Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The American Dream Initiative?

This document contains what Democratic centrists hope will be a first draft of the 2008 party platform. You can read news stories about it here, here, here, and here, and sympathetic commentary here. If you want more, there’s always this.

A few quick observations. First, I noted that Mark Warner, who made a point of attending the YearlyKos meeting in Las Vegas, was not in Denver. Is he trying to run to the left, or simply so confident of his centrist credentials that all he has to do is shore himself up on the left? Second, the DLC worked with other Democratic groups (including the Center for American Progress and NDN) to produce this document, so that it doesn’t simply bear a "centrist" stamp. Given the price tag, and the vague promises about how they’re going to pay for it without rolling back the Bush tax cuts, that’s clear enough. Third, there’s this from a friendly commentator:

To my mind, the best way to frame the entire agenda – from domestic policy to foreign policy to values – is to emphasize a duality that is central to the American Dream Initiative: the linking of opportunity to responsibility. We need to join the American Dream to the social contract, requiring responsibility from parents (for enrolling their children in available health insurance and other programs), non-custodial dads (for paying child support), recipients of means-tested benefits (for becoming self-sufficient), and college students receiving federal aid (for giving back to their communities). Employers must be responsible in their relations with consumers and employees and accountable to them. And the commander-in-chief must be accountable when he or she deceives the citizenry, bungles wars or recovery efforts, and explodes the budget deficit.

Wooing values voters doesn’t require us to become anti-abortion or anti-gay. By embracing the social contract – the idea that in return for providing public aid, society rightly can make requirements of beneficiaries – Democrats can tap into responsibility, a value that is as deeply felt as opportunity in America. And appealing to responsibility can link the American Dream Initiative to our foreign policy critique of Republicans while partly inoculating us against a values-based attack.

While I actually like some of what I read (I had much the same experience during the Clinton Administration, though I never believed that WJC meant a word of it), I’m taking the silences into account. The responsibility talk is all fine and good, but it’s finessing the religious, moral, and cultural sides of responsibility. Perhaps they’ve been omitted for the sake of a left-tilting consensus, and can be added back for particular audiences, but anyone who focuses on health when speaking about responsibility to family is missing an important part of the picture. This is something to which I’ll be paying attention.

Finally, coverage of the DLC meeting noted that relatively little was said about Iraq and foreign policy, which can’t please the netroots. it amy be possible to hope that voters will think that anything will be better, and nothing could be worse, than GWB, but I do think that Evan Bayh is right when he stresses that credibility on national security comes first. Unless and until the Democrats are credible on that issue (something that the netroots will work against with all their might), they can’t win.

Discussions - 4 Comments

I am struck by the "responsibility" of those who have received public aid to pay the government back for what they got. I’ve always been leary of the payback idea, particularly when someone who has accomplished some great thing did it without necessarily getting something anything more than what he has earned for his efforts. But if you’re a liberal, you have entitlements from the nanny state that you must be grateful for. That’s "responsibility" only at a minimal level. And one must add that the term is ambiguous--responsibility for what? Even crime bosses are responsible people. It matters what you’ve done, whether it is a good thing or not. You’re right--the Democrats’ idea is pretty thin.

Unless and until the Democrats are credible on that issue (something that the netroots will work against with all their might), they can’t win.

Or until we can make the Republicans look so incompetent when it comes to national security that they lose all credibility too. Then we’re even (except for the huge amount of credibility Democrats already have, and have had, with the majority of Americans when it comes to domestic issues . . .).

I believe the former Democratic Governor of Virginia is Mark Warner. John is the Republican senior Senator

Fixed. Thanks.

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