AUSTIN, Texas -- You can only sit around wringing your hands and moaning about what a mess the Bushies have made of America for so long. Sooner or later, even the gloomiest doom-meisters are bound to get beaned by an acorn on the noggin, leading to the startling and productive thought, "So, what could we do that would make things better?" Quel concept, eh?

For those mired in loathing the Bush administration, the program would start with a long, long list of things that need to be undone: repeal the bankruptcy bill, repeal the tax breaks for the rich, and fix the farm bill, the transportation bill, the energy bill, etc. Or you could start with a list of gentle suggestions, such as:

-- Making a rude jerk with a bad temper ambassador to the United Nations, probably not a good idea
-- Putting a veterinarian in charge of women's health policy, maybe not.
-- Making someone with a background in Arabian horses the disaster-relief czar, possibly needs reconsideration.
-- Invading a Middle Eastern country with no provocation, a country that posed no threat and had no connection to 9-11 ... hmmm, perhaps not a shrewdie.

You can even do a sort of Golden Oldies list, such as:
-- How's about we start enforcing worker safety laws again?
-- What say we have a go at stopping big corporations from poisoning the air and water just so they can make higher profits?
-- Say, how about helping people whose lives have been ripped to shreds by natural disaster?

But that's still not stepping up to the plate to take a swing at the always-relevant question, "What the hell do we do now?" Yes, we should follow the First Rule of Holes and stop digging. True, we need to go back to doing a lot of things we used to before George W. Bush "won" that remarkable "election" in 2000. And we need to go back to NOT doing a lot of things we didn't do before the 5-4 vote. But that still won't get us out of the fix we're in now.

We need to step up and come up with solutions to the problems this man has created.

-- We need a plan to get out of Iraq. I think Bob Herbert had a good idea when he suggested: 1) A serious proposal for withdrawal of American forces over a reasonable (reasonably short) period of time and 2) couple that with a broader national security plan that focuses on Al-Qaida-type terrorism and domestic security.

One of the many problems created by the invasion of Iraq is that it took our eyes off fighting terrorism and dragged us into this endless struggle between the Shiities, Sunnis and Kurds. We're supposed to be fighting terrorism, and the single most useful tool for that purpose is international cooperation. Which means there is a lot of rebuilding to be done.

The go-it-alone, f***-everybody-else Bush foreign policy will require long, hard, serious repair work. We need a beefed-up State Department and a new emphasis on human rights, complete with an acknowledgement of our errors in this regard. We also need beefed-up intelligence -- tracking terrorists and their money, and their plans, and their people requires a combination of good intelligence work and good detective work.

That, in turn, requires a whole lot of smart Americans who are fluent in Arabic -- needed at State, the CIA and the FBI, just for starters. Isn't it lucky we have them, right here at hand? Of course, we will also need some repair work done with the Arab-American community, since it has not exactly been treated with the full rights to which every American citizen is entitled. Perhaps we should start a Bureau of Damage Control.

Next, the economy is in need of repair. We're obviously spending ourselves into deep doo-doo as fast as we can, and if ever there was a time for the classic Democratic solution, this is it: Tax the Rich! Democrats should swipe Poppy Bush's old slogan, "No New Taxes," adding, "Only old taxes back again." Since Republicans decided they needed to make Democrats look like cheapskates in the pork-barrel spending department, there's lots of thrifty, prudent stuff Democrats can do to fix that -- and think how surprised everyone will be to see them do it.

While we're at it, the last time the minimum wage was increased was 1997, and $5.15 an hour ain't what it used to be. Another big chunk of what's wrong with the economy can be solved by fixing another major problem at the same time: health care. In case you haven't noticed, major employers and high-wage industries are increasingly choosing to locate in Canada instead of the United States. And what have they got that we haven't -- besides more snow and never getting excited? National health insurance.

Yep, that ol' debbil "socialized medicine" against which the right wing has so long and so relentlessly inveighed is now the darling pet of huge corporations. Not only is it good for General Motors, folks, the rest of us need it desperately, too. In case you haven't noticed, our health care system is falling apart.

This dandy list of Good Ideas on How to Fix Things will be continued.

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