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Friday, February 14, 2003  

At least once an election cycle a political party ought to revisit its values, visions, and platform. Over the past week, the Jack Bog’s Blog, The Oregon Blog, and Alas, a Blog, have entered into a kind of impromptu discussion about the values of the Democratic party, and it’s inspired me to set out a vision I’d love to see the Democrats adopt. This is a quick-and-dirty rough outline of the kind of thing I’d like to see.

The Democratic Party is in an unprecedented period of malaise. It’s become a reactive institution, basing its values and policy positions on the initiatives of the Republicans. They are adrift, floating without a vision, their raison d'etre apparently merely existence itself. Before the Democratic Party (or any liberal party) can begin to rebuild, it needs a shining mission statement of value. A good example of such a statement of values is the on the one George McGovern offered in the December 2002 Harper’s Magazine.

“Webster’s dictionary defines [liberalism] as ‘a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of man, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties….’ I believe the most practical and hopeful compass by which to guide the American ship of state is the philosophy of liberalism. Virtually every step forward in our history has been a liberal initiative taken over conservative opposition: civil rights, Social Security, Medicare, rural electrification, the establishment of a minimum wage, collective bargaining, the Pure Food and Drug act, and federal aid to education, including the land-grant colleges, just to name a few.”

Based on a mission statement of this sort, the Democratic Party should follow it up with a clear vision based on the values of the mission, policy area by policy area, making the case in each one that the progress of society depends on the belief of the essential goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual. I’d like to expand on these issues to include a broad range of policy areas. By way of example, though, here are two:

Foreign Policy
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has moved from a world of democratic-socialist detente and entered a era of multilateral interdependence. It is a hopeful era in geopolitics, for it offers the possibility of international cooperation based on world good rather than national interest. But it is also a dangerous time, underscored so clearly by the attacks of 9/11. The old system of national might is no longer useful in this chaotic new world. The United States should set the example to the world that democracy is the hope not just of nations, but of the world. It should seek to strengthen international cooperation and dialogue, working through cooperative bodies like NATO and the UN. It can ensure it’s own safety only through the recognition that while any nation is unsafe, all nations are unsafe. This is not an issue of national interest, it is the world’s interest.

To that end, foreign policy should emphasize cooperation. The US should also tailor policy that will encourage stability: recognizing that chaos, poverty, and instability is a breeding ground for violence, it should support efforts to reduce those elements and encourage broader freedoms. The Democratic Party will sponsor initiatives to aid foreign countries by: offering direct aid; offering incentives to encourage partnerships between foreign and domestic corporations; supporting international agreements to aid foreign countries; take the lead in resolving the crisis in Israel; encourage international trade agreements that benefit the economies of foreign countries.

The Environment
It is the right of every American to have clean air and water. Furthermore, it is the duty of this country to protect its natural resources for our immediate benefit and for the benefit of future generations. Ample scientific data exist to inform many environmental policies; the Democratic Party will rely first on these data in determining policy. The Democratic Party will also seek to build bridges between natural partners in land-management issues: environmentalists, ecologists, sportsmen, farmers, and ranchers.

With regard to current environmental issues, the Democratic Party supports: strengthening the regulation and enforcement of the Clean Air and Water Acts; immediate adoption of the Kyoto accords; protection of forest land, including setting aside ancient forests and prohibiting commercial logging on national forest land, but also encouraging the healthy harvest of timber through incentives; continued support of the Endangered Species Act. The Democratic Party opposes drilling in ANWR.

Furthermore, recognizing that sustainability is the only sound course to preserve our natural resources, the Democratic Party will propose legislation to: fund development of alternative-fuel technology; fund further research and development of reusable resources, recycling, and alternative energy. This funding could be creative use of public/private partnerships, which would have the ultimate benefit of creating new technologies and new industries, positioning the United States to take the lead and reap the benefit.

These are just suggestions, of course. They’re off-the-top-of-my head ideas. Certainly there are bigger brains out there who’ve devoted far more thought to this. It’s a dialogue that’s long overdue, and it’s a dialogue that must happen if the Democratic Party is ever to regain relevance in national policymaking.

posted by Jeff | 11:03 AM |
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