Many strategists and pundits agree that in order for the Democrats to win elections, they must present the voter with a set of core values that defines them. Frank Rich of the NYTimes argues this point today, and suggests that even though Iraq may be a losing proposition, it's a winner if the opponent can't succinctly present an alternative:
…As long as the Democrats keep repeating their own mistakes, they will lose to the party whose mistakes are, if nothing else, packaged as one heckuva show. It's better to have the courage of bad convictions than no courage or convictions at all.
What are Democratic core values? Are they moderate or liberal? Let's take a look at what are often considered core values of "Reagan conservatives," who make up part of the base of the Republican party. Those values are frequently quoted by Sean Hannity on his radio program:
- limited government
- individual liberty
- personal responsibility
- strong national defense
Nancy Pelosi released the "New Direction For America" this week, attempting to define the party's position on current issues, which for the sake of argument I'll combine with the "Big Picture" also found on the same site:
- Affordable health care: Invest in research, fix the prescription drug program
- Energy independence: Support alternative fuel research and stop subsidies
- National Security: More assistance for first responders
- Domestic Employment: Stop favoring companies that outsource, raise the minimum wage
- Education Affordability: Stop underfunding NCLB and Pell Grants
- Retirement Protection: Funding SS for all as opposed to cutting taxes for the rich
- Fiscal Responsibility: Budget Discipline
- Environmental Protection: Protect without interfering overly with innovation
The "platform" does not directly address Iraq, which is one of the main criticisms expressed thus far. It's hard to find, moreover, a way to synthesize these items into "core values" as the Republicans have done so successfully. As an example, most people know the Republicans are for "limited government," regardless of whether they know what that means or whether the Republicans achieve it when they're in power.
Here's my attempt to condense the viewpoints expressed most commonly by the party — perhaps others would do so differently and possibly better. But eventually, someone's got to do it — so here's my proposal:
- Effective Government
- Individual Liberty
- Shared responsibility
- Comprehensive national security
Both sets of "core values" (including the one for Democrats that I propose here) include "individual liberty," so the question becomes which party stands up for it better. Many would argue that after 9/11, Democrats have argued against many of the infringements upon freedom that Republicans have engineered in the name of "national security." This is how I'd approach the liberty issue.
"Effective Government" to me implies less of a focus on the raw size of government — big or small, unruly or limited — and puts more emphasis on how it performs. We are a results-oriented country. If something can be handled better by government than by free enterprise — natural resource protection, for example — it should be handled by government; if the converse is true, let it be handled by free enterprise. The optimal size of government is that which enables it to be most effective, whether it's large or small. Perhaps "controlled" would be a better adjective, but I think the most effective is — ironically — "effective."
Thirdly, the most controversial — and perhaps the one most in need of adjustment — is "shared responsibility." I don't think this counters the perspective that individuals should be responsible for their own actions. On the other hand, it implies that's still the case but that there's also a degree to which a society is responsible for its collective actions. Employees are often reminded that they alone are responsible for their future; I think it's time we remind companies that it's *their* responsibility to provide the employee with the opportunity and tools so that they can do so.
One can only take "personal responsibility" if one is able; the recent overkill on the side of assigining poor behavior to an alleged disease — "intermittent explosive disorder" as a prime example — should not take away from the fact that there are some cases where someone's behavior *is* truly a symptom of chemical or biological imbalance. Further, this also implies society's responsibility in protecting natural resources – something that profit-making free enterprise isn't always focused on.
National security is one where Republicans have long held the lead, but Democrats can offer a better approach. Wes Clark has done a great job of emphasizing the role of diplomacy and the importance of exploring all avenues before resorting to military options. Democrats need to propose a more thoughtful and less arrogant foreign policy.
What are your opinions? How does one condense liberal and Democratic values into core principles that could be drilled into the public's mind? Is my proposed list accurate, or does it need to be modified?