Column No. 128 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - NOVEMBER 12, 2006
I began my TPJ column of May 25, 2006, “Ideas for Democrats, I: The Vision,” by noting that in a front page article in The New York Times on May 9, 2006 (“Optimistic, Democrats Debate the Party's Vision”) Robin Toner said: “With Democrats increasingly optimistic about this year's midterm elections and the landscape for 2008, intellectuals in the center and on the left are debating how to sharpen the party's identity and present a clear alternative to the conservatism that has dominated political thought for a generation. . . . . But some of these analysts argue that the party needs something more than a pastiche of policy proposals. It needs a broader vision, a narrative, they say, to return to power and govern effectively.” To which I said, and say, Amen.
I also noted that such statements were nothing new. I went on to give several examples, going back to 1987 in a New York Times article of September 25, 1987, E.J. Dionne wrote: “All Democrats have been searching for language to call America away from the individualism of the Reagan years to a new sense of community.” We Democrats have not found that language yet. This column us being written in the week before the 2006 election, for publication after it. Despite the polls and the over-arching bad news about the Georgites, Bush, and the Republicans in general, I do not believe that as of the time you are reading this, the Democrats will have taken either House. Not that they in reality will not have won, as they did in both 2000 and 2004. However, it appears as if the Rovian Grand Theft Election machine is running full throttle and will do the Georgites’ nefarious work once again. And that will be that.
Of course, I hope that I am wrong. However, regardless of whether I am or not, the Democrats are going to have to get themselves together for sure this time around, going into 2008. As I have shared with you before in this series (“Ideas for Democrats, II and III”), I do recognize that there is no “The Democrats” in the sense that there has been a “The Republicans,” or has been at least until the rats started to abandon the sinking ship as the Bush Administration has started falling apart at the seams and Bush himself has become an embarrassment. However, the non-collaborationist, that is non-DLC, what I shall call “Mainstream Democrats,” and there are plenty of them in the Congress, can come together under a new vision and a new program. If the election is fixed this time, as I believe it is, this time, unlike in previous times, there will be a huge public outcry, a huge raft of litigation, and possibly some “insider” or even “spy” (well one can hope, can’t one?) exposés. That will give us at least a fighting chance in 2008. And so to a review, with some modifications, of my grand plan.
First, for the vision. As I have noted before, my 1992 book, The New Americanism: How the Democratic Party Can Win the Presidency, found the proposed “Vision for the Democrats” in the very founding documents of our great nation. The New Americanism projects a grand, integrated, overarching, forward-looking domestic and foreign policy based upon the principles of, yes, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Together they provide the Statement of Purpose for our nation, the Statement of Purpose of our National Government, and the Primary Functions of that Government in achieving in the stated Purpose.
Our National Purpose is made clear by the Declaration: to demonstrate unequivocally that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness . . .” The primary Purpose of our National Government is also made clear in the Declaration: “[T]o secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men.” The Primary functions of our National Government in achieving this purpose are spelled out in the Preamble to the Constitution: “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.” Why this is enough to make a strict constructionist out of anyone (other than the Georgites, of course)!
Then the Mainstream Democrats will have to move on to specifics, and a level, however, rather deeper than “do something (anything) about Iraq,” “raise taxes on the rich,” “health care, education, and the environment.” We first and foremost have to get back to Constitutional government in this country, and so that is the first focus of my (further) revised “Ten Commitments” that I have shared with you on several previous occasions. And so, henceforth, the Democratic Party will be committed to:
I. First and foremost 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.
II. A return to totally free and fair elections, and a full-scale assault on the Republican strategy of Grand Theft Elections, with guarantee of equal access, voting down with machines and programs held in the public sector, and true campaign finance reform..
III. A full, planned withdrawal from all military activity in Iraq, including the construction and maintenance of all military bases, by a date certain. This withdrawal is to be accompanied by a reactivation of the Israel/Palestine peace process along the lines of the proposed Geneva Accords. It is further to be 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 Georgites, and a return to abiding by the UN Charter, which forbids “pre-emptive war” of the Georgite type. (A specific plan for achieving the Iraq withdrawal can be found in my column of Dec. 15, 2005.)
IV. A vision of government that is defined by the Preamble to the Constitution: “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.” It understands that big problems require big solutions, that when necessary for the common economic good, government needs to be big, that the Georgite/ Norquist Doctrine of Bathtub Government needs to be flushed down the toilet. 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 political, moral and ethical 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.
V. In support of this Commitment, a taxation policy designed to share the burden, in accordance with ability to pay, of supporting those actions of government necessary for the full implementation of its responsibilities as set forth in the Preamble.
VI. Also in support of Commitment IV, regulation of the market for goods and services designed to insure that it is both free and fair.
VII. 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 ethical pledge to which all Democratic candidates for elected office and Democratic nominees for political appointments will be asked to subscribe will be developed.
VIII. 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 of adult sexual identity and behavior.
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. This means that the first focus must be on Alternative Energy, only the second on alternative fuels.
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. If one tries to pick out “what issues can we win with?” first without examining and establishing principles, that is “why” we should win, one almost assures losing (as has been proven over and over again since the election of 1964). Neither our country, nor indeed the world, nor indeed in my view the human species as we know it, could afford that.