Saturday, March 19, 2005

Peter Newton: "Freedom Reclaimed" by Tucson's John E. Schwarz

Ed.: Posted on behalf of Peter Newton

I was at a book signing tonight at Reader's Oasis and I wanted to spread the word about the event. Professor Emeritus John Schwarz was talking about his new book, “Freedom Reclaimed”. It is the next step to “What's the Matter with Kansas”. Professor Schwarz retired from the U of A last year, where he was a professor of Political Science. A previous book was a runner up for the Pulitzer Prize, while his other work has become the foundation for the Living Wage movement in the United States.

His most recent book, “Freedom Reclaimed”, discusses the founding fathers ideal of freedom and its relationship to enabling opportunity. Mr. Schwarz traces the development of opportunity in the US. The books claims that our most beloved and accomplished Presidents held expanding opportunity as their central thesis for their terms of office, allowing them to be become beloved and accomplished. The times where economic expansion was granted to the greatest number of our citizens are remembered most fondly, because it was at these times that the country acted word and deed as evidence to our ideals.

However, the past 30 years have been an aberration to our ideals, Schwarz contends. We have lost our way, chasing an illusion of freedom in a market controlled by the owners of capital. It is this very polemic that will be on display in Tucson on Monday when the President comes to visit Tucson. The President will put before us a rosy stained glass visage where each of us become our own controllers of capital, while passing tax and investment laws that benefit the men behind the curtain. Schwarz contends that we have lost our ideal of freedom, replacing it for bravado and an illusory idea of a ‘free market’. It is this illusory ‘free market’ that has been used to undermine the Social Compact we hold amongst ourselves as Americans.

Much like Thomas Franks' “What's the Matter with Kansas?” Schwarz’s book is an analysis of how we got here. Unlike Franks, Schwarz begins to propose ideas on how we begin to turn this slippery slope around. He proposes that we return the ideal of opportunity back to freedom, building a progressive definition to Freedom. It is opportunity that brings us equity, wealth and happiness to the amount we so choose. But, without the opportunity to participate in democracy, we have no freedom. It is this ideal that the rest of the world wants from us, not our wealth and most definitely, not our bombs. It is the one thing that we truly have to offer the world, and the reason people come here from across the planet. It is our selfishness that gets us into trouble, and it is this terrible contradiction that has us engaged in a new Vietnam.

I believe that if we answer the ‘Ownership Society’ with an opposing idea, we can begin to build our majorities again. In the recent past we have made tacit attempts to link Progressives with Social opportunity, but we have never made a strong appeal. Not doing so has left us appearing to be little more than people standing in opposition, lending credence to the rapid rantings of Zell Miller. Though he sounded like he was off his rocker, his rantings hit our campaign hard, and they stuck like barnacles. He, along with the Swift Boat gang, sunk our ship. I heard Zell, and though intellectually, I knew he was nuts, emotionally I knew that he had struck a direct hit. Being dismissive as we were, we ignored how the use of intonation can overcome reason and facts. How else are we embroiled in a corporate take over of our natural resources?

I argue, like Schwarz, that we need to recapture freedom as opportunity. To bring our word home, we must center ourselves on opportunity arguing every issue based on this issue. I have spoken with Arizona House Minority Leader Phil Lopes who suggests we bring it all back to All Day Kindergarten. When they talk about crime and prisons, mention that All Day K would reduce the number of prisoners, because education is the key to opportunity. The earlier we can prepare at risk children with skills and knowledge, the less money we have to spend later to correct the mistakes of neglect we have inflicted on poor children as they rot in prison. Combat issues that inspire fear and intimidation with one of compassion and opportunity. When a tax cut is proposed that will cost us All day K, remind them that without All Day K, there won't be many who can take advantage of the tax cut down the road.

I believe that a very interesting opportunity is about to open up on the Social Security debate. Bush's window is closing, but ours is opening. We need to job through and steam forward to a majority. How? We out lay a plan about how Social Security has provided opportunities for our Senior Citizens to live healthy and productive lives well into their 90s, contributing to the economy through the use of elder services. Social Security has provided opportunity for homemakers to live happy and productive retirements, visiting their grandchildren and living independently, even if their husbands have passed away and they never contributed FICA taxes. Social Security provides opportunity for many with disabilities to lead productive lives, providing services and economic security. We must maintain Social Security for these reasons and many more. Social Security is a net plus for the economy and society. It is the single largest and most successful opportunity program ever devised.

These arguments will preserve Social Security as it is. It will also grant us a chance at winning a seat or 2 in Congress. But I want more than 2. So, I propose that Democrats build our 2006 campaigns around expanding the reach of Social Security to provide MORE opportunity for MORE people. This might not be done through Social Security itself, but by copying its successful aspects to be incorporated with other opportunity programs: All Day K, Head Start, Welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, Neighborhood Policing, Rehabilitation, Amtrak, Transit, Homeland Security, Cafe Standards, Alternative Fuels, Reducing Pollution, Parks and Rec, School Construction, Road Repairs, Open Space Protection, etc. A WHOLE HOST of Progressive initiatives can fall under the Opportunity umbrella. This will work at the local, state and national levels.

We MUST recapture the high ground together. We can only do this is we run collaboratively, under a theme. Bill Clinton would NEVER have been close in 1992, if he had not made his Convention Speech about being the "Man From Hope." It was Hope, that changed the dynamic of that race between 2 Texans into a 3 way race. "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" playing at every stop enthused Americans to a better tomorrow AND drove the sales of Fleetwood Mac BACK on to the charts! A strategy must be set up to combat the ‘Ownership Society’ or we must admit defeat. If we don't run for something more than being slightly less awful than the other side, we'll never recapture the Majority. It won't be easy, for they will lie, cheat and steal their way to power again, but if we can unite around a single positive theme that encompasses our individual priorities, their smoke and mirrors will be pulled aside by Toto, and we can return to Kansas after this long storm.

As you can see, I was moved by the program tonight. John Schwarz is available to come and discuss his book with you and your friends, and he would very much like to do so. Please let me know, and I will speak with him about scheduling an engagement. Please try to buy it at a local independent bookstore or through your favorite independent bookstore online at . His book has been selected by Politics and Prose in Washington, DC as a book for a future discussion group. I encourage you to set up a fundraiser, or other event to discuss Freedom Reclaimed.

John E. Schwarz
Freedom Reclaimed
(Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, $30)
Publisher’s note: “In 1987, Schwarz’s book America’s Hidden Success argued that the social welfare programs of the 1960s had been highly effective. Since then, the shift away from government participation in social programs has left many Americans in need. Schwarz defines freedom the way FDR did, as opportunity for jobs, health care and education.”


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