Monday, October 23, 2006

But what do the Democrats actually stand for?

There is a general air of optimism amongst progressives in the United States, with the Republicans seemingly headed towards a good kicking in the mid-term elections next week. As a liberal, you might expect me to be quite enthusiastic about the prospect and, to some extent, I am.

But politics should be more about just winning, it should be about what you do once victory is achieved. And that's where my enthusiasm runs into the sands of "so now what?". Once upon a time, I had the privilege of mingling at the highest levels of the Democratic Party (Rachelle, my ex, was a State Party Chair, and I tagged along...), and the one question I never asked was, if you win, what then? Policy was never a serious concern, despite the huge number of thinktanks, pressure groups, lobbyists and other activists that surrounded political action in the US. It just seemed to be enough to be "against them".

I will confess that there was a slightly smug feeling to be able to read my Party's political philosophy off of my membership card, knowing that if you asked five senior Democrats to come up with their take on their Party's philosophical stance in three sentences, you'd probably get six different answers.

We know what Democrats are against, Iraq, George Bush and... errrh... and we know that they're in favour of the poor (do you know of a political party that is actually against them?). And that's what worries me... the sense that Democrats are fighting a battle to preserve the gains of the sixties, civil rights, gay rights, abortion, social security. It's a rather lonely battle, as Joni Mitchell put it, "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone".

A classical liberal agenda would include devolution of power (but that's what States are for), an internationalist stance (but George is internationalist, in his rather 'assertive' manner) and enhanced freedoms (and that means for everyone, not just those of whom we approve. It isn't what the Democratic Party is about though. There is a sense that Government knows best, that free trade can only be bad for American workers.

So let's not get too excited about a change of control in Congress or the Senate. Until there is a clear indication that things will be different, get used to a sense of frustration with the American political system, you know that it makes sense...


Chip and Pin said...


I think you are fundamentally right but this is an issue with American political parties generally. Whilst we Lib Dems consider ourselves a broad church that doesn't even compare to the Democrats and Republicans.

For instance, Rudi Guiliani has more in common with a John Kerry than he does with a Rick Santorum. This is because you political beliefs are guided by the electorate which has different flavours in different geographical areas of the States.

A change in the House will make a difference but it will not change things quite as much as we might think. We're looking at states like Nebraska making the switch or Pennsylvania yet both have picked social conservatives as their candidates - certainly Casey, the candidate in Pennsylania, will not be voting in favour of abortion rights any time soon as I understand it.

The important change is the leader of the House. It's a platform to influence the President and (s)he will propose a budget (all American budgets eminate from the House) and if the Democrats can agree on anything they ought to be able to agree on a few principles.

Raising the minimum wage springs to mind and they need to ensure the safety of PBS after a recent onslaught of attacks from the Republicans.

In the end though if you wanted the answer to what do the Democrat party stand for you'd have to ask "which Democratic party?" as there are 50/51 Democrat parties in the States. There is a federal party and it does have a manifesto that gets published but it's published by the die-hards and is rarely if ever referred to by candidates (nobody wants to bog their campaign down with repeated talk of abortion, homosexuals in the military, etc).

Ed said...

Does it matter? Isnt the lesson from the Clinton administration that because The States is the states, a President's domestic agenda adds up to stopping your oponents getting on to the Supreme Court. Beyond that it all seems to be foreign policy, trade policy (where the Dems are instictively far from liberal) and 'mood music' over civil liberties issues, the environment etc etc.

Anyway, McCain will win.

Tristan said...

The power of the states seems to be being eroded (and has been for a long time) the 'commerce clause' is abused wilfullly among others.

That's where I feel the Democrats have gone awry - they (like many in this country) have largely fallen for the idea that big government is better government and that only government can deliver any good.

Unfortunately the US right which at least often held onto that have abandoned it under Bush.

The Democrats need to find something to fight for other than defending the social gains of the 60s. Of course as a liberal I'd ask for devolution of power, individual responsibility and free trade, and much talk about how these complement tradition american values such as freedom and tolerance.