Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Support the Middle-Class is Not a Principle

Divisions are evident here in the United States. Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama lagged in appealing to white middle- and working-class voters who supported Hillary — and former President Bill — Clinton. Now, these voters, according to recent polls, are increasingly alienated from the Obama administration. Reasons include slow economic growth, high unemployment among blue- and white-collar workers and a persistent credit crunch for small businesses. These factors could cause serious losses for Democrats this fall — and beyond. - Politico

As an instructor for a male character building class one of the sessions we cover is how important specificity is in goal setting. One of the common goals I get from my students is I want to make a lot of money. The problem with this goal is that it lacks an actual completion point or destination. How do you know when you have accomplished it or if you need to reevaluate it? I mention this because this is where the Dems find themselves today. They have no specific principles to guide their goals. What they have are a lot of warmed over “Great Society” rhetoric such as we support the middle-class. What does that even mean? To me it is similar to the “We support the troops” argument of the last administration as if anyone would say, “we don’t support the troops”.

The time has come for Dems to develop their 21st century manifesto, a pledge to America, or whatever you want to call it. This would include not only the principles for the party but also the overall vision of where they want to lead this country. The people in America are looking for answers but what they are getting is bumper stickers and disillusionment. The new direction of politics is whatever you do don’t offer specific plans or ideas-stay flexible. This may serve the short-term campaign but it does nothing for long-term governance. Over and over the American people are saying we don’t want flexible we want solutions. What the mid-term election stated loud and clear is that this was not a ringing endorsement of the Republicans, but a frustration vote against the Democrats. The reason the teabaggers made so much noise was because they were the “none of the above” selection. The problem with having only two parties is that people keep going back and forth when they get frustrated and feel like they are not being heard.

The teabaggers presented themselves as an alternative for that frustration, but the truth is that they were not what they claimed to be. Many of them were recycled and repackaged wing-nut cultural warriors. Does anyone believe that the American public in two short years has forgotten the mess the Republicans created? If that were in fact the case their approval rating might be a little higher than 30%. When you only have two choices and you feel like neither is listening to you then you can keep going back and forth like most people or you just give up.

The Republicans govern like it is a dictatorship and the Democrats like it’s a social democracy. The Republicans demand and get party unity to their core set of principles; they do it through their party system. You do not get to represent the Republican flag if you don’t hold to those principles. The Dems on the other hand have a different philosophy. They are a loose coalition that shares some common elements (we are not Republicans) but for the most part have no overarching principles. It is because of this that Republicans can so easily undermine those coalitions and stagnate any Democratic majority. The Democratic leadership knows this (but the rank and file doesn’t seem to get it) and so they are constantly afraid of the breakdown of this fragile coalition by wing-nut scare tactics. Because of this loose coalition we are not offering the American public an alternative governing philosophy. Instead of progressive versus conservative we are offering them conservative versus conservative lite.

A perfect example would be the healthcare process and subsequent bill. How this should have been handled was in the following manner. Candidate Obama should have met with Democratic Congressional leaders and said if we win we plan to tackle healthcare. What we have to decide is if we believe that healthcare in America is a right of all Americans. Is this one of our principles? If it is then we have to present this to the American people and tell them how we plan to accomplish this goal. First, we will pass comprehensive healthcare reform so that all Americans can have affordable health-care without the restrictions on pre-existing conditions, caps or limits on coverage, or the fear that the insurance company will drop them when they get sick. In subsequent sessions we will continue to refine and improve this bill as we have done in the past with social security, Medicare, and etc.

By following this simple formula for not just healthcare but any “Democratic principle” you do two important things. The first is that you provide the public and your members with a cohesive and comprehensive message. You are not debating with yourself publicly. Here is our program and here is our message. The second thing you do is define the wing-nuts so when they start talking about “death panels” and socialism you can state that this is one of our principles and we have outlined our plan. The wing-nuts have no plan to address this issue and so this is about a choice between our plan and their rhetoric. It is a choice between those who want to provide healthcare and those who don’t. A choice between those who believe it is a right and those who don’t. In order to maintain control of the message you have to keep it simple. It is always a choice between right and wrong or good and evil. The wing-nuts have mastered this strategy. Remember in the run up to the war in Iraq, it wasn’t about agreeing or disagree with policy; it was about loyalty or treason.

Americans are simple people for the most part, they don’t want complex or nuanced explanations. What the American people are looking for is simplicity: black or white, cake or pie, friend or foe. If our goal is to provide the majority of Americans with a better life then we had better learn how to govern and that begins before you become the majority. You have to craft what you stand for and what you are willing to fight for. President Obama needs to call in all of the Democratic leaders from all over the country into a weekend retreat lock the doors and let them know there is a new sheriff in town and we are going to start standing for something. We are not leaving here until we come up with some core principles and issues we all agree to support and fight for. And anyone who wants to run as a Democrat must be willing to sign on to these principles. You see it does you no good to have a majority if you can’t accomplish what you believe in or have nothing you believe in. There is no majority if you are too weak or too afraid to govern.

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” - Marianne Williamson

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