Been having this conversation with people lately whereby they assert that they do not usually vote because “what can politicians do for me?” and they are surprised by my sudden and aggressive passion trying to get them to see the profound wrongness of that viewpoint. Frustratingly they often think they’re the smartest people in the room for opting out of the whole democracy thing.
This is easily fixed with bringing back civics classes, but since that’s not going to fix people who have already left High School, the easy terse answer is that if you imagine that government is just a self-driving car that will go where it wants to go without your input, you are wrong. Cynicism may seem cool, but every great step forward for mankind from fire to universal healthcare was done by people sincerely looking for a better way.
Just thinking that such car is just going to keep going and it’ll be okay is truly dangerous thinking. There’s no end of government success stories that people forget about because good public servants were elected, (or appointed), and also no end to the list of government failures, sometimes tragic, caused by the election of people of ill will because citizens opted out. Let’s go right to Flint, Michigan. Hordes of people stayed home and allowed a small turnout, predominantly of Republicans, to elect Gov. Snyder in 2010. That governor, a businessman who campaigned on running the state as a business, took affirmative actions to undercut democracy in the majority minority areas of his state. They made a decision to save money on water to be delivered to citizens in a predominantly African American city. That decision further victimized people who already had a bad situation and poisoned thousands of innocent citizens who had no say in what was being imposed on them. When people who want power and really don’t understand public service are elected, the results are very bad.
This is all a prelude to where we can go in the very near future if public servants are restored to positions of power in our capitals. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) has proposed a modified basic-income style plan that would be a great step forward along with Medicare for all.
First, Bernie Sanders unveils his Medicare-for-all bill; then Kirsten Gillibrand comes out for a job guarantee (and Sanders follows suit). Elizabeth Warren announces a plan to give workers seats on corporate boards, and Kamala Harris and Cory Booker propose new tax credits to help with rising rents.
The latest volley in the competition is the LIFT the Middle Class Act from Harris. As the Atlantic’s Annie Lowrey explains, the bill would offer a sizable cash payment to most middle-class households. Single people would get $250 per month or $3,000 a year, married couples would get $500 per month or $6,000 a year, and it would phase out for singles without kids making $50,000 or more, and for married couples or single people with kids making $100,000 or more. It costs about $200 billion in the first year or $2 trillion over 10, roughly in the range of the price tag for the 2017 tax cuts.
Obviously, we are way behind the social democracies of Europe in strengthening and expanding the social safety net that can lift all people and increase their opportunity to live up to their potential. The U.S. is 13th as of 2018 in human development as measured by the United Nations. We have a ways to go to strengthen the middle class and create a more generous state with affordable healthcare, education, childcare, etc. The next step is the universal basic income, which is still on the drawing board in a Europe that has been retrenching since Thatcher. But let’s be hopeful, ambitious strivers like the people that discovered fire, sliced bread, and the like, and have always pushed things forward. The United States threw off monarchy first, and then Europe ran with our Constitution and surpassed us. It’s our turn to catch up and surpass them with a burst of enlightenment.
These are the kinds of ideas that breed hope and engagement and can bring people in. FDR’s New Deal wasn’t just the most successful program of social and economic reforms, they also created a generation of people that would never ever doubt the power of government and collective action.
And start up the damn civics classes again so I don’t have to yell at people.