Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why The Democrats Took A Beating And What Can Be Done Starting Today

For Democrats of every stripe, from dedicated left-wingers to Blue Dogs who cozy up on the Republican right wing lap, it is clearly time to reappraise. The awkward phase.

To understand ourselves right now we need to look at the first false steps taken after we captured the House, Senate and Presidency by comfortable margins.

Surprisingly, I do not want to speak of which legislative opportunity slipped away, which job creation program worked or did not, whether TARP was a good idea, the compromises with the greedy devils of Wall Street, or which budget would have been better or worse.

I want to talk about what George Bush (I) described as "The Vision Thing."

We, the Democrats, had no over-arching vision beyond winning the 2008 election. None. Zero. We won because we could.

Can anyone reading this, young or old, retired or just beginning his or her life or somewhere in between, envision America in 2050?

Envision it in the way the dreamers of The Declaration of Independence did for their time, Lincoln for his, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson for theirs?

Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural speech, outlining the powers that had to be harnessed to end the Depression: "It is... the old and permanently important manifestation of the American spirit of the pioneer."

John F. Kennedy's visionary rhetoric is part of the national mythology. And, like his policies or not, so is the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan.

Curiously, President Obama, the candidate with the most soaring campaign rhetoric, gave us bones to pick on once he was elected.

While there is pencil-sharpening to be done, none of us should allow America to be turned into a nation of accountants, watching pennies while wondering what the hell to do with the dollars, or worse, doing nothing at all with them.

There are a half dozen urgent matters that must be resolved, everything from energy to our ill-conceived wars, from transportation to education.

Democrats did not hammer one of those problems during their brief ascendancy and we can be reasonably assured that Republicans have neither the wherewithal nor the urgency to solve them, either.

I reject the idea that health care reform was anything but a middle of the road palliative that swept structural problems under the rug. 

So, what to do? What about vision?

Here is a short manifesto:

1) In order to lift up the whole nation, we have to lift up the income and security of the vast but shrinking middle class and perhaps more urgently, the upper middle class. Democrats must advance and support all efforts of unions to grow again, unions being the front line of defense against predatory practices by foreign economic interests. Unions must get to organizing white collar workers as their traditional blue collar base shrinks numerically. What the right wing has torn down, the left must build up again. Likewise, leaving aside the question of immigrants' legality and illegality, we have to stop the influx of cheap labor from undermining the aspirations of workers already in our country.

2) End the fruitless monopoly that has been given to the health care industry. It is the lack of competition that has brought us to the current pass. Legal monopoly in such a key sector is damaging to our country. If the market had been free, or almost free, we never would have gotten into the health care rhubarb in the first place. More insurance providers, more doctors, more hospitals, more primary care clinics. Stimulate and de-regulate. (The latter not something you hear often from the left.)

3) Choose a handful of regions in the country - one East or West Coast, one in the South (ideally New Orleans), and one in the upper Midwest - and make them the showcases for tomorrow's energy,  environmental and transportation technologies. Not only those things that we already know, but the things that are still on the drawing board, in the imaginations of our best innovators. Make those regions something like uber World's Fairs that stretch for hundreds of miles. Call together the leaders of industries of today and tomorrow to the White House - not the money-changers but the money-makers - and get a plan together.

4) Create high speed wireless Internet connections for every single inch of the country. Just as electricity, the telephone and television have become universally accessible, the wireless Internet is a crucial key to tomorrow's economy.

5) Bring all the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan within 6 months, the consequences be damned. End the left's pointless pacifism that brings us half measures leading to the deaths of our service people. At the same time, inform any and all countries who foster terrorism in any way that they are subject to devastating attack by air or sea. We should not be losing our young (and not so young) people to the violence of mindless barbarians. We have spent trillions in technologies that lay idle as we worry about alienating countries with whom there is no diplomatic future. They are nihilists and need to be dealt with accordingly. Make the problem of terrorism their problem.

6) Cut the defense budget in half. 

7) Create a new Peace Corps with our best partners - Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia, Brazil and Chile - and in conjunction with pivotal countries in different regions - Indonesia, South Africa, Uganda, Egypt, Vietnam, Argentina - that will show the face of modernism and aspiring modernism to backward countries.

8) Engage India. Engage India. Engage India. Multicultural, English-speaking, democratic, forward-looking, a counterweight to China... where is our common sense here? Why continue to choose Pakistan as our lynch-pin ally in the region?

9) This may sound a tad off beat and Utopian at a time like this but - we need to reemphasize the liberal arts on all levels of education. The quantification of education has been an unmitigated disaster for the country. We have to buy out of the notion that, for instance, turning out more engineers like flapjacks is a great idea while our culture becomes debased, less literate, and more utilitarian.

10) Stay focused on imagining what tomorrow looks, feels, and sounds like. 

We know that the right is tight, is scared and runs on fear. The only antidote is vision, clarity and hope. 

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