Beyond the laundry list: a vision for Democrats

By Robin Ozretich of Corvallis, Oregon. He describes himself as a "twenty-something writer, musician, and expectant father from Corvallis."

I recently had the privilege of participating in the local Democratic Party platform convention in my home county of Benton County, Oregon.

Together, the forty-some attendees drafted a markedly comprehensive platform addressing the most pressing issues of the day, with positions on many less-pressing issues thrown in for good measure. Our finished platform is a laundry-list of progressive positions and initiatives -- some may be ahead of their time (i.e. are politically unrealistic), and others are already accepted as conventional wisdom and have been passed into law. However, I do believe that contained somewhere in our lengthy platform are the big ideas -- the building blocks of a progressive vision for America whose time has come: affordable health care for all, investment in renewable energy, improvements in education quality, fiscal responsibility, and a respect for the right to privacy.

Sometimes I'm afraid that these big ideas get lost in the details and minutiae of the laundry list. The laundry list is great, don't get me wrong.

However, in this time of political change, with new opportunities for Democrats to reclaim the reigns of government after years of Republican miscalculations, failure, and outright corruption, it seems more important than ever for Democrats to present a clear and inspiring message about where they want to lead the country and why. This message should be illustrated by inspiring vision and big ideas -- by real changes Democrats would enact if given the opportunity by the American people.

Democrats need to present a memorable bullet-point agenda -- with no more than five or six items. This agenda will naturally differ from candidate to candidate, state to state, year to year, etc. But any Democrat speaking in public should come prepared with a clear agenda for the country. The case for this agenda should be presented from the heart, and the audience should walk away with an understanding of what Democrats stand for.

There are countless ideas and proposals for Democratic agenda items in circulation -- no Democrat has an excuse to go out in public without a clear message. Let's keep the ideas flowing. A good agenda is fluid over time, and adapts to new circumstances. In this spirit, I'd like to present my five-point agenda for the country:

* Affordable health care for all: Lift the burden of unaffordable health care from American families and businesses.
* Invest in renewable energy: Achieve energy independence and revitalize the American economy through a growing renewable energy technology sector.
* Improve education quality: Prepare every American child for a changing world with a first-class education.
* Fiscal responsibility: Balance the budget by restoring fairness to the tax code, cutting government waste, and ending the war in Iraq.
* Enforce the right to privacy: Reasonably limit government and corporate access to private information and intrusions on personal decision-making.

That's my agenda today, and I think it would be a great agenda for any Democrat to run on this election cycle. What do you think? What is your agenda for Democrats this year?

Comments

  • dmrusso (unverified)
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    -Robin,

    I think that it is wonderful that there are pro-active progressives coming together in order to come to a consensus about ideas and a renewed platform. The Republicans did the same thing after the downfall of Goldwater in the 60s. Up until most recently, it has given them the power to move forward with an agenda that set aside political and social differences and has allowed them to win.

    Democrats and Progressives need to do the same thing by building bridges and mending fences.

    The only thing that I would add to the list of platform items is the goal of Social Justice whereby every American, no matter what the social class, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation can be equal contributors and gain access to society's benefits. It can be stated very generally, but it is paramountly important to my idea of what it means to be an American. It is also something that is lost to most conservatives.

  • Keith Daly (unverified)
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    I absolutely agree. We need to be the party of equality for all Americans, and not shy away from the groups that we think associating our support with will cost us politically - that strategy hurts us more than it helps.

  • Lisa (unverified)
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    Here, here. Those are all good points. Let's get a move on Dems!

  • LT (unverified)
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    I have something else to suggest. I just went to a town hall meeting where my experienced state senator and our county sheriff talked about the meth crisis and what is being done. They did an excellent job of explaining the problems and solutions, and where they are in the process. I told the young staffers in the room afterwards that there needs to be more of that--problem solving, open discussion, not just bullet point ideas.

    But here is the big message. Also in front of the room with the 2 experienced public servants was a newby Republican state rep. who represents one of the House districts in the senate district (luckily not the one I live in).

    The message of the town hall meeting was what they were able to do locally about meth given the resources available (which include federal grants for law enforcement).

    What the state rep. clearly did not want to discuss either publicly or privately is the "elephant in the room"---if asked, would more people want tax cuts for rich people and corporations, or to have that money spent on essential services like dealing with meth?

    The above post is great, but also it is important to become expert in the verbal jujitsu that Gingrich was so adept at. Without being as nasty as Gingrich was, it is time to hold all Republican House members responsible for the actions of their caucus.

    As we were leaving the meeting, I had the chance to talk to the state rep. I mentioned things anyone can read here on Blue Oregon (Scott bullying Roblan, Richardson's N. Korea remark, etc.). He wanted to make it really clear he was not personally involved in any of that.

    I said "Yes, but it was your caucus. Can't blame any of that on the Democrats". And he said "just so we are clear I was not personally responsible for any of that" and walked to his car.

    Just think: if he hadn't been so testy and thin skinned and had said "yes, you are right, some mistakes were made and dumb things were done by the leadership but I had nothing to do with it" what a different impression that would have made.

