On Native Ground
DEAN'S A GOOD START, BUT DEMOCRATS MU.S.T DO MORE
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Barring a last minute catastrophe, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean will be the new Democratic National Committee chairman.
It may be the best thing the Democrats have done in years.
Putting one of the same old Democratic party hacks in charge is not an option, not with the Republican Party poised to sweep the Democrats into the dustbin of history, along with the New Deal, the Great Society and every other bit of social welfare legislation from the past 70 years.
Until he was destroyed last year by the tag team of the Democratic Party establishment and the corporate press, Dean sparked a movement to remake the party and wrest it away from the timid centrists and corporate apparatchiks who ran it into the ground.
Dean's ability to quickly raise massive sums of money from average individuals through the Internet showed that a candidate didn't have to rely on special interest money and corporate fat cats to fund a campaign. He attracted millions of new people into the political process who otherwise would have stayed on the sidelines. Dean ultimately couldn't overcome all the forces arrayed against him, but he brought an energy to the party that it was sorely lacking.
To Dean's credit, he didn't slink off and whine about his fate after he had to withdraw from the primary race. He converted his mailing lists and campaign structure into a new group, Democracy for America, and worked hard to get Democrats elected on other tiers of the ballot in 2004. His group funneled money and support to 634 candidates, 319 of whom won.
Ideas and creativity are desperately needed by the Democrats. All you have to do is look at the political numbers. The Democratic Party in 1992 had control of both houses of Congress, more than half of the governorships and a majority of the state legislatures. None of that is true today. For all of Bill Clinton's political skills, the Democrats lost political power during his eight years in the White House, and have continued to struggle since then.
That's because nobody knows what the Democrats stand for, beyond abortion, gay rights and gun control. Why is that? Because the Democrats let the Republicans portray them as the party of abortion, gay rights and gun control. God, guns and gays has been a winning mantra for the GOPs for many years.
It's time for the Democrats to change the subject.
Good schools, universal health care and a strong labor movement are taken as givens outside of the United States. But in this country, they rarely get talked about because they all deal with that unmentionable word - class. Redistribution of wealth is only acceptable when it rises upward.
Democrats can't worry about being branded as stepping out of the currently-accepted boundaries of the national political dialogue - boundaries that have shifted sharply to the right over the past couple of decades. That's because in such environment, the Democrats will get creamed no matter what they say by a corporate press that functions mostly as a mouthpiece for the Republicans.
So pay no attention to the cries of "class warfare" from the GOPs. Liberalism is about greater equality for all, and that means joining with the middle class, the working poor and the rest of the average folks in America who are ready to hear a message that speaks to their needs.
Cultural conservatism will always be the Republicans' trump card. Economic populism should be the trump card for Democrats. This means opposing "free trade" deals that siphon jobs away from the United States. It means backing small businesses over corporations, and family farms over agribusinesses. It means being tough on corporate crime and opposing the legalized bribery that is the current campaign finance system.
Nearly all the Democratic candidates who took stands such as these won their elections in 2004, even in culturally conservative places. That's why fighting the Bush administration's plan to privatize Social Security is a slam dunk for Democrats. But that should only be the beginning.
The time is right to expand Medicaid and Medicare into a national universal health care plan, so the United States can end the distinction of being the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn't offer health care to its citizens.
The time is right to ensure free, quality public education for all Americans from pre-school to college.
The time is right to put more funding into renewable energy sources and energy conservation to create more jobs, reduce the threat of global warming and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
These are the issues on which the Democrats need to challenge the Republicans. They are clear cut, unambiguous and enjoy broad support with average Americans. They continue the legacy that Franklin D. Roosevelt left the Democrats - the mandate for an activist government to provide "the greatest good to the greatest number of citizens."
The free-market philosophies that are the Republicans' true religion have never delivered the greatest good to the greatest number and never will. We must never forget that government is not "them," but rather, it is all of us working together for the common good.
This is a philosophy that can win elections for the Democrats. If Howard Dean can harness the energy and activism he brought to the party last year and turn it into a clear, coherent political strategy that truly puts people first, the Republicans' reign of terror will eventually end.< Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.