Raising an Anthem for a New Generation of Democrats

[Editor's note: This guest post comes from the talented Adam Klugman, creative director, Progressive Media Agency. We previously featured Adam's winning entry to the the 2004 DNC voter-generated ad contest, "America's Party."]

anthem * noun 1. an uplifting song associated with a group or cause, especially a patriotic one. 2. a musicical setting of a text…to be sung by a choir. –Oxford Dictionary, 2007 Edition

It’s tough to be a Democrat right now. In the bad old days before the 2006 election, it was easier to be discouraged about the state of things because we had a clear and identifiable opponent—the Republicans. When they owned both majorities it was simpler for us to be outraged about the slow, agonizing attrition of our democracy because we could, from the relative discomfort of our opposition, hold out the hope that one day the Democrats would regain the government and turn the devastating tide of neo-conservative rule.

Then, in 2006, it seemed that our dream came true. Democrats won a respectable majority in the House and picked up enough votes in the Senate to win an important, albeit slim, majority. It was a day when Democrats rejoiced all over the country and a moment when many of us dared to dust off our hope for the future. However, almost immediately, our dream eluded us and we woke to find the status quo firmly in command and a party leadership too often afraid to place principles over politics.

Like most people, I was, and still am, confused. Now that we have the majorities, it seems a straightforward assignment to hold a rogue administration accountable, and move forward. But even more to the point, why are we, as Democrats, helping to extend those policies, the most obvious of which is continuing to fund the war in Iraq, the most confounding of which is the sanctioning of wiretapping American citizens? Where is the vaunted heart of our great party—a party that has made history time and again with its commitment to Justice and Peace and Democracy?

The answer is essential to our future not only as a party, but as a nation. Because at the root of our problem as Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Independents, Radicals, and ultimately Americans, is that we live in a country that has allowed itself to be governed by fear. We’ve run amok against our own best interests, ravaged our Constitution, and conceded every legally protected freedom from Habeus Corpus to the right to a private phone conversation--and yet we are told that our country is still not secure, that the world will never be safe, and that democracy is a luxury we cannot afford. But democracy is not a luxury. And we must afford it.

One solution to the problem of fear, of course, is courage. But from where will we muster this rarest of qualities when half of our country is in a frenzy over the next terrorist attack and the other half is in a panic about the weekly shedding our civil liberties in the name of “protecting” us from the attackers?

I think Franklin Roosevelt left a clue. During one of the most difficult and frightening periods in our history, he declared, quoting the bible, “Without Vision, the people perish.” What Roosevelt understood was that Vision, the primal, unrelenting optimism that the world will be a better, kinder, more rational place tomorrow than it is today, is the seed of our courage and character as Americans. Roosevelt also knew the dangers—that a people without such a vision are doomed. Sadly, this is the state we find ourselves in today-- hypnotized by fear and perishing under the disintegration of a country, and a world, without Vision. But where will we find it? How will we construct this elusive “Vision” Roosevelt was talking about?

As Americans, we needn’t look further than the first three words of the Constitution. In a democracy, Vision emanates from the people, not in any abstract way, but in the most concrete terms possible. Because while there is plenty of blame to be spread among the Democratic Party leadership, it is ultimately not the responsibility of our leaders to provide a blueprint of ourselves as citizens, but rather quite the opposite-- it is the responsibility of the people to provide their leaders with a Vision of who they are and where they want to be lead.

And that brings me to my purpose. I began by providing Oxford’s definition of the term “anthem” because that is what the campaign and the video linked here hopes to offer; an anthem for a new Vision of ourselves. It is a tall order, to draft an anthem, but it is nonetheless essential. And to be clear, nothing particularly qualifies me to fill this order other than my status as a concerned American citizen. But maybe that’s as it should be. Maybe the anthem for a new generation of democrats is to be raised by the a-political class, the “unqualified” among us who accept, with finality and resolve, that the status quo has failed, that our leaders have indeed lost their way, and that our democracy is not broken, but merely failing to hear from the people it was initiated to serve.

As you watch this video and consider the campaign, please keep in mind that its highest calling is not merely as a new brand identity, or a new commercial, but also as what Oxford Dictionary defines as “an uplifting song” to be “sung by a choir.” And while I must admit that it is odd to propose a new brand identity campaign for a party that seems to be careening away from its constituents, that is precisely my point: like turning into a skid, we must not pull away from our party but turn directly into it, all of us, at the same time, and recover our control before it is too late.

