November 5th, 2002 has come and gone and with it Democratic control of the last check on unrestrained exercise of corporatist Republican power.
Everyone seems to agree that the reasons for this defeat are manifold, ranging from the inability to compete with Republicans for corporate largesse to right wing corporate control of the mythical liberal media to the failure of Democrats to develop and articulate a clear vision for America. Of all these, I think the lack of a clear message is the most important and the least excusable.
Who and what we are and ought to be as a political party was articulated decades ago. It was a modern version of this message that Al Gore rode to a popular vote victory against big money and long odds in 2000: Democrats represent the interests of the people. Republicans represent the interests of the powerful.
As a liberal Democrat, these words of 60 years ago form the core of my political beliefs and platform. There is nothing that was spoken then that is any less true today. The words of FDR paint the concepts of freedom and what we are fighting for in broad and masterful strokes. That's the kind of rhetoric that I believe would still enjoy success today. It's the kind of rhetoric that I want to hear from the leaders of the party of the people: FDR
Excerpts from "The Four Freedoms"
Our national policy is this:
First, by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship, we are committed to all-inclusive national defense.
Second, by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship, we are committed to full support of all those resolute people everywhere who are resisting aggression and are thereby keeping war away from our hemisphere. By this support we express our determination that the democratic cause shall prevail, and we strengthen the defense and the security of our own nation.
Third, by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship, we are committed to the proposition that principle of morality and considerations for our own security will never permit us to acquiesce in a peace dictated by aggressors and sponsored by appeasers. We know that enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people's freedom.
As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone. Those who man our defenses and those behind them who build our defenses must have the stamina and the courage which come from unshakeable belief in the manner of life which they are defending. The mighty action that we are calling for cannot be based on a disregard of all the things worth fighting for.
The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America. Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.
Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.
The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are
- Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
- Jobs for those who can work.
- Security for those who need it.
- The ending of special privilege for the few.
- The preservation of civil liberties for all.
- The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding straight of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.
Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples :
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance. We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care. We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.
I have called for personal sacrifice, and I am assured of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call. ... No person should try, or be allowed to get rich out of the program, and the principle of tax payments in accordance with ability to pay should be constantly before our eyes to guide our legislation.
If the congress maintains these principles the voters, putting patriotism ahead pocketbooks, will give you their applause.
In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression --everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way-- everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants --everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor --anywhere in the would.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called "new order" of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception --the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.
Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.
This nation has placed its destiny in the hands, heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere.
Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.
To that high concept there can be no end save victory.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt
I also wouldn't mind seeing Democrats borrow from past
Republicans like Dwight D. Eisenhower. His words serve to show how extreme the
GOP has become today and how out of touch they are with the true vision of
conservatism and compassion:
Excerpts from Dwight D. Eisenhower: The Chance for Peace
The way chosen by the United States was plainly marked by a few clear precepts, which govern its conduct in world affairs.
First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be an enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice.
Second: No nation's security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow-nations.
Third: Every nation's right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.
Fourth: Any nation's attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.
And fifth: A nation's hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations.
In the light of these principles the citizens of the United States defined the way they proposed to follow, through the aftermath of war, toward true peace.
This way was faithful to the spirit that inspired the United Nations: to prohibit strife, to relieve tensions, to banish fears. This way was to control and to reduce armaments. This way was to allow all nations to devote their energies and resources to the great and good tasks of healing the war's wounds, of clothing and feeding and housing the needy, of perfecting a just political life, of enjoying the fruits of their own toil.
The worst to be feared and the best to be expected can be simply stated.
The worst is...war.
The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system...or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone.
It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.
It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.
It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement.
We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat.
We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.
This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.
This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Right now there are no "Dems" in terms of a unified party, there are "Dem factions" with disparate issues and agendas fighting for control. "Bluedog/DLC Democrats" like Bruce Reed and Al From are, in my opinion, mostly corporatists seeking to control the party with the backing of big money. They can't kick the ideas and ideals of FDR and other truly progressive Democrats to the curb fast enough and that is their mistake because they have allowed themselves to be swayed by the view that corporatism and bowing before great power holds the promise of the future.
A simple look at history and the success that great liberal ideals and policies like Roosevelt's New Deal, the GI Bill, the minimum wage, banking insurance through the FDIC, securities regulation through the SEC and many others had in transforming the United States into a broad based middle class society with rising incomes and standards of living show beyond doubt that the conservative longing for a return to the "good old days" is a longing for a return to days that never were.
Progressives must find a way to speak with a unified voice. We must find a way to take back the soul of the party and make it clear that we stand for government of, for and by the people instead of the Republican/DLC Democrat vision of government of, by and for the benefit of corporate power and control.
Wellstone Democrats can find much at web sites like Progressive Majority, the associated Campaign for America's Future and CAF resources like the Straight Talk 2002 handbook that could have been used by the DNC to outline a truly progressive and coherent agenda for the fall campaigns rather than the muddled mess we got and that led to the fiasco of November 5th.
If Democrats are to honor the memory of Paul Wellstone, we must demand that our party and our leaders speak with one voice. We must demand that the Democrats reclaim their mantle as the party of the people. We must start today. Tomorrow is too late.
FDR: The Four Freedoms
Eisenhower: The Chance for Peace
Progressive Majority - http://www.progressivemajority.org/
Campaign for America's Future - http://www.ourfuture.org
Ending Corporate Governance: Revoking our Plutocracy - http://www.ratical.org/corporations/
The Homeless Liberal Media - http://www.consortiumnews.com/2002/111302a.html
Just for fun: "President Josiah Bartlett" tells off a Doctor Laura Clone on "The West Wing" (350k MP3)