Greg Sargent and others have offered two major critiques in response to my case for a third party (and the accompanying “third-party stump speech”) that I’d like to reply to in the spirit of continuing the conversation. Sargent casts my argument as part of “the third party dodge” that I and others apparently perpetrate.
The first critique is that I fall into the “false equivalency” camp that says Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame. But that’s not true (as Greg, at least, seems to acknowledge). If you look at my columns this year for The Post, I’ve said repeatedly and loudly that Republican behavior on taxes and the debt ceiling (to name just two issues) has been egregious and indefensible. My column Monday said that my call for a third party “doesn’t mean both parties are equally to blame for Washington’s current dysfunction.” Not sure how much clearer one can be. But I also believe, as I argued, that “with America on the road to slow decline, the stakes are too high for ‘inadequate’ and ‘retrograde’ to be our only choices.”
Which brings me to the second critique — that my frustration with the Democratic agenda is unfair because the president and/or the Democratic Party already embrace everything my fantasy “radical centrist” would champion. Again, this is also false, as the details of policy I included in my “third-party stump speech” reveal.
I’d ask critics to show me where the president, or a majority in the House or Senate, have come out in favor of the following ideas in my proposed third-party agenda:
●Slashing and phasing out corporate income and payroll taxes and replacing them with new taxes on consumption and dirty energy once unemployment is back near 6 percent.
●A new transaction tax on Wall Street and a 50 percent marginal rate on earning above $5 million (the Congressional Progressive Caucus supports ideas like this but not a majority of Democrats, and not the White House).
●Ending employer-based health coverage and offering all individuals access to group health coverage with sliding-scale subsidies in the new exchanges. (Some in the progressive caucus and single-payer caucus go for forms of this, but the president never considered moving beyond employer-based care during the health debate. And big business and big labor inexplicably fought to keep access to the new insurance exchanges minimal.)
●Limiting universal coverage to catastrophic insurance to start, with further subsidies for those who need help with access to primary/preventive care via the new fitness club model (most Democrats would view this coverage as “too skinny”).
●Ending the Bush tax cuts for all Americans, not just those earning more then $250,000.
●Having the federal government help fund an increase in salaries for top teachers and principals to $150,000 or more to attract top talent to the classroom, especially for schools in poor neighborhoods, while also changing union rules on lockstep pay and dismissals in exchange (the union changes were not in my speech, but I’ve detailed this piece of the idea elsewhere).
●Trimming the defense budget to $550 billion a year from $700 billion. Obama has called for something like $400 billion in savings over the next 10 or 12 years; my proposal saves more like $1.5 trillion or so. That’s $100 billion or so more each year for other purposes, which would help fund some of the major new spending I propose. (Most Democrats fear being clubbed as “weak on defense” if they proposed this scale of change, which would still leave us with substantially higher defense spending than the Cold War average.)
●Rasing bank capital for “too big to fail” banks toward 20 percent (not 5 to 7 percent), and banning “naked credit default swaps.” Dodd Frank proves Democrats aren’t for these reforms because they were not included.
●Holding Medicare’s annual growth rate to the growth rate of the economy or less. (Democrats decry such restraint as threatening to seniors, though every other country gets better health outcomes for less.)
●Ending the automatic escalators that determine each new generation’s initial Social Security benefits (in wonky terms, switching from “wage indexing” to “price indexing” initial benefits). Paul Ryan has never proposed reforms this “conservative”; I laid out a generational and fiscal prudence case for doing so in the speech.
●Political reform: Making elections a lottery to promote 100% turnout; lowering the voting age to 15; publicly funded campaign finance vouchers; scrapping the filibuster in the Senate.
There’s more, but you see my point. These aren’t small matters. The resource reallocations these ideas represent are at the heart of what a serious (as opposed to a make-believe) plan to renew the country will require. They are simultaneously to the “left” and to the “right” of the current debate. People may disagree with the agenda, but it’s not on offer today. That’s why I wrote it. And that’s why we need an outside force to change the boundaries of debate (just as Perot did on one limited issue in 1992 in ways that changed what Washington did on the deficit once he showed that 20 percent of voters cared).
I’m not looking for bipartisanship, or for “kumbaya.” I’m looking for an agenda equal to the challenges the country faces, and for candidates who will try to persuade the public to embrace that agenda in order to renew the country. There is ZERO chance we’ll get that more honest debate without the right kind of independent candidate(s) in 2012. Because the two parties don’t see this debate as being in their political self-interest as they try to win the election.