Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Vision for the Democratic Party

For much of my life I've considered myself politically independent, and typically to the left of either major party. In fact, though I'm now ashamed to admit it, I didn't even vote in the 2000 presidential election.

But then Bush happened, and I realized that the only hope for getting rid of this fool, criminal, satanic minion fellow was by supporting the opposing party.

And so, in 2004, after initially supporting Howard Dean, I held my nose and voted for Kerry.

And we all know how well that turned out.

Now it may well be that Republican depredations and incompetence have grown so great that Democrats can win simply by pointing out that hey, at least they're not Republicans.

But would it not be better to take the opportunity of the GOP collapse to establish a more lasting Democratic and progressive ethos? To shift the center a little back to the left?

In an important article in The American Prospect (which you should read in full here) Prospect editor Michael Tomasky makes the case for a unifying principle for today's Democratic party.

For many years -- during their years of dominance and success, the period of the New Deal up through the first part of the Great Society -- the Democrats practiced a brand of liberalism quite different from today’s. Yes, it certainly sought to expand both rights and prosperity. But it did something more: That liberalism was built around the idea -- the philosophical principle -- that citizens should be called upon to look beyond their own self-interest and work for a greater common interest.

This, historically, is the moral basis of liberal governance -- not justice, not equality, not rights, not diversity, not government, and not even prosperity or opportunity. Liberal governance is about demanding of citizens that they balance self-interest with common interest. Any rank-and-file liberal is a liberal because she or he somehow or another, through reading or experience or both, came to believe in this principle. And every leading Democrat became a Democrat because on some level, she or he believes this, too. [Emphasis mine - SK]

Mr. Tomasky's essay and argument needs to be read in full to be appreciated (yes, I know it's long, but it may be one of the most important essays you'll read this year). But the gist is this, that to be truly successful, the Democratic party has to move away from the simple single-issue, litmus test sort of politics to which it has become addicted. And, equally important, those single-issue groups so accustomed to guiding Democratic politics need to recognize their own self-interest in promoting a broader set of Democratic goals.
Interest groups need to start thinking in common-good terms. Much of the work done by these groups, and many of their goals, are laudable. But if they can’t justify that work and those goals in more universalist terms rather than particularist ones, then they just shouldn’t be taken seriously. Immigration policy can’t be chiefly about the rights of undocumented immigrants; it needs to be about what’s good for the country. Similarly with civil-rights policy -- affirmative action, say, which will surely be up for review one day again when a case reaches the Roberts court. As I noted above, when talking about Gingrich’s failure in 1995, there exist powerful common-good arguments for affirmative action. In addition to the idea that diversity enriches private-sector environments, affirmative action has been the most important single factor in the last 40 years in the broad expansion of the black middle class, which in turn (as more blacks and whites work and live together) has dramatically improved race relations in this county, which has been good, as LBJ would put it, for every American.

As Mr. Tomasky puts it, the common good is common sense. It also happens to stand in sharp contrast to the every man for himself, social Darwinism that characterizes the modern Republican party.

And wouldn't it be nice, the next time your annoying Naderite friend starts ranting as to how the two parties are the same, to be able to contradict him?

And wouldn't it be nice to vote without holding your nose?

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