Column No. 96 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - February 9, 2006
TPJ’s publisher, Steve Gheen, kindly asked me to comment on an article by Greg Sargent that appeared in The American Prospect (http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=10814, firstname.lastname@example.org). I am running my response as my column for this week.
Mr. Sargent’s article .raises critical “where do we go from here?” questions as we head into the 2006 Congressional elections. Mr. Sargent points out that an early Democratic Party take on the “Abramoff Scandal” as it is being called for short (it is much longer than both Abramoff’s coat and his negative coat-tails in fact) is that the Party should focus on Republican corruption and how to deal with it. Mr. Sargent says: “A few polls suggest this early strategy is yielding short-term results. But it nonetheless begs a big question: Can Dems really expect this argument to translate into the lasting gains they’re hoping for? Or should they be trying to formulate a strategy that goes beyond merely tarring the GOP as the corrupt party and looks for ways of weaving the mushrooming scandal into larger arguments about the Republican Party’s most conspicuous domestic failings?”
My answers to both of these questions above are “no” and a qualified “yes.” I agree with, as Mr. Sargent wrote, “[s]ome Dems, including ones charged with taking back Congress, [who] say they think Dems should begin making the case more aggressively that GOP corruption is part and parcel of a larger alliance between the Republican Party and major corporations in certain sectors, particularly in energy and health care -- an alliance, the argument continues, which shafts ordinary working- and middle-class Americans.”
However, I think that the thinking has to go far beyond even that issue. The Dems have to get beyond simply looking at what particular issues they might win with and should be running with. I think that it has to begin with a focus on what continuing dominance of what I call the “Georgites” in national policy and governmental administration means to the country and its future. Then it needs to develop the Democratic alternatives, and why they the country desperately needs them as replacements.
This is indeed a different approach to winning elections. It begins with “why should we win?” and then proceeds to “what can we win with?” rather dealing with the first as a sideline if at all and focusing entirely on the second as both of the above responses do. If one does that, a rather different strategy emerges. What have the Georgites done to our country? Well, most readers of The Political Junkies know the answer to that question very well, and the full list would use up all the rest of the space we have available and more. Furthermore, Steve Gheen and Mr. Carmichael and myself have detailed the harms over and over again in our pages (as have many others on many other pages).
What are the most important ones? I would agree that under the Republicans political corruption has been carried to its highest level since the regimes of two previous Republicans, Warren G. Harding and Ulysses S. Grant, perhaps even outdoing those two worthies. But this harm pales in comparison with others. As regular readers of TPJ know, from our statement of purpose to our frequent articles on the subject, the prime goal must be to defeat the Georgites in their increasingly ferocious drive to overturn US Constitutional Democracy and replace it with what some observers call a “Unitary Executive.” Others more correctly identify it as open theocratic fascist dictatorship. It was so refreshing to see Al Gore take on this issue in his Martin Luther King Day speech that was reprinted in this pace on January 19, 2006. This is absolutely issue No. 1 in my view. If we lose this battle, we can forget about the specifics of “energy and health care,” so beloved as (loss) leaders by the avatars of the DLC quoted in the Sargent article.Next is the War on Iraq. Following that is the intentional destruction of government, following the dictates of Grover “Shrink it to Size of a Bathtub and then drown it in the Bathtub” Norquist, except when it comes to personal belief, morality, and adult sexual mores, of course. Following that is tax and corporate regulatory policy, as discussed in the Sargent article. Then one would get to specifics, like energy, environment, education, health care, infrastructure development, and so on and so forth.
This is all on the substance/policy side. To win, that is to defeat Georgitism, the Democrats will also have to develop a whole new series of political tactics, beginning with an understanding of what “always attack, never defend” really means and how to do it, over and over again. I dealt with the tactical issues at length in a series of columns written during the Kerry Campaign (most of which can be found through the links list every week at the end of my columns), will not revisit them here, and will get back to them again on TPJ at some time in the future.
On November 25, 2005 I published in this space my proposed “Ten Commitments” for the Democratic Party. I republish them here. My primary list for the most part eschews specific legislative proposals. Rather, for the most part it looks at principles. With apologies to the wonderful Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun for the title of my list (http://www.tikkun.org/rabbi_lerner/ten_commitments), I put forward my proposed Draft “Ten Commitments.”
Henceforth, the Democratic Party will be committed to:
I. A full, planned withdrawal from all military activity in Iraq, including the construction and maintenance of bases, by a date certain, accompanied by a reactivation of the Israel/Palestine peace process along the lines of the proposed Geneva Accords, further accompanied by a return to the multi-lateral foreign policy that worked so well for our country from the time we entered the Second World War until the advent of Georgitism, and a return to abiding by the UN Charter, which forbids “pre-emptive war” of the Georgite type. (A specific plan for achieving that withdrawal can be found in my column of Dec. 15, 2005.)
