October 27, 2009


Sam Smith

After nine months of political extremism - bankrolling huge banks, escalating the Afghan war, treating local public schools like they were just another federal agency and finding new ways to subsidize the health insurance industry - it may finally be time for a little moderation. There's an awful lot of talk about moderation and bipartisanship in Washington, but not much evidence of it. So here is a political program that would be both more moderate and more popular than that of our bipartited president and Congress:


Just stop them. They're not doing us any good. We don't win them, they cost a lot of money, make a lot of people mad at us, and kill people who in no way deserve it. And if you can't stop them, at least stop escalating them. Remember: every new soldier sent to Afghanistan is one more problem you'll have to add to your exit strategy.

A major reason we have so many wars is because of pressure from former schoolyard bullies now at the Pentagon and from presidential advisers and journalists feeling insecure about their testosterone level. Stop pandering to these types and you not only save a lot of lives, but hundreds of billions of dollars as well.


The Democrats have blown it. So why not drop the whole thing and come up with a moderate health reform bill. One that would do some of the things that everyone would like - like barring denial of insurance for preexisting conditions. Then expand Medicare to those 55 and older and to children 5 and under. Expand Medicaid. You can get your money from TARP and from the Pentagon. There's lots of it floating around these days for bankers and Afghanis. Why not use it for a good purpose instead? Sure the insurance companies will be furious, but who cares? Mike Huckabee has already come within spitting distance of Obama in two polls and sucking up to Blue Cross won't help Obama a bit.


One difference between Washington politicians and real people is that the latter like to see public works; the former settle for infrastructure. Further, the stimulus bill was so full of verbal infrastructure that people didn't notice how little public works there was in it. We don't need a second stimulus package; we need a real first one. For a model, look at Roosevelt's administration, whose Works Progress Administration employed 8.5 million people in its seven-year history, working on 1.4 million projects, including the building or repair of 103 golf courses, 1,000 airports, 2,500 hospitals, 2,500 sports stadiums, 3,900 schools, 8,100 parks, 12,800 playgrounds, 124,000 bridges, and 125,100 public buildings. Harry Hopkins got the same number of people working in four weeks as Obama promised he would in two years. In fact, Hopkins got about the same number of people working in four weeks as Obama has lost so far this year.


The Democrats have done hardly anything to put a dent in the foreclosure crisis. One reason is because they like banks too much. The other is that they're afraid that helping those in foreclosure or in danger of it will annoy others who say, "I've paid my mortgage; why haven't they?" Two ways to deal with this: decentralize foreclosure adjustment decisions to local courts and start a shared equity program in which financial aid would be paid for by a percentage of government ownership. Get this going now, and by the time most of these homes are sold, the government will have actually made money.

Some other things that would help:

Reduce credit card interest rates. End rampant usury.

Expand unemployment benefits

Limit rate increases on adjustable rate mortgages

Create state owned banks like the one that has worked well in North Dakota.

Support the creation of more credit unions and co-ops.

Expand our rail system and rail service - with the emphasis not on business class high speed rail but on everyday service for real people. The expansion of transportation has historically been one of America's great economic spurs.


The war on drugs has been the most deadly conflict for Americans since Vietnam. It has greatly increased criminal drug activity and sends people to prison for using something milder than vodka and less dangerous than cigarettes. If we were to decriminalize the possession of marijuana and cancel all existing marijuana possession charges, we would be starting on the path towards sanity.


There are at least five amendments that are in deep trouble.

The First Amendment: This is in trouble because it has fewer and fewer powerful advocates. Police intimidate demonstrators, principals harass student newspapers, and liberals pass hate crime bills. Ordinary folks still like the idea, however, and it's a wonderfully moderate concept.

The Second Amendment: Contrary to liberal mythology, gun laws are pretty ineffective. When DC passed the toughest gun law in the country, its murderers failed to notice and the death rate soared. This is partly because if you're about to kill someone, the threat of ancillary gun charges are of minimal significance. There are, on the other hand, places like Alaska and Maine that have high gun ownership and low crime rates. Further, there are Americans who like to hunt, like to feel safe in their house, and believe in their constitutional right to bear arms. Even if you don't agree with them, you're not doing anyone (including yourself) a favor by hassling them. Support their rights and you've may find yourself with allies on actual important issues.

The Fourth Amendment: There is a varied and broad constituency that has been subjected to illegal searches by the government, from wiretaps to warrantless raids.

The Tenth Amendment: This amendment, which leaves to the states and the people those powers not specified in the Constitution, is routinely abused by the feds. Arne Duncan's unconstitutional interference with local public education is but one example. Washington officials of both parties have increasingly sought to secure more power for themselves at the expense of state and local government. Liberals are repeat offenders, some even giving the impression that they hold lower branches of government with contempt. This doesn't win votes. It annoys people, makes their lives more difficult, and leads them to think of you as arrogant.

The Fourteenth Amendment: This amendment, designed after the Civil War to give personhood to former slaves and their descendants, was kidnapped by business interests to include corporations as persons. This is why corporations can get away with buying elections. As Al Gore explained, after an 1886 decision by the Supreme Court, "the 'monopolies in commerce' that Jefferson had wanted to prohibit in the Bill of Rights were full-blown monsters, crushing competition from smaller businesses, bleeding farmers with extortionate shipping costs, and buying politicians at every level of government." Corporations need to lose their personhood.

Five ways to preserve and restore the Constitution. There's nothing more moderate than that.

In fact, all the aforementioned are much closer to the American consensus than much of what is being proposed in Washington, or has been for the past few decades. And there isn't a obfuscating trigger, mandate, option or TARP in the lot.