Speech: An Address to the Alliance Party National Convention
April 25, 2020
Congratulations to all the delegates of the first national convention of the Alliance Party. It was at another national convention in Chicago in 1940, as the world sat on the precipice of its second world war, that Eleanor Roosevelt informed the delegates something they already knew –it “was no ordinary time” in America.
We are in another such time, but it’s a pleasure to be with you today and an honor to be a part of what is hopefully the first of many national conventions of the Alliance Party.
At this difficult time, our thoughts are with those who have been directly impacted by this pandemic– and that’s almost every American. We have lost friends, loved ones, jobs, businesses, baseball, and the normal national optimism of springtime.
What we have not lost, however, is what Lincoln called the better angels of our natures.
This pandemic has revealed the best in our fellow citizens. At a time when so many are suffering, so many others are rising up to meet the challenge – putting the needs of their neighbors and communities first and demonstrating the power of a nation motivated by a newly found realization of our individual frailties and collective strength.
You are here today demonstrating that same strength of character and that same concern for your fellow citizens – by standing up and demanding a better way. Politics, not driven by tribalism, hatred, and fear, but by a shared desire to create a more perfect union.
So, I want to thank all of you for not only being a part of this today, but also for your continuing efforts to help our nation live up to its Founding ideals.
I understand personally how difficult it can be to bring change to a system that is so deeply entrenched. I know first-hand how your efforts are often met with powerful resistance from individuals and organizations with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. And while you are working hard to create a system that is more responsive to the needs American people, it’s not easy to persuade voters to look up from their busy lives and daily pressures to embrace your efforts. In some cases, apathy is our greatest obstacle.
But, those of you here today are sending a strong signal. You are saying that you will not sit idly by and watch the greatness of our nation slip away. You will not be bystanders to the death of the American Dream. If you are here today, you believe as I do, that our system of government is failing the American people and that we deserve better!
In trying to bring new leadership and new ideas to our nation, the Alliance Party is a part of a broader movement of like-minded Americans who refuse to accept hyper-partisanship, corruption, and dysfunction as the natural state of our government.
For us, then, today is about looking forward. It’s about imagining a time when we are past the current pandemic and doing the hard work of rebuilding the nation we want to leave to our children and grandchildren. In looking to the future, it’s important to understand how we got here.
Our Presidential election in 2020 is being billed as the most important election in our lifetime. The current occupant of the White House is a divisive and sometimes reckless person. His crude and self-indulgent behavior is not something we would accept in our children, let alone our commander in chief. He has done almost nothing to bring our country together, solve our biggest problems, or improve the lives of the American people. His tenure in office has made an already-broken political system even more toxic and dysfunctional.
But what does it say about how Americans are feeling about their government that he was elected in the first place? I believe that Donald Trump’s election is a direct reflection of how our two-party system has let the American people down. In that sense, President Trump isn’t THE problem, he is a symptom of a two-party system that has utterly failed us.
The 2016 election brought that grim reality into stark relief. It was a turning point for our nation—and not a good one. The major parties offered us two presidential contenders with the highest combined negative ratings in the history of presidential polling. The election, in and of itself, represented a crisis of legitimacy for America. No matter which candidate was elected, they were not going to enjoy the support of a majority of Americans.
2016 also revealed to us how deeply dissatisfied the American people were with the political elite in Washington. Voters gravitated in unprecedented numbers to unconventional candidates. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders received over 40% of all votes cast in presidential primaries.
While these results shocked the political and media establishment, they shouldn’t have. According many respected polls, an unprecedented two-thirds of Americans believe that the nation is in decline. Roughly half of American voters believe that our children and grandchildren will not have a life as prosperous as we do. In itself that signals the undoing of the sacred social contract that is at the foundation of the American Idea. The same polls show that a solid majority of American voters believe that even those who work hard and play by the rules, will not necessarily succeed in our country today. That is the death rattle of the American Dream.
If the primary argument of the Democratic Party nominee for president is a return to normalcy, a return to the status quo, how does that serve the interests of the American people who were so desperately seeking something different?
Fixing our Corrupt System
The year Donald Trump was elected marked the 17th year in a row that median household income in America failed to reach the levels we achieved in 1999. Think about that for a minute: 17 years, the amount of time that it takes a child to go from being born to entering their senior year in high school – that’s how long it had been since the average American family had a pay increase. At the same time, the things they spend so much money on: Healthcare, childcare, higher education had so far outstripped the rate of inflation that for the average American household, it didn’t feel like you were treading water, it felt like you were drowning.
And by the way, is it any wonder that we can’t afford our prescription drugs when the industry spends almost $300 million annually on lobbying – over half a million dollars for every member of Congress they are paid to influence. Does it surprise anyone that the $4 billion the pharmaceutical industry spent on lobbying over the past two decades led to a prescription drug benefit that denies Medicare the right to negotiate prices? Or that the Democrats left that prohibition in place with the passage of the affordable care act?
