Saturday, November 20, 2010


The libertarian leaning local columnist Robert Robb had some nice things to say about Terry Goddard.

"Goddard began the diffusion of political power that characterizes Phoenix and the state today. He actually had more lasting influence on Arizona's political future than those most often cited as the dominant figures of that period: Bruce Babbitt, Burton Barr and Alfredo Gutierrez.

If Goddard had played it safe as mayor, he undoubtedly would have been elected governor in 1990.

Goddard, however, forcefully advocated for a series of failed tax-increase proposals: to build a downtown baseball stadium, to transform and restore the Salt River throughout the county, and to establish a county-wide transit system.

In much of this, he was just premature. A downtown baseball stadium was eventually built. A county-wide transit tax was approved. Piecemeal improvements of the Salt River are occurring. In the case of the transit system and Salt River improvements, what Goddard advocated in the 1980s was actually much better than what county residents ultimately got."

I think this is why I am a Democrat right now. I love Tempe Town Lake, I live only a few miles south of it. My daughter's youth choir sang the National Anthem at a Diamond Backs game recently. I took the light rail downtown to see her and the game. I forgot how much I love baseball and I had a blast at the game, despite the cheesy over the top amusement park-like baseball stadium. I also loved riding the light rail and I wish I could take it more often, but I love that it exists.

Baseball stadiums, light rail, highways, Tempe Town Lake, parks - none of these exist without some amount of public government support. But the Republican party presumably would prefer to cut all of this and more. It's the utter-cheapness of today's Republican party that drives me away from it. Its a political party that has started to think small.

I grew up in Yuma, a city that historically has close to the highest unemployment rate in the nation. And my dad was perpetually unemployed or vastly underemployed. We literally scraped by. I cannot tell you the number of times they would say the words: "We can't afford it." And it was always true - they couldn't afford much of what I wanted (even my modest wants were usually unfulfilled.

But looking back, my dad often suffered from a lack of vision. You don't say we can't afford it, you find a way to afford it and then you afford it. I'm speaking of the more worthwhile wants I had growing up - like piano lessons, say. And I can think of times when my dad was able to step it up and afford stuff - most notably when it came time for me to serve a two year church mission. He took on a second job for those two years to pay for that mission, and for that I'm very grateful. So, he had it within him, but too often he used poverty as an excuse (this is my interpretation - there were probably issues going on I didn't fully understand).

I get that we don't want unnecessary debt or burdensome taxes, but that just means to me that you find a way to raise revenue broadly so it has minimal impact, say by cutting loopholes, broadening the tax base instead of simply raising the rates.

This hit home for me one more time today. My oldest daughter was involved in a Suzuki "book promotion" concert today. All of these kids involved in Suzuki violin or cello gathered for a concert at a church in South Tempe. They played in order from the beginner to advanced. The most advanced student played last. She must have been 12 or 13 and she played a solo, the only solo of the day, and her piece was beautiful and inspiring.

To play the violin well (or at all), you need to practice for years, be willing to spend good money on lessons and instruments and music. Be willing to spend the time day after day. And then after many, many years you may be good enough to actually perform something that people will show up to listen to, and not just because they're being supportive because they know they will be inspired, maybe. But you still do it anyway because you're thinking big. You want to create something beautiful - and the cost of doing so is basically beside the point, because beauty really has no price tag.

The Republican party has within itself the ability to think big by the way. I think I understand their ideology pretty well - I lived it pretty passionately for a good 10-20 years.

Republicans believe in the free market but so do the Democrats. Nobody is arguing in any of our political debates that we should nationalize the internet or Apple.

Where the battle lines are drawn are in those areas where the free market is not actively participatory - preserving the environment (some companies do want to preserve the environment, but usually only if and when it benefits them, or its a secondary concern subservient to profits), universal access to education and health care, roads, police, our military.

Republicans want strong and active government in police and in the military but they want to minimize its footprint in other areas. Democrats don't. That's really the extent of the difference between the two parties.

But Republicans are not cruel, most want good schools for everyone, most would be in favor of a diabetic getting access to insulin regardless of ability to pay. They just don't want the government to do it. They rightly believe that government tends to be motivated by more political than altruistic concerns, and in the politician's machinations, winning the next election takes precedent over anything else.

But what are their alternatives - churches and charitable organizations. And I think I understand why - I can see on paper (not sure if the data bears this out) that when a person volunteers time and money to a specific organization they're gong to want to be more diligent in vetting that organization and all of this comes from a place of passion and for a higher purpose. I give a lot of money to my church - I do it because of my faith, but I also have a lot of confidence those funds will be used wisely. This is why I favor eliminating tax loopholes and deductions, but I make an exception for charitable giving. The problem with taxes are they are not voluntary. They are collected by force, so other than through elections, politicians don't have the same accountability that charities do.

But I want to see this explained much, much better and with more vigor by Republicans. If Republicans truly believed that charitable institutions could fill in the gaps for health care, education, libraries, care for the elderly, I would love to see them embrace this fully and explain to me how. And I want to see it employed in practice.

Remove the tax subsidies employers get for providing employee health insurance, which will effectively kill employer provided health insurance. Then show me how through a combination of free market health insurance and charity, I can always get insulin to my daughter. I'm not being cynical here, I want this position defended much more forcefully by the Republicans.

Stop thinking small. In my view, we have more wealth on this good earth than we realize. We can harness our global natural resources, get more out of more people. We can live more abundant lives than we currently are.

Its time our politics reflect that - from both parties.

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