Unequal Protection: Corrupted Democracy

Unequal Protection: Corrupted Democracy is a new Eisenhower Foundation publication that compares the Foundation's policy and vision to current federal policy. This is a summary of the new report. For details and citations, see Special Report.

Our major conclusion is that Washington is in denial over the problems of the truly disadvantaged, has not acknowledged that solutions are at hand and has chosen not to commit resources for replicating what works at a scale equal to the dimensions of the problem.

Presently, there is no federal plan to replicate proven public education and job training models -- and to link them to economic development, poverty reduction and creation of the 4,000,000 jobs needed to close what has been called the jobs gap. A strategy is not on the table to eliminate child poverty and dramatically reduce income, wealth, equity and CEO-worker inequality. There is no policy built on what works to eliminate the racial bias in the juvenile and criminal justice system and to so help address the documented disenfranchisement of minorities and the poor in the 2000 election. Without adequate scientific evidence, Head Start may be changed. Yet Head Start teacher salaries have been left at $20,000 per year, on average, and less than half of all eligible children are being funded for Head Start, in spite of the budget surplus. Some policies that don't work for the poor, like tax breaks disproportionately for the rich, are underway. There are no plans to cut back on or to reform other policies that don't work particularly well -- like prison building, boot camps and "welfare reform." There are few plans to reduce corporate welfare; the opposite is occurring. There is some consideration of new policy for reintegrating the estimated 500,000 persons now leaving prison each year. But there is little financing. New policy in support of nonprofit (including "faith based") organizations may hold some promise. But we must wait to see if Congress and the Administration significantly finance replications of grassroots nonprofit models of success (secular and "faith based") and encourage a dialogue on the morality of present public policy. There is debate on campaign finance reform and voter rights reform, but the extent of significant and lasting change is problematic. There is little discussion in Congress and by the Administration of how only thirty-three percent of the population believe state officials help solve their community problems -- and how, instead of block grants to the states, we therefore need direct federal funding to proven and popular local and grassroots organizations. There is little discussion of how, to provide accountability, some federal funding to the grassroots can be channeled through national nonprofit intermediaries.

One foreign journalist has concluded, "Americans should not be indifferent to a growing sense in Europe and elsewhere that there sometimes appears to be one law for privileged America and another law for other countries. Inside America, there also are double standards in play. We boast of the economy's success in the 1990s, but fail to sufficiently acknowledge a young child poverty rate of eighteen percent. The rich say money is not necessarily important in education, but send their children to schools costing $18,000 per year or more. We talk of civility, but ignore the economic inequality that makes civic virtue impossible to sustain across all income and racial groups. The Supreme Court champions states' rights, but violated that principle in the 2000 election. Affirmative action functions for well-connected white men, but is questioned for minorities. Religious groups talk of private morality, yet there is no serious national discourse on the immorality of much public policy.

Not surprisingly, public opinion diverges in a number of ways from current policy priorities in Washington. A majority of eligible voters polled favors increased federal investments in Head Start, teacher subsidies, college student aid and job training. A majority polled wants to use the budget surplus for Social Security, Medicare and education, while only half as many favor tax cuts. National polls show that, while Americans are receptive to the idea of paying lower taxes, they don't necessarily want to do so at the expense of programs and priorities they cherish. A majority polled favors new initiatives for children and families, even if it means slowing debt reduction. A large majority of voters in existing polls favor public school reform over private vouchers. A large majority of African American and white parents say it is "very important" or "somewhat important" to them that their children attend an integrated school. A majority polled favors class-based affirmative action. Public opinion is largely supportive of alternative sentencing, particularly for nonviolent criminals, and favors by a substantive margin social and economic solutions to crime over spending on the criminal justice system. A consistent majority over many polls favors universal health care guaranteed by the federal government. Three times as many American workers say they want to be in a union than are in a union. Polls show less worker loyalty toward their employers than a decade ago. A majority polled believes nonprofit and religious institutions play an important role in solving local social problems. A majority polled (Republicans, Democrats and Independents) supports Clean Money campaign finance reform. A majority polled supports direct election of the President by popular vote.

In response to such public opinion but also mindful of the need for leadership, Unequal Protection: Corrupted Democracy provides a plan to replicate what works to scale for the truly disadvantaged and the inner city. To insure the practical feasibility of the plan, we frame it within a larger blueprint for a new political alliance -- among workers, the middle class and the poor. We call the blueprint a Fair Economic Deal. It is based on increased economic security, increased workplace democracy, more global protection for workers and reduced inequality. To help create a political alliance for a Fair Economic Deal, Unequal Protection: Corrupted Democracy spells out what is needed for genuine campaign finance reform, a new voter democracy movement and better communication of what works to the voters of America.

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