What is government for? Most writers would tell you to never end on a preposition but for the purposes of a story, I hope you can forgive me. When I was a freshman in undergrad, I had my first class with my eventual faculty advisor and friend, Professor Timothy Sherratt, who is a regular contributor to the Center for Public Justice. I admit that it was hard for me to know exactly what I believed when he first asked me the question. It took a far different series of events to flesh out what I felt was true for me politically.
It starts with the acknowledgment that I’m quite the fan of dating. Trust me, this relates to my political beliefs. I loved getting to know different women in college and discovering who I was as a romantic person. Many of my friends as well as myself make fun of the fact that I had a thing for more politically “conservative” women while I was in college. I’ll admit that I was definitely attracted to that political opposite. The idea of debating political issues and coming together to support each other as independent persons seemed rather enjoyable to me. I broke the rules of discussing religion and politics without shame.
You may not believe me when I tell you that I genuinely enjoyed getting to understand the “conservative” point of view. It’s all the more important to seek to understand the political ideology of those we disagree with as we navigate through the highly polarized politics of Washington. Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell were credited with the most recent deal to avert the fiscal cliff. They were able to do this because they had enough trust in one another through a decades long working relationship as Senators. Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill forged a highly regarded working relationship, which led to landmark deals on tax reform and Social Security during the 1980s. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton have collaborated together to raise funds for relief from multiple natural disasters. Jon Huntsman and Joe Manchin have formed a new partnership of No Labels, which is seeking to promote constructive cooperation and compromise to achieve progress through governing.
These relationships are where the opportunity lies to achieve good things for the American people. This is the way forward through the endless hyper-partisanship. For those who may disagree with the “progressive” perspective on politics, I want to flesh out where liberals would like to take the country on the issues of the economy, immigration, and other so called “social issues.” What I hope is that there can be a gateway to building better relationships between conservatives and liberals.
When looking at the economy, it’s necessary to acknowledge that blame for the recession lies with both Democrats and Republicans. It lies with a culture of greed that permeated Wall Street and Main Street. It convinced bankers that they could play a dangerous game of “Hot Potato” with sub-prime mortgages. It convinced working people that they could own a home with no credit and that everything would be O.K. Above all, there was an enormous lack of responsibility and common sense where there should have been so much more. Main Street has bailed out Wall Street. Taxpayers have bailed out AIG, the banks, and the auto industry. The banks are back and more profitable than ever. Corporations have more cash on hand than they’ve had in years and the auto bailout is credited with saving over a million jobs. Meanwhile, we’ve settled a home mortgage suit with the banks for a mere eight billion dollars.
Most economic indicators have shown recovery from the recession. Unemployment is still high but it could probably lower the unemployment rate by at least a full percentage point if we were able to fill many “high-skilled” jobs where we have too few workers that are trained to do the jobs. Many of those workers are stuck in homes that have bad mortgages where they literally can’t afford to sell their home until the market recovers. Simply put, the system is rigged and it seems like everyone is putting the squeeze on the middle class.
In order to grow a dynamic economy, Democrats have to focus on building it from the bottom up and going out from the middle. Americans can’t continue to believe the myth of trickle down economics. It has been tried again and again to the same result of failure. The national debt is an issue of American national security. A progressive solution to address the financial debt is based on practicality and common sense. It is time for effective means testing for Social Security and Medicare. We can start with addressing the fact that we cap the income limit for Social Security taxation at just over $100,000. This means that millionaires and billionaires pay ZERO additional dollars in Social Security taxes than an upper middle class person. This just doesn’t make sense and we know that if we raised the threshold to $250,000 for Social Security taxation, we’d be able to make Social Security solvent for another 75 years. Simply put, it might be time to ask Donald Trump to go without Social Security and Medicare. We have to address the national deficit but also acknowledge that the system is fixed. Most of the increased income remains with the top 1 percent of Americans while American productivity remains the envy of the world. If you give American workers a fair and living wage, they’ve proven that they’ve got the best work ethic in the world. We need policies that are going to put the middle class first.
Putting the middle class first also means putting families first. Immigration is a family issue. We have millions of undocumented immigrants who are living and working in this country. They came here to seek a better way of life because they believed in our values. We must pass comprehensive immigration reform. This reform should give undocumented workers a pathway to citizenship. This pathway could include military service or serving our nation through Americorps, Teach for America or the Peace Corps. We should also encourage the best and the brightest immigrants who come here to study at our colleges and universities to stay here.
Progressives should be hopeful that Marco Rubio and other Republicans have come to the table on comprehensive immigration reform because if the Republican Party has any hope of surviving as a brand in our minority-majority future, then they’ve got to stop just talking about the labor pains in reaching out to Hispanics and show us the baby.
Conservatives certainly love babies. You might be surprised to learn that liberals also very much enjoy children. The majority of Democrats don’t think women should be forced to have them if they are raped or if they are manipulated into an act of incest. I am personally pro-life but I believe that the decision to terminate the pregnancy of a potential life should rest with the individual and their family. If we want to empower families, we should be doing everything we can to make sure that government isn’t intruding into this extremely sensitive and personal area of life. Beyond abortion is the personal issue of sexual orientation. We need to have full marriage equality in this country, which means that all 50 states sanction marriage equality. It will be a long road to national marriage equality but I’m convinced that it should and will happen in my lifetime. The rights of gays, lesbians, and transgendered people along with disabled Americans remain the most important American civil rights issue of the 21st century. It is simply injustice to deny any American because of sexual orientation or disability, the legal rights of heterosexuals and able-bodied people.
We recently celebrated the life of Martin Luther King Jr., who reminded us that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I’m preparing to work as a legislative aide for both a local Democratic and Republican Vermont State Representative in the 2013 Legislative session to work for justice. These representatives have disagreements but their personal friendship empowers them to do big things for our corner of Vermont. Ultimately, what it’s about is trying to be like Jesus. We should all strive to be our brother and sister’s keepers. Jesus rolled with the poor and the needy. He hung out with the lepers and prostitutes. He loved them as he does all of us. As Bill Clinton said at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, “we believe we’re all in this together is a much better philosophy than you’re on your own.” Scripture tells me that Jesus would have agreed with that sentiment. Love your political enemies and seek to understand their point of view. Who knows you might even score a great date out of it.
-Alec Lewis is an alumnus of Gordon College in Wenham, MA. He works as a professional Democratic political operative and as a performing artist. He was a co-founder of Oddfellows Improv Company which is now known as Cape Ann Improv located in the North Shore of Massachusetts.