We live in a very complex world, far different from the one most of us were born into, and it’s difficult for all of us to understand what government and economic policies are really needed in a 21st century world. Yet the recent debates in Washington — and too often in the Minnesota Capitol this spring — have been designed to make sure we go backward as a nation.
As a former CPA and director of planning at a major Twin Cities corporation, and as an active citizen my whole adult life, I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated at being told I’m too liberal, too far left.
Just how extreme am I? Well, I have a lot more in common with President Dwight D. Eisenhower than today’s Republican Party does.
How did we get here?
For well over 30 years, we have moved right, toward a more conservative philosophy of governing. We’ve been told by many sources, then amplified by the talk shows and right-wing media, that the proper role for government is to be small in size, have few regulations on business and maintain very low taxes. And for the past 30 years we’ve been doing just that: lowering taxes and deregulating industries, especially finance, and we’re now talking about gutting many of the social programs so many Americans rely on just to survive.
Isn’t the purpose of government to serve its people? That’s what both parties agreed on for most of our history. In fact, those of us who are now called the political left can find much to like in the 1956 Republican National Party Platform.
“We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs — expansion of social security — broadened coverage in unemployment insurance — improved housing — and better health protection for all our people. We are determined that our government remain warmly responsive to the urgent social and economic problems of our people.”
Warmly responsive! What’s not to like about that?
It even says that tax reductions should focus on “particular consideration for low and middle income families.” WOW, wouldn’t that be something! Remember, marginal tax rates on our highest income earners were 91 percent. That’s not a typo — 91 percent. Yet, the Republican platform focused on reducing taxes on the poor and middle class.
When big name commentators and other writers complain about the demands of extremists on both sides, I can only wonder whom they are referring to on the left — the Eisenhower Republicans like me?
Less and less responsive government, industry
For the past 30 years, government and industry have become less and less responsive to the American people. We have seen real wages stagnant for most American workers compared to the costs of health care and housing, and we’ve witnessed the dismantling of regulations that safeguarded our economy for two generations — laws implemented after the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Too many Americans have had to use their credit cards for basic necessities, and too many on Wall Street were allowed to risk the financial health of this nation because the regulatory functions that a healthy capitalist system requires had been gutted.
The majority of Americans are also clear about what they want government to do: We want public programs that live up to our vision of what America can be — that is, a country that provides a good education for all of its children; adequate health care for citizens; a 21st century infrastructure to compete with other nations economically; protection for the environment; decent, livable wage jobs; and the promise that government will not allow a few people to wreck our economy.
What do we need to do?
I have great faith in the wisdom of the American people when they’re given the facts without a lot of political spin and they understand the consequences of the choices they’re being asked to make. We are well served when we seek out sources that give us good information and help us understand the consequences of our choices.
That’s not always easy to do, but it seems clear that Americans are finding their way through the morass. As apparently 72 percent of us now agree, we need to raise revenue as well as make some spending cuts as we move into the future. We are not broke, and an austerity budget will only make things worse. Let’s step up and invest in America and Americans. We can well afford it if we simply have the political will to do it.
Ann Manning is a former CPA with Coopers & Lybrand and was director of corporate planning for Medtronic, Inc. She currently works with Wealth for the Common Good and lives in Minneapolis.