Over the last two-plus weeks of soul-searching and hair-pulling, I've gradually come to a surprising but increasingly satisfying conclusion: I am a "New Democrat."
This is a group that has been calumnied and villified and distorted and slandered by the "party core" over the last few years, so I want to be careful to explain what this means (to me, at least) and why I think it's actually not accommodationist, as the Howard Dean faction (though not always Dean himself) and other diehards have charged, but instead the best way for the Democrats to get back to where they (we) were from about 1932 till 1978, give or take a few years at the end.
Former President Clinton had an amazing formulation in his library dedication speech last week:
America has two great dominant strands of political thought... conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barrier that are no longer needed or should never have been erected in the first place.
It seemed to me that in 1992 we needed to do both to prepare America for the 21st century: to be more conservative in things like erasing the deficit and paying down the debt and preventing crime and punishing criminals and protecting and supporting families, and enforcing things like child support laws and reforming the military to meet the new challenges of the 21st century.
And we needed to be more progressive in creating good jobs, reducing poverty, increasing the quality of public education, opening the doors of college to all, increasing access to health care, investing more in science and technology, and building new alliances with our former adversaries, and working for peace across the world and peace in America across all the lines that divide us.
This was the core of his politics, and it's why he was a successful president. And it's where the Democratic Party needs to go if we're going to get back in.
The superb Bull Moose blog lamented last week that America is currently lacking a true conservative party. I think this is 100 percent true, and it's amazing how many of my lefty-ish friends are noticing their inner conservatives now: we're upset about the mounting debt (anyone catch what Greenspan said on Friday about the risks of ever-mounting deficits, or how Bush signed legislation last week allowing the annual budget deficit to cap at $800 BILLION?!?) and the foreign-policy adventurism.
The Republicans are "conservative" in the sense that they stand against social change and for (a very limited conception of) "traditional values": gay relationships are sinful, any sex outside of marriage is wrong, we shouldn't say the f-word on TV, and so on. But the Cheney/DeLay/Norquist ruling faction is clearly NOT conservative in their beliefs that "deficits don't matter," that war is an option of choice rather than a last resort for policymaking, and that American traditions of checks and balances--not to mention foreign treaties--are outmoded barriers to the use of power.
(This isn't to say that every international treaty, or even our own traditions of governance, should be accepted uncritically. But the way we properly revisit and revise these things is by open debate and relative consensus, not the political equivalent of smash-mouth football.)
So how do the Democrats--"New" and otherwise--build a message that's more positive than "Anybody but Bush" and more compelling than "what they're doing, but smarter and better"? This will be the thrust of my next few posts here. Basically, here are the four thematic pillars I'm thinking about:
1. Shared Prosperity
2. Community Values
3. Strength and Prudence
4. Leading the World by Example
To be continued.