“A More Perfect Union” - comments from William Jefferson Clinton,
with follow up comments from me.
The following is a rehash of an impromptu speech given by President Clinton, following the premiere viewing of the film “ The Hunting of the President”, based on the book of the same name. It speaks to the issue of our current polarization, in a broader context of our history.
A fundamental mission of our nation, as prescribed by our founding fathers, is to form a more perfect union. This is both humble and bold. It is humble in its recognition of humankind’s imperfections, as reflected in our institutions. It is bold in suggesting that we should strive to do better. It is a call to be progressive.
We are presently at another crossroads in our history, when we are called upon to define, defend and expand our union. President Clinton said that each time we have had this fight within our nation, we have ultimately chosen to widen our circle of opportunity, deepen the meaning of freedom and broaden the reach of community. He said that democracy is not just majority rule, but also the preservation of minority rights.
Here is the most important thing. Clinton says that the present conservative movement fights its battle on the grounds of who is good versus bad. Their goal is to put the right people in power, and concentrate wealth and power with a few people. Clinton does not define them as bad, suggesting that they are simply asserting what they think is best for our country. Most important, Clinton says we cannot respond in kind, but must fight the battle on the notion that “we are right, they are wrong, and here’s why”.
So, the difference is a fight over ideology and character versus a debate over policy. Clinton suggests we have tried their way for 16 years now (total sum of the Reagan and Bush years) and our way for 8 years (the Clinton years) and our way works better, if you look at the facts. At the time Clinton left office, he contends that nearly 2/3rds agreed with his policies, but the 2000 ( and perhaps present) election was close, due to the tax and cultural issues. He said the argument about taxes was whether to have the cuts now, versus looking at their long term affect. In terms of culture, it falls along the lines of God, guns, gays and choice (abortion). We are more evenly divided on these issues.
My comment to all this, is the need for all of us to understand our differences on the cultural issues, find some common ground, and develop policy ideas that will appeal to the 2/3rds that can agree on the economic issues. Less government and tax cuts that primarily benefit the corporations, the wealthy and more powerful, are a part of the conservative plan to focus wealth and power with the few. They get and stay in power by using the culture issues that keep us divided. As Clinton said in his 2004 convention speech, they need us to be divided.
The more progressive economic policies that would favor growth and prosperity in the middle class, would still allow the rich to be rich, but maybe less powerful, and less in control. That is likely at the heart of their resistence. These progressive policies would include national health care, greater investment in public education, a living wage, environmental security, greater cooperation with all law abiding nations, leading by principle among other nations, targeted tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy for creating jobs in our homeland, most of which the Democrats have been proposing.
The Clinton economic plan included the rich “paying their fair share”, and the legislation of 1993, that increased taxes on the wealthy, passed with one vote in the house, and Vice President Gore passed a tie breaking vote in the Senate, if I remember correctly. From then on, it was definitely open season on Clinton, but that tax law, combined with other bipartisan programs, brought us to our first budget surplus by 1998, and our first opportunity to start paying down our national debt.
On the cultural issues, I would suggest these policy ideas.
$ God: As Clinton said, one reason we are such a religious nation is because our founding fathers saw the necessity to separate Church and State. Thus, no one religious group should try to codify their beliefs into civil law. That would have profound affect on how we legislate regarding many of the other cultural issues. I don’t presently have a suggestion for resolving issues like school prayer or the “under God” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance, but these two issues exemplify a conflict between majority rule and minority rights.
$ Guns: The right to bear arms is simply a right to defend one’s self and one’s family. This is not about sportsman’s rights. Those who are adamant about gun ownership, want guns to defend themselves against criminals, terrorists and the government itself, if it ever comes to that. The question is whether some regulation through registration and licensing truly prevents one from defending themselves. These regulations should not be so cumbersome, that they prevent law abiding citizens from possessing guns. One could suggest that the more lethal the weapon, the more strict the regulation of use and ownership. Finally, the best protection against having to defend ourselves against our own government, is the an informed and full participation of all eligible voters in our elections. (In recent times, the media has failed to be an objective source of information, as they tend to side with the ideological and character issues versus which policies are most effective. For instance, after a debate, rather than trying to spin who won the debate, it is more helpful to hear an accuracy report on what the debaters said.)
$ Gays: The recent tiff over the Vice President’s family suggests one thing. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered issues are a family issue. If 2 to 10 % of Americans are GLBT, than that suggests a good percentage of families deal with this issue, and like any loved ones, we want what is best for them. Most people who are GBLT are contributors to our society, working in various professions, trades and skills. Some our veterans, albeit that they have to hide their orientation, in order to serve, fight and possibly die for our country. People who are GBLT transcend political and religious affiliation, and this further suggests that their orientation is not a life style choice, but rather a part of who they are. It is another issue of diversity, and our challenge, as a society, is to accept and welcome, not condemn and discriminate. With respect to marriage, given that people who are GLBT are contributors to our society, it only seems fair that they at least have some civil recognition and partners rights, on par with what heterosexual couples have in marriage.
$ Abortion: The real issue for those opposed to legal abortion would be to reduce or eliminate abortion. Yet, just having a law against it, does not necessarily reduce abortion. The wealthy can go to other countries, and others may go to hacks or attempt a self induced abortion, creating a health hazard. So, rather than making abortion illegal, why not strive to make it “obsolete”. The present phrase used by some is abortion should be safe, legal and rare. To accomplish this, we have to make sure that women truly have a full range of choices, from assistance with health care & child care needs and adoption options. At a preventive level, there should be education that includes abstinence as a strategy, access to contraception, research on new, safer, more effective and more user - friendly contraception is needed. Research could include how to more effectively pin point ovulation, so those who don’t want to practice contraception, can accurately pin point when they need to abstain. All these would serve to decrease the possibility of an unintended pregnancy. Finally, a late term abortion law would have to allow for saving the life of the mother, but it is not wise to legislate a professional medical decision best left to a Doctor. Parental permission and notification would also have to allow for judicial review exceptions for adolescent women, who could be at risk by seeking parental permission. These examples would include when the father has committed incest, or if the adolescent woman might risk abuse by self righteous parents.
Here are other examples of crossroads in our history, according to Clinton. After Washington ended his tenure as President, there was a debate about whether or not to have a national legal economy and a national legal system.
Once that debate was resolved, there was about 40 years of relative calm, until the civil war era, starting in the late 1840's through the late 1860's, which among other things asked whether you could get out of the union.
Around 1900, in the early industrial era, the question was whether we needed great governmental power to balance great industrial power. Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, championed a progressive expansion of government. (My insertion: To deal with things like child labor.) His successor, Taft, went with less government reform.
Ultimately, Wilson, emerged as the progressive candidate, shifting the progressive trend from the Republican to the Democratic party.
This was stalled for twelve years during the 20's and early 30's, culminating in the depression, but returned with FDR.
The end of the world war and onset of the cold war set up another era of calm, but included a gradual burgeoning of conservatism. Clinton suggests it started in the 60's, during our cultural changes including the civil rights movement and women’s rights. (I have thought the real roots were in the 50's, as reflected by Richard Nixon and the McCarthy era.)
The latest change in our history has been the end of the cold war, and the onset of the post industrial - communications era of the early 90's to present.
Clinton suggests the “smaller government” movement (which included lower taxes proposition 78 of the 70's), partnered with the religious right movement that became more defined in the 70's. Their strategy is to put the right people in power, and concentrate wealth and power among a few people.
According to Clinton, their plan would have resulted in Johnson being our last Democratic President, except for Watergate resulting in Carter being elected. Clinton has said that his own election was a violation of the “natural order” that they had imagined.
Since Clinton emerged at the onset of the post industrial - communications era of the early 90's, he suggested that the right lacked an enemy, when his Presidency came about, so he became their target. When Hillary Clinton made her comment about a “vast right wing conspiracy”, his only quarrel was with the word “conspiracy”, since much of what the right was doing was not all that secretive, as the word “conspiracy” suggests. Bill Gazitano