Saturday, May 20, 2017

What Does the Democratic Party Stand For?

If I see another article saying that Democrats have got to find a message to win back Congress and the White House, rather than just being anti-Trump, I’m going to scream.  Today in The New York Times and in a recent New Yorker, the call was for Democratic candidates with “the ability to articulate what the Democratic Party stands for.” 

How sad, yet how true.  Last December I wrote a post, “The Perennial Search for the Democrat’s Mission.”  I  reprint that post here again.  I have been making the same arguments since 2004 when I wrote my book, We Still Hold These Truths.  When will the power-brokers in the party get it?

The Perennial Search for the Democrat’s Mission:

It’s sad to see Democrats once again thrashing around, after November’s defeat, trying to figure out where there message failed and what they need to do in the future.  (Everyone that is but the Clinton campaign, who apparently doesn’t think there was anything wrong with their message, but that’s another problem.)  Some advocate focusing on youth and minority voters … the “Obama coalition.”  Others argue that attention must be paid to the white middle class worker.  Others, rural America.  And from reports, these groups seem to be at odds with each other.

It’s not unreasonable to analyze this question, Republicans certainly do the same.  The problem is that Democrats seem incapable of seeing the light.  This is a familiar pattern.  After the 2004 loss, Walter Mondale said, “We really need to work on what we are for.  Unless we have a vision and the arguments to match, I don’t think we’re going to truly connect with the American people.”  Similar thoughts were voiced by many party leaders at the time.

As I said in the forward to the 2005 edition of my book, We Still Hold These Truths, “How sad and beyond belief that after a long and intense campaign, the quadrennial defining moment for the Party, it did not know the essence of what it stands for, what its vision is. How then could the American public?”  The same holds true today.

The problem does not arise because there is a conflict between the interests of the white middle class workers on the one hand and the interests of minorities and youth or rural America on the other.  The problem arises because Democratic leaders seem to think there is a conflict … they are trapped in identity politics.  I know the saying, “You can’t be all things to all people,” but in this case I don’t think it applies.  Let me explain why.

It comes back to the question of just what the Democratic Party’s mission is.  Mostly it’s been absent, at best implied.  Instead, the party has had a grab-bag of policies, the platform. But that is not a mission.  It makes it seem the party is just pandering to a bunch of different interests.  

They have presented no cohesive vision, no umbrella for all its policies.  And I don’t call Clinton’s “Stronger Together” slogan - cooperation is better than conflict - a vision.  John Kerry kept on saying that the 2004 election was about voting for change … but from what to what?  Obama certainly made clear what the change was, but he also had no clearly enunciated vision for the Party.  In response to Clinton's weak effort, I suggested the slogan, "Economic Justice for All," (see my post of that title, 7/24/16).

I wrote We Still Hold These Truths because I felt, as did many others, that the 2004 election could not be won on the basis of a negative, anti-Bush vote. The same held true for 2016 and a negative, anti-Trump vote.  To regain the White House and Congress, the Democrats had and still have to come up with a cohesive vision – an ideology – and communicate it forcefully in a way which resonates with the American people. 

Such a vision has not been forthcoming. My hope continues to be that my book will provide a new/old perspective with which to define what the Party stands for, a perspective at once so simple and familiar yet profound that it would be immediately grasped by the American people … the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence.

I therefore propose the following Mission Statement for the Democratic Party which will appeal to Americans rural and urban, regardless of faith, race, social status, gender, or sexual orientation, in red states and blue; a vision that reclaims the moral and spiritual bona fides of the Party (attacked by Republicans):

"To bring to life the promises set forth in our Declaration of Independence.
To build a country of greater opportunity where:

* each and every American has the best chance to experience the promise 
‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with 
certain unalienable Rights … Life,  Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’;

 * government meets its responsibility as set forth in the Declaration …  
 ‘to secure those rights’,  within the constraints of fiscal responsibility; and

* all citizens have a shared responsibility to support the government’s efforts 
to secure those rights and promote the public good, each according to his ability.”