II. Making the protection and promotion of Constitutional Democracy, in accordance with the plain language of the Constitution including the Preamble, the center of the Party’s approach to governing. A return to the Constitutional System of checks and balances and the requirement that the President fully abide by the Constitution is essential. The Preamble to the Constitution states: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
III. A vision of government that is defined by the Preamble, which understands that big problems require big solutions, that when necessary for the common economic good, government needs to be big, that the Norquist Doctrine of Bathtub Government needs to be flushed down the toilet. This vision specifically rejects Clintonian (past and future) “incrementalism.” On the other hand, in accord with the prescriptions of the Constitution, when it comes to such matters as belief as to when life begins, freedom of expression, and adult personal behavior, government needs to be small. This is the exact opposite of the Republican, anti-Constitutional view, which wants government to be overwhelmingly big when it comes to said matters of personal belief, rights, liberties, and freedom, and overwhelmingly small when dealing with the economy.
IV. A return to totally free and fair elections, and a full-scale assault on the Republican strategy of Grand Theft Elections. (See: the recent GAO analysis, at http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/Documents/20051021122225-53143.pdf, the Report of the Carter-Baker election reform commission, http://usgovinfo.about.com/b/a/203832.htm, and Mark Crispin Miller’s new book, Fooled Again.)
V. A Pledge of honesty, integrity, openness, and a return to the traditional arms-length relationship between government and the private sector for all elected and politically-appointed government officials. A specific pledge to which all Democratic candidates for elected office and Democratic nominees for political appointments will be asked to subscribe will be developed.
VI. The broad and forward projection of the most important Values that define a civil society: pluralism in matters of religion in accordance with the First Amendment; tolerance of difference; the promotion of compassion and sharing the burden, leaving behind the Doctrine of Every Man for Himself and the Devil Take the Hindmost; the full promotion of human rights at home and abroad; the understanding that healthy sex is healthy and unhealthy sex is not and that for adults sex is a private matter; and the end to the promotion of the criminalization of personal belief in matters of morality and adult sexual identity and behavior.
VII. A taxation policy designed to support Commitment III, with the sharing of the burden in accordance with ability to pay.
VIII. Regulation of the market for goods and services designed to insure that it is both free and fair.
IX. The development of an Energy Policy that will deal with the potentially disastrous and very real problem of global warming, as well as ensuring that ample energy will be available to support modern human life after the petroleum runs out.
X. The establishment of nomination and hiring standards for political appointees designed to ensure competence in government. A specific list of standards will be developed.
This is where I think the Democratic Party has to go. My only possible change now would be to, in light of the Alito nomination and the Gore speech, flip I and II. If one begins with principles, one can then go to develop an election campaign strategy designed to win with them. If one tries to pick out “what issues can we win with?” first without examining and establishing principles, one almost assures losing. Neither our country, nor indeed the world, nor indeed in my view the human species as we know it, could afford that.
Addendum: Since the above column was written, Dr. Jonas posted the following note on the same subject on http://planetmove.blogspot.com/, Feb. 6, 2006.
Karl Rove has announced that the Republicans will be running on two issues in November: national defense/security and "values." The Collaborationist-DLC Dems., like Hillary Clinton and Sen. Evan Bayh, are falling all over themselves countering with the "we can do the Georgite national security and values agendas even better than the Georgites have, so elect us" line. Well, Real Democrats should be following another line altogether, and that is the attack line.
For openers, on national defense/security, it would go something like this:
The Georgites let 9/11 happen despite the specific warnings of the 8/5/01 Presidential Daily Briefing paper.
They have not caught Osama and al Qaeda still is functioning.
They either lied us into the War on Iraq or completely mis-handled the intelligence.
They have depleted and weakened our armed services fighting the wrong war in the wrong place.
They have created terrorists, not reduced their ranks.
They have turned the world against us.
They have done virtually nothing to strengthen homeland security in the homeland, aside from illegally and unconstitutionally spying on American citizens who have nothing to do with foreign terrorism.
They have demonstrated that they are totally incompetent when it comes to handling natural disasters, much less man-made ones that could have even worse aftermaths.
They have depleted the national treasury.
The policies needed to reverse these un-natural disasters are obvious and they will form the core of the Democratic agenda on national defense and security.
As for the "values" issue, briefly here, what are the Georgite Republican values? Homophobia; misogyny; forcing people to believe in one way about religious matters, theirs, through the use of the criminal law; every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost; greed is good and should be aided and abetted by government; bribery and corruption, and stealing as much as you can (in Iraq). They are certainly not honesty, integrity, openness, caring for others, working together, fairness, religious pluralism and tolerance of difference of belief, racial tolerance and understanding/celebration of difference of persons, and devotion to the Constitution as its meaning and function are set forth in the Preamble. The latter will form the core of the Democratic agenda on values.