America is at a turning point. For the first time in history, the United States is the world’s lone superpower—in Andrew Cuomo’s words, “both the tamer and target of an unstable world.” New technology and the omnipresent media have transformed the way we do everything, from amassing wealth to practicing politics. Simultaneously, the U.S. economy is in a shambles, with the largest federal budget deficit in our history. The coming octogenarian boom promises to put the greatest strain on federal government resources the United States has ever known, and America is faced with new security threats and diplomatic crises daily.
The success of our nation in the coming decades will depend on how our elected leaders respond to these challenges. Can the Democrats, divided and ineffectual since well before the crushing defeats of 2002, revitalize their agenda, forge a meaningful message, and end the Republican stranglehold on the federal government? Can Republicans, fresh from new victories, build on their successes? And how will a younger generation, largely alienated from both parties but often intensely political, articulate its desires in the years ahead?
The writers invited by Andrew Cuomo to contribute to this landmark book, a who’s who of American leadership, address these and other pressing questions of our political life. At once a diagnosis and a call to arms, Crossroads will set the terms of political debate as America moves forward.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||360 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Letter from a Democratic Party Pooper
A master’s student at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Tim Ashe formerly worked on the staff of Congressman Bernie Sanders in Vermont, where he resides.
The emperor can change his clothes, but he’ll still be naked. This extension of the classic fable lies at the heart of the failure of national Democrats to capture the imagination (and needed votes) of the electorate. It also explains why I left the Democratic Party.
Two story lines in the Democrats’ operatic departure from a cogent belief set explain why Republicans have made such major gains in recent years at the federal, state, and local levels. First, the Democratic Leadership Council has successfully, though never substantively, argued that the American voter is in the middle. Second, while the Republicans put up a united front with a lockstep set of positions on key issues, the Democrats have been drifting, aimlessly “appealing” to one voter bloc or another. This second point not only suggests the need for a reaffirmation of core party beliefs, but also questions whether the current party leadership will be able to turn this tragic play into a comedy.
In July 2001, a freelance writer confronted President Bush in a greeting line and told him he was disappointed with his performance to that point. Bush, responding with customary charm, allegedly said, “Who cares what you think?” Before turning to a discussion of the recent failings of the Democratic Party, let me tell you why you should care what I think.
I should be a Democrat. From Massachusetts, mother a teacher and father a civil servant, family of Kennedy-philes, student at the Kennedy School of Government. Most important, onetime Democratic voter. I’ve got a long life of political activism ahead of me. My loyalties are to ideas and not a party, so if my energies are not going to the Dems, they’ll be going somewhere else. It’s up to the leadership of the party to decide whether people like me will return to and someday lead the party that once stood more strongly and clearly for the average citizen.
So Who Is a Liberal?
Al From, Bruce Reed, and others who subscribe to the moderating tendencies of the Democratic Leadership Council would have us believe that the majority of Americans are center or just right of center on the political spectrum. As evidence, they cite various polls in which registered voters more often than not self-identify as somewhat or mostly conservative. Anything, that is, except a liberal. And so, the logic goes, the Democratic Party needs to move to the center because that’s where the voters are.
There are two critical points that call these self-identifying polls into question. First, the very word liberal has followed the path of “political correctness.” In other words, it’s pejorative. It’s a badge of shame that emasculates men and radicalizes women. And in a cruel marriage that has Tom DeLay licking his lips, it’s not uncommon to hear today’s iconoclastic media figures referring to one or another “politically correct liberal.” The labels make matters exponentially worse when coupled: “tax-and-spend liberals,” or, better yet, “Kennedy liberals.” Any observer with an ear to the ground can agree that most people (including many members of Congress) want to be called a liberal like they want to drink poison.
Can we trust the instinct to move to the center? Can Demo- crats afford to lurch yet farther to the middle because a sample of voters will not say that they are liberal? Perhaps an appropriate manner of answering these questions, and to get to the second point, is to put the onus on the moderating forces of the party to explain what is, to understate slightly, an enormous problem with their logic.
Polls show that a majority of Americans do not want to label themselves “liberal.” Fair enough. But polls also show that most Americans, in fact large majorities, strongly support so-called liberal positions on health care, Social Security, and education. Same goes for the environment, a living wage, and programs for people with disabilities. What do we make of this voter, who calls himself “somewhat conservative” while standing ideologically with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party on almost every issue of substance? A conservative? That doesn’t seem to fit quite right. A liberal? Well, not by the voter’s own admission. To take an example from my adopted home state, how do we explain the fact that a majority of the most “conservative” voters in the state of Vermont consistently vote to elect a socialist congressman?
Somehow, in the process of taking over the national Democratic Party, the DLC has not been required to demonstrate why the party should change its policies to meet voters’ self- identification, rather than to embrace policies endorsed by a vast majority of Americans. This failure cannot be taken lightly, particularly when it comes to energizing young people. Without a core set of beliefs, young people will continue to bypass elections or vote third party. And no movement has survived in this country without young people.
This takes us to the next point.
How About Less Appealing and More Being?
During any national election cycle, our newspapers are filled daily with stories of campaign stops to “appeal” to women, IT leaders, investors, or the like. Maybe the candidate for president has discovered that single professional women might tip the election in one direction and so he schedules a meeting with that demographic in a swing state.
Younger people like myself can understand the importance of getting the message to different types of voters. But we also understand the nature of a chameleon, and we don’t want to vote for a leaf and elect a reptile. Over the last ten years, the Republican Party has aggressively staked out positions on issues of importance, while the Democrats have slumped along like a kid brother, following the general formula of proposing half of everything bad and double everything good.
I will leave it to professionals to argue the psychology of elections or congressional strategy. But as a voter, and since you’ve been losing elections, I hope you will leave it to me to tell you that voters are tiring of “the man of a thousand faces.” The Republicans are publicly consistent, and voters know—at least they think they do—what to expect from them. Perhaps most alarming of all, at the university level campus activists are increasingly likely to look like George Will rather than, well, an improvement on that.
What’s a Party to Do?
The Democratic Party needs to reaffirm its party platform. John Podesta recently said about the Democratic Party: “The one thing that unites us is, to some extent, negative—we’re united in thinking that the Republicans are wrong.” That is not good enough anymore. The Republicans being wrong doesn’t make the Demo- crats right. Even many Gore voters, for instance, admitted that Nader was “more right” than their candidate on many issues.
Such a reaffirmation could take the form of a Contract with America–like agenda, a more united stand against the current administration, or an energetic issue-based convention.
The way to enforce this new code or set of party beliefs is with the one thing that all politicians understand—money. There is room in the Democratic Party (or any other) for debate. Not every candidate need be identical, and ideological discussion among allies helps build a strong, relevant party. But frankly, when someone drifts too far from the core, they’re probably in the wrong party. The national party, then, should not commit any national funds to candidates who do not commit their support to a core set of principles. Then the Democratic Party will find its ranks energized and, having shed the last of the invisible clothes, the emperor can don something vibrant so long in the waiting.