A month or two ago I posted a memo to the Hillary team to the effect that she go after issues, and fill all campaign space with them immediately. Doing so would show the results of her experience and knowledge, which would be better than just claiming those qualities. Doing so would also deflect attention from the usual person-based commentaries which generally do her no good. Also, in the event that she wins the presidency, having a record on the issues would enable her to claim a mandate for pursuing those issues.
Now I have a follow up proposal. She should base her issues on one common theme: infrastructure. She should say that it is not the government's role to achieve success directly, but it is the government's role to enable as many as possible of its citizens, and its businesses, to do so. It is government's job to get them up to the stage; performing is then their responsibility.
Infrastructure conventionally means buildings and roads, I guess, and that's a good place to start. It's traditional. Lincoln's Whig platform for election was for the government to promote the expansion of railroads. Eisenhower famously promoted the interstate highway system. Both Abe and Ike came from areas that benefitted from the programs, rural Illinois and rural Kansas. Both knew what it was like to be isolated in a backwater. Hillary can't claim their personal experience, but pressing for increasing road and bridge maintenance is something everyone knows we need. Governments can be so foolish in overseeing decline. It was so disappointing for Ann and me last year to visit Spain and ride our busses on roads of a quality simply unobtainable here at home. We just have to make sure that California's personal nemesis, Caltrans, is not allowed anywhere near any of the projects.
Infrastructure needs to expand its definition beyond roads and buildings. Band width and speed are commonly granted admission to the “infrastructure” rubric. Again, how can we be 28th or whatever it is we are in the world in computer technology infrastructure? Scandalous.
I would also include health and education in the “infrastructure” definition. After all, aren't they human infrastructure? In both cases, direct government provision is not necessary and not desirable. Government influence and regulation are necessary; government financing is desirable; but government completion of the duty is not desirable. Both inefficient fields are undergoing reform; Hillary could simply pledge to improve Obamacare, and to expend more money and effort on the schools supporting current reforms of all sorts, including improving Obama's Community College is Free program.
OK, it's not an imaginative list of responsibilities for government, but that's OK. None of these are new areas, and none of them new for government, but that's a good thing for an election. Who needs a new program on the docket? What she needs is a declaration of what she would devote her domestic efforts toward, a set of issues that are non-controversial as governmental concerns, and a set of plans for how to get there, which can be craftily assembled.
Let the Republicans carp about the details; if they play on her turf, she will likely win. What she would hope for would be Republicans to contradict her goals on the basis that it would entail raising taxes. Indeed, some taxes might need to be raised, or maybe not. But the answer to them would be, “You're willing to let our infrastructure decay, for our capacity to grow to decay, for us to fall behind, so taxes can be low? Really?”
And then she should add that the problem with taxes is not really how high they are, especially for the wealthy, but whether or not one is getting a good deal from paying them. Is the government doing a good job with the taxes? The first requirement for doing a good job with tax money is aiming at the right goals. Are the Republicans saying that infrastructure is not the right goal? Make that case, guys! Or, if it is a worthwhile goal, how else would you achieve it, non-governmentally? Answer me that.
And she could add one thing further. She, too, is concerned about the effectiveness of government. There have been studies and studies about how to make it more effective, how to “reinvent” it, and some efforts with some limited success. Well, she could say, I do think we need constantly to work at making government more effective. So I would establish a government effectiveness commission to constantly chip away at this issue, to call for whatever civil service reforms need to be made, whatever changes in procurement, whatever changes in scale and organizational location. I would get the momentum going, and I would appoint lots of Republicans (including Tom Coburn), and lots of rather non-partisan knowledgeable people on this commission, and I promise I would listen to them. We would get government to work better. Big or small, government will always be with us. It doesn't make sense to give up on it and say it will always be so. We can learn from academics, we can learn from our own excellent officials, we can learn from the experience of other countries such as Singapore, and Scandinavia. Not everything, but something. Not complete victory, but making good progress. And I would be sure that by the end of my tenure we would be better off.
OK, maybe not visionary, maybe not inspirational, but Hillary is neither one and never will be. But it is workmanlike, doable, stable, forward-looking, progressive, inclusive, and defensible. It would be pretty hard for the Republicans to be critical, I think, hard to call it anti-business, hard to call it big-government, hard to call it soak-the-rich. Democrats would want more, and they could get more, but if she concentrated on infrastructure, she could get pretty far. She needs the image of down to earth and practical. Let the Republicans wax theoretical, let them say one after the other at a debate line up that they disagree with her priorities. What could be sweeter.
So, that's my suggestion. Let's see if the Campaign likes this one as much as they did the first one.