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Can the Democratic Party survive?

By Scott Shore
web posted February 28, 2005

Based on current trends, one is tempted to conclude in a similar fashion as Joseph Schumpeter who asked the question "Can Capitalism Survive?" After a lengthy discussion the proponent of free market dynamism he concluded -- "probably not." As a lifelong Republican (or conservative libertarian), I reach a similar conclusion about the Democratic Party but without glee or a sense of great triumph. The likely prognosis at this point is that the Democrats will pass into the pages of American history much like the Whig Party. The Democrats are increasingly out of touch with the concerns of most Americans and largely captive to loud and radical interest groups.

I say I have no glee in this prospect because I believe in a vibrant two party system. I fear the GOP will become intellectually fat and lazy without thoughtful opposition. This is not good for public policy debate and a vital policy innovation. I also fear the conservatives and libertarians could become a "captive" constituency of the GOP. With that said, here are some of my ideas for rejuvenating a viable and relevant Democratic Party. These ideas are sheer "Realpolitik" and the sensitive souls in the party are more than welcome to reject them. I shall divide this essay into three sections: Drop It, Keep It and Add It.

Drop It!

Unless the Democratic Party is truly looking to join the dustbin of history, it must rid itself of its multicultural "values" agenda. The whole "gay marriage" thing along with the view of "alternative" queer, bisexual and transgender sexuality and the "alternative" families spiel has got to go. It's toxic and does not and never will play in a basically religious country. It's one thing to call for tolerance, quite another to speak of equality of lifestyle. Anything beyond this undermines middle class Americans and the important Bible-believing black communities. (While we are at it, dump Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the other self-appointed spokesman for the black community.) To be blunt, this constituency has nowhere to go. The most the party should accommodate these groups is to permit civil contracts that permit certain guardianship and probate provisions. Should they form a separate "party" it virtually guarantees Republican predominance.

Forget about ineffective gun controls and wacko animal rights groups. These people have never ventured into the real world and would find that next to family and faith, the Second Amendment is sacrosanct particularly in rural America -- the so-called "red states."

Get rid of ties to Nadine Stroesser and the ACLU. The fanatic crusade against Christmas decorations, the public display of the Ten Commandments, the mention of God in the national pledge and the classroom and similar peevishness is an affront to most moderate Americans. This is another toxic policy.

Forget about affirmative action that can only be backed up by quotas. One way to really tick off the middle class is to give any sign of "preferential treatment" to politically influential entitlement groups. More than anything else this actually fuels racism in America.

Dumping these selected loser issues while still being true to the value of fairness will sell, but without the noxious sense of elitist social planners telling Americans how they should feel. Nothing perturbs someone more than having their feelings invalidated by "experts" that tell people how they should feel if they were only enlightened. It totally saps the legitimacy of their feelings and is dehumanizing. Democrats, get some humility and just stop preaching. It is just this moral preaching that is the weakness of the Republican party.

Drop undue contacts with public sector unions. No one likes the NEA, especially at the beginning of the school year when they decide to go on strike. AFSCME may carry votes in suburban Maryland and Virginia, but it does not represent legitimate trade unionism. It's extortion. It's also reactionary and in the way of any meaningful school reform including school choice -- which is much favored by the black community.

Finally, drop the whole class warfare bit. It doesn't sell in America. It sounds like whining and has no traction. Along with this, it is long overdue for the Dems to drop confiscatory tax schemes on the middle class that can't afford to find loopholes. No one wants to hear about budget deficits (which is viewed as inevitable as bad weather), but nobody wants to hear about new taxes. No one trusts the government with the money -- except special interest groups that have already figured out how to spend it.

Keep It!

The Democratic Party is correct on most economic issues from a political point of view. While the minimum wage is a stupid idea, it is too complicated to explain to most folks. It makes intuitive sense and it's a good card for the Dems. The Democrats are also pretty much on the mark about the unholy alliance between government agencies and big or multinational corporations. (They are not too articulate in stating it however.) It's often hard to determine if the FDA regulates pharmaceutical giants or the giants regulate the FDA. The same is true of all the "sweetheart deals" between big business and government.

