Sunday, August 20, 2006

Emanuel: Time for a new contract with America
August 20, 2006
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times

Two lifelong Democrats who have spent most of the last 20 years navigating Washington, D.C., politics, have come out with a new book, The Plan, a bold agenda for how Americans can change America with five strategies that can be put into motion immediately.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel was elected from Illinois' 5th District in 2002 and is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Bruce Reed, who writes a daily political column for Slate, is president of the Democratic Leadership Council.

Emanuel and Reed have granted the Sun-Times permission to publish the following excerpts from The Plan.

Excerpts from The Plan/Big Ideas for America, copyright 2006 by Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed

Across party lines, from red slates to blue, Americans agree that our country is headed in the wrong direction. As a nation, we know we're not doing enough to win two wars America cannot afford to lose -- one with economic competitors that could undermine our standard of living, the other with terrorists out to destroy our way of life.

With stakes that high, the question that matters most is the one our political system seems least inclined to answer: What are we going to do about it?

Too often, those of us in Washington never get around to discussing what to do because we're so busy searching for someone to blame. We don't have far to look.

We will never make progress by whining about what we're against. It is high time to say what we're for, what we stand for, and above all, what we plan to do.

America faces three great, urgent challenges. We need a new social contract for economic growth that enables Americans to get ahead again. We need a new strategy to make America safe again. And we need a new sense of patriotism and responsibility that unites us in common purpose again.

In the next several chapters, we offer many ideas about how to meet those challenges. We don't have all the answers -- and we hope that you will tell us yours -- but we do know this: America can rise to every one of these challenges if we hold ourselves to a clear, ambitious vision.

At other turning points in our history, our leaders debated and invented the new norms and institutions we needed to carry on as a nation. Their ideas made new eras possible. At the beginning of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt busted trusts and built new institutions to keep markets from crushing the little man. At the end of that century, Bill Clinton eliminated the budget deficit and reformed broken programs like welfare in order to save government from itself. During the Great Depression, when capitalism and government alike were failing, FDR stepped forward to save both.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the U.S. faced a series of new and difficult challenges: an unprecedented concentration of wealth; the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy, and, with it, rapid migration from rural to urban areas; an enormous influx of immigrants; and with America's emergence as a military power, the need to define our role in the world and how we would use that power. As we begin a new century, we find ourselves confronting a similar and equally daunting list: an accelerating concentration of wealth and opportunity; the transition from an industrial to an information economy, and, with it, rapid migration from urban to suburban and exurban areas; another surge of immigrants; and with America's emergence as the sole military superpower, the need once again to define our role in the world, and to sort out how best to put our power to good purpose.

In a 1910 speech to Civil War veterans in Osawatomie, Kansas, Theodore Roosevelt responded to the challenges of his day by calling for "a New Nationalism, without which we cannot hope to deal with new problems." As Roosevelt said in that speech:

At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value. . . . We work in a spirit of broad and far-reaching nationalism when we work for what concerns people as a whole. We are all Americans. Our common interests are as broad as the continent.

A century later, we must be just as inventive, practical, and fearless in addressing the challenges of our time, with a new patriotism that brings us together again in a common mission. We propose a new bargain between the people and their country -- a social contract to equip Americans for the twenty-first century and unite us in higher national purpose. The terms of this bargain may be new, but the bedrock principle is not: You do your part, and your government, your company, and your country will do theirs.

We believe that individuals have a responsibility to make the most of their own lives, and that government has a responsibility to make sure they have the opportunity, the security, and the tools to do so.

We believe that this opportunity and security for all -- with special privilege for none -- is America's special mission.

We believe there can be no security without responsibility, no responsibility without opportunity, no opportunity without a new trust in the promise of American life. A new bargain between the people and their country must offer Americans more of the opportunity and security we remember, in return for more responsibilities that for too long we forgot.

America has plenty of unfinished business, and all of the reforms we'd like to see -- some of which appear in this book -- would make for a very long list. But if we're going to turn the country around, we need a bold agenda that can be counted off on one hand:

1. A new social contract -- universal citizen service, universal college access, universal retirement savings, and universal children's health care -- that makes clear what you can do for your country and what your country can do for you.

2. A return to fiscal responsibility and an end to corporate welfare as we know it.

3. Tax reform to help those who aren't wealthy build wealth.

4. A new strategy to use all America's strengths to win the war on terror.

5. A Hybrid Economy that cuts America's gasoline consumption in half over the next decade.

Each of these ideas represents a serious effort to address America's most pressing national challenges. Each of them marks a clean break with the status quo, yet all are practical ideas that can be passed and put into action right away.

Above all, these ideas recognize that the world has changed, and so must we. The economic arrangements Americans depend on have stayed the same for generations. America's social contract was designed for the 1930s. Our safety net was built for the 1960s. Our preparations for the twenty-first century came to a halt at the end of the twentieth.

