"I can't imagine a more challenging time" to try to clarify the state of our politics and the road ahead, said former Massachusetts senator Dan Wolf last week as he addressed more than 40 people in the final Zoom class of the Eldredge Library Fall 2020 Learning Series.
Wolf, a resident of Harwich who learned to fly 43 years ago at Chatham Airport, is currently the CEO of Cape Air. A Democrat, Wolf admits his politics can be difficult to pigeonhole, bringing as he does the perspective of a businessman as well as a progressive to the table.
If he was asked to advise President-elect Biden on how to proceed with preparing to govern, Wolf said it would be simple. "Be about policy, not about politics." The biggest issues of the day, including the economy, healthcare, climate change, infrastructure, diversity and equity and education are not "blue or red" issues but policy issues to be debated and worked on. "So much is politics, substituting for a healthy discourse on policy."
On the economy, Wolf would frame the discussion as "Is the economy creating opportunity? Is there more or less opportunity than we had?" He sees economic inequality as a challenge to our democracy. Quoting former Supreme Court Chief Justice and Chatham resident Louis Brandeis, "You can have great wealth in the hands of a few, or democracy. You can't have both."
Climate change is an issue close to home. Wolf, whose company Cape Air now has 750 employees and is 55 percent employee owned, is a proponent of solar power and sustainability. However, he recognizes that the airline industry has significantly contributed to adversely impacting the climate. Cape Air is collaborating with Eviation, an Israeli company, to work toward using electric planes. In response to a question, Wolf said that he believed that just retrofitting existing planes with solar power sources wouldn't work. "The weight and energy makes it difficult to retrofit," he said. A completely new design is needed.
On tax policy, Wolf made it clear that he felt that Cape Air benefitted by huge government investments in airports and infrastructure. "I am not taxed enough, relative to what I am getting," he stressed. "There is too much burden on the low end and not enough on the high end. Our tax policy is broken."
On education policy, Wolf believes that skills training should be largely the responsibility of industry. "Our public schools should be training children to be good citizens," he said, stressing the importance of civics lessons in schools. "That's what democracy needs."
Addressing equity issues, Wolf noted that "policy comes out of discourse," adding that "if it comes out of bias or racism, policies are not healthy."
Wolf is a committed capitalist. However, properly balancing and navigating the tension between democracy and capitalism is what "moves history forward," he said. Democracy must rein in the excesses of capitalism, which by itself "is a beautiful thing" but can have disastrous consequences if unchecked. "Don't lie down with a lion and expect it not to eat you," is how he described unfettered capitalism.
Wolf wrapped up by addressing, in response to a question, how each individual can be a part of the solution. "Get involved, have conversations with everyone on all sides, shed the labels and discuss the merits. Read good books and newspapers, get off social media and into credible sources." Having served three terms as a Massachusetts State Senator himself, Wolf encouraged "running for office or volunteering your time. There is a lot of work to do."
The Learning Series will not return in the spring, according to Regina McDowell, co-chair of the Friends of the Eldredge Public Library Learning Series. Instead, she said, "we'll be reinventing the Learning Series for a future comeback.”