We are lining the pharmaceutical industry’s pockets with $30 billion a year in excess profits. Profits that come at the expense of our country and in some cases our most vulnerable Americans – those fighting debilitating and oftentimes chronic conditions. Of course, Americans are deeply frustrated!
Does it surprise anyone that there’s no accountability for the $150 billion a year that we spend to try to make higher education affordable for Americans, when the industry has spent almost a billion dollars over the last ten years lobbying to ensure they avoid that very accountability.
Is it any wonder that wealthy hedge fund, private equity, and venture capital managers pay a lower income tax rate than teachers or firemen? When the financial services industry donated almost $900 Million to the campaigns of Republicans AND Democrats in 2018 – with roughly equal amounts going to both sides.
Of course the American people went looking for something different in 2016!
The past two decades have created such deep resentment that the division in our politics is no longer between Democrats and Republicans nor between traditional ideologies of Conservative and Liberal. Rather, the real division is between the mainstream of the American people and the Political Class in Washington. The great majority of voters are frustrated with the self- dealing corruption of the political ruling class: incumbent politicians, lobbyists, the Washington media, big business, big banks, big unions, and big special interests.
I suspect that everyone here understands that. You understand how our system of government is rigged to all but guarantee that certain people are elected. It’s rigged to guarantee that the interests of those with money and power overwhelm the interests of everyone else. It’s rigged in a way that allows our elected leaders to avoid accountability at the ballot box.
And what the last two decades have proved as well is that a rigged political system leads to rigged policies. They lead to policies that leave working people behind. If we want to make sustainable improvements in the lives of Americans, if want to put our country back on firm footing financially, if want to protect the middle class, our standard of living and our status in the world, we have to fix our deeply flawed and corrupt political system.
The Alliance Party needs to be a champion for real reform in how elections are run, financed, and regulated if it wants to have a meaningful impact of the lives of Americans.
A New Vision for America
When I was 17 years old, I had the honor of meeting a president I still admire. In his first inaugural speech, Ronald Reagan spoke of one of the greatest of the Founding Fathers, Dr. Joseph Warren President of the Massachusetts Congress, whose promise would be cut short in the Battle of Bunker Hill where he served as a simple soldier.
On the eve of that battle, Warren said to his fellow Americans, "Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of ... On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important questions upon which rests the happiness and the liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves."
The Alliance Party has to stand for something different than our two parties who merely seek to divide us and believe that no one or nothing could be better for America than a perpetuate of their rule. It has to act worthy of itself.
The Alliance Party should be a party of ideas. A party that seeks to elevate the political discourse in America. A party that rejects the false choices that the two major parties routinely present us with. A party based on the belief that new leadership and new ideas are the only way to invigorate America and make the American Dream real again for everyone who’s willing to work to achieve it. A party that won’t divide us with lies or bribe the American people with false promises, but will strive each and every day to approach them honestly, humbly, and authentically.
Your party needs to work to push Americans outside the comfortable, but destructive confines of the blue / red narrative that pits neighbor against neighbor.
Robert F. Kennedy, speaking in Cleveland two days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way:
“When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies - to be met not with cooperation but with conquest.
We learn to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear - only a common desire to retreat from each other - only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers.”
Not only has this tribal approach to politics remained, but it has grown. It has also left us unprepared to deal with our nation’s greatest challenges. We need to look no further than the current pandemic to realize how truly dysfunctional and ill-equipped our government is to foresee challenges and prepare for them.
Our politics has made it impossible to solve the problems of the 21st century.
Instead of working together to find common ground, the leaders of our two major parties distrust the intentions of the other side. This skepticism may be for a good reason – as both sides have spent decades viewing problem solving through the lens of political advantage. The problem they are actually solving is not how to improve the lives of Americans, but rather how to keep their stale party in power to protect their perks and privileges.
With America in crisis, the threat of inexorable decline before us, our children’s future is in doubt and the American Dream itself evaporating before our eyes, there is so much more at stake than the political fortunes and ambitions of two failing political parties in Washington.
What matters to the people I talk to is simple:
How will they support their families?
Will they be able to send their children to college?
Will they have security in their lives and health, their homes and retirements?
Will their children be safe and happy and have the opportunity to lead productive lives?
And while the last two decades have made Americans less confident about the answers to these questions, without real leadership and innovative ideas, the next two decades will see even more disruption.
For the Alliance Party to fill that void left by the two parties, it has to be the party of big ideas. This isn’t simply a requirement to capture the attention of potentially like-minded American or to safeguard our country’s future, but a political imperative as well.
