Sometimes it takes somebody to step back from the tactical morass of the pending primaries and presidential elections and take a look at the significant issues. I am referring to actual decision trees that must be traversed to establish policies that affect the United States, as opposed to emotional and class-divisive issues that are used for political short-term electoral positions.

Now political pundits will say that there is nothing other than the tactical political position — after all, the goal is to get elected and you can’t resolve real issues if you aren’t in a position of power or authority. But candidates mired in the short term tactical issues — addressing irrelevancies for a point here or there against their opponents — can become intellectually bankrupt of vision. Then, even if elected, they cannot address the real issues, or perhaps have compromised their political capital to the extent they are totally ineffective.

By and large, I want to address issues that can be managed in some concrete fashion, not issues that parties believe should be managed. Party issues that are litmus test issues, such as abortion, cannot have a resolution in the current political system. 40% of people oppose abortion, 40% are “pro-choice”, and the rest either don’t care or have mixed positions. Given this distribution, any executive is not going to be able to generate a policy that has an immediate impact on the United States. One might be able to create an environment where one position or another might be enabled in a future act, but such environments are very fragile. The issue of stem cells is a case in point — for all the posturing, the issue became irrelevant when Japanese scientists persuaded ordinary skin cells to transform back into undifferentiated stem cells (and with the added benefit that they were donor specific.)

So enumerated below are some issues and my tags:

AbortionAbortion — (easy since I’ve already addressed it in brief) Doesn’t matter. Can’t be resolved in the current system. Trying to make this a plank is a waste of time. Yes, there are moral and ethical issues on both sides and the current treatment is inconsistent and there are deep feelings on both sides. Doesn’t matter. Irrelevant.

ImmigrationImmigration — The United States needs to get its act together here. We have two contradictory processes at work that need to be reconciled. Our food supply is dependent on manual labor imported from outside. To increase the pay scale to the point compatible with a job an American Union Worker would take will increase the cost of food. Economically we are chained to cheap imported labor. The presence of people in the country who exist outside the legal system creates massive economic costs, yet it still somewhat to our benefit to educate and care for a certain number of these people — the cost of not doing so may be greater still.

Further, much of America’s growth is due to legal immigration, its innovation due to contributions from immigrants. From the technological and innovative point of view, why would be want to train and educate students from other countries, and rather than employ them here with a H1B, send them back to India, or China, or Pakistan where they can use what we have taught them to develop competing businesses.

The current set of immigration policies are horrible with no consistent underlying vision or plan. We need to restore the United States to that land of opportunity that calls people from all walks of life to participate in achieving their dreams, and makes them want to be legal participating citizens in the American democratic process.

The Plank: Recognize that America is built on immigration and adjust policies to reflect this fact. Increase or eliminate H1B visa limitations. Devise a guest worker program as a means to satisfy our current economic dependency while at the same time requiring such workers to exist within our legal framework (i.e., valid driver licenses, auto insurance, immunizations, etc.). Finally, enforce the subsequent laws.

BusinessBusiness Investment — The current governmental bureaucracies (both State and Federal) have created an environment where investment is going elsewhere: London, China, Russia. Our policies and laws like Sarbanes-Oxley have made the hurdle of listing in the United States financially onerous. The FDA has made developing new drugs near-impossible with the result that corporations are being fined millions of dollars for reporting their research protocols to doctors (off-label touting is a crime); deciding drugs need not be approved because existing drugs are already available (competition anyone?); and generally making the process so complex and lengthy that the evil pharmaceutical companies have to charge an arm and a leg to break even of the research and development. The Justice department obtains some of its own budget from the fines levied in actions. (oops)

These, and many more government bureaucracies have to be checked, reduced or eliminated. The government can and should regulate commerce so that the playing field is level, but by and large, issues such as who can compete should be left to the market to decide.

The sub-prime/securitization/derivatives financial liquidity crisis is providing another opening for government to over-regulate. The market is already sorting out (in the British SAS sense of the phrase) the people who were stupid. Banks are moving assets back to their balance sheets. Hedge funds are unwinding and assets are being marked to real market value. Government interference here is what created the mess. Let’s not multiply the problems.

The plank: The Government’s role should be to provide transparency. Hold hearings, investigate processes and systems but without moralizing and demonizing the industries. And then do nothing while the system, now aware of the problems, corrects itself.

In general, any law passed by Congress establishing a regulatory or oversight mission (and its associated bureaucracy) needs a sunset provision and a requirement for periodic review to determine whether its still needed. Establish a goal to cut by 10% annually both the budget and employee count of every major department. (The Jack Walsh method.)

