Guest Column: Old School Public Policy

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Mark D. Harmon/Guest Column/ “Old School” Public Policy Points to Kerry, 668 words.

I teach courses and conduct research in journalism and broadcasting. and this time of year several disturbing trends in news become evident even to the most casual observer. U.S. newscasts, and to a lesser extent newspapers, have lost interest in public policy. Some news managers appear to have adopted profit-maximizing research that suggests audiences do not care about public policies. Instead, we get endless horserace stories about polls, insider stories about strategy, revisionist history, and cross-talking angry barrages. So let me try something “old school,” an explanation of public policy issues and why they clearly point to John Kerry as the far better choice for president. Presidents submit budgets. George W. Bush has submitted budgets that have taken us from our largest surplus to our largest deficits. By any measure Bush is one of the highest discretionary spenders in the history of the office. At the same time he has insisted on retaining tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent of the population. The results are a heavy debt passed to future generations, a raiding of Social Security funds, and an excuse for future cuts in popular and needed programs like Social Security and Medicare. John Kerry wants to close the tax loopholes that encourage corporations to move jobs overseas. He wants to roll back the tax breaks for those with incomes over $200,000, and institute a fully refundable tax credit for up to $4000 yearly of college tuition. He also would cut taxes on small businesses that hire additional workers. Presidents indirectly affect the economy by budget, monetary, trade, and investment policies. George W. Bush adamantly has followed failed trickle-down policies with predictable results. The unemployment rate is higher than when he took office. The few jobs that have arisen are paying much less than those lost. Median family income has declined for three consecutive years. Social mobility has sunk below almost every other developed nation. John Kerry wants to cut the corporate welfare and no-bid crony contracts that have expanded in the Bush years. Kerry wants to enforce our existing trade agreements, instead of ignoring dumping violations. He also would raise the minimum wage, something very important to millions of working poor families. Presidents serve as commander in chief. George W. Bush demanded and got broad war authority, powers he misused in a mad rush to war in Iraq. Now we are mired in a quagmire. The claimed threat, massive supplies of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, was an illusion, as was any substantial pre-war link to terrorism and Al-Qaeda. John Kerry as a new president would have a clean slate to repair our tattered alliances and global respect. A genuine international coalition could help with the difficult task of stabilizing Iraq. More importantly, the mistaken Bush policies, especially the politicization of intelligence analysis, rapidly will come to an end. Presidents direct the executive branch. This administration has rolled back environmental protections and open government procedures, but perhaps the most offensive rule changes have been in health care. The Bush Administration is working diligently to stop the re-importation of cheap prescription drugs from Canada. Thus, Bush keeps costs up for consumers, but repays heavy Bush contributors from the pharmaceutical industries. A Kerry Administration would end these foolish and greedy policies, and clear away hurdles in the way of promising stem-cell research. Presidents appoint judges. The Bush Administration, colluding with Republican congressional leaders, ended a bipartisan tradition of Bar Association review of judicial nominee qualifications. A Kerry Administration would not be afraid of quality peer review of the judges it appoints. Don’t hold your breath that CNN will change its program from “Inside Politics” to “Inside Public Policy.” Politics, contrary to what you’ll encounter in most TV news stories, is more than a nasty game. It is how we make choices for self-governance. John Kerry not only is taking that challenge seriously, he also has presented a far superior plan for the future. Dr. Mark D. Harmon teaches courses in journalism and broadcasting at the University of Tennessee.