I’ve gotten a bit of a reputation as a “conservative,” and it’s not one I bear comfortably. I consider myself a “militant moderate,” and my positions on most issues haven’t shifted much in 20 years or so. The problem as I see it is that the left has marched further and further away from the center, meaning that the former middle ground is now to the right of center, and the geographic middle of the political landscape is a bit more leftward than it ought to be.
But one of my major beliefs has always been in the value of a two-party system. I see on a daily basis what happens when that fails, as I see the utter mess Massachusetts is under the Democrats. And I am barely old enough to remember when the New Hampshire Democrat was almost a candidate for the Endangered Species list.
With that in mind, I find myself looking at the Democratic Party on the national level, and I see them driving themselves further and further into irrelevancy. While there’s a part of me that has a certain thrill, as I see their flawed ideologies and insane notions being tossed into the trash bin that they deserve, I also find myself concerned on just what might happen to this country if the Republicans take up the reins that the Democrats seem so eager to throw away.
In that spirit, I’m going to offer some advice to the Democrats on how they can woo back people like me, and keep our two-party system healthy.
1) Stop demonizing George W. Bush.
I voted for Bush twice — rather indifferently in 2000, moderately proudly in 2004. So did a lot of other people. For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right and it was less than half the people. But it was still roughly half the voters. If your very first point on wooing these people is “first, you have to admit you were wrong/stupid/gullible/insane when you cast your vote in 2004,” you’re going to turn them off in droves. It’s 2005, people. We have Congressional elections in less than a year. The next presidential race is almost 3 years away. Bush isn’t leaving office until 2009. Yet some of your most vocal members are still arguing about the 2004 election — and some even are still re-fighting the 2000 one. GET OVER IT. MoveOn, even.
2) Find some issues where you can stand FOR something, not just AGAINST it.
One of my main problems with John Kerry was that his position on every major issue could be reduced to one of two stock answers: “I would not have done what Bush did,” or “I would have done what Bush did, but better.” Setting aside the vagueness, in each case he was letting Bush define the terms of the debate. Kerry had no ideas, no plans of his own.
It’s like that on a variety of issues. Social security reform? Bush puts forth a plan. The Democrat’s response? Do nothing, it’s fine. The war in Iraq? If Bush is for it, we’ve gotta oppose it. And so on, and so on.
Building an entire national agenda on “opposing George W. Bush” is transcendantly stupid. It reduces every single issue into a partisan squabble. It puts Bush in charge of the terms of the debate. And most importantly, it focuses all your energy on to a guy who will, in all likelihood, never run for anything ever again.
3) Find ways to peel off some of the Republican’s supporters.
Over the last few years, a great many cracks have been spotted in the Republican monolith. A lot of people — myself included — don’t agree with a lot of Bush administration policies, but stick with him in part because we have no alternative. GIve us one. Find a way to “liberalize” our causes, to adopt them into the Democratic platform.
You want examples? I’ll give you three.
A) Illegal immigration.
Illegal aliens are a huge source of cheap labor. The big corporations depend on them to keep their costs down. Why doesn’t some enterprising Democrat start denouncing this as a new slavery, a return to the plantation mentality? They could propose hefty fines and other penalties on companies caught using illegal labor. They could compare alien smugglers to slave traders, and go after them on human rights grounds.
Also, the cheap labor brings down the prevailing wages. Unions should be up in arms at being undercut by illegal aliens, but for some reason they don’t see that. Reducing the illegal alien labor pool will bring up the average wages, and force employers to pay “living wages” for the most menial of jobs.
Let’s not forget that the Democrats, rightly or wrongly, have been seen as the champions of human rights, especially among the poor and downtrodden. Why aren’t they trying to protect these people from being exploited by unscrupulous employers and criminals? If they attack the incentives that drive the demand for illegal aliens, and punish those benefiting by breaking the law, they will greatly reduce the number of people who sneak into the US.
B) The budget
The Democrats’ concern for the future has become a cliche’. They are mocked for their justification of almost any issue as “for the children.” But rightly or wrongly, it’s one of their strong points. And just how terrible is it to saddle those children with huge budget deficits? They’re the ones who’ll have to pay up when the bills are due. The greatest gift we could give future generations would be freedom from crushing debt. The Bush administration and Republican-led congress has been spending money in ways that would make drunken sailors blush, and the Democrats have cheerfully gone along for the ride. Imagine the impact if one — one — Democrat were to stand up in Congress and demand fiscal responsibility and insist we stop writing checks that our children will have to redeem.
For God’s sake, people, your party’s name is “Democratic.” Democracy is springing up around the world, and you’re missing the boat. Afghanistan — AFGHANISTAN, of all places — is well on its way to becoming a democracy. The place that has been the graveyard of imperialist’s dreams for centuries, the place that shattered the image of the invcincible Red Army, the place that spawned the Taliban and the 9/11 plots, one of the most brutal, unforgiving, harsh lands in the world, is electing their own leaders. Lebanon is struggling to free itself from decades of brutal oppression by Syria. And Iraq is making shaky progress towards becoming the Middle East’s second democracy, and the first Muslim one.
And where are you on it? You want to abandon Iraq to the forces of chaos. You avoid mentioning Afghanistan as much as possible. The reason is transparently clear — you want to avoid giving George W. Bush any chance of getting any credit for it. The crassest of political motivations — you are trampling over your own founding principles and risking millions of people’s lives and potential freedom out of your pathological hatred of one man.
Swallow your pride and praise Bush when he does something right. Or at least say the occasional kind word. It won’t kill you. In fact, it’ll strengthen your positions in other areas — when you oppose Bush, you’ll be able to argue that it’s not mere knee-jerk opposition, but principled disagreement.
Hell, do it just for the tactical value. As it stands now, whenever Bush proposes something, my first response is morbid curiosity — “how will they rationalize opposing this one?” — instead of “I wonder what the other side thinks.” Base your positions on principles, not simple gainsaying.
We NEED two viable parties in this country. And, on the national level at least, the Democrats seem set on preventing that from happening — and if they win in their race for oblivion, we all lose.