Jim Eliason chairs the Buena Vista County Democrats. A version of this commentary first appeared in the Storm Lake Times. -promoted by Laura Belin
I’ve heard a lot of stump speeches in the last year. If I were running for president, here’s the one I’d give.
I only have five minutes, so this will be just a brief outline of why I’m running. I want to unite this country and make everyone proud to be an American. I don’t have to tell you why we need to beat “he who must not be named,” and I’m not here to try to win an insult war. If he gives me a nickname, I’ll wear it as a badge of honor.
We need to do three things: 1) provide a positive vision, 2) motivate Democrats to vote and work to get others to vote, and 3) unite with people of good will who think they’re Republicans but are actually Democrats.
I’m a straight white man. I can be proud of that while welcoming and cherishing those who aren’t. Biologists like me know that diverse ecosystems are more resilient and more productive. If you want a productive society, you want a diverse one where different ideas, talents, and outlooks create vitality. We need to provide a stark contrast to the hate of the white walkers of Charlottesville. Their ideology must be defeated, and many Republicans would agree.
But we won’t get rid of hate overnight, so let’s make hate less deadly. Get weapons of war off the streets. Some people think assault weapons are cool, but that’s not a good enough reason compared to saving hundreds of lives. Some think they need assault weapons to defend the Constitution against the government. But the Constitution has a word for taking up arms against the government; it’s called treason. Let’s settle political disputes with elections, not treason and civil war. And have background checks to keep haters from becoming mass murderers.
But gun owners needn’t panic. Predators keep ecosystems healthy and we need responsible hunters. If you want to go to a gun club, take your gun out of a locker and shoot targets, go for it. If you want to keep a gun for home defense, I won’t stop you, though that gun is more likely to kill your child by accident or suicide than it is to prevent a crime.
Lots of conservatives wrap themselves in the flag and act like patriotism is all about being proud of our military power. But I agree with Jason Kander, who said, “Patriotism isn’t saluting the flag. It’s building a country where everyone wants to.” Everyone. The factory workers who trained for a new job after their old one went to a robot or a Chinese. The CEOs who are lowering their company’s carbon footprint. The ones who stay home to care for a loved one. The ones who serve overseas in the military or the diplomatic corps.
Patriotism is living up to our founding ideals to make a more perfect union, where everyone has equal rights and everyone, not just the rich, can have liberty and pursue happiness.
Liberty isn’t just absence of restrictions. It’s having the resources needed to make choices. You aren’t free to go to college if you have no money and have to work full time and care for three children. You aren’t free to run a business if no one has the money to buy what you’re selling.
America used to be the land of opportunity for all, but now opportunity is mostly for the rich or the remarkable. If we want to be a great country we need to get the most out of our most precious resource, all our people. Everyone needs the resources to be the best they can be and create the most value for the rest of us. So we need to improve access to high quality education, reduce student debt, let graduates pay off loans with service, let parents work by providing affordable child care, and treat drug addicts, not lock them away.
Paul Ryan used to talk about “makers” and “takers.” But the real makers are not the bankers, and the real takers are not the disabled on Social Security. The real makers work in factories making cars, in hospitals making people well, and in hotels making beds. The real takers are those who take millions from the Wall Street casino while creating nothing of value, who take jobs overseas and take advantage of the vulnerable.
We need to help the real makers by raising the minimum wage and giving unions more power. Right to work laws are wrong. The unproductive takers need to pay more. We need to tax capital gains as regular income and put a micro sales tax on stock trades. Close special interest loopholes. Raise tax rates on really large incomes and expand the estate tax.
I’m pro-choice, but I’m also for life. If you’re really pro-life, you should be for universal affordable health care. You should be for sensible gun control. You should be against poisoning the environment. You should be against the death penalty. You should be against sending our military men and women to die in unwinnable wars. Republicans are antilife on all these other issues, so vote for Democrats even if we disagree on abortion.
We need more affordable health care and include everyone. Being poor and sick should not be a capital crime. If you think market competition is the way to go, put your money where your mouth is. Let’s have a public option and let insurance companies compete against Medicare for all. I predict we’ll find that private insurance is the one that’s inefficient and costly. We also need to improve mental health. Maybe then we’ll have fewer red MAGA hats.
Last, but not least, we need to combat climate change. If we don’t take drastic action now, some of today’s toddlers will see Miami and some of our naval bases under water and abandoned. Droughts, floods, and wildfires will devastate urban and rural areas alike.
Yes, it will be expensive to remake our energy system, but it will be a lot cheaper than evacuating all of south Florida and replanting half our forests.
Yes, some people will lose their jobs, but we will make sure they don’t lose their livelihoods or their communities. Coal miners kept our lights on for decades and risked their lives more than most in the military. They, like horse cavalrymen, should be thanked for their service and provided other ways to serve. We remade our economy before and can do it again if we have the will.
In 1941 we made over 3.5 million cars. In 1943 and 1944 we made less than 800 total, a 99.99 percent reduction. There are no deadlines. Every minute we wait it will get worse. Every positive step we take will make it better.
Pete Seeger said, “The world will be saved by a million small things.” I do a few of them. Everyone needs to do more. We need public policy designed to spur the private innovation and participation we need to succeed. We can be the next Greatest Generation. We have to be to save our future. There is no Planet B.
Winning this election is not a given. To win we need to work hard, show a positive vision and stand together. Thank you, and let’s build an America everyone can be proud of.
Buena Vista County Democrats chair Jim Eliason holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He served on the Iowa Democratic Party’s district and state platform committees in 2012 and 2014 and on the district and state rules committees in 2016 and 2018. He spoke one on one with 20 presidential candidates in 2019. Top photo of Jim provided by the author and published with permission.