These words from the Declaration of Independence are the moral philosophy, the heart, the soul of American democracy. This is America’s common faith.  This is America’s social contract.  To further that promise of equality and opportunity with fiscal responsibility should be the clear mission of the Democratic Party.

All the policies of the Party naturally flow from this mission statement.  All American men, women, and children are owed the support of government policies in education, health care, civil rights, security, the economy, the environment, and taxation that provide a foundation of equal opportunity for all.  That is the American social contract. 

It is these policies that make the Democratic Party a “life-affirming” force. It affirms the profound value of the lives of all living beings.  It acknowledges the suffering of millions of citizens … their lack of work, their lack of health insurance, their lack of enough food to eat, their lack of equal opportunity to acquire a good education … sometimes caused by economic forces, often simply the result of being born on the wrong side of the tracks.  It is these policies that make the Democratic Party a “pro-family” force. How can a family be strong, healthy, and viable without meeting these basic needs?

It is these policies, which respect the value of all human life and the environment, that make the Democratic Party a party of faith – not Christian, not Jewish, not Muslim … but deep religious faith. And because we respect freedom of religion, as well as the right to have no religious belief, we strongly support the Constitutional policy of the separation of church and state created by the Founders to insure the freedom of all to live according to their creed and conscience. The Democratic Party respects the valued and important place that religion has had and will always have in the fabric of American life.

But we must remember that no right, not even those in the Bill of Rights, are absolute.  For no person in the exercise of his or her rights can infringe on another person’s rights.  That is indeed the basis of all laws that control the relations of citizens in a civilized society, whether it be the criminal law, civil law, or government regulation.

In approaching our fellow citizens, we do ourselves and the people of this great country a disservice if we do not recognize the purity of their hearts and beliefs, their natural desire to provide for themselves and their families, and their basic desire to do what is just in the eyes of God.   Democrats must make the case to all Americans, not assuming that any American is ill-disposed to its vision, that their best interests and the best interests of the country lie in policies of the Democratic Party, not the Republican.

This focus on respect and equality must inform all of our actions.  If Democrats do not show that we practice what we preach, how can we expect anyone to believe us?  Legislators must voluntarily reduce the undue influence of lobbyists, big business, and the wealthy from our policy deliberations.  They deserve a place at the table, but they cannot displace or overwhelm the voice of the majority of citizens who have no realistic way, other than the vote, of expressing their point of view.  

Legislators can and should hold more town meetings with their constituents; they can survey their opinion on matters before Congress.  It is important that constituents know they are being listened to.

But because of the practical logistical limitations, constituents cannot compete in presence or volume with the voice of industry and wealth.  And so each legislator must in the end, on each matter before Congress, ask him- or herself what is in the best interests of average Americans, his constituents, versus the interests of industry and privilege.  Sometimes those interests will converge; sometimes they will not.  If they do not, it is the interests of the public that must prevail.  That is who legislators are elected to represent.

The message of We Still Hold These Truths is that Democrats must hold true to the heart of American democracy as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and further elaborated in our Constitution … to the American social contract. We Still Hold These Truths presents an overarching vision that will resonate with the broad American public in red states as well as blue and win their hearts and minds. It is a vision that will successfully counter the radical Republican Conservative movement and reclaim the moral and spiritual bona fides of the Democratic Party.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Trumpgate - The Firing of FBI Director Comey

Something smells about the firing of FBI Director Comey.  If you look at the sequence of events, the facts do not seem to support the reason given for the firing, but instead more strongly argue that it was done to stop or influence the FBI investigation into Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russians regarding Russia’s attempt to throw the election to Trump.

The actions by Comey regarding the Clinton investigation are old news.  They happened prior to the election, more than 6 months ago.  Add to that Trump’s statements at the time supporting Comey, saying that he thought Comey was showing guts.

