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On the Question of Boldness (Part Two)

Turning to the question of boldness on the domestic front, the problem here is less that Kerry doesn't have any bold proposals, than that he hasn't been able to figure out a compelling way to highlight them. That's a shame because, as Stanley and Anna Greenberg point out in their interesting report "Toward a Bold Politics":

...the Kerry proposals – on health care and energy – that are his two boldest... win the most voter support (80 percent, including over half of the electorate that strongly supports them). To address the health care crisis, Kerry offers a broad government initiative to cover all children, qualify all Americans to purchase insurance in the federal-employee pool, provide tax credits and close drug company loopholes to reduce costs. On energy, Kerry promises a Manhattan project to achieve energy independence in 10 years, promote renewables and fuel efficiency.

Another area where Kerry has some good ideas is education. As Michael Winerip pointed out recently in an admirably crisp article in The New York Times:

The secret to quality public education has never been a big mystery. You need good teachers and you need small enough classes so those teachers can do their work. Period.

In terms of the availability of good teachers, the root of the problem is widely noted. As Matthew Miller put it in a recent column, "Think Bigger on Teachers":

....up through the mid-1970s, the quality of the teacher corps was subsidized by discrimination. Women and minorities didn't have as many opportunities outside the classroom. An enormous talent pool came into the schools, talent that is now nearing retirement. These teachers' younger counterparts aren't choosing teaching; they're becoming doctors and lawyers and businesspeople instead.

And, given the lower pay, poorer working conditions and more difficult students in high-poverty schools, the lower quality part of this lower quality teaching corps winds up in those schools, teaching the very kids who need great teachers the most.

Kerry's proposal to deal with this problem is called a "New Bargain for America's Children and Teachers". Here's the basic idea from his website:

...[Kerry's] “New Bargain for America's Children and Teachers” will recruit or retain 500,000 teachers over the next 4 years . Working together with parents, principals, and communities across America, John Kerry will offer teachers and children a new bargain. The new bargain will offer teachers more—providing better pay and preparation—and will ask for more in return—requiring high standards and rewarding results for our children.

Kerry's plan will recruit quality teachers for high-need schools and for subject areas like math and science by offering pay hikes of at least $5,000. He will also establish a new teacher corps for recent college graduates.

Great idea! Problem is, as Miller points out:

Kerry's new plan offers exactly the right framework. Yet the budget he puts behind it, roughly $3 billion a year, isn't nearly enough to make the difference he seeks.

In a new book I estimate it would cost $30 billion a year (not $3 billion) to raise starting salaries for high-poverty teachers from roughly $40,000 to $60,000 - and to make it possible for the best performers to eventually earn as much as $150,000. This new trajectory would revolutionize the way the career is viewed by college students choosing a career.

Miller concludes that:

A bolder call (via Kerry's new bargain) to have the nation make the best teachers of poor children millionaires over their careers could make the press and public see there's a difference on schools that matters. With the stakes so high, in other words, Kerry may want to think bigger - so that his teacher plan is more effective as policy and more potent as politics.

Souds good to me, though, as Matthew Yglesias pointed out in his post on Miller's column, the education issue ranks below Iraq, economy/jobs and health care in terms of salience. Still, it's interesting to note that, according to the Greenbergs, a "bold" education proposal polls better than Kerry's actual education proposal in the areas of preschool, class size and college access. Perhaps the same thing would be true in the teachers area.

Clearly, the devil is in the details on all this. Kerry does have fiscal and political constraints on what he can advocate (though, as many have noted, Clinton initially got elected on a synthesis of fiscal responsibility and "putting people first" not fiscal responsibility alone). And simply advocating that Kerry "Go Big", as MoveOn, in conjunction with Arianna Huffington and Joe Trippi, has suggested in a recent petition, understates the challenges Kerry has in framing "bold" proposals so they reach and inspire swing voters.

But I do think the raw materials are already out there for a bold Kerry domestic agenda that could indeed be compelling for voters. So far, I don't believe he's succeeded in communicating that agenda to voters. He's got plenty of time but, in the end, voters will want to know what the Kerry campaign is about. An overly-cautious, let-Bush-lose approach will not answer that fundamental voter question.


For those interested, here's a better link to the Matt Miller article: http://www.mattmilleronline.com/columns.php?id=95

Kerry needs to package his proposals on education, health care, homeland security etc as jobs programs as well as substantive programs. Granted the number of teaching jobs you are talking about is just a dent in the jobs picture, still, it is a dent that could appeal to some displaced IT workers. More attention paid to emergency care and public health adds more jobs. Same with increased police and firefighters. Same with infrastructure construction and reconstruction. Same with alternative energy and pollution cleanup programs. All of these are the kind of good jobs with a payoff in social capital that won't go overseas and that will be needed to keep our economy going as globalization eats into our traditional economy and depresses manufacturing and now service sector wages and thus consumption.

The key is to unite these ideas around a theme of rebuilding our economy by rebuilding our communities. This dovetails with the Greenbergs' polling and analysis, while resonating with people's desire to reinspire a sense of community. The chief opponents will be economic libertarians who don't understand the meaning of social capital and essentially want to freeze the status quo. But to the extent that jobs is at the heart of this program, it will have a lot of support.

First thoughts in response are that health care and energy "independence" are the top two (not necessarily in that order) domestic proposals I hope he highlights.

They certainly represent enough of a departure from the status quo to lend themselves to being marketed as "bold". Yet I see them as hardly "radical" ideas, in the event that the Kerry campaign's polling suggests to them they need to be careful about chasing away swing voters with something that sounds too risky or scary.