TaxA Rational Tax Policy — The current situation is not sustainable. The class-based tax warfare must stop. Now we have the situation where the top 1% of the country’s earners pay 39% of the Federal income tax; and that 60% of the people pay less than 1%, if any. And what do we hear from Congress: “Taxes need to be more progressive.” and “We can’t have executives making $30 million dollars.” and (of course) “We have to ensure that the rich pay their fair share.” So what occurs when 0.1% of the earning population pays 99% of the income tax? What happens if they get pissed off and leave? (oops!)

Also, it is unconscionable that a PhD in accounting and mathematics, let alone a typical citizen can’t read their tax return instructions. The entire system (and the IRS) needs to be abolished and replaced with a simplified taxation system that requires no more than one page to fill out. And keep Congress out of it. Their attempts to “fix” things got us into this mess. Remember the AMT, supposedly legislated to insure that 140 people who paid no tax forty years ago, never ever got a free pass again? And now 30 million Americans have to figure their taxes twice and pay because they are now “rich”!

The Plank: Set up a commission to oversee the collection of taxes — ten members max — like the Fed. Make any revision to the code require a supermajority of 80% Congress. Make it flat or at most two tiered with no exclusions. Most people would pay a higher rate just to not fill out the forms ( or pay their tax accountants to do it for them — they would save money.) Dump the AMT, eliminate capital gains tax or any reinvestment double taxation. Simplify — forbid social reform and manipulation via taxation.

WarThe War in Iraq — Doesn’t matter. We are there, we can’t leave until its stable. Why beat a dead horse. We kill more teenagers on the highways than in the armed forces. Fix foreign policy and this will go away. Irrelevant

Foreign PolicyForeign Policy — Which one? The White House, The State Department, The Trade Office, the CIA?

The Plank: Downsize the bureaucracies and reduce the competing agendas. Let’s get some consistency in the message America sends to the rest of the world. Like Patrick Swayce in Roadhouse: Be nice, be nice, be nice until it’s time to stop being nice. Let’s treat Russia and China and other countries with respect and some understanding that they have legitimate concerns. America, for better or worse, is a superpower and is likely to remain so.

Castle RomeoNuclear Proliferation — Doesn’t matter. The first world knows this through detente. The third world has to learn. And it’s not as if we can really do anything about it — any physics grad with some practical engineering experience can do it.

Few alive today have an understanding of the effects of these weapons. If a state uses one against another state, that state is toast. Self-correcting problem. Irrelevant.

JudicialThe Judiciary — At first I was going to assign this a ‘doesn’t matter’ but I rapidly came to the conclusion that it does in the long term. Two things:

Any president should have the right to select and should have the expectation that his selection be confirmed unless there are really significant problems with the choice. By problems, I mean competency, legal and qualification problems, not fundamental philosophical differences. When the people select a president through an election, they are (hopefully) voting for a vision and a philosophy and they expect that that vision will have its day in the sun. Selecting like-minded people is an executive’s prerogative. This includes judges and attorneys-general. This is part of the implementation of the vision (and philosophy). Using the confirmation process as a weapon deprives the People of the United States of their choice of a vision. Conflicting visions each deserve a chance so confirmation should be competency-driven instead of philosophically-driven.

Since certain judicial positions are life positions, judicial appointments establish long-term trends and enable conditions for follow-on legislation by establishing the interpretative environment for that legislation. When the judicial system is strictly constructionalist, this does not matter, but whenever judges use their authority to bypass legislative strictures, and have become ‘activists’, different concerns arise. For those who believe that certain positions are warranted and have an intrinsic value independent of that determined by the will of the people (as expressed by a majority of the legislative body), judical activism is a key component in achieving these positions. Consequently, judicial appointments become critical in preserving this channel of change, and this is reflected in the acrimonious confirmation process of today.

I note in passing that a conservative position of strict construction with regard the the US Constitution is not inherently an adverse position. At most it is a neutral position with respect to ‘active change’. At most, supporters of changes currently enabled via judicial activism have only to assure that their laws pass Constitutional muster. Of course, the entire reason for judicial activism is not for reviewing laws, but for circumventing the legislative process in the first place. If they could get their laws passed, there would be no need for judicial activism. This activism is also not the exclusive province of the left. In the early 20th century, laissez-faire courts blocked Federal regulation of interstate commerce on the basis of the ‘santity of private commerce’, an appeal beyond any reasonable Constitutional interpretation.

The Plank: Confirm presidential appointments on the basis of competency and not philosophy. Develop policy to prevent and avoid judicial activism. Let the process work by confirming presidential selections, and let Democracy work by reducing judicial activism.

[Many thanks to AOC for his erudite analysis and review.]