Just when our nation requires principled alternatives to the current non-American wave of nationalism, isolationism, and racism, the Democratic party absolves itself of responsibility for presenting a statement of its core convictions and a summary of its identity.

Reports this week state that, instead, the Party turns its candidates loose to define themselves however they wish.  This is not only confusing to voting citizens, it is cowardly.  And it is intellectually bankrupt.

The Republican party has had it easy, at least until the age of Trump.  From the post- Theodore Roosevelt era onward, it stood for less government, balanced budgets, light taxes, and heavy defenses.  Pretty simple, certainly enough to give Ronald Reagan eight years in the White House.

By contrast, from Franklin Roosevelt onward, the Democratic party created a social safety net principally composed of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, increasing equality for races and genders, a healthy environment, expanding public education, anti-recessionary fiscal and monetary policies, and a wide range of policies and programs that addressed emerging challenges to our society.  Much more difficult to put on a bumper strip than Republican orthodoxy.

Put simply, the Republican party was monolithic; the Democratic party was and is a diverse coalition.

But now the Republican party has evolved into a coalition of tax cutters and budget busters, evangelicals against abortion (but for the death penalty), the NRA, neo-isolationists, anti-immigrant fire-breathers, and those who identify with authoritarian governments.

The mystery is why there are not a few Democratic political theorists to produce a manifesto, a statement of principles and beliefs, that unite its citizen coalition.  For example:

“We believe that America is both a nation and a society all of whose citizens should have adequate nutrition, health care, and shelter.  We believe in fairly shared wealth and not concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.  We believe every child should have access to the best possible public education.  Every American is entitled to clean air and water and a healthy environment.  Our dealings with the nations of the world should be based on human rights and collective commitment to defense of democracy everywhere.  We believe all nations should cooperate to reduce carbon emissions to protect against continued erosion of our shared climate.”

Though by no means exhaustive, this is what a statement of principles and convictions might look like and which all party candidates should readily endorse.  If they cannot, then perhaps they are in the wrong party.

Principles are statements of beliefs, the “what” and “who” of a party.  Policies and programs flow from those principles and put them into government action…the “how” of a party.

So-called “identity politics” is fine as far as it goes.  But simply saying “We’re for this group or that group” does not make a party.  It makes confusion.  And it masks the need for broader collective identity as Americans who now share stagnant incomes in the midst of wealth, the weakening of environmental protections, the dismay at willful antagonism of long time allies, the abandonment of defense of democracy, secret deals with a nation that interferes in our elections and does not wish us well, and most of all concerns for America’s direction or lack thereof in an era of huge change.

A decision by party leaders to refuse to identify core principles is folly.  So long as this mindless lack of leadership prevails, where every man and woman makes up his or her own definition of what their party stands for, so long will the great Democratic party of the past century remain adrift.

6 Responses to “Does a Party Have to Stand for Something?”

  1. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    >>>>>“We believe that America is both a nation and a society all of whose citizens should have adequate nutrition, health care, and shelter. We believe in fairly shared wealth and not concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. We believe every child should have access to the best possible public education. Every American is entitled to clean air and water and a healthy environment. Our dealings with the nations of the world should be based on human rights and collective commitment to defense of democracy everywhere. We believe all nations should cooperate to reduce carbon emissions to protect against continued erosion of our shared climate.”

    I think you have to find a better phrase than the extremely loaded “shared wealth” if you want to attract a healthy majority of Americans. The concept of economic inequality needs to be better explained using words that everyone can relate to.

    Democrats must learn how to communicate without alienating much of the country.

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    Regular members of our small but hardy band who have enjoyed our friend Elizabeth’s wit and wisdom know that she will not be offended if I take this brief occasion to point out that I have had more than passing experience at communicating without alienating much of our country and have a rather long history of choosing words and phrases carefully, if not always persuasively. Gary Hart

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    I’m the original unoffendable one. To anything I’ll admit to, anyway. 🙂

    But, Democrats really do have to find a way to talk about income and tax inequality in terms that make sense and strike a chord with the vast majority of Americans.

    That reminds me … there was an excellent spokesman for this in the Obama/BIDEN administration. (Sadly, it wasn’t Obama or Biden)No, this guy didn’t talk about what people didn’t build or about the redistribution of wealth. He talked in simple terms about what was fair and about what worked and what didn’t work to benefit the middle class. No one in the administration, for example, did a better job of explaining why the Bush tax cuts for the most fortunate should expire.

    Of course, no one was primed to listen to what Secretary Geithner was saying.

    At this point and given all of the circumstances, if Democrats have to dilute their (non-existent) message to win seats in the House and Senate, then I say do what you have to do to win at the local level. But, there better be a lot of work happening behind the scenes developing a winning Democratic message or there’ll be four more years, God forbid!

  4. Eric Jacobson Says:

    The Democratic Party saved capitalism but it unwittingly created a monster: plutocracy i.e. neo-feudalism.