The chapters that follow describe these ideas in depth.

But for those who -- like us -- are impatient for change, here's a shorthand version of The Plan:


A new social contract, or what you can do for your country and what your country can do for you

The economy of the twenty-first century demands new skills and will require all of us to live up to new responsibilities. We believe that four mutual obligations that follow should represent the first terms of a new contract between the people and their country.

Universal Citizen Service

If you forget everything else you read in these pages, please remember this: The Plan starts with you. If your leaders aren't challenging you to do your part, they aren't doing theirs. We need a real Patriot Act that brings out the patriot in all of us by establishing, for the first time, an ethic of universal citizen service.

Universal College Access

We must make a college degree as universal as a high school diploma. More than ever, America's success depends on what we can learn. We have an education system built in the last century, with a school year left over from the century before that. In this new era, college will be the greatest engine of opportunity for our society and our economy. Just as Abraham Lincoln gave land grants to endow our great public universities, we will give the states tuition grants to make college free for those willing to work, serve, and excel.

Universal Retirement Savings

From now on, every job ought to come with a 401(k). An aging society cannot afford to keep saving less and risking more. We need new means to create wealth, based on the needs and responsibilities of twenty-first-century employees and employers. Employers should be required to offer 401(k)s, and workers will be enrolled unless they choose otherwise. If they switch jobs, they can take these accounts with them. When their paycheck goes up, so will their savings. Instead of a work force in which only half the workers have retirement savings plans, every American will have one.

Universal Children's Health Care

We need to cut the cost of health care so that every business can afford it and every child in America at last can get it. We can save hundreds of billions by adopting electronic medical records, rewarding outcomes instead of procedures, providing incentives for personal responsibility, and starting a National Cure Center to cure chronic diseases. As we achieve those savings, we should use them to give small businesses access to the same health plans as members of Congress -- and to make sure all parents in America have the responsibility and the means to obtain health insurance for their children.

A return to fiscal responsibility and an end to corporate welfare as we know it

We'll never be able to build a new social contract if we don't repair the broken contract between the American people and their leaders. We can only achieve universal service, college, pensions, and children's health care if we're willing to cut and invest to pay for it. The place to start is by ending corporate welfare and the hack-ridden government that fuels it.

Tax reform to help those who aren't wealthy build wealth

Americans shouldn't have to start rich to get rich, and the tax code shouldn't punish them for going to work or for being members of the middle class. We need tax reform that puts a lid on middle-class taxes and helps every American build the pillars of the American Dream: raising a family, buying a home, paying for college, and saving for retirement.

A new strategy to win the war on terror

We need to use all the tools of American power to make our country safe. America must lead the world's fight against the spread of evil and totalitarianism, but we must stop trying to win that battle on our own. We should reform and strengthen multilateral institutions for the twenty-first century, not walk away from them. We need to fortify the military's "thin green line" around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and the Marines, and expanding the U.S. Army by 100,000 more troops. We should give all our troops a new GI Bill to come home to. Finally, we must protect the homeland and our civil liberties by creating a new domestic counterterrorism force like Britain's MI5.

A hybrid economy that cuts America's gasoline use in half

America needs to usher in the Hybrid Economy, a new era of energy efficiency and innovation that can save the auto industry and the planet at the same time. We need a sweeping campaign to develop new energy technologies, which can be the job engine of the twenty-first century and our nation's response to the threat of climate change. We can cut our use of gasoline in half over the next decade by accelerating energy research and by embracing a technology that already exists -- the plug-in hybrid, which in combination with alternative fuels has the potential to deliver a hundred miles per gallon. Instead of sending tens of billions a year to support corrupt regimes whose neglect and corruption keep terrorism alive, we'll end our dependence on a dangerous region that harbors many who wish us great harm.

Ask what you can do for your country

The premier component of the new social contract The Plan promotes between citizens and their government is universal citizen service.

Here's how the authors spell it out:

John Kennedy was right: A nation is defined not by what it does for its citizens but by what it asks of them. If your leaders aren't challenging you to do your part, they aren't doing theirs. We need a real Patriot Act that brings out the patriot in all of us by establishing for the first time an ethic of universal citizen service. All Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 should be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic civil defense training and community service. This is not a draft, nor is it military. Young people will be trained not as soldiers, but simply as citizens who understand their responsibilities in the event of a natural disaster, an epidemic or a terrorist attack. Universal citizen service will bring Americans of every background together to make America safer and more united in common purpose.

We're the sole superpower and biggest target in a world where the capacity for evil is more decentralized than ever before. For years, we have worked to remake the world in our image by spreading the gospel of democracy, freedom and capitalism. Doing so has been and continues to be in our national interest. But we should not forget: The more the world copies our strengths, the harder we must work to hone those strengths ourselves.


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