I am a Democrat, and proud of it. So I was disappointed to see Roger Low’s column criticizing the Democratic Party and expressing cynicism about its future (“Dems doomed without solid reform plan,” 1/12). What the Democrats need these days is more involvement from idealistic young progressives, not less.
The values that made the Democratic Party great are the values that still drive it today. That’s not to say the organization doesn’t have its shortcomings — all parties do. But those who are searching for a powerful force for good in these turbulent times need look no further than the party that created Social Security and Medicare, enacted landmark civil rights legislation and created the longest period of economic expansion in our nation’s history.
The soul-searching that has taken place within the Democratic Party after recent election cycles has often led to exaggerated bouts of self-recrimination. But Low’s exact problem with the Democrats is unclear. Much of it seems to boil down to an alleged failure of messaging, as when he concedes that Democrats have proposed “a modest but significant package of desperately needed changes to the Washington system,” then blasts Democratic leaders for not hyping it enough.
A party deserves to be abandoned if it loses sight of its ideals, stops caring about real people, or sells out its constituents. Threatening to bolt from the ranks because the party leadership hasn’t held the right press conferences is absurd. It is that misplaced emphasis on style over substance that often gets the Democrats into trouble in the first place. We have to remember the ideals we hold and the people we are fighting for, and commit ourselves to carrying that fight through to the end.
This is especially true as we gear up for a 2006 election season that offers a chance to truly hold the Republicans accountable for their failures. This Republican government led us into a war on false pretenses, then mismanaged it. It turned the largest surplus in history into the largest deficit in history. It turned the Capitol into a revolving door for lobbyists and turned the other way when top White House aides leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent for political retribution. It allowed the Bush administration to engage in secret wiretapping of American citizens without warrants, an incredibly disturbing and legally indefensible practice whose use they had consistently denied to the public.
The only thing scarier than what the Republicans have done recently is the prospect of what they will do in the future if the upcoming midterms do not turn the tide. Continued GOP dominance means more corruption, more tax giveaways to the wealthy, more catering to the extreme fringe, more efforts to privatize Social Security, more attacks on a woman’s right to choose. It means less attention paid to issues, like poverty and education, that demand serious solutions.
Democratic gains in the upcoming elections will allow us to pass a wide range of important reforms. A Democrat-controlled Senate could stop the president from packing the Supreme Court with far-right justices and keep cronies like Michael Brown out of the bureaucracy. A Democrat-controlled House could open long-needed investigations into Washington corruption and incompetence. With more Democrats in office we could restore fiscal sanity, protect basic rights from right-wing attacks and help foster a smarter foreign policy.
To get there, we need to be politically smart. Low’s calls for a comprehensive Democratic reform plan aren’t wrong, they’re just premature. No party rolls out its election-year agenda in January, giving the opposition 10 months to thrash it. Low asks why the party hasn’t already “taken a page from Newt Gingrich’s book … and signed onto a new ‘Contact with America.'” He forgets that the Republicans released their “Contract with America” a mere six weeks before the 1994 midterm elections.
Indeed, at this stage in the calendar the opposition party’s job is largely to convince the country that the party in power isn’t offering plausible solutions to the challenges of the day. On that score, Democrats have been remarkably effective of late.
Many a liberal mind on campus these days thinks the national Democratic Party could do a better job in some areas. But jumping ship now is unhelpful and uncalled for. Instead, progressive students should commit themselves to fighting for change.
Students can help by getting involved in Democratic campaigns, especially as we get closer to November. They can also get involved by advocating for issues and pushing the party to live up to its highest ideals. Last semester, student activists played a major role in convincing the Connecticut legislature to pass the most significant campaign finance reform in this country’s history. In the next few months, the Yale College Democrats, along with Project Opportunity and several other campus groups, will be lobbying for a statewide Earned-Income Tax Credit — a badly needed anti-poverty measure.
A commitment to disengagement is not a strategy for change. So long as they believe in the underlying values of our party, Democrats have an obligation to get more involved, not less. Taking back our country will take some hard work. But if Democrats come together now and every day until November, we can accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible. This is no time to sit on the sidelines.
Brendan Gants is a sophomore in Morse College. He is the president of the Yale College Democrats.