Dividing Lines

The political order is breaking down right in front of us. While DC is immersed in ideological battles, we’re seeing traditional liberalism and conservatism morph right in our eyes, you have cultural liberals arguing for free trade, cultural conservatives railing against billionaires, and moderates on both sides picking and choosing amidst the carnage.

This is not to say there aren’t still more traditional left and right, or even extreme left and right. That still exists. The main point is that there are new politics emerging, like a spring blooming from the Earth. In the aftermath of 2016, there are new coalitions forming, some good, some bad.

Americans aren’t satisfied with their political choices. This is why 42% self-identify as independent. It’s why more radical voices are rising on the left and right. It’s why people who lack credibility (Trump, Bernie, AOC) are gaining followings. People want to hear what they want to hear, not what is “possible” or “electable.” It’s why talking about the cost of something, or Congressional viability, or details of a plan haven’t derailed some of the frauds and grifters who have risen in our politics. Nobody cares about what’s wrong with their lies.

The only way out of this hellscape is vision. Someone will have to put something real, appealing, and truly good for people’s lives on the table. Tax subsidies for Amazon to bring minimum wage jobs to Queens aren’t exciting, even if they’re an upgrade for people who need more income there. Activists will sabotage that every time, because there’s no real joy in it. People want their standard of living improved. They want opportunity. The only way to stop them from dumb ideas is to offer good ones.

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Income Assistance for those “Unwilling to Work,” Cow Farts, Killing the Airline Industry, and Placating Some Folks

Call me cynical- I don’t believe AOC’s botched roll out of her “Green New Deal” was a mistake. The Justice Dems poster child and former Bernie Sanders organizer has promised to “lean in” to an oncoming “war” in the Democratic Party, complete with primaries across the party. She’s been clear that she’s not willing to compromise with anyone, on much of anything. Her response to Democrats that want to repair Obamacare instead of overhaul the system for Medicare for All was very telling:

There are lots of questions to be answered on Medicare for All, and plenty of good reasons to look at other alternatives that get you to universality, or at least better than you have now. AOC isn’t willing to look at them though, and the reasoning has been hiding in plain sight for a long time now- her goal is eliminating any moderation within the Democratic Party. Why, you ask? Because AOC and Bernie Sanders aren’t radical or extreme anymore if everyone agrees with them.

Take the Green New Deal resolution AOC has been leading the charge on along with Senator Markey. There is nothing extreme about putting forward an actual bill (not a Resolution) to combat climate change, develop green energy, and create millions of jobs- in fact it’s smart policy on every level. During the roll out the details were a bit hazy, but the concept is so good that old pros like Markey wanted to join AOC’s cause. So did some of the party’s Presidential candidates too. It seemed like a good idea, not just harmless.

Then of course, came the details. They weren’t so good. The “FAQs” (frequently asked questions) weren’t signed off on by anyone else, and didn’t match the actual resolution. There was talk of income assistance for “those unwilling to work,” a Republican messaging wet dream. Then there was talk of cow farts. Yes, really. And yes, there was mention of eliminating airline travel. Yes, she uses planes regularly. And yes, they included language saying nuclear energy is off the table. It was an ugly “screw up,” one they even tried to claim was doctored- it wasn’t.

There are pretty decent arguments to be had for universal income, cutting back consumption of red meat, cutting back flight traffic, and not making nuclear energy central to our energy future- and nowhere near universal support for doing anything. I doubt that Democrats want to campaign on eliminating the union jobs in the nuclear sector, ending steak and burger consumption, closing airports, and giving tax dollars to “lazy people”- which is exactly how Donald Trump and Republicans will label those ideas, while spending millions of dollars to tell swing voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania just how radical Democrats are. Presented this way, you can’t build majority support for any of it. That’s even more true among swing voters.

