BY VERN TURNER
Remember when Jimmy Carter was just starting out running for president? This was his opening line of introduction that ended with “president.” Well, it occurred to me that his grassroots approach to meeting his future constituents would work for anyone trying to get elected to public office, even a Democrat.
Now, we Democrats have been accused of practicing identity politics by currying the favor of certain ethnic and racial groups while taking much of the white, middle-class voters more or less for granted. This didn’t work out the way we’d hoped in either the presidential election or for the seats in Congress and state houses.
The white people who felt ignored by Democrats voted for Republicans, and with the quirkiness of the Electoral College, we ended up with perhaps the most dangerous, most mentally disturbed and foolish man ever to be put in the White House. As the first weeks of this new administration roll by, we see daily scandals of ethics violations, overt racist edicts, conflicts of interest and just plain incompetence at every turn, especially with the egregious cabinet choices made by this great mistake placed in the oval office.
I had to re-read the biography of Harry Truman to re-discover how he overcame the prohibitive favorite, Thomas Dewey, to win the 1948 presidential election. Truman got on the train. He whistle-stopped his way across the entire nation, each time giving his popular, folksy, homespun speeches to anyone who would listen. He engaged the people and encouraged them to support the same values we progressives hold today. He won by a large margin in both the popular and the Electoral vote. Dewey and the Republicans were just as stunned as we were when this current president was put into office.
OK, so what would a whistle-stop tour sound like today? Here I go visiting the people from everywhere expounding the values and changing the framework of the campaigns past.
“Hello. My name is Vern Turner, and I’m running for president. How can my administration serve you best? What do you want to know about a better approach to government?”
Voter: “Do you believe in big government like all liberals?”
“I’m not a liberal, I’m a Democrat, and I think government works best when it is funded by you the people and not by big business. I also think government should be just the right size to serve our basic needs as a people and a nation. By that I mean, bloated bureaucracies should be overseen by independent groups with authority to trim and re-organize where waste or redundancy exists.
“For example, the Department of Homeland Security was born in 2002 and has grown to the third largest government agency in the country. It’s become a dustbin for anything and everything related to national security including the addition of the Secret Service and virtual elimination of the Fourth Amendment, but many offices were never closed. Do we need it? Yes, but how were we doing before Sept. 11, 2001? Our intelligence community provided several warnings and hard data of the impending attack that were ignored. Would HS have done any better? We can’t create bureaucracies to cover for incompetent or corrupt governance. That’s what third-world, despotic governments do.
“If you also mean to use ‘big government’ as code for welfare and humans services, I have to ask you what you think about supporting your fellow Americans who are not as skilled as you, not as well-educated, not as healthy or not as well-employed? Should we just let them keep struggling, remain ignorant or just let them starve or die? Most major religions also advocate for the ‘poorest or least among us.’ Data shows that the No. 1 reason for inner-city crime is poverty. Poverty is a function of jobs, or lack of them. Hold that thought, because I will come back to it.
“One of the philosophical changes I promote is our investment in our people and the supporting infrastructure instead of spending so much on our enormous military structure. Don’t get me wrong. I want our military forces to be very well equipped, trained and ready for anything. But, when our Marines have to go to pawn shops to buy spare parts for their rifles and half our aircraft are grounded for lack of spare parts, it tells me that our defense budget is not being spent correctly or supervised adequately. Yes, many of our aircraft are decades old, but, with proper upgrades and maintenance, nothing else in the world matches them in mission performance. One of the things many politicians ignore is follow-up costs on a program. They ignore it because it isn’t “sexy” enough for their campaign speeches. This strikes me as odd, because the number of jobs created for support programs like spare parts is almost as high as those needed to build the new equipment in the first place. Keep what we have operating effectively, and we can spend less money on new programs. This situation also says that our military contractors gain more profit from new projects than from upkeep of the existing ones. That’s the wrong incentive.
“Investment in our people should be our No. 1 priority. What does that mean? It means fielding a healthy, skilled workforce every day. It means providing jobs and education for jobs that put people into gainful employment. Healthy, skilled and gainfully employed people become higher-level consumers and taxpayers. High consumerism means more demand for more things and generates more sales tax revenue. That demand creates pressure for more jobs to meet those demands. In the short term it wouldn’t hurt to re-deploy something like the Marshall Plan for our decaying cities. This plan supplied the materiel and expertise to rebuild the cities we bombed into dust in World War II.
“The current president has wailed about our rust-belt cities having tombstones for factories. He’s right. But why is that the case? It happened because our capitalists chased the lowest wages in other countries for products demanded by our people. Our trade agreements tend to favor corporations while sacrificing American jobs and livelihoods. Coincidentally, corporate profits have never been higher, and executive salaries have exploded. What happened to your share of that financial benefit from moving good-paying jobs away while providing nothing to replace them? Did you benefit from jobs being replaced by technology and robots? Have you asked why there was no re-education/training for different jobs? Did your stock portfolio triple? Did you have to seek tax shelters? How much did you place in the carried interest category on your tax bill? Well, corporate America has entire departments committed to avoiding paying taxes. How are you doing with your tax-avoidance strategy? Can you afford your tax lawyer or CPA?