    I suspect many Republicans don't realize that there are people who view the House and Senate differently--that most if not all the 30 Senators seemed genuinely more interested in solving problems than in playing games, while jokes about the Stepford Caucus in the House indicate people in the majority walking in lock step and thinking citizens won't notice.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)
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    Robin -

    I'm glad you participated in the Benton County event. I'm on the State Platform Committee, and we encourage all Counties to clarify their positions by way of their own event like yours.

    I think that the Benton County Democrats, who have had representatives at the State Platform Committee meeting, were slightly off track by doing the "laundry list" approach. Our current direction at the State level is to do away with the 15 page legislative agenda that we had for the 2004 platform, and move to a statement of principals. When the State Platform convention is held in April, our Committee draft could be thrown out the window - but I doubt that this aspect will be. Those that have read Lakoff and have kept up with current thinking on this realize that Democrats need to clearly state what we believe in, and we need to get away from the special interest "laundry list" approach to writing a Platform.

    I think of it this way (example) - We can all agree on the need to develop energy alternatives to oil based energy. But (here comes my exaggeration) the way the Platform has been written, it has been like advocating making fuel from water. It is conceivable that a group of like minded people might sit in on the energy plank committee at the Platform convention, and work such a specific (and crazy) proposal into the legislative agenda.

    So, in the new format, we can have a summary statement that as Democrats we support an American with energy independence, and in the planks of the Platform we can talk about renewable, sustainable, local, etc.

    One of the problems with the old platform structure was that candidates could not use it. Given 15 pages of small font legislative proposals, there was sure to be something that would offend someone or a group in every elective district in this state. No candidate would want to lean on a document sure to offend someone who might otherwise vote for them.

    So the new platform format not only solves that problem, but moves past it with our statements of principles and values.

    The current draft format includes the following sections, which will be flushed out with planks:

    Our responsibilities and rights as individuals and family members - Shelter, food, health care, human rights.

    Our responsibilities and rights as members of a community - public education, each generation providing for the next, revenue policy (paying our fair share)

    Our responsibilities and rights as workers - business and economic development, sustainable economy, ensuring hard work pays, and retirement security.

    Our responsibilities and rights as active citizens - election reform, public safety, justice, civil liberties, preserving freedoms

    Our responsibilities and rights as global citizens - foreign policy/national security, energy and transportation, agriculture, ecology and natural resources.

    During the winter, each County Party will elect its delegates to the Platform Convention (no gate crashing - you have to be credentialed to attend!) -- A good reason to attend and get to know your County Party!

    While I am only one member of this committee, and I speak only for myself here - I think this is going to be the best Platform we have every come up with as a State Party. Imagine, a platform candidates can actually use!

  • Robin Ozretich (unverified)
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    Steve -

    I appreciate your comments. For brevity's sake, I erased a few paragraphs from this post that dealt with the more "Lakoffian" aspects of message development and communication. I agree that Democrats should agree on general principles that can be applied by individual candidates in specific ways that are tailored to their constituency. I applaud the State Platform Committee for moving in this direction.

    I think it is important for the Democratic message to include aspects that are universal to all Democrats and specific points that are unique to individual candidates and speakers. I believe that we as a party agree on specific principles - our diversity lies in how we translate these principles into specific positions and emphases. My five-point agenda was an example of this specificity as it applies to myself at this time. The principles underlying that agenda are more universal. When articulating our specific positions, we must not neglect to communicate the underlying principles that lead us to those positions.

    As Democrats across the country do this, our agreement on principles will paint a unified picture of the Democratic Party - even as we differ on specifics. We can have our cake and eat it too. We shall be a diverse big-tent party with room for disagreement, while at the same time we shall be a unified party with a cohesive message.

  • djk (unverified)
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    I agree that a balanced budget should be part of the five-point list. It would require a comprehensive tax reform act and deep cuts in corporate welfare (including elimating agricultural subsidies to big agribusiness, limiting farm support programs to actual family farmers). If our elected officials can find the spine to stand up to wealthy individuals and huge corporations (that is, the Republican base), raise the top tax rates and eliminate a wide array of special-interest tax breaks, and end the Bush Crusade, they can probably balance the budget within a couple of years and start paying off the national debt shortly thereafter.

    The Republicans owned the "fiscal responsibility" issue for decades, then threw it away with their last three presidents. The Democrats have a golden opportunity to become the party of fiscal responsibility simply by raising taxes on (and cutting spending for) people who generally don't support them anyway. Progressives can justifiably make "fiscal conservatism" synonymous with "reckless borrowing, runaway spending and crushing public debt" and criticize Republicans as a out-of-control big spenders running hundreds of billions onto the public credit card with no intention to ever pay it back. They're throwing a huge party for all their rich friends, we're not invited, but they're sticking our kids with the bill.

    Besides, the Republicans are incapable of balancing a budget. They won't raise the taxes or cut the spending necessary to make it happen. If the Democrats are willing to do both (and they should be), they're the only party that can solve the problem. Why would you not run on a huge, national problem that was created by the other party, when you're the only party that could solve it?

    It would be stupid not to make "fiscal responsibility" and "balanced budgets" a central principle of the Democratic party, both in campaigning and in governing.

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