Leading Democrats urge party to go on offensive
A GROUP of 20 influential Democrats wrote to the party’s leadership on the first day of their convention yesterday pleading for an aggressive stance not only in rebutting Republican lies but also in challenging the dominant small-government ideology that has prevailed since the “Reagan revolution” of the 1980s.
The letter, entitled “How Democrats can get back on Offence”, was signed by former Democratic senators and governors, a former mayor of New York and a former US ambassador. Signatories included the television producer Norman Lear; Ron Reagan, the liberal son of the late president Ronald Reagan; and Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s secretary of labour.
The letter began with a quote from the poet Robert Frost, who wrote that “a liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in a debate”. It concluded with a warning of “an iceberg dead ahead this fall” if Democrats fail to understand that explaining is not enough – they must “expose and propose”.
The letter writers describe Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, the most watched news network in the US, as “a conveyor belt of falsehoods”.
They say “a reactionary Tea Party tail wags the GOP dog” and denounce “billionaires flooding elections” since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. They accuse the Republican party of paying more homage to right-wing ideologue Ayn Rand than to their great historical leader Abraham Lincoln.
The letter writers denounce what they call extreme Republican rhetoric and policies. “For example: climate change is a hoax, voter fraud is a menace justifying voter suppression, regulations only impose costs never benefits, Solyndra [the solar energy company financed by the Obama administration, which went bankrupt] is like Watergate and the American president hates America.”
Faced with such “regressive nonsense”, the group of 20 Democrats say, their own party is “often defensive, defeatist and reactive”. The letter coincides with an article in the National Journal chronicling the see-saw of conservatism and liberalism in the US. For half a century, Michael Hirsh notes, from Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal to 1980, “Democratic thinking on both economics and foreign policy was dominant.” Even Republican presidents embraced the Democrats’ Cold War containment doctrine and invested heavily in infrastructure.
But Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the Vietnam War engendered stagflation. The reaction was the 1980s “Reagan revolution” of small government and low taxation; the rise of corporate lobbying; and the foreign policy doctrine of “peace from strength”.
For three decades, Democratic politicians have been on the defensive, “triangulating” to accommodate voters, in Bill Clinton’s case, while President Obama adopted Republican rhetoric on deficits and sought credibility on defence through the aggressive use of drones and special forces.
The National Journal found one Democratic politician who dared to challenge the prevailing logic: the Irish-American governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley.
“Too many of us started trying to adopt [the Republicans’] message and repackage it as our own,” O’Malley said. He has raised Maryland’s educational standards dramatically by increasing taxes.
“We’ve fallen so badly into . . . the Reagan frame that government’s the problem that even in those instances when we make it work . . . We’re too reluctant to talk about it,” O’Malley added.
It is time for Democrats to reframe the issues, the group argue, first by stopping Republicans “from buying or stealing elections” – they recommend a “viral mantra” of “money out/voters in”.
Among the ideas they advocate are “a living wage, a carbon tax, a mortgage refinancing trust agency, progressive tax reform, filibuster reform, corporate pension reform, public funding for public elections, universal voter enrolment.”
Contrary to Republican accusations of socialism, Barack Obama has governed from the centre. The intellectual left wing of his party expressed itself yesterday. The President will sing the merits of good government in his acceptance speech tomorrow night, but his will be a muted offensive.