A "Top Ten" List of Bold Ideas

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The polls suggest we are nearing the end of the Bush era. But conservative scandal and 
failure won't lead to a serious progressive resurgence as long as Democrats remain stuck 
in short-term tactical thinking. Republicans and the tame-dog media tell us, ad nauseam, 
that Democrats have no new ideas. Enough! Tough, bold, important ideas are plentiful--
and it's time to start talking about them, to stake out serious positions and to demand 
action. No, they can't all be achieved right away. But the sooner progressives start saying 
what we really want, the sooner the debate will be about our issues, not theirs. 
Here's a "top ten" list to get the ball rolling--and to plant the flag for positive, aggressive 
post-Bush (and post-New Democrat) near- and long-term change: 
1.Real National Security. The United States is protected by two oceanic moats; the only 
truly serious security threat we face is the possibility that terrorists will acquire nuclear 
weapons. We should shift half of the roughly $500 billion we now spend on a cold warstyle defense posture and counterproductive interventionism to a fully funded 
antiproliferation strategy, to homeland protection and to the elimination of energy 
dependence on the Middle East. The first priority should be an all-out effort to reduce 
nuclear arms and nuclear materials. And we should begin a massive campaign to reduce 
proliferation pressures in Iran and North Korea, including the use of economic incentives, 
and work to ease the Pakistan-India nuclear rivalry. 
2.Single-Payer Universal Healthcare. More than 45 million Americans have no health 
insurance, yet we devote an incredible 15 percent of our GDP to a wasteful system that 
enriches insurance companies. Meanwhile, health costs are forcing major corporations 
like GM into bankruptcy. We should demand the obvious: Only a government-organized 
single-payer system can challenge pharmaceutical profiteering and eliminate the huge 
administrative costs of insurance companies, which compete to limit treatment of 
seriously ill patients and nickel-and-dime others. A 2005 Lewin Group study estimates 
that such a system could save $344 billion over the next decade in California alone. 
3.Real Social Security. This is the wealthiest nation in the world. A serious progressive 
strategy should go far beyond the current debate by demanding a bountiful future for 
Americans when they retire. A good place to start is with a proposal put forward by 
former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill that would produce the equivalent of a 
million-dollar annuity for every citizen--enough to guarantee $50,000 or more a year for 
everyone in retirement. 4.Universal Daycare. France provides free daycare for all children 3 years old and 
above, with subsidized care for younger children. Belgium provides free care for those 
over 2 and a half (subsidized for younger). Finland provides free care for all low-income 
children, subsidized care for others. It's time to demand the same. This June voters in 
California will consider a proposal that would tax the top 1 percent of income earners 
(individuals making more than $400,000 and couples making more than $800,000) to 
provide quality preschool for all 4-year-olds. 
5.A Rebuilt Educational System. Let's start at the top: Many nations provide tuitionfree college education to all students; we should too (one cost estimate: $60 billion). And 
if we really want to leave no child behind, we'll have to reduce K-12 class size, reward 
the best teachers and make the teaching profession attractive to our most talented young 
people (a serious start could be made for $130 billion). Finally, we should upgrade 
preschool programs like Head Start, which nurture critical skills and emotional 
development ($22 billion would cover most eligible children). 
6.A Thirty-Hour Week. The American workweek declined from roughly seventy hours 
in 1850 to sixty hours in 1900 to fifty hours in 1920, but it has been stuck at a little over 
forty hours since the middle of the twentieth century. Between 1979 and 2000 France and 
Germany reduced annual work time by about 240 hours, the equivalent of cutting six 
forty-hour weeks out of the year. Over the next three decades we should steadily reduce 
work time, using a radically expanded earned-income tax credit to help finance work 
reduction for those who cannot otherwise afford to cut back their hours and to reduce 
harm to small businesses. 
7.A Fair Tax System. Can we afford such programs in an era of massive budget 
deficits? The fact is, the top 1 percent of income earners take home more than the bottom 
100 million, and the top 1 percent of wealth holders own just under half of all investment 
capital. We should restore top marginal tax rates to the Nixon-era level of 70 percent, 
revive taxes on estates worth more than $3.5 million and institute the wealth taxes that 
are common in Europe. We should also return to Eisenhower-era corporate tax policies 
(when corporations accounted for roughly 25 percent of federal revenues, compared with 
today's roughly 10 percent). Corporate and wealth-tax changes alone could produce up to 
$800 billion a year. New Jersey and California have recently shown that taxes on those 
making, respectively, more than $500,000 and $1 million are politically realistic and 
8.Worker-Owned (and Community-Owned) Means of Production. This used to be 
radical rhetoric, but the fact is that 8.8 million workers are already involved in 11,000 
companies that are wholly or substantially owned by the employees. There are 4,000-
6,000 neighborhood-benefiting corporations at work building housing and creating jobs 
in cities across the nation. Democratic and Republican mayors now regularly set up 
municipally owned companies to make money for their communities (and often to solve 
environmental problems). Cities and states also invest in job-creating efforts, often using 
public pension assets. A full-scale, long-term program would step up what is already going on at the state and local level--and then move such policies into high gear as a 
nationwide program to create what might be called a "New American Commonwealth." 
9.Planned New Communities. The US population is expected to grow to at least 400 
million by midcentury and, if Census Bureau high projections are realized, more than 1 
billion by the end of the century. Is today's suburban sprawl--already unmanageable--
simply going to continue unchecked? Part of the answer is to rebuild the economies of 
central cities and older suburbs. Beyond this, a rational post-sprawl population-dispersion 
strategy, based on successful European precedents, would use federal loans, loan 
guarantees, tax incentives and public procurement to develop ecologically sustainable, 
mass-transit-friendly new communities in rural and small-town locations. The key is 
intelligent planning as opposed to out-of-control private development. 
10.A Twenty-First-Century Regional America. The United States is very large 
compared with most other advanced industrial nations: Germany, for instance, can be 
tucked inside the borders of Montana alone; France is smaller than Texas. Numerous 
thinkers--from historian Frederick Jackson Turner to the late George Kennan--have 
suggested regional change as a desirable long-term goal. One plausible scenario would 
begin with California asserting more independent powers of self-determination. Groups 
of states like New England or the Northwest might demand similar changes. Regional 
decentralization is fast becoming a fact of life throughout the world. If a future US 
regionalism is to protect and enhance democracy, self-determination and ecological 
sustainability without sacrificing federal civil rights protections, progressives will have to 
take the lead. 
It would be easy to add to this list: A public investment strategy is needed to boost the 
economy into high gear, along with a fair-trade plan to safeguard key industries and jobs. 
We should transform the minimum wage into a new national "living wage" standard. 
Investing in conservation and renewable energy (and raising fuel-saving auto and truck 
CAFE standards) is a practical and moral imperative. So too is making good on the US 
pledge to help achieve the Millennium Goal of cutting extreme global poverty in half by 
2015. Beyond this are new legal safeguards to expand, rather than reduce, civil liberties 
and civil rights. 
The essential point is that progressives must begin demanding what really makes sense 
now and for the long haul. Even if a bold program cannot be enacted at once, tough 
demands change the terms of the debate. If Democrats confine themselves to nibbling at 
the edges of what seems possible in a conservative, GOP-defined system, the result will 
only be further shabby compromises. As the Bush era fades and New Democrats 
flounder, we need to ask ourselves what kind of society we really want to live in--and 
then begin to organize, step by step, around a vision that can once more inspire and reenergize politics.