THE BLOG
02/11/2013 04:18 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

Confront Them, Mr. President: On Civics, Jobs, the Economy, Climate, Infrastructure, Education

The president, we are told, is going to focus the State of the Union address on jobs.

Good.

But, he will not move the needle if he does not simultaneously use the bully pulpit to deliver a civics lesson, puncture economic myths and confront directly those in the chamber who would take America hostage.

This is not to suggest that he will change any minds in the room. It will, however, position the president squarely in the middle of the American tradition, and cast Republicans as the Grumbling Ostrich Party that they are.

The president should come right out and say that our deficits in civics, jobs, infrastructure, education and renewable energy problems are much greater than our spending problem that everyone repeats.

He should start with civics. He should explain that members represent districts or states, but swear an oath to the Constitution, and are expected, as Madison said, to act in the "permanent and aggregate interests of the community." He should acknowledge, as Winston Churchill said, that "democracy is the worst form of government -- except for all the rest", that it is not always pretty, but does not work if its institutions are paralyzed, if people do not accept that, in the end, the majority needs to be able to work its will.

The remedy for losing one's proposals is to win a majority for them in the next election, not taking the American people hostage.

Most importantly, the president should forthrightly declare: the American government does not negotiate with hostage-takers abroad, and we do not deal with hostage-takers at home.

The president should admonish them that they cannot proclaim on the one hand that the United States has an essential leadership position in the world, and then inflict crippling paralysis at home. They cannot trumpet the wonders of our free enterprise system if your actions tell domestic and world markets that you are prepared to muck it all up for everyone if you do not get your way.

And, clearly, if we are going to improve our civic health, we must reduce the influence of money in politics.

Who believes that our revolutionary war heroes risked their lives, fortunes and sacred honors so that a billionaire could flood the airwaves with lies and propaganda to take down opponents? Is there anyone who believes that we get good policy with that system?

Who believes that that is what President Lincoln meant when he called our democracy "government of the people, by the people and for the people" ?

He should urge them to pass a constitutional amendment that declares that corporations are not people and that money is not speech.

The president should recall that our Founders were children of the Enlightenment, who believed that our Creator provided us with the ability to reason, to think, to make our lives better. A democracy requires not only that people abide by the decisions of the majority, but also that they argue from facts. As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "everyone is entitled to their own opinions; they are not entitled to their own facts".

Debating from facts about the world as it is is everyone's civic responsibility.

The president should puncture economic myths, beginning with the fiction that we have a pure free market economy. We never have. We do not have a government-controlled economy and never have.

We have prospered because we have a mixed economy -- part private, part public and part private-public partnerships.

Neither pure free enterprise nor pure government control of economies works. The first produces chaos. Complete government control produces stagnation. Our mixed public-private system does work, providing the greatest good for the greatest number.

The president should confront, head-on, the lies about his economic record, recounting that we were losing 700-800,000 jobs per month, and the economy had shrunk by nearly 9 percent in the last quarter of 2008. The stimulus saved or created about 3-3.5 million jobs, and he should say that, yes, government was required to step in to staunch the bleeding, get us turned around, and onto a path of recovery.

He should point out that the austerity countries that did not use government as a counter-measure to economic contraction have not done well. Why would we want to do that to ourselves now when we know it does not work?

He can challenge those in the chamber who pretend government investments do not create jobs with these questions: why is it that suddenly all agree that cutting government spending on defense, as in the sequester, will cause job losses? Why is it that when military base closing commissions recommend closing one in your district, you complain that it will hurt the local economy? Why is it that many Republicans who voted against the stimulus and continue to pretend it did not create jobs sent scores of requests for money claiming that it would create jobs?

The president should also puncture the myth that, because families are cutting spending, government should too. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. It is really pretty simple. When people are hurting and not spending their money, government steps in to maintain demand so that businesses stay afloat, so that needed work gets done, and so that jobs are maintained or increased.

He should admonish them to stop pretending that our debt is "making us like Greece". Greece does not have, nor have they ever had, the economic engine that the U.S. has. They do not have their own currency, so they cannot control their financial destiny. And, they are not the world's reserve currency.

