Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Democrats need to start speaking from their hearts

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In the space of three short months the political landscape has dramatically shifted. The Republican Party and specifically members of the Bush Administration have been fundamentally re-branded as weak, incompetent, corrupt, or divided. And yet, nobody should be in any doubt that this wasn’t achieved as a result of a re-invigorated Democratic voice. This second term slump, punctuated by historically high disapproval ratings for the President and Republican controlled Congress has transpired via the President’s poor leadership during the Katrina crisis, the speculation leading up to the indictment of VP Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, the failed nomination of Harriet Miers, and the continued post war violence in Iraq. As Democrats we still have a long way to go.

We have to find our voice and do it fast. But, not within the context of the partisan battle in Congress, or critiquing this Administration, or exposing the hypocrisy of Republicans as so many do well online… but within a new context...the context of our values, talking about what we stand for and why this offers hope in the possibility change. Hope that can’t be reduced to a two dimensional Republican smear campaign, or mischaracterized by attacks branding us extreme.

Democrats are fighting with their heads, and doing it well, analyzing, exposing, and contradicting the mistakes of their opponents. But a vote cast in any election is rarely a rational calculation... it isn’t a process of reasoning or logical deduction... It’s something you feel, an instinctive proclivity, a resonance of values… that’s what won elections for Bill Clinton in 1992, and Jimmy Carter in 1976, and a lack of emotional resonance is why Al Gore and John Kerry lost in 2000 and 2004 respectively.

What really unites us as Democrats isn’t our hatred of Republicans... it’s our love of liberty, and belief in social justice. It's our desire for fairness for everyone, and an aspiration for dignity as well as strength in the way that we deal with the rest of the world. What unites us as Democrats isn’t outmoded social models of massive government spending, or 80% levels of taxation for the successful, or passivity in the face of growing threats from abroad. What unites us as Democrats is that we’re not afraid to boldly believe and dream for the betterment of our society and the human race as our most prized principle. Poverty at home or abroad isn’t a necessary fact of life for us, the ills of society are our challenges to confront.

This desire can easily be characterized as unrealistic, and individual responsibility at home or African gov't corruption or UN bureaucracy abroad can easily be proffered as an excuse to justify our inaction… but in spite of what the right says about our unrealistic promises, our goal as Democrats isn't to eradicate poverty or hardship or war singing to John Lennon's "Imagine," smoking dope around the camp fire. It is merely to be better today than we were yesterday… to progress... to be cogniscent, always, that free-markets and the American dream alone don’t equate to ubiquitous opportunity for all miraculously by themselves. As Democrats we believe that the deficiencies of the market, and our failings as people, are our responsibility, and that's what engenders us with meaning, day in and day out, informed by a sense of all of us in this together, not competing with each other like a pack of animals for what scraps fall from on high from the very richest, and most successful.

Yeah, we want a more peaceful world.
Yeah, we want a more just society.
Yeah, we want less discrimination and even more opportunity for everybody, and then, after that, even more opportunity, and even more and even more.
Yeah, we want all of our schools to be wonderful conduits for the growth of our children’s minds... and yeah we want to pay our teachers really well.
Yeah, we don’t think it’s ok that 40 million people don’t have health insurance.
Yeah, we think it's unacceptable that a child born into illness is punished by the failures of his or her parents or the failures of society.
And yeah, just like Roosevelt said during WW2, we hate war. We don’t feel prideful about killing, even when it’s necessary. But we’ll fight harder and longer for our freedom and the freedom of others around the world because what we understand is that freedom isn’t an abstract ideal. We love freedom because we're willing to do something about it, not just grant a tax cut and wait for our economic theory to work miracles. We understand freedom because we recognize it isn’t a blanket that covers fortunate nations in perpetuity, guaranteed by military might… it is the imperfect reality of free individuals, their rights protected by law, working together so all of us can be better.

These are our values. We’re not progressives because we believe in a specific policy. We’re progressives because we don’t settle for the status quo, or conserving the past like the Republican Party. We're progressives because we strive to be better today than we were yesterday.

And while the right argues that our values are flighty and don’t correlate into good governance because we want to spend too much money and threaten the fiscal stability of the nation, by contrast what are they doing with their historic monopoly on power? Massive growth in non-defence discretionary spending not seen since the days that Lyndon Johnson was President... turning a surplus into record deficits... taking the national debt to 7.9 trillion dollars. What exact measure of responsible governance do they apply to our values when they burden our future with debt, and throw the surplus away like another lies just around the corner if only we keep cutting taxes over and over again, no matter the cost of the war on terror, or the Iraq war, or the cost of their irresponsible spending.

Its okay Democrats... it really is. We needn’t run away from what we believe in anymore. We don't have to hide from our ideals or ambitions. Clinton’s legacy is that we prize fiscal discipline, we are credible and taken seriously in the matters of economic governance because we earned that right in the 1990's and the Republican's have driven it home via their incompetence since the turn of 2001.

As 2006 looms, and 2008 after that, we need to start expressing our values to the American people. That's what they're searching for right now as an alternative to this Administration, and the dire mess Republicans have created in Congress. And while we shouldn't go around making unrealistic promises, we shouldn't give up on the notion of promise. Because promise and progress and hope is what defines our party.

Democrats need to start speaking from the heart.

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