marriage, non-draconian immigration reform, and impeaching the President. But that's not what 95% of the commentators are talking about. They are talking about killing populist ideas that big business doesn't like, such as cracking down on excessive CEO pay or reforming trade policy. (Just yesterday, I heard someone on the radio from The Economist predictably moaning about how we need to avoid radical ideas like rewriting NAFTA and other free trade deals--hey, didn't you notice that the majority of working people in America are demanding change in our trade policy? And, another thing, do you think Eliot Spitzer stormed into the New York Governor's office by going easy on Wall Street?) If Democratic legislators allow corporate money to shape policy--just as they did during the Clinton Administration--then the Democratic Congress's honeymoon with the American people will be short indeed.
I want to see serious campaign finance reform, right now, immediately. I want to see serious proposals for publicly financed elections. I want to see EVERY SINGLE MEMBER of the Democratic delegations in both houses pledge to enact tough rules to ensure that corporate lobbyists and big donors have as little influence as possible over how our Congress conducts the American people's work. Everything else we want to do depends on getting the big-money special interests out of politics (or at least dramatically decreasing their influence). I realize that many Democrats are already severely compromised by corporate donors (maybe that would be a reason to have John Murtha as House majority leader instead of Steny Hoyer?) but they are just now coming back into power--so now is also the perfect time to pledge and commit to MAJOR, TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE. This is the chance to set a dramatic new tone--going from basically no power at all (esp. in the House) to running the entire Congress. It may be a long time before we get another fresh start like this.
This is a STRONG MAJORITY issue for the American people. It doesn't divide neatly by the left-right dichotomy, at least in the way that ordinary working people see it. That's why it's both strategic and essential to run with it immediately. In many ways it cuts to the very core of why so many of us like to call ourselves "progressives." It's the hard-working people of America vs. the powerful corporations--the people vs. the interests, as the original Progressives of the early 20th century put it. (As a historian, of course, I must point out that we are different in some crucial ways--which I won't get into here--from the earlier Progressives...maybe we are "neo-Progressives"?) Whatever the slogan's historical validity, it is one we would do well to reclaim today and put in practice. Otherwise we'll be back to the old slogan: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Let's lock out the old sleazy corporate lobbyist boss(es) and secure a long-term Democratic majority by demonstrating that the people are the true boss.
Sometime over the weekend, I'm hoping to post again about something I think is crucial for Democratic success (and the country's well-being) for the long term, even though it seems unpopular in the short term: dramatically cutting defense spending. This is something we need to start working on and talking about slowly, gradually, to make it an acceptable idea among American voters, who are currently so used to the endless "I'm strong/I'm tough/I'm not weak on defense" bluster from both parties that it will take a little while to change the climate of discussion. But I think now is the time--notwithstanding the current wartime, pro-military mood and my endorsement earlier of Pentagon hawk John Murtha for majority leader--to build on the disenchantment with the waste of money and precious lives in Iraq to have an honest look at the larger fiscal realities. Once you think about it, obscenely high military spending is the golden thread linking together all the long-term problems that the American government will face if it is to do what the American people want it to do: balancing the budget, keeping taxes on American workers low, preserving social security, and having the money to deal with important and popular domestic priorities such as health care, education, jobs, and the environment. So sacrosanct high military spending is the sacred cow that I will propose we slay (obviously not tomorrow, but over the next few years). But I'll shut up about that now and leave that for my next blog post.
Anyway, back to short term priorities: any responses or alternative suggestions about what the Democrats need to do FIRST?