I wish I’d said that …
Every time I hear or read David Brooks or Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times, I wonder why the president of the United States does not call both of them up and install them in the White House. With all of the issues in the world, we need creativity like theirs all of the time. It is in that context that I read a recent column by Friedman. Given the reaction by many people to the national health-care package’s passage by Congress, his thoughts on what is needed in America, as stated in the column, were in the category of, “Gee, I wish I had said that.” The column was entitled, “Tea Party Without Nuts.” A few examples: • “President Obama’s winning passage of national health care is both exhilarating and sobering. Covering so many uninsured American is a historic achievement. But the president had to postpone trips, buy off companies and cut every conceivable side deal to just barely make it happen, without a single Republican vote. If the Democrats now lose seats in the mid-term elections, we’re headed for even worse gridlock, even though we still have so much more nation-building for America to do – from education to energy to environment to innovation to tax policy. That is why I want my own Tea Party. I want a Tea Party of the radical center.” • “I write often about innovation in energy and education. But I’ve come to realize that none of these innovations will emerge at scale until we get the most important innovation of all – political innovation that will empower independents and centrists, which describes a lot of the country.” Friedman adds that we have to get governing the country right. People have to be able to talk to each other, there has to be more than posturing going on and the goal has to be what is right for America. He says America’s system is broken, and it does not take much observing of the goings-on in Washington to agree with him. “When your political system punishes lawmakers for doing the right things, it is broken. That is why we need political innovation that takes America’s disempowered radical center and enables it to act in proportion to its true size, unconstrained by the two parties, interest groups and orthodoxies that have tied our politics in knots.” Most people in the United States want and expect their government to work. They need a radical change from what is going on now, not leaders who can prove how far out on the left or the right they are, but rather who promise to talk to each other and get things done without bankrupting the country. According to Friedman, the radical center is “radical” in its “desire for a radical departure from politics as usual.” “It advocates,” he says, “raising taxes to close our budgetary shortfalls, but doing so with a spirit of equity and social justice; guaranteeing that every American is covered by health insurance, but with market reforms to really bring down costs; legally expanding immigration to attract more job-creators to America’s shores; increasing corporate tax credits for research and lowering cooperate taxes if companies will move more manufacturing jobs back onshore; investing more in our public schools, while insisting on raising national education standards and greater accountability...; massively investing in clean energy, including nuclear, while allowing more offshore drilling in the transition. You get the idea.” So how do you do this? Friedman has a couple of good ideas. First, take the power away from state legislatures to design congressional districts and give it to a commission that can do it rationally, not gerrymandering them to favor the party that wins the state legislature. Another is to make it possible for independents to run for office and get elected if the Republican or Democratic candidates will not promise to try to get something done. Friedman ends his analysis with the following, “Obama won the presidency by tapping the center … They saw in Obama a pragmatist who could pull us together for pragmatic solutions. But hyperpartisanship has frustrated those hopes. If that radical center wants to be empowered, it can’t just whine. It needs its own grass-roots movement to promote reforms like nonpartisan redistricting and alternate voting in every state. It’s tea time for the center.” Radical moderates, arise!Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.