If you begin to gain any traction, one of the trite attacks against you will be – as it is against all new parties and independents – that you don’t stand for anything. This tiresome talking point will be hurled against you whether or not you have thousands of pages of policy prescription publicly available for all to see. Aided and abetted by their accomplices in the partisan media, the two major parties will criticize, ridicule, and demean your efforts. They will count on Americans not to go find out the truth for themselves.
The antidote for these attacks is to stand proudly for big, bold, innovative policies that can’t be dismissed or pushed aside as frivolous reforms – as if good government was something to be ashamed of, and reform a dirty word. Instead of being partisan center-pieces intended to secure votes without ever being enacted into law, they need to build on the moral foundations of conservative and liberals alike and be written in the language that is the true ideology of Americans – common sense.
And they need to directly address our biggest problems.
We can have high-quality and affordable healthcare.
We can have a good economy and a clean environment.
We can have great public schools and a pathway to economic opportunity for all Americans regardless of where they started in life.
We can have a just nation that treats everybody the same regardless of their race or religion, their gender or who they love.
We can have a criminal justice system that protects us, but is also fair and works to improve people’s lives instead of trapping them in a cycle of failure.
We can have great jobs, economic growth and freedom, and a tax code that values work as much as it values investing.
We can reinvigorate that uniquely American concept that where you start in life does not determine where you end up.
We can create an America that lives up to its ideals. The right policy prescriptions exist. What is lacking is the political will. The political will to base a national campaign and a party’s future on ideas that will inspire and bring hope, instead of a campaign based on fear, self-interest, and self-preservation. In short, what is lacking is real leadership.
If the Alliance Party wants to impact the future, it needs to have the courage to take bold, innovative stands that solve our biggest problems.
Fighting Conventional Wisdom and the Status Quo
I realize there are many in the media, and within the two established political parties who will be concerned about what you are doing. If you gain traction, there will be talk about the potential for you to steal votes from one of the major party candidates. In a race where the margin for victory on a state-by-state basis might be a few thousand votes, you can count on that resistance.
But if there’s one thing the people here understand better than most, it’s that votes aren’t the property of one political party or the other. They can’t be stolen. They can only be earned.
While we are in a unique environment right now, understand that this is but a moment in time driven by introducing a divisive President into an environment that was already saturated with hyper-partisanship and dysfunction. When a new president is elected, whether that’s in nine months or five years, we will not magically return to a unified nation.
We will return to a nation that is desperately seeking an alternative. A nation where 61% of the voters have suggested they would vote for an independent candidate if they thought they had a chance to win. A nation where 82% of the people think elected officials from both parties put special interest groups ahead of the American people. A nation where even partisan voters aren’t animated by a love of their own party, but rather a fear and hatred of the other party.
In that environment, independent candidates and third parties can thrive if they get Americans to stop voting against what they fear and hate and start voting for what they want and deserve. Doing that will require the Alliance Party to not only be a party of ideas and innovation, but also to slowly break down the partisan Stockholm Syndrome that binds voters to a notion that they must choose between only two choices – even if they consider them both bad choices.
Getting voters to cast off the yoke of partisanship won’t be easy. It will take decades to accomplish. It will require more alliances, steady leadership, and a steely determination in the face of significant challenges. But the payoff will be monumental – true electoral competition, that holds candidates accountable thereby delivering results for the American people.
In February of 1861 Abraham Lincoln left his home in Springfield by train and headed to Washington, DC to confront the greatest crisis ever to threaten the survival of America. Stopping in Indianapolis, Lincoln made these impromptu remarks, which carried a theme echoed throughout his journey through the heartland:
“I appeal to you again to constantly bear in mind that with you, and not with politicians, not with Presidents, not with office-seekers, but with you, is the question, Shall the Union and shall the liberties of this country be preserved to the latest generation?’''
While the threat to our union in 1861 was far more obvious than it is today, if we allow the dysfunction in Washington to continue, if we allow public servants to serve themselves and not America, if we don’t stand up and assert our rights as owners of this country the threat will become no less real.
I believe in America. I believe we are a great nation trapped in a broken system. I believe that we can solve the problems before us and make the 21st century another century of American leadership in the world. I believe that a country that put a man on the moon, that harnessed the power the atom, that took computers that used to fill rooms and put them on the head of a pin, I believe that country and those people can solve any problem if they set aside their differences and put their minds to it.
That is our legacy as a nation.
When historians look back on America in 100 years, they are going to write about the people here today and others around the country who stood up to fix our broken and corrupt political system. It is because of American patriots like you who fulfill their sacred obligation to deliver a better country to the next generation, that the American Dream will be renewed. It is up to us, and to patriots around this great county, to stand and fight for what is good, what is just, and what is right. It is our solemn duty as citizens to end corruption in Washington, to end the fear, to end the hyper-partisanship, and to bring about a new era of government that puts the American people first.
Good Luck, God Bless, and thank you for everything you’re doing to help our country live up to its founding ideals.