This economic argument rings true with most Americans and is a major weakness for the Republicans. The Republicans are, and will continue to be, seen as the party of big business and privilege. Social moderates and conservatives agree on this. The key for Dems is not to go "over the top" in dealing with this issue and making it look like they are attacking free enterprise when they are only attacking government granted privilege. The key here is proper rhetoric.

The Democrats are also right that the justice system is rigged toward the wealthy. This ticks off not only the poor but the middle class and mid-size business. First the Dems should admit that there are frivolous lawsuits that are jacking up the cost of everything and making us less competitive in the world. Admit that this needs reform. On the other hand, a frontal assault on the role of money in Justice rings true for just about everybody.

Finally, the Dems have a gold mine in healthcare and the abuses of HMOs and the big multinational pharmaceutical giants. Everyone hates them. The answer may be to limit the patent privileges of the pharmaceutical companies and break their practice of shameless price discrimination both in the US and overseas. Reform of HMOs is a big winner. At the same time, make it clear that the Democratic party is not the party of ambulance chasers.

Another area is consumer protection. This is a Democratic issue and they should keep it. This should mean truthful advertising, competitive prices, low tariffs and fair trade. The same is true with environmental protection. The only change is that the Dems need to position it as reasonable conservationism -- not trying to save snail darters at the expense of thousands of jobs. Finally Dems are trusted with issues like worker protection. Slow prudent reform of Social Security should be supported by the Democrats. The key is just to appear more incrementalist than the GOP. Fundamentally all the "Keep It" areas are roughly within the sphere of economic fairness.

Add It!

The Democrats must take the President's concept of an ownership society and run with it! Republicans are stuck with the rap of being for vested interests. The Democrats should be for market-based solutions to expand ownership. This may mean ways to provide shares to average citizens for public utilities and other monopolies. Proposals have been suggested to loan Americans money to buy shares in their common community projects. A good example of this is the dividend given to Alaskans for oil drilled in that state. Instead of the state taking over functions of the market, the Democrats could call for meaningful privatization by making average Americans owners of monopolies and government granted privileged enterprises. The idea here is to spread the capitalist ideal to more people -- not redistribute money based on the current cozy relations between big government and big business and monopolies. There are daring new ideas that could preserve -- or even strengthen -- real market economics, while creating more economic equity without bureaucratic solutions. This is a very large topic for further elaboration.

The Democrats should add a fundamental humanitarian concept to foreign policy. Unlike the corporatist GOP, the Democrats should refuse to purchase products from countries like China that use slave labor. A basic respect for human and labor rights should be a cornerstone of Democratic policy. Rather than second-guessing on military operations, the Democrats could put the GOP on the defensive by pointing out how the GOP does business with the worst Communist regimes. This also means the Democrats must be consistent on Cuba. This will help to win some of that community to the Democrats in the critical state of Florida. Finally, the Democrats need to get in touch with heartland America and be tough on illegal immigration. Legal immigrants don't support it and it is nothing short of sheer cynicism to support "amnesty" programs to garner Hispanic votes. Instead let the GOP take the low road to inviting cheap illegal labor that replaces American workers.

The Democrats have to catch up with Senator Lieberman and realize that Western Civilization is at stake in the war on terrorism. The liberal tendency to feel we need to "understand" the enemies' point of view is sheer humbug. The Democrats may question this or that defense plan, but they should take a page out of President Kennedy's book and argue that the GOP is not being aggressive enough and back up their ideas with weapons, troops and money!

I offer these suggestions with the full knowledge that they will be ignored and even mocked by the liberal (and controlling) wing of the Democratic Party and the special interests that calls the shots. This proposal is not "Republican-lite" but it does question the liberal Establishment. On the other hand, a serious opposition party would keep everyone honest and that has to be a good thing for the country.

Scott Shore is an educator and political columnist who lives in Providence, RI.

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