What counts most are political candidates' ideas — not so much their "philosophies" or where they "stand on the issues." Political rhetoric is cheap. But does a candidate have specific, practical proposals that are fresh approaches to stubborn problems? Or are their ideas irresponsible? Or just half-baked?
Personalities, of course, are important. Politicians need to be able to put their ideas into action. Will they be diplomatic but tough with legislators? Do they have the wisdom of experience? Are they good managers? But in this year's gubernatorial race, in the parade of gaffes that constitutes campaigning in the media age, too much attention may already have been paid to the candidates' personal qualities.
Triumph of trickle-down
It was hard to pick out the ideas in the loud, monotonous rhetoric. Because the economic slump has made many voters fearful and angry, and the mainstream media chant like cheerleaders that Americans have taken a hard turn to the right, on economic issues all the candidates sound like Republicans.
Cut state spending! Slash taxes! And in every way make state government bend over for the wealthy and the corporations, even though nearly eight years of Democrat John Baldacci have given us little else but cuts to spending and services and tax breaks for business. You don't hear much about improving services, although providing them is the main role of state government — unless it's servicing business.
Political love of the well-off is said to be in the service of providing jobs to the less well-off. This is Ronald Reagan's trickle-down economics: give money to those on top in tax rates and breaks so they'll make investments that produce jobs for those beneath. Candidates accept that philosophy as easily as they accept campaign cash.
No matter that trickle-down hasn't worked. In his re-election bid four years ago Baldacci bragged that on his watch the state had gained thousands of jobs. He's not bragging now.
No matter that Maine is at the mercy of the global economy, in which investors are disengaging from this country and putting their money on China. For the most profitable American companies, 40 percent of their income comes from operations abroad. Thirty years of trickle-down have made only the rich more prosperous — fabulously so.
Baldacci's business-friendly refusal to raise taxes has bequeathed us perennial, massive state-budget shortfalls. "We can grow our way out of it," the gubernatorial candidates cry as a choir, in addition to suggesting more cuts to services. If economic growth again fills the state's treasury, will it be because of the actions of Maine's governor? No economist would think so.
So let's present a different perspective on our political conversation, by examining the candidates' ideas through a progressive lens. Progressives often disagree, but on economics they reject trickle-down. They know that a flourishing, fully employed working and middle class will benefit everyone, even the rich. And so will a good educational system and a social safety net. This is bottom-up economics instead of top-down. On social issues progressives also tend to be bottom-up. To cite the example of the moment, rather than permit a church to impose its views on gay people, progressives are democratically in favor of freedom for all, including giving gays equal rights to get married.