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November 07, 2004

Golden Rule Politics

A proposal for the Democrats: Starting today, start preaching the gospel. Adopt a simple theme, and apply it to every possible issue. I'll make it easy for you: The Golden Rule. As I learned it, the rule is very simple: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or, even simpler but less mantric: Treat everyone else like you would like to be treated. Therefore:
  • If you'd like health insurance, you need to help others get health insurance.
  • If you would like to know that your children are going to be able to grow up in a world with plenty of clean air and water, you're going to have to start taking better care of the environment.
  • If you want social security benefits, you have to be willing to continue paying into the system, and you have to support measures that will keep that money safe for future recipients.
  • If you want the right to marry the person you love, and to enjoy all the legal benefits that are attached to such a union, you have to be willing to grant the same to all other Americans.
  • If you want a decent wage and some sense of job security, you have to support increased minimum wages, living wages, and other measures to make employers more responsible to their employees.
  • If you don't want to have to work in a sweatshop, you're going to have to support trade policies that prohibit sweatshop labor—and you're going to have to stop shopping at Wal-Mart!
  • If you would like to know that you'll be able to safely and legally get an abortion if you became pregnant and did not want or could not afford to have a child, you need to support and preserve a woman's right to choose.
  • If you want your kids to go to good schools, with good teachers and rich, diverse opportunities, you have to support school funding measures to ensure these schools have the resources they need. (Voucher programs do not qualify here, since they allow people to be selfish in making sure their child gets a good education, while leaving other children and parents to cope with failing schools. Is that how you'd like to be treated?)
  • If you want to be free from terrorism and the fear of outside forces trying to control the way your country governs itself, you have to support the autonomy and security of all other nations around the world. Admit that the so-called “American exception” is a cruel hypocrisy that you only tolerate because you're an American, and which you would not tolerate if you were an Iranian, an Iraqi, a Venezuelan, etc.
I could go on, but you get the idea. It's strong, visionary, yet simple. Sure, there is more nuance and complexity to each of these issues than the simple application of the “golden rule” can capture, but that can all be fleshed out as we go forward. The magic is the apparent simplicity of Golden Rule Politics. Most people will just “get it.” It will help the Democrats speak to the millions of Americans who see faith and values as their most important issues, and it will play equally well with more secular voters. Golden Rule Politics is nondenominational; every major world religion I know of has some form of the Golden Rule within its most basic teachings. (Are there any religious scholars out there who would provide textual support for that?) Golden Rule Politics has the added advantage of exposing the Republican view of morality and values for the hypocritical sham that it is. If anything, Bush-type religion may find support in the Old Testament's “eye for an eye” kind of thinking, but it displays little of the moderation and tolerance added by the New Testament. Golden Rule Politics could remind religious conservatives of the values many if not all of them were probably taught as children, and should create common ground between them and the rest of the planet. Disclaimer: I'm no religious scholar, but the beauty of Golden Rule Politics is that it doesn't require any particular religious knowledge or affiliation. If you have those things, you get the history of the ideas, but w/out that background, the rules are still simple and clear. Anyway, it's an idea....

Posted November 7, 2004 01:45 PM | election 2004

Ah, yes... but this cuts both ways...

"If you would like people to shop at your store, shop at theirs--including WalMart."

"If you don't want people to rely on welfare, start kicking people off of welfare."

Besides, don't most Republican's think the "Golden Rule" is "Whoever has the gold, makes the rules"? :)

Posted by: Dave! at November 7, 2004 02:23 PM

Um, Dave, I don't think that your second example is an example of "Do unto others as you would have done unto you." It's an example of "Do unto others as you would have done unto others."

Admittedly, some of ambimb's fall into that category, but at least he made the effort to rhetorically move from it. And admittedly, you're right that it cuts both ways. The problem with rhetorical devices is that they're way too easy to manipulate.

Posted by: Heidi at November 8, 2004 07:43 AM

Stop shopping at Wal-mart? But where else will I get huge drums of crap for an unbelievably low price? Where will I go to be greeted by America's "retired"? I don't know if I can give that up.

