Monday, October 24, 2005

How about a contract for ALL America?


Call it Security Starts at Home, or Good Government Means Clean Government, or A Contract for ALL America. Call it whatever you want. But it's past time for the Democratic Party to run on something other than, "We're not the other guys."

It's time, in other words, for Democrats to lead.

Certainly the Republicans have given them an opening. They've had a run of news about as toxic as the black water that surged through New Orleans streets after Hurricane Katrina. Congressional leaders and top White House aides are under investigation or indictment. The late and ineffective response to Katrina's devastation poked gaping holes in the President's public persona as a man of action and resolve. And Harriet Miers, the President's nominee for the Supreme Court, has become a lightning rod for criticism from within his own party. That's just the short list against a backdrop of a failed war and mounting and mountainous debt.
But before Democrats dance on the table at poll numbers consistently showing George W. Bush with the support of less than 40 percent of the public, they should recognize those same polls show support for congressional Democrats and Republicans alike even lower. It is those numbers that suggest the public won't readily embrace a Democratic alternative in 2006 as long the Democrats are perceived to be content to hide in the shadows rather than promoting a coherent agenda of action and hope.
Given the deafening silence from Washington, I thought I'd do my bit to help. (Forgive my lack of credentials; I've never owned a baseball team, headed a bar association or had anything to do with Arabian horses.)

Here, then, are a few surefire Democratic themes:

* Security starts at home

This could be the slogan to draw attention to any number of issues at which this Admnistration has failed. Let's start with economic security. The Republicans have repeatedly beat back attempts to raise the minimum wage to a level at which people can afford to feed themselves. That's part of the reason the number of those living below the poverty level is 37 million and rising. Other than rewarding their friends with no-bid contracts, the Administration also has not articulated any coherent plan for helping to reconstruct New Orleans or to remploy the tens of thousands thrown out of work there either. It's not too late for Democrats to mount a campaign for the contemporary equivalent of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps, but with an urban twist. Why not hire displaced New Orleans residents to clean their city of debris and rebuild it? Why not give new tax breaks to those who do something rather than own something -- to people willing to volunteer time and expertise to help revive New Orleans? And why not speak out at every opportunity for a fair minimum wage?

Let's move to safety. Much has been written about the Administration's failure to invest in local policing, in security of our ports and train lines and nuclear plants. Under this heading, Democrats also might point out the need to keep the National Guard at home to help out in times of national emergency and to invest in new equipment for those guard units. Not only was nearly a third of the Louisiana and Mississippi Guard overseas in Iraq when Katrina struck but nearly all the units' best equipment was there with them. To avoid Republican charges that they are "tax and spend liberals," the Democrats should calculate how much has been spent in tax breaks for the top 1 percent of the population under George W. Bush and show what could be done by redistributing half of that to internal support and security. It would go a long way. Or Democrats could show how the direct and indirect costs of the Iraq War -- estimated in one New York Times graphic at over $1 trillion in a three- to five-year time span -- might better be spent strengthening security at home.

* Good government means clean government

If Democrats can't have a field day with the corruption rampant in the ruling party they should retire from the political ring. It's not just the investigations into the arrogance and abuse of power of Monsieurs DeLay and Rove and Libby and Frist and Abramoff (and more undoubtedly to come). It's also the cronyism that has led to the likes of Michael D. Brown as head of FEMA, Karen Hughes as an Assistant Secretary of State or -- yes -- Harriet Miers as a nominee for the Supreme Court. And it's the secrecy that has increased spying within this country, shut off public records to the press, gutted the Freedom of Information Act and so distorted American notions of just behavior in wartime that torture of prisoners overseas has surfaced time and time again in Iraq and Afghanistan alike. In discussing our overextended military, Democrats can start by taking a stand for decency, integrity and transparency in the actions of our military overseas. The U.S. Senate, remember, has voted 90-9 to prevent torture of U.S. prisoners overseas. But the President is threatening to veto the measure. It's an untenable position that the Democrats could easily turn against him.

* In a global world, multilateralism isn't a choice, it's a necessity

If Democrats can't agree on whether to pull out of Iraq and when, I'd hope they could agree on a call for multinational involvement in beginning talks and actions leading to U.S. disengagement. The Bush Administration's Coalition of the Willing was never much more than a slogan. But now so many countries have pulled out of Iraq that the Administration makes little effort to hide the unilateral nature of the war. But a coalition we may well need to help us figure out a dignified and less-than-defeated means of extricating ourselves from a country that's teetering now on the brink of Civil War, new Constitution or not. And we clearly need the world's help in keeping, for example, a worldwide pandemic of bird flu at bay and in fighting the global warming forces that made 2005 the warmest year on record. The Bush Administration has thumbed its nose at the world since it came to power, from the appointment of John Bolton to the United Nations to our refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. Democrats can offer a clear alternative here, too.

Once I'm offered a paycheck -- or at least a baseball team to run -- I'd be delighted to add to this list. But in truth Democrats, that's your job. If you hope to win, the time to start is now.


Blogger Kevin said...

I would argue the time to start was Nov. 3, 2004. Hiring Dean seemed like a bold shakeup at first, but we haven't really heard much of anything new from him. What happened to Dr. Scream? You can only let the opposition eat its own for so long before you need to offer an alternative (as you pointed out in your lede.)

If ever there were a time for a third-party to make itself viable, it's now. One wonders whether a Paul Wellstone would have been offered the DNC chair had he lived, or if he would be so exasperated with his party right now that he'd pull a Jim Jefords and go off on his own, or maybe join the Greens.

The resignation with which the electorate accepts the so-called two-party system in this country is disheartening. Not that you'd want 13 different candidates to choose from every four years, but with no viable competition from a party like the Greens, the Republicrats will allow their candidates to maintain the status quo without being called out on their lack of innovative ideas or anything approaching leadership.

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