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After the Crash

Three small steps that a Biden-Harris administration could accomplish that would make instant, quantifiable improvements.

Last February, just as the pandemic was starting, my car was totaled when a woman driving an SUV while talking on her ‘phone plowed full tilt into the passenger’s side C-pillar of my car. Both vehicles were destroyed. The SUV exploded into hundreds (or thousands) of pieces all over the intersection she had roared into just as I was exiting. 

My four-door Mercedes sedan was bent, but the engine kept running. Even though the right rear tire had exploded, and the unibody was bent beyond repair, I was able to drive out of the intersection to the curb, out of the way of other traffic. Three of the four doors still worked.

The SUV driver, who’s careless driving had destroyed two vehicles was uninjured. Her air bag and collapsing steering column let her be with her family for dinner, instead of having them pay last respects at a funeral home. The machines died but no people were hurt. 

There seem some lessons in this experience for all of us as we reflect on where we want our nation to go, after four years of crashing against reality. Our history may help us understand ways to make progress into the future. 

A lot of people lament our inadequate moves toward equality for women. Until the early 20th century, rough teamsters were the only ones who wrangled horses drawn wagons. The work was so tough that even now the image of 20 mule-team freight wagons is a meme. But today, women routinely drive cars and SUVs with the equivalent of the power of hundreds of horses, at speeds old teamsters couldn’t imagine. 

Once, only hearty farm or settler women would even think of driving horse-drawn vehicles. Now women in every branch of society think nothing of driving themselves, or passengers or customers. We see the ability and right to drive as so natural that we are offended by societies like Saudi Arabia which still limit such a right. 

We now expect, and require, most female children to go to school. That wasn’t anyone’s expectation when our nation was founded. Educating some girls led to demands to allow women to participate in running society. The Abigail Adams type of influence gave way to more official involvement, which justified even more demands for better education of all girls. 

Wars have helped this process. While people decry the savagery of war, the drain on male workers has always opened opportunities for women. Whether in pre-revolutionary Tsarist Russia, or the industrial U.S., wars draw women into the workplace and the demands of many jobs make the workplaces demand that their women employees be educated. 

Education, once given, is hard to take away (the example of the Donald’s base notwithstanding). 

In the 1980s Reagan corporate revolution, we experienced both aggressive corporate efforts to cut back on public education, and an explosion of technology which would eventually yield search engines and cheap computers, that put unprecedented amounts of information into the hands of almost all economic classes. 

Corporate attempts to consolidate internet control, as with Verizon’s snapping up of Yahoo! and AOL and various other information pathways have not succeeded in controlling the spread of information. Corporations have spent fortunes funding extremist websites, trying to flood the environment with fake and misleading “news.” But the truth keeps spreading wider and wider. 

I propose three small steps that a Biden-Harris administration could accomplish that would make instant, quantifiable improvements in the lives of every American.

The seat belts, air bags and collapsible steering wheel in the destroyed SUV were each a small step in driver safety. Each was forced on unwilling car makers by a public-spirited government. Not one was a “revolutionary” step. Neither were any of the actions to curtail the damage done by cigarettes. First “prohibiting” their sale to children, then educating people and penalizing their sale to adults. 

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Small steps. But each one improved the lives of the general population. And we should be thinking about what a Biden-Harris administration might do in similar steps to improve people’s lives. 

There are plenty of “radicals” who want instant, monumental, revolutionary changes to our entire society. They have been preaching their messages since the Cold War. They tend not to deliver. They tend never to have any actual concrete plans for social improvementtheir rhetoric provides a model for the Donald’s “better, cheaper health care” blather. 

But they are absolutely right to keep pointing out things that need to be improved, and the rights of people to have societal improvements. 

I propose three small steps that a Biden-Harris administration could accomplish that would make instant, quantifiable improvements in the lives of every American. Nothing revolutionary, and at least two of my ideas build on Republican demands. So they would either promote unity, or expose hypocrisy. 

First, let’s do away with the cap on Social Security payroll deductions. Today, only the lower and middle classes contribute to Social Security. After wages exceed about $125,000 in any year, the wage earner stops having Social Security deducted from their paychecks. And people who make their money from investments or other non-wage work, escape any Social Security payments at all. 

We are told that Social Security is going broke. That is because so many workers in our society are exempt from contributing to the system. They may end up able to draw on the system in their later years, as Ayn Rand did. But they don’t have to pay in. Let’s make the system universal, have everyone pay into it, and everyone benefit from it. If everyone paid in, benefits could rise and there would never be an issue of bankruptcy. 

This year, Republicans have howled about problems with election systems around the nation. President Biden and Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress should take up the Republican complaints and work on eliminating voting problems. We should test the sincerity of Republican complaints. And we should insist on reforms, to eliminate problems with local voting issues. 

Think how much states and localities are spending on legal costs to deal with vote challenging lawsuits this fall. ALL of that expense could be eliminated, if the Federal government set out guidelines requiring fairness in treatment of all voters, and funded the maintenance of voter registration lists and the delivery of functioning voting machines with trained workers. This would reduce the costs of voting systems while guaranteeing the security and reliability of voting, which both major parties say they want. 

Similarly, the Biden-Harris administration should acknowledge the Republican’s constant demands to “lock her up” and to “investigate” every suspicion. NO, President Biden should not get mired in this. 

But he should appoint an honest Attorney General to run the Justice Department, and then should NOT interfere if that Justice Department investigates and prosecutes corruption. Republicans scream that they want the guilty to be exposed and prosecuted and punished for their crimes. 

tom hall

That’s one of the jobs of the Justice Department. If it turns out that lobbyists have purchased access to politicians, punish the politicians who take money for corrupting their offices. President Biden should not hand out pardons or sentence commutations, whether in exchange for personal loyalty, or for bribes. He should lead the nation in seeking to unify our citizens against the idea that we have to suffer corruption as inherent in government. 

Crash diets never work, we have endless studies to prove that. But small, incremental changes in lifestyle ca lead to permanent weight lost. Similarly, small, feasible changes have historically improved the lives of vast numbers of people.

Tom Hall

Progressives who really want progress toward better lives for everyone should be working on identifying and pushing their political representatives to enact measures which will improve lives, and improve confidence in our system. 

Tom Hall