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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Beyond the Policy Laundry List: What Does It Mean to Create a New Democratic Direction for the Country?

From New Democratic Agenda:

A New Beginning?:
Democratic Leader Pelosi Recognizes
What the Foundation Must Be to
Establish Effective Democratic Politics
For the 21st Century


“Ours must be a government 'of the people, by the people, and for the people.' That means all of the American people. Republicans have made it a government of, by, and for a few of the people. America can do better. We can and we will. With this agenda, Democrats will create the most open and honest government in history, and put power back where it belongs – in the hands of all the people.”

--Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

Yes, America (and the Democratic Party) can do better!--

Unfortunately, while the so-called "New Direction for America" Agenda announced last week by the Democratic Party leadership is certainly better than the prevaling Republican agenda, this so-called "New"Agenda is still far too thin on both new direction and imagination to provide the inspiration and confidence many voters desire in 2006.

The main problem for Democrats, if they want to win back control of Congress this November, is to reignite the political imagination of the American people, and then provide the kind of political vision and policy framework that can convince voters that the Democratic Party actually understands what it means to offer a new political direction for the country.

An authentic "new direction" for the country must involve at least as much of a change in political vision and policy approach as that embodied by Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" in the 1930s. As the election of 2004 so terribly proved, it is not enough to criticize and point out how wrong and harmful to the country the dominant Republican Agenda has been--

The Republican Party achieved its current political position by capturing the political vision of many voters, and by convincing voters that Republicans offered a specific strategy for bringing that vision to fruition in political reality. Sadly, Republicans have been largely successful in doing exactly that, and we have witnessed the tragic consequences of this success. But realizing and denouncing what is wrong with the Republican Agenda is not enough to change the country's direction.

It is also not enough to offer a piecemeal list of Democratic policy positions, and call it a "New Direction." While the specific points listed in last week's Agenda are ok, such a laundry list cannot by itself constitute a "New Direction."

"Without Vision, the People Perish." As this great democratic proverb suggests, and history demonstrates, no democratic political movement can be successful without a clear vision to inspire and guide the creative and collective action of political engagement and policymaking.

If the Democratic Party wants to regain political initiative in this country, and win back to its side this November the kind of democratic majority necessary to begin to govern for the common good, and oppose the destructive course of the Republican Party, it must demonstrate to the American People in the coming months that it has an inspiring vision to offer--a vision of governance and the common good that will convince Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters that their own best interests, as well as the future of this country, depend on their coming out to vote this year for an authentic and clear new political direction.

Short of offering new vision and inspiration, the Democrats may begin to win back some Congressional seats this fall, but they will not be able to renew the political power and confidence of the American people, which is now so desperately needed to allow the people of this country to counter and reverse the destructive direction in which the Republican elite have taken the country.

As a foundation for recreating an inspiring and progressive democratic vision for the country, Pelosi's invocation of the ideal of democratic government begins to strike the right chords:

“Ours must be a government 'of the people, by the people, and for the people.' That means all of the American people. Republicans have made it a government of, by, and for a few of the people. America can do better... With this agenda, Democrats will... put power back where it belongs – in the hands of all the people.”

But if we are to build a truly inspiring democratic political agenda for the future on the firm foundation provided by these opening chords, Democrats must begin to think much more deeply about what it will take to "put power back where it belongs." After the several decades during which the elite of both parties have benefited from allowing power to consolidate itself at the top of the economic spectrum--instead of protecting the democratic interests of the country and of working people--it is no simple or easy task to create a political agenda that will "put power back where it belongs."

If Democratic politicians want to understand what it will take, and what it means, to put power back in the hands of all the people, they will need to begin to listen much more carefully and deeply to what the many community-based social justice and public advocacy organizations created by their constituents have been trying to tell them. They need to begin to listen much more actively to these organized grassroots, rather than to the political consultants and corporations that dominate the Washington DC political sphere. And they need to learn from these grassroots, and begin to think much more creatively about the need to frame a visionary Democratic Agenda for the 21st century that responds to the aspirations and ideas of these grassroots.

Whether or not the Democratic Party is able to rise to the democratic political challenge of this moment in history will depend on whether it can envision and construct an inspiring Democratic Agenda for 2006 and the years to come.

"Without Vision, the People Perish." And as the People perish, so will the country and what remains of the Democratic Party.

As Pelosi said, "America can do better." Indeed, we can and we must....

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