“My point here is to suggest that we put all that idle money sitting in foreign banks to work rebuilding our cities, roads, bridges and all the rest. As with the old Civilian Conservation Corps, training programs for necessary skills will prepare thousands of idle or unskilled people for these infrastructure building jobs, as well as for the exploding renewable energy job market.
“Whether we like it or not, taxes are the cost of civilization. Those who shun taxes or lobby lawmakers for special tax breaks and dispensation not only cheat you and the nation, but also add to the poorness of our nation while they reap the financial benefits and personal luxury. Some form of this type of society has always existed, but in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, we had the lowest inequity between classes in world history as a percent difference. With the advent of supply-side economics during the Reagan years, however, the trend shifted toward favoring corporations and the rich, and hasn’t stopped since. In fact, the top 1% of earners now own more wealth than the bottom 60% of all other citizens in the country. The top 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom 35% of our working classes. These numbers reflect the environment of third-world nations with ruling juntas, dictators and despots. In our case, the despots are the Wall Street bankers and financiers who only hoard wealth, but almost never invest it in our people, the people like you.
“Why do our schools always have to struggle for funding? Why are our teachers still the lowest-paid profession in the country? Do you want your children to be taught by the lowest-paid and least respected professionals in our country? Why would anyone not want only the best for their children? We usually get what we pay for, but even as it is, the quality of our teachers is way above the level of their relative earnings in any other profession. When we realize that a teacher lasts, on the average, five years or less, we can clearly see that they cannot support their families on what we the citizens choose to pay them.
“Why are the vocational/trade school curricula being abandoned or dropped from public education? Well, they cost a lot for equipment and maintenance, plus liability insurance rates go up. Add to that the drive by Republicans and their friends on Wall Street, to privatize schools and make them into profit centers. It won’t happen overnight, so how do you feel about having your tax dollars taken from the school you send your kids to and given to the private academy up on the hill? So, instead of investing in our children, and thus our future, we short shrift their education and hope somebody else picks up the slack. Our children deserve the right to be educated, and not be the pawns in another for-profit scheme to make more people richer.”
Voter: “Where do you stand on abortion?”
“I’m against abortion. But I’m also pro-life, pro-woman and pro-choice. I know the other guys have framed those words to mean something they are not. By being pro-choice, I mean that every woman has the right to manage her own body’s wellbeing as she sees fit … just as men have that right. Currently, the law of the land says a woman has the legal right to terminate a pregnancy at her and her doctor’s discretion. By defunding agencies that help poor women – the source of most unwanted pregnancies – the problems of poverty, ill health and social stress are exacerbated. Poor women don’t go to the doctor for regular checkups because they can’t afford it. Until we have a single-payer, universal health care system, organizations like Planned Parenthood must fill that niche for these women. Ask yourself: What would you favor if your daughter became pregnant and the father was not responsible enough to support that family at age 16? Where would you like your daughter or spouse to go to have PAP or breast exams if you were unemployed or broke?”
Voter: “Where do you stand on gay marriage?”
“It is the law of the land to permit people to marry whomever they like. If people have certain religious, moral or personal problems with same-sex marriage, that is up to them. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. You have that freedom, too, so why would you want to impose your values on people you don’t know? The Constitution still gives us the freedom to practice any religion we choose, but it does not give us the right to impose our religion on someone else. That’s why the Pilgrims left England.
Voter: “What do you think we should do to prevent voter fraud?”
“As soon as there are valid data that show that there is in-person voter fraud, I’ll address that problem. Until that time, this is a moot point. Right now, this topic is just another wedge issue to justify voter suppression. Every study, including those from Republican and Democratic research groups, shows virtually no illegal voting or ballot fraud. In fact, in 2010, the National Republican Attorneys Counsel discovered that of all the ballots cast from 2000-10 [300 million of them], only 57 ballots were deemed fraudulent for any reason. In fact, in that same year, the Republican attorney general of Indiana was indicted for ballot machine tampering and fraud.
“This argument is a total red herring sponsored mostly by those Republican-dominated states that want to suppress voting from certain racial and ethnic groups. That’s why the complete Voter Protection Act should be reinstated, and indeed expanded to cover all 50 states. It seems to me that our most sacred freedom in this country is the vote. It’s what our democratic republic is founded on. It defines us as the greatest experiment in governance in the history of the world. To do anything – especially things based on lies, and false reports – that threatens the vote for any citizen is anti-American, anti-citizen, anti-democratic and anti-freedom.”
Now, I’m back on the train to stop at the next town of 5,000 people to answer the same questions with the same amount of vigor and conviction as I did here. I’m running for president.
– Vern Turner lives in Marble Falls, TX and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, Racing to the Brink: The End Game for Race and Capitalism, is available through Amazon.com.