So why release this? If you want to believe it was an honest mistake, have at it. Of course, you’re being willfully ignorant though. Why release anything to accompany the actual resolution, which was pretty clear on it’s own? FAQs can be helpful to the press, sure, but why did a draft version exist with a bunch of things not in the actual resolution? Their FAQs describe what might as well have been a different resolution altogether, so why was this draft written in the first place? How was the office staff so incompetent as to release the wrong version? I mean really, they’re calling for a massive overhaul of our energy policies and economy as a whole, but they can’t use a Congressional website correctly? If they’re truly just incompetent in this case, that should worry you too.

All of this leads me to the conclusion that they’re actually not incompetent, this wasn’t a mistake, and this was the plan all along. The idea was to have the entire Democratic “establishment” get behind the ideas that some would call “radical”- because if everyone agrees with AOC (and of course Bernie), then you can’t call them extreme or radical anymore. They’re now the mainstream. Their ideas are mainstreamed by the endorsement of them coming from the rest of the Democratic Party. Try arguing to the press that these other Democrats “didn’t sign onto that,” because they signed onto the actual resolution instead. It’s muddled messaging at best, and impossible at worst. Lefty activists will ask why they oppose the Green New Deal. The press will drag them into the weeds. The GOP will mock them over the details in the FAQs and call them radicals.

Inevitably AOC will eventually endorse her old boss Bernie, in part because she agrees with him, and in part because he’s a nice placeholder until she’s eligible to run herself. When his opponents try to label him as unelectable and extreme, she’ll trot out to his defense and not that they agreed with him, on this and other matters, such as health care. Trump will elevate her in the debate as a representative of the Democratic Party of 2020, because he sees her as vulnerable among the voters he needs. She’ll embrace that image. Everyone will be forced to pick sides. Being that so many Democrats are embracing her now, it will be tough to get back the space later. Welcome to being pinned in the corner.

We Need an Income Floor, Not Necessarily a Ceiling

One of the enjoyable things going on right now in politics is an actual debate about taxes. You have Michael Bloomberg and Howard Schultz saying wealth taxes are bad for the economy. You have AOC saying we should tax “the $10,000,000th dollar at 70%,” or something. And you have Elizabeth Warren calling for a wealth tax, on savings, of the top 0.01%. This is a healthy, robust debate, one we need. We’re running $1 trillion debts, our nation is crumbling of neglect at home, and our tax code is a total mess, thanks to everyone from Ronald Reagan to Paul Ryan.

I think we’re having the wrong debate though. I’m not saying we shouldn’t debate millionaires and billionaires, and their tax bills, but I think that debate should take a backseat to how we tax our poor and middle class. The discussion we need to be having is how to create more tax free money at the bottom of the income bracket, essentially “shifting” the loopholes to the working class people.

Nobody should pay taxes on their first $30,000 of income. Literally nobody. Make all of that money tax free, because that’s literally what you need to survive. The first $30,000 pays for your food, your housing, your clothing, and your health care (in fact, I’m probably underestimating it). This money shouldn’t be taxable. If I’m really being honest, people making below $30,000 should be guaranteed a tax return that gets them to $30,000, essentially creating universal guaranteed income (UGI) for all Americans. I’d up this number to something like $45,000 for couples and $60,000 for families of four. For those that call this crazy and fiscally irresponsible, I remind you that we would save much more when we don’t need as much money in welfare programs.

I would apply this principle on taxes besides income too. The payroll tax would start at $30,000, and would certainly not be capped at $132,900 (as it is now), if capped at all. Corporations and businesses would be incentivized in the tax code to be good corporate citizens, including paying a living wage, allowing unionization, giving paid vacation and medical leave, and offering health insurance and retirement to workers. If you start applying the principle of a robust income “floor,” or safety net, you start solving a lot of the failure in our economy. By the same token, companies paying below a living wage and not taking care of their workers should pay more. Essentially if we’re paying the UGI I described above to someone who has a job, their deadbeat employer should be paying taxes that make up the difference.

I’m not sure how I feel, to be honest, about wealth and windfall tax plans. I don’t oppose them. I’m also not sure I love them. What I am more bothered by is the existence of the working poor in America, not as much the super rich. We need to take better care of Americans living in poverty and even middle class conditions, and we should draw up a tax code that makes that happen.