    Any manifesto capable of attracting the attention of the multitudes would have to recognize the 2 parties are today feuding over which set of errand-men-and-women for the capitalist ultra-elites (winners today but potentially big losers tomorrow, a few possibly of their heads if Americans ever get as fed up – AKA really “woke” – as the French did in 1789) enjoys the spoils and perks of power. Selfish rich people are so isolated and reviled by everyone else nowadays that they only congregate with one another. Noone else can stand their company. I read that refuge real estate in places like New Zealand are all-the-rage among the .01%!

    The only thing these elites agree on is that their alternating grasp on power must not be interrupted. They purge ANY mavericks not “under their thumbs” and capable of independent unbought unbossed leadership. Eg. in different ways: the host in the 1980s and Ross Perot in the 1990s. Bernie may be next in line. (Trump, who diabolically cast himself in a regressive version of this mold, was the ultimate double-man: https://twitter.com/ECJLA/status/1030219575885885440 .)

    When they lose power, the participants in the sham simply feed at the trough in the private sector, as has most every senior Obama official since Hillary’s defeat. See Jimmy Dore’s lacerating inventory here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nf_ubSj3aZA . Elizabeth: Note in particular Dore’s well-taken excoriation of Tim Geithner (at 14:30) (which if anything is far too mild)! Re your unseemly praise for this feckless financial miscreant, to use an old expression: “Don’t pull our leg!”

    I recently ran across an essay written in March 2016 by Michael Bradley, a very successful Aussie attorney with mostly corporate clients (ironically enough), who well-diagnoses the problem with Australia’s version of our duopoly. See:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-31/bradley-career-politicians-and-the-slippery-ideological-slope/7286784

    Here is his peroration and conclusion with which I quibble in one part as I note below (and before anyone gets their knickers in a bunch, he’s talking at the top of this excerpt about democratic socialists not authoritarian socialists):
    ———
    BEGINNING OF EXCERPT FROM MICHAEL BRADLEY’S ARTICLE:

    Contemporary socialists argue that, in our prevailing attachment to free market capitalism, insufficient attention has been paid to the social fabric. As a result, that fabric is starting to tear. Inequality, perpetual unemployment, political disenfranchisement and social isolation/dislocation are all on the rise and the market-based levers of capitalism aren’t fixing them. So we have big trouble.

    Personally, I think there’s much to be said for a rethink of how we define a successful society. The evidence that capitalism is an incomplete prescription is staring us in the face. My fear is that the Liberal Party and, to a lesser but still worrying extent, Labor, are increasingly captive to the narrowly doctrinaire school of thought which professional politicians like Wilson exemplify.

    Personal property is not, as Wilson believes, a human right, but rather a necessary preference in a capitalist society. Giving it the status of a human right validates the exclusively self-focused perspective which now prevails, and which has led us down the path of accepting inequality and holding amoral disregard for the real human rights of others – the right to live, to eat, to be free of fear and oppression. Our attitude to asylum seekers is just one of many consequences of this “me first” philosophy which subordinates humanity to self-preservation.

    Wilson typifies in many respects the kind of person who Liberal and Labor are choosing as our future leaders. These people are, I fear, lacking in the empathic understanding that society is not just the sum total of its individual members’ wealth.

    It isn’t just that their narrow worldview will make our already unequal society even more so; democracy itself won’t survive too much more of this.

    END OF EXCERPT FROM MICHAEL BRADLEY’S ARTICLE.
    ———

    I actually don’t agree with Michael when he says that “personal property is not…a human right, but rather a necessary preference in a capitalist society.” Personal property, at least short of great opulence and hoarded riches, is most certainly a human right. But other than that Mr. Bradley is entirely correct: His country (and ours) has fetishized/idol-worshiped property/money/greed and essentially eliminated fraternity altogether from society and governance.

    Sen. Hart’s formulation: “We believe in shared wealth and not concentration of wealth in the hands of a few” is not only a correct statement of public morality but a well-wrought one-sentence version of a principled conviction that is completely in sync with the vast majority of the American public today.

    Indeed I predict it will be “conventional wisdom” by the time the 2020 presidential campaign goes from pre-season to real early next year. That campaign will turn on the authenticity of the candidates, almost all of whom will be “empty suits” as they have been for 50 years. Unmasking Trump as just another blowhard empty suit – “all talk and opposite action” (to tweak his own phrase) on any of the populist pro-working class tropes he ran on – will be a key to victory. Anyone who is “faking sincerity” and lacks a resolute commitment to a public interest presidency, won’t be able to do it.

  5. Neil McCarthy Says:

    How about “a growing and secure middle class” for “fairly shared wealth”? The principle would then read: “We believe in a growing and secure middle class, not the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few”.

  6. Gary Hart Says:

    Just to prove I’m truly a democrat, let’s let our friend Elizabeth have the final word on Neil’s suggested change. Over to you, Liz. GH

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