Monday, January 21, 2008

So, why not Kennedy-Democrats?

You hear pundits, news commentators and some Republicans talk about “Reagan Republicanism”, with a clear implication that some in their party have strayed from the gold standard of “What would Ronald Reagan Do?”

Reagan’s administration was certainly not faultless – after all, he left office with huge deficits, and he may or may not have known about the Iran-Contra Affair [I remember a hilarious Steve Martin routine based on the “I forgot” defense]. Nevertheless, a wide variety of conservatives found Reagan an excellent rallying point. He advocated small government, cut some taxes, wasn’t afraid of building up the military and using it if necessary, and was anti-abortion. A little something for every Republican, whether they be fiscal conservative, hawk, or social reformer.

Unfortunately, Democrats haven’t been nearly as clear and decisive in expressing their policies. In the last few decades, we’ve allowed Republicans to define us, rather than defining ourselves. In spite of the current administration’s voracious spending habits, resulting in a national debt our great-great-grandchildren will still be paying off, they claim to be reducing the deficit and cutting ‘big Government’. And Democrats are still accused of the old “Tax & Spend” habit whenever they propose legislation to alleviate social problems. You can bet there’d be no such outcry if it were spending on defense

One difficulty with Democrats is their wide range of views on the issues. All the way from the greenest Green extremist to those more purple in hue. Not that there’s anything wrong with the ‘Big Tent’ model. But, the Big Tent’s very diversity results in a less-disciplined approach to policy announcements. This diffuses the Democratic central message and makes ideas harder to focus and communicate to the politically unattached. Yet I wouldn't want to so narrowly define the party that people leave because they feel disenfranchised. We need a mass-appeal platform that the majority of Dems can support.

So I’ve been thinking. Why don’t Democrats look to their own political heritage for a similar shining example? Who better than our 35th President, John F. Kennedy? Let’s start a Kennedy-Democrats movement.

The one quality most lacking in Conservative thinking is compassion. So many Americans are only looking out for themselves, willing to let everyone and everything else fall by the wayside while they get ahead. Yes, one principle of the capitalist system is pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. But why can’t we also help our fellow citizens along the way? Why can’t the richest country in the world provide every citizen with universal health care, quality education from nursery to college level, and mass transit? Why do we think we have to ravage our environment to make economic progress, as if we were some struggling third-world country?
By adjusting our thinking, our priorities, and our actions towards the long-term we could afford to do it all! We need to look past our own selfish concerns to see that doing these things will not only help others, but in helping others it also helps us!! If we were all healthier, better educated, and less stressed, there’d be less crime, we’d have happier lives, and we’d be more productive.

That’s not to say doing any of it will be easy. But aren’t we supposed to be the most advanced, the biggest and best nation on earth? If so, why hasn’t the U.S. done these things yet, when many other first world countries have for decades! Denmark has one of the world’s biggest economies right now, and they also have mass transit, universal health care, a clean environment, and the most federally-mandated vacation days, six weeks, of any first world country.

Instead of teaching people to look out for #1, let’s start a public education campaign to ‘Support Each Other’. Rather than worrying that someone else is getting something you don’t have, let’s work on getting everyone those things. Return to the Kennedy ideal of "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

We need to re-emphasize public service. Re-learn that being a good citizen means getting involved in public life, giving back, helping others. Whether it’s military, social, or a program like the Peace Corps – which Kennedy started – doing a year or two of public service should be expected, a patriotic part of being an American. This will teach our children the rewards of helping others who are less fortunate. After all, adding to our own wealth by oppressing the less fortunate, however indirectly, isn’t only bad for the less fortunate, it’s also bad for us, in the long (eternal) term.

We need to re-connect with our international neighbors. Re-establish good relations and start working with them, instead of using foreign policies that are all stick and no carrot. JFK asked the nations of the world to join together to fight what he called the "common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself." He also said "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable". We should not put restrictions on our aid money that force people of other cultures and faiths to follow the values of a strident U.S. minority rather than finding their own best use for it, and thus fail to help their people.

“Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you."
Apathy and disengagement should become socially unacceptable. We all need to re-learn and remember that our government is elected BY us, and FOR us. We cannot continue to expect our government to take care of us without any input from us. We must make sure our elected public servants know we are watching them, and we expect them to follow the same laws we all follow. If that means reforming our electoral system and campaign rules so every citizen knows their vote DOES count and their involvement makes a difference, then we Democrats need to lead the way with a viable, simple way of doing those things.

I don't usually rant on politics, but isn't that what a blog is for, after all?

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