So, what you are about to watch is not a Vision of the party as it is but rather as it one day might be if each of us knew what to sing when applying the most rudimentary chord of our uniquely American freedom: We The People. It is how we began. It is how we will start again. And it is always, if we truly commit ourselves to it, an act of evolution.

*

Adam Klugman first presented these ideas at the 2006 Democratic Party of Oregon conference in Eugene. In that same year, shortly after the Democratic Party victories in the House and Senate, he was invited to present the campaign to the Association of State Democratic Chairs (ASDC) meeting in Jackson Hole. The campaign received overwhelming support from the attending state parties at the ASDC meeting, garnering thirty-three formal letters of endorsements representing twenty-two different states. Today, the DNC is currently considering producing the spot for 2008

If you like this campaign and want to see it produced, help spread the word--send this link to everyone you know and ask them to do the same. Help get the internet conversation started by posting it on blogs. Send the link to your Senator or Congress Member and/or call the DNC @ 202.863.8000 and let them know that you want them to produce this campaign in 2008.

Adam Klugman is the Creative Director of Progressive Media Agency, a full-service media agency that produces commercials, media campaigns and public relations with ‘a human bias’.

Comments

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    But even more to the point, why are we, as Democrats, helping to extend those policies, the most obvious of which is continuing to fund the war in Iraq, the most confounding of which is the sanctioning of wiretapping American citizens? Where is the vaunted heart of our great party—a party that has made history time and again with its commitment to Justice and Peace and Democracy?

    "We", (perhaps I should say "You" since I'm a NAV)as Democrats, are not helping to extend those policies, because when we talk about Democrats (and Republicans) we should recognize we are really talking about two separate entities in the same party - the oligarchy calling the shots and the people in the rank-and-file that they ignore. It has been that way for generations and will be the same for the foreseeable future unless the people make a big change in how they elect candidates to represent them. The people need to let the parties know that they want candidates who will take care of them and not be functionaries doing the bidding of the party bosses who are beholden to their financiers. That is why I'm voting for Steve Novick. I am confident he is more likely to be more concerned with his constituents than the DLC or other corporate shills.

    I would like to commend Adam Klugman on his excellent article which could lead to a good debate, but I fear that it will be like similar threads that get off to a good start only to be hijacked by some jerk spouting nonsense and others wasting time trying to straighten him out despite it being obvious he has no intention of admitting to being wrong even in the face of overwhelming evidence. So, if you want to keep this to be a civilized and intelligent debate ignore the trolls and these Ann-Coulter-type clones.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Bill is right.

    Adam has pointed out a problem which has been around since I was young and Bobby Kennedy was running for president against Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey. All good men, but Humphrey had the burden of being VP and thus the establishment candidate.

    Lots of people around the age of 60 first got involved in politics due to Kennedy or McCarthy. Many believed what Kennedy often said, " “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

    It is a great quote tracing all the way back to George Bernard Shaw.

    To all young/ new to politics folks I would give this advice. Pick a candidate who inspires you, go all out for that candidate, but do it in a positive way. You will get farther with "I support....because----" than you will trying to tear down the opposition.

    Really liked Adam saying this: Maybe the anthem for a new generation of democrats is to be raised by the a-political class, the “unqualified” among us who accept, with finality and resolve, that the status quo has failed, that our leaders have indeed lost their way, and that our democracy is not broken, but merely failing to hear from the people it was initiated to serve.

    Debate among your friends whether "Waiting on the world to change" http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/johnmayer/waitingontheworldtochange.html

    is an anthem for a new generation or an encouragement of apathy.

    There is a line "if we had the power...". You don't realize what power you have. Too many consultants and others only poll "likely voters". In the under-30 age group there are at least two types of "unlikely voters"--young people in general and veterans in particular. I have seen examples of each/both of these groups being the deciding factor in close elections.

    Don't let a "professional" tell you a candidate "doesn't have a chance". If it were ever true, it has recently been proven untrue.

    There is a recent DNC email which contains this:

    One key line:

    If Democrats continue to show up everywhere, run on our values, and offer clear solutions on the critical issues, the clear lesson of 2007 is that Democrats are well-positioned to win anywhere in 2008.

    Last week's victories in places like Kentucky, Virginia and Mississippi prