A simplistic Democratic wish list at the federal level would include:
- An assault weapons ban;
- Marijuana legalization;
- Amnesty for illegal residents of long standing;
- A $15 minimum wage;
- And a revived Civilian Conservation Corps.
These are reflexively opposed by thoughtless Republicans. The assault weapons ban, increased minimum wage and Civilian Conservation Corps appear as aggrandizements of federal power, while amnesty and marijuana legalization are viewed as assaults on values.
Yet reflexive resistance does not serve overriding Republican values of individual responsibility, and law and order. Multiplication of assault weapons is the road to group killings, and civil war and has little to do with household protection. An outmoded minimum wage coupled with the welfare state subsidizes exploitative and unprogressive employers, and it fosters casual labor, the underground economy and the underworld. Failure to regularize status of immigrants excludes them from mortgages and business formations and from full participation in the economy. Lack of national programs for youth employment strands young men in squalor and prevents their assimilation into the labor force.
Negativism on these issues is politically a losing game. There are conservative modifications of these demands that would render them both politically salable and non-destructive of values.
An assault weapons ban with its modest aggrandizement of federal power should be accompanied by repeal of the dangerous Clinton-era legislation allowing federal control of local police forces via injunctions and consent decrees — the reality or threat of which have multiplied homicide rates in Baltimore, Chicago and New York. Federal marijuana legalization should be accompanied by quality control and labeling requirements disclosing the strength of substances, prohibition of candy-like compounds appealing to the young, educational programs stressing marijuana’s de-motivational effects, and express validation of school and college drug testing.
Amnesty for long-established immigrants should be conditioned on payment of large application fees or civil penalties at the Australian level ($5,000) by applicants, families, employers or philanthropies, dedicated to a fund to mitigate conditions in Central American and other countries of origin committed to government health services. Among the initiatives would be making nurse practitioners available to women, development of water and sewer lines, and provision of self-build materials, assuring that funds do not wind up in Swiss banks. Vetting should be conducted not by the widely mistrusted U.S. Immicgration and Customs Enforcement, but by volunteers from the nation’s thousands of dormant Selective Service boards, which have offices, computer facilities and civic volunteers who are not countercultural.
An enhanced minimum wage, which can have adverse effects on younger workers, should be accompanied by exclusion from payroll taxation of workers under the age of 25 and their employers, as is done explicitly in Poland and Croatia, and in practice in Germany and The Netherlands.
A revived Civilian Conservation Corps should feature initial training by the military, as with the New Deal civilian corps, where General George Marshall made his reputation. This will assuage conservative fears of a recrudescence of the Johnson Administration Job Corps, and should purposefully direct enlistees to areas far from their places of origin and their associations.
There are opportunities for grand bargains here, but not if leaders of a divided Congress insist on support from their caucuses sufficient to enact before bringing legislation to floor votes.
George Liebmann (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president of the Library Company of the Baltimore Bar and the author of numerous books on law and public policy, most recently “America’s Political Inventors: The Lost Art of Legislation” (Bloomsbury, 2019).