Why the change in sentiment?  A hint is given in the firing letter from Trump to Comey in which he doesn’t refer to the handling of the Clinton investigation at all, but he does say that although Comey assured him three times that he was “not under investigation,” he was following the recommendation of the Attorney General.  That statement can only refer to the Russia investigation; we know from his Tweets that that has been very much on his mind, and probably Attorney General Session’s mind as well.

This perspective has gained traction with the revelation that just days before the firing, Comey approached the Deputy Attorney General … the same man who wrote the detailed memo in support of the firing … asking for increased resources for the Russia investigation.  This would have quite understandably ratcheted up White House concern that Comey was taking the investigation very seriously and would follow it wherever it lead.  He was after all not a Trump appointee and clearly independent.

If in fact this was the true reason for firing Comey, then several questions are raised.  If the campaign officials, and by extension Trump, did nothing improper then why fire Comey?  They would have nothing to fear from an investigation.  It makes one take more seriously the possibility that either there was indeed collusion as legally defined or if there wasn’t, that the evidence would show an appearance of collusion which in itself would be devastating. 

If Trump’s action was an attempt to prevent a thorough, unfettered, investigation, then regardless whether there was in fact collusion, the firing was not just an abuse of power, it was an obstruction of justice.  And thus an impeachable offense.

Given the facts already available, a select committee of Congress needs to investigate the firing.  This has the potential of truly being Trump’s Watergate.  As one Senator commented, the firing was “Nixonian.”

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Amorality of Donald Trump

The recent frantic efforts by President Trump to have the Republican-controlled House pass a health care measure to repeal Obamacare, regardless what the nature of that legislation was, reveals the absolute amorality of Donald Trump.

After the initial Republican legislation didn’t proceed to a vote because it didn’t have enough support among Republicans, Trump was willing to bargain with any faction and agree to anything if they could bring the votes needed to get the legislation passed.  Regardless the impact on the public - especially poor people, the elderly, and those with previous conditions - who had come to depend on the benefits of Obamacare, all he wanted was legislation that passed.  His statements, his promises about how we would protect the public, how various provisions needed to be retained … all of that was just so much hot air.

After the House finally voted, his speech praising the passage was beyond pathetic.  While we are used to politicians using superlatives, his over-the-top, self-congratulatory, praise of both the legislation and House Republicans made me want to throw up.  

It brings to mind the famous accusation by Joseph Welch, Secretary of the Army, in response to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt of the Army during the McCarthy hearings in the early 50s:  “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”  The same accusation should be hurled at President Trump, “Have you no shame?”

It’s a sad day for this country.  Of course, almost every day since the inauguration has been a sad day for the country.  But at least for the most part he was doing pretty much what he said he was going to do, except for some foreign policy reversals.   Yes, he’s always guilty of grand-standing, but that’s the way he is.  And with the signing of his many executive orders, he made it sound like he was doing something great for his base, whereas in truth the orders typically resulted in very little.  

The nature of the negotiations on this legislation, however, and his speech reveal something far worse:  the President has absolutely no commitment to anything other than making himself look good, as he sees it.  He will sacrifice anything to that end.  He is totally amoral.   

One can run this country as a conservative, even a right-wing conservative.  I may very much disagree with their point of view, but typically they are men and women of conviction.  Donald Trump has no convictions, no commitments, other than to himself.  Besides being a sorry example of a human being, this leaves everyone guessing about where the country is headed, both in a macro and micro level.  This lack of stability is not good for any aspect of our country’s well-being.

In 2018, Democrats must succeed in engineering a massive turnout of voters, and not just those who normally vote, to change control of Congress and put a stop to the damage Trump is wreaking on America.  In the meantime, we have to hope that his badly divided party will not support what the more radical right-wing elements want.  It seems at the moment that Senate Republicans are going to take a very different tack when they get the Trumpcare legislation.   Let us hope!