Posted by: Unreasonable Man at November 8, 2004 09:47 AM

The Wal-Mart example is a good one b/c it really is more complicated than it seems. Dave's formulation of the rule makes superficial sense, so Democrats would have to explain that if you want people to shop at your store, you *cannot* shop at Wal-Mart b/c Wal-Mart will put your store out of business. I don't think that explanation would be so hard to make.

I don't know how a welfare rule would work, except for something like this: If you would like to recieve food and shelter and other basics (like medical care) if you should fall on hard times, you must be willing to provide food and shelter and other basics for those who have already fallen on hard times. Welfare recipients have a corollary Golden Rule duty to do everything w/in their power to get off of welfare as soon as possible, but I'm not sure how we could put that into a golden rule.

But sure, nothing's every as simple as it seems or impervious to manipulation. That said, I think Golden Rule Politics *might* be simple enough that Dems could defend it and build a positive agenda on it. Maybe.

Posted by: ambimb at November 8, 2004 10:50 AM

Jeez guys, I wasn't trying to perfect rhetoric, I was trying to use a little humor (okay, very little) to point out how easily that idea could be manipulated by the right.

That'll learn me to try bein' ironical. :)

Seriously, the big problem I see with the "Golden Rule" approach is that the right has been claiming all along that less government aid *is* doing to people as they want done unto them. The counter to the expanded welfare/hard times rule is that if you fall on hard times, you need to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and help yourself. I *know* people who would have *easily* qualified for welfare and chose not to take it because, "We're not lazy and we don't need charity. We'll get ourselves back on track through hard work, not government handouts."

Besides that, I think it's a bit insulting to the average voter. It has that "I'm better than you, don't you get it?" feel to it, which is precisely why "middle America" (whatever that means) has such a bad experience with the Democratic Party.

I see both sides in my family; my father comes from a long line of pro-union, working class Democrats and my mother from a long line of free market, business class Republicans. You should see the discussions we have...

However, the thing that I've noticed, which seems to be almost universal, is that even the Democrats in my family are disgusted with the way the Democrats treat their own. Not a single one of them voted *for* John Kerry... hell, I didn't vote *for* John Kerry. Most of us voted *against* President Bush, and I just don't think that is a viable future for the party. You want to really change the nature of the Democratic Party? Fire the DLC. Clean house, because these people have proved they are ineffective.

Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of the "Golden Rule," who doesn't? But I think people are capable of seeing the reality of the hard choices to be made in politics. I think what they want is someone who has conviction and actually bothers to talk to them on a real level, as real people, and explain what they believe in a simple, straightforward manner. I think that explains Bush's appeal. And that's why I think the Golden Rule approach is the wrong one.

Posted by: -Dave! at November 8, 2004 12:04 PM

I am with you, except on numbers 5 and 8. But I am sure that comes as no surprise.

Of course my reluctance on 5 is because of economics- for example, as you push up the minimum wage to some nebulous "living" wage, you also push up prices, which then forces an adjustment in the wage so that it still qualifies as "living" and on and on and on.

And, as someone who has studied education finance and been somewhat responsible for it both at the school board level and the state level, funding alone is not the answer. We probably spend close to enough money, but it is not distributed equitably and then not spent efficiently.

Posted by: musclehead at November 9, 2004 02:13 AM

Musclehead: Learn me some econ then, will you? Are you suggesting the working poor should be happy with incomes below the poverty line b/c if we raise their wages the cost of everything would go up? Why should the poor have to pay the price of cheap goods and services for the rest of us? Why do we accept it as some kind of rule of nature that if we raise wages prices will go up? Why don't we raise the lowest wages, and take the raises from the CEOs, the managers, the upper and middle-income earners? Would that create inflation? My point is this: The "laws" of economics coudl be more manipulable than economists would have us believe, but in order to make them so we have to drop some of our basic assumptions. How about we start with the assumption that the top earners in a business/corporation should be allowed to make as much money as the market will stand?

Posted by: ambimb at November 10, 2004 08:02 PM

and this would be different from socialism how?

How about this - step away from the left-wing fringe. Realize that this is a more conservative country then you would like it to be. Keep pushing it left with arguements - but try to nominate someone closer to the rest of us. (ie a southern Gov - someone who could get elected Carter or Clinton ...)

Posted by: bryan at November 14, 2004 02:31 PM

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