Give the presidential firebrands (Trump, Sanders, Cruz, Rubio) credit: they have raised a long list of tough issues that they see undermining the strength and character of our allegedly troubled nation.
They are masters of the blame game for those they see at fault for a sorry state of affairs. In this accusatory process, where not much is going right, they have managed to remove executive experience, competence, problem solving abilities, electability, bridge building, generosity of spirit and even prowess at fund raising from the contest.
The political pundits, who have been off on their predictions all the way, compound the shallowness of the campaign with streams of analysis about the divisive forces behind why this candidate or that one is gaining traction.
Their interaction converges on what they see as an array of fault lines in our society. It’s new class warfare; it’s the revolt of angry white males; it’s a backlash from growing income and wealth inequality; it’s about racial divides; it’s political correctness gone awry.
But, sadly missing from the funereal dialog are pragmatic solutions. The debaters don’t want to be pinned down to specific programs that are fiscally possible. The loudest survivors are often are two paragraphs deep on the issues.
Yet, leaders solve problems. We elect them to tackle the tough challenges that divide us. Most of us don’t want cant. We don’t want to listen to undoable schemes like deporting 11 million illegal aliens or slamming the door shut on international trade.
This is not to suggest that the following outlines solutions to the big issues of the campaign are the only answers, but they are examples of the kinds of solutions available to leaders. They come from pragmatic thinkers across the land.
On income inequality, as I have written before, a solution is an alternative minimum tax (AMT) on all income for individuals and corporations. Set AMT tax rates in a middle ground that redistributes income and wealth fairly without smothering the vitality of the economy. No more loopholes for the politically connected.
On dealing with immigration, the middle ground would be to give illegal immigrants work permits, but not citizenship and the vote. Require good behavior for extending the work permits. Children born here get citizenship. Then adjust the flow of legal immigration to the unemployment rate; curtail the inflow when jobs are scarce, increase them when the country needs labor.
Businesses large and small stress that have to have immigrant labor. Dairy farms in Wisconsin are one screaming example.
On foreign trade, establish balanced trade through bilateral trade agreements. The horse is out of the barn on job losses to overseas plants. American consumers enjoy the low cost goods from abroad. And our country now exports huge amounts to trading partners all over the world. We can’t pull that plug. But, freeze the imbalance. Let it grow no bigger. Simply say to China, Mexico and Vietnam: from now on you can only increase your exports to us if you take in an equivalent increase in exports from us.
Multilateral trade agreements would be replaced by a bilateral chit system.
On Social Security, it can be made solvent for the long term by indexing dates of retirement extended longevity, by eliminating the caps on wages subject to payroll tax and by tapering benefit increases.
On uncontrolled health costs, and the resulting access issues, follow the lead of private companies as they adopt incentives and disincentives for the use of medical treatments and keep their workforces healthy and out of hospitals through proactive primary care.
There are workable solutions out there.
Thirty states will have voted by the time Wisconsin voters go to the polls April 5. But it is conceivable that we could still be a player in the national outcomes, especially if Michael Bloomberg jumps in as an independent.
As the survivors start trekking through our state this spring, we need to pin down the remaining candidates on how they are going to solve the issues they have inflamed.