The president can reference the financial markets. If we were becoming like Greece, and were so indebted that loaning us money were risky, how is it that we can borrow money at such low interest rates?

Nor are we "selling all our debt to China" that owns less than 9 percent of our debt.

He should remind the chamber that the Speaker, who keeps saying we have a spending problem, wanted $3 billion for a spare jet-engine the military said it did not want. Yes, Mr. President, call it out, by name, for all to hear and see.

The president should clearly distinguish our long-term debt challenges with our near-term growth needs. Our near-term deficit is due mostly to the recession, to lower tax receipts than any time in the last 50 years, and the still too-slow pace of recovery. He should correct the myth that his administration is spending wildly, and indeed point out that deficits from Obama-initiated programs have contributed only a very small amount to our debt, far less than Republicans have themselves.

He should propose more investments, now, by the government, to re-build our infrastructure -- an investment that will last way beyond this recovery -- to reduce heating needs for buildings, to build a modern electric grid should be done now, and it will put millions of people to work. Only government makes such investments.

The president can challenge members, right in that chamber, to answer the American people the following questions: i) are you going to let our roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, water and sewage facilities just continue to deteriorate? ii) if we are not going to rebuild them now, then when? iii) if not the government, who?

The American Jobs Act has been on their plate since September 2011. It is fully paid for. Pass it.

He should tell them that a generation of youth is emerging from high schools and colleges without opportunity to gain entry-level experience and, if they really want to steal from our grandchildren, if they really want to make our debt much worse, just let this continue without any action for another several years and we will have a lost generation -- lost productivity, lost wages, lost revenues, lost happiness.

And, he should remind them that this is not necessary. It is their own making.

The president should tell them to raise the minimum wage: "The American people deserve a raise. I call on Congress to raise the minimum wage in 3 steps to $10 over the next two years".

Regarding long-term debt, he should remind them that, in 2001, they were handed surpluses as far as the eye could see. But, at the very time the boomers were going to retire, they squandered it: they fought two wars and, instead of paying for it, cut taxes. What blind ideology says that, even when faced with extraordinary crises like wars, that taxes are not raised to pay for them?

They passed a prescription drug benefit and, instead of paying for it, cut taxes. Then we had the Great Recession. Those are the main causes of our debt as it stands today.

The president should state that Republicans have been claiming for three decades that tax cuts pay for themselves and that cutting taxes on the rich creates jobs, both of which have basis in theory, and have been shown to be false.

He should point out that a tiny 0.5 percent tax on financial transactions, and that preventing corporations and individuals from hiding their money in tax havens, closing loopholes such as welfare for the oil industry, could raise almost all the additional revenue we need to get us on a path to fiscal health.

He should also say, quite simply, that it is ridiculous to think that as our country grows and the world becomes more complex, that we can afford to shrink what we do together for the common good through government. We can restrain the rate of growth, but it is "ostrich economics" to shrink it. A country of 310 million people, and with an aging population, will spend more than the same country with 150 million people.

That is why our debt challenge in the future is caused mainly by skyrocketing health costs. The Affordable Care Act has in it many provisions designed to reduce that rate of growth, and we have seen a slowing.

The president should point out that no one in this chamber ran in the last election on a program to cut Medicare benefits. In fact, many of them are sitting here because they told voters, falsely, that the Democrats had cut Medicare and that they would restore it.

He should tell them that Medicare guarantees benefits, and those benefits will remain. Period.

We need to focus on how we can, together, reduce costs without reducing benefits by reducing the rise in health care costs in general. Then, and only then, can we have a fruitful discussion that will lead to a reduction in our long-term debt.

And, of course, he will discuss immigration, climate, gun violence, and world affairs.

Let us hope he takes the opportunity not only to lay out his plans, but to provide those bent on holding America hostage, and perpetuating lies and myths, both a direct rebuttal and a path forward.

They are sitting before you Mr. President. Confront them on their own turf. You have been reelected.

As Branch Rickey said to Jackie Robinson at the end of his first season in the major leagues, "Now you can fight back".

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?