Thursday, September 15, 2005

"The essence of being an American"

The new-ish outfit called Center for a Better South is working to rally Southern progressives to work together and win over this part of the country. It may be irrational to think it can happen, but we must think it can happen. And it certainly ain't gonna happen if we don't start talking about what we stand for and working toward common goals.

I believe there's no better issue to put at the center of a progressive agenda than education. Gov. Vilsack agrees and so does former Governor Roy Barnes of Georgia. Check out this exchange between the Governor and an interviewer from the Center for a Better South.

BETTER SOUTH: OK -- so what you're saying is, "It's still the economy, stupid," right? How can progressives talk about these issues to win converts? Polling shows that progressives need to talk more about "opportunity" and "prosperity," which sounds like the logical extension of President Clinton's message of hope.

BARNES: Education and economics are both messages of hope. We often discuss what it is that makes the United States different than all of the great civilizations that have gone before us. It is not our Constitution, it is not the Declaration of Independence or any act of Congress.

What is different about us is that we have not rationed education to a few of the well-to-do. We have said that education is universally available to every child regardless of color, income or where that child is born. Armed with the tools of education a child can climb the social ladder that comes with economic security and increasing affluence. This phenomenon of education and economic growth is the hope which has made us a great and different nation. Today that hope is imperiled by those who wish to abandon the public school system and who don't push for reform in our educational institutions because their children are attending a private privileged system. If we lose the bond of education and economic growth we lose the essence of being an American. We can't let that happen and it is progressives who must lead the charge.

"The essence of being an American." I like that. Education is the very substance of the American Dream. Without a first class educational system for all Americans, we cannot possibly live up to the hope and potential of what this country can be.

BETTER SOUTH: One of the biggest challenges for states these days seems to be able to generate the revenues it needs to make the progressive improvements that we've discussed. But most Southern states have a structural deficit. In the charged political environment of "no new taxes and less government," how can we get people to understand that to live in a civilized society, we have to have revenues to keep our quality of life with good education, infrastructure, efficient services and more?

BARNES: I think the emphasis should be on fair taxation. We all have a duty to pay our fair share. It is not fair to load up the lower and middle income taxpayers to benefit the top taxpayers and to exclude corporations from taxation. Our discussion should be a dialogue on specifically what we should fund as a government and how much it is going to cost.

For example, we should not just say we are going to give more to education. We need to say we are going to fund no more than 17 students in the first 5 grades because studies have shown this is where smaller classes are the most effective. We then say that is going to cost X dollars, and we get that money by first plugging special-interest loopholes and then distributing taxes in a fair way. I believe the American people are ready for such a discussion, and I think it is long overdue.

Indeed. Fair taxation will lead to increased opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. And the specific policy proposal to lessen class sizes in K-4 class rooms is an excellent one. I'll keep pointing out things from this nascent think thank. In the meantime, I've added their blog, ThinkSouth, to the blogroll at right.


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