These initiatives are actually safe and cautious in several senses. Aggressive development of alternative energy sources is mostly spending money on R&D, where modest amounts of money can go a long way if they're spent wisely. The importance of giving ourselves greater latitude in our foreign policy to attach less weight to oil supply considerations is obvious to any American with a brain and can be explained easily even to many of those lacking an especially well-functioning one.

It's also easy in talking about this proposal to make the point that, given Bush and Cheney's huge financial interests in the oil industry and long record of policy decisions on energy issues, we are free to conclude that this Administration is unlikely to adopt a pedal to the metal approach to generating possible competition to its source of livelihood. Such a comment gently highlights the sleezy ethics of a nation's leaders allowing their personal financial interests to interfere with the oaths of office they take under the Constitution to put the interests of the country first, last, and everything in between.

His health care proposal is not vulnerable to the same fate as the Clintons' was because it so clearly builds on the existing system, and because the essence of it is much less complicated to explain to the public. It's also a safe issue in the sense that everyone knows the system is badly broken, combining inefficiencies and inequities in what may be a uniquely American way. A presidential candidate should be expected to have something substantial to suggest regarding an issue that ranks near the top of what Americans identify as the nation's most pressing problems.

Both proposals serve to highlight Kerry's far greater independence from special interests. The Administration has consistently placed the interests of health care and energy special interests ahead of the broad national interest.

Although I wish I were not, I have to say I am deeply skeptical as to whether Matt Miller's admirable proposal is either likely to work as policy or is marketable for political purposes. I see the K-12 educational equity issue as a much tougher nut to crack even than health care.

A one-year national service requirement--either military or non-military--is a proposal which I believe would be a good thing for the country. And now is an especially ripe time to offer such a proposal. It, too, can be discussed in ways which highlight Kerry's authentic patriotism. It might be established as a requirement for receiving more generous financial aid for postsecondary education and/or job training. It might also be packaged with enhanced loan forgiveness for those who take hard to fill public service-type jobs for a time. When it comes to the policy details, the politics of this, as those who have been immersed in the national service issue well know, turn out to be tricky. But now may be as good a time to push harder on this as we're likely to see for awhile.

I think a one-year national service requirement is going to seriously piss off Nader/Dean leaning voters. While it may help Kerry out w/ Independents/veterans, I don't think it's the wisest political move, regardles of it's merits.

What Kerry needs to have is a catchy phrase that touts the most significant proposal, the one that will win hearts and minds. I had been thinking he should go wth the economy, but I think now he needs to push Iraq to the front. Iraq is a fiasco because the administration should never have gone there in the first place and is completely incompetent. Something like "A New Deal on Iraq" or something else. While "Let America Be America" might be a nice phrase, it doesn't grab you. It covers too much ground. New Deal sounded like an economy phrase. How about "Strength and Leadership"? But don't try to package every proposal under one banner. The slogan needs focus to gain traction, and then he needs to hammer that area, knowing that the rest of what he has to say can come out in time.

The hike in teaching pay seems like a good idea, but I wonder if the cost takes into account community college and university teachers. If grade school teachers begin to recieve better pay, these groups would demand wages that account for their higher credentials.

And if they don't get it, they will leave higher education for grade school - causing problems with higher education.

These don't seem like bold proposals to me, except they might have big price tags.

Here are places Kerry could be bold on domestic policy:

1. Throw out the tax code and start over.

2. understanding why the economy collapsed in the 90s due to mistakes at the fed. Ask for Greenspan's resignation, that would be bold.

2a. fix deflation/inflation of our currency. This would secure for Kerry several farm states which were wiped out in the 90s deflation.

I detest the health proposals, which are just another liberal giveaway plan that everybody knows is pie in the sky and never win. The Republicans always make the mistake of saying we'll cut 51% of the people's taxes and get elected that way. The Dems always make the mistake of saying we'll give away more stuff to 51% of the people and get elected that way.

Everybody knows that in order to pay for more health care, we're just going to need more money. It would be fine to do it if you can come up with a way to get more money out of the economy without damaging it!!! see economy above.

Can anyone make sense of the data in this poll?

One thing that confuses me is that many of these so called swing voters are only "considering" one candidate. More are considering Bush. Is that due to the fact that people investigate the imcumbent, and then the challenger?


BTW, when, normally do people stop looking at the incumbent and take a look at the challenger?

If we're considering tossing the entire tax code and starting over, we're fairly confident that Democrats are going to take back the House and Senate as well as the Presidency? I can't imagine the results if Republicans got to rewrite the whole thing and Kerry only got to choose whether to sign or veto it!

As Michael Winerip pointed out recently in an admirably crisp article in The New York Times:

"The secret to quality public education has never been a big mystery. You need good teachers and you need small enough classes so those teachers can do their work. Period."

The Times seems to be in no hurry to be the paper of record again. Not only is there no "period" about this, I think if he actually did some research he'd find that there are a couple much stronger predictors of student success: parental attitudes and peer pressure.

Winerup's statement is typical of the worst excess of the Democratic left-- believing that the culture and parents are unimportant and that any problem can be solved by throwing money at it. I'm part of the Democratic left and I'd prefer that Winerup actually think this thru instead of making stuff up and embarrassing us.

"Winerup's statement is typical of the worst excess of the Democratic left-- believing that the culture and parents are unimportant and that any problem can be solved by throwing money at it. "

Ok- in some families there is not a culture that values education. How do we fix that? Other than taking kids away from their families and having them raised by Ph.D's I don't have any ideas that don't take money.

The irony is that we have an imbalance in school funding and it's the kids that need those extra resources that are getting the short end.

I agree with you that money in itself doesn't solve problems. But I suppose most people that advocate more money for education are aware of that and aren't gathering our children around stacks of dollar bills hoping for enlightenment.