In one of the most unusual national elections in memory, many of our basic assumptions about the core principles of the two major political parties don’t seem to apply. For example, a significant proportion of Republicans favor tax increases on the rich. Democrats are similarly confounded – just a few years ago, no Democrat wanted to be known as a “liberal” and had to settle for the softer-sounding “progressive” – yet Bernie Sanders is a viable candidate running as a democratic socialist.
For many voters, the mainstream leadership of both parties doesn’t seem to understand the degree and nature of our frustration. My views on a range of issues seem to be all over the place, which also seems true of a surprisingly large proportion of voters.
So, is 2016 a turning point when neither party speaks to a majority of voters? With the number of independents easily exceeding the membership of either party, are there enough voters who might actually favor some new mix of policy and political views?
My new political party would have the following principles:
▪ All federal assistance programs will be abolished – no welfare, or food stamps, or public housing or housing assistance, or Medicaid, no Affordable Care Act. This will result in the savings of hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
▪ Any individual or household expecting a living income will have to work: no work = no help.
▪ Any household that has a working-age adult who is unable to find a job at a living income will be guaranteed a job and supplemental assistance to bring the household to an income they can actually live on. Households with one or more adults already working at least half-time can receive supplemental assistance, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, in an amount to bring the household, based on household size, to a livable income.
▪ The federal minimum wage will be increased by only 5 percent a year until it reaches the 1980 equivalent minimum wage, and thereafter by the percentage increase in the cost of living.
▪ In order to maintain competitiveness with low-wage countries, supplemental assistance rather than the minimum wage will be the primary means to allow all adults/households to earn a livable income without having to rely on increases in the minimum wage. However, low-wage businesses that expect taxpayers to provide the full amount of supplemental assistance will be assessed a fee. It will be at the discretion of businesses to determine whether they feel it is appropriate to pass along the impact of the fee to consumers.
▪ Employers will not provide health care benefits to their employees – the value of such benefits will be added to their wages. Households will be able to use their new level of total income to purchase housing, food, health care and other necessities as they see fit. There will be no federal programs providing these services.
▪ Social Security and Medicare will largely continue in their current form, starting at age 60. All employees will pay Social Security and Medicare taxes based on their total compensation, with no cap on the compensation level. Beneficiaries will receive benefits related to their total contributions, but at a declining rate if their retirement income exceeds a certain level, such as $250,000, that would be increased annually based on inflation.
▪ Individuals, corporations, labor unions and all other entities may contribute funds for political activities in any amount, with no limits. However, every contributor, whether to an individual seeking office, PAC, “Super PAC” or similar organization, must provide name, address, the amount and name of the recipient to the Federal Election Commission at the time of the contribution. Failure to report contributions would be subjected to a fine equal to the amount of the contribution.
▪ Every employer, regardless of the number of employees, must check the residency status of any new hire. Individuals who cannot provide documentation that they have resided in the U.S. for at least a year will be denied employment. Any individual who has been in the country for more than a year and does not have legal status must seek legal residency in accordance with existing immigration laws. Any temporary workers, such as in agriculture, must be paid at the same living wage established for U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The H-1B program allowing employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations will be phased out over five years. Employers will be encouraged to develop training programs with colleges and other organizations to prepare underused U.S. citizens and permanent residents for such jobs.
▪ Federal elections will be subject to federal laws and regulations. Congressional districts in every state will be drawn by an independent, nonpartisan commission at the federal level. State legislatures and governors will have no authority regarding districts for the U.S. Congress.
▪ There will be a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing the Electoral College. The president and vice president will be determined by total popular vote, so that votes in all states have equal value.
If this is the year when people are asking for “real change,” it will take a new third party to bring that about.
Stephen Jenks of Carrboro, a lifelong Democrat, has a Ph.D. in political science from UNC-CH, with major fields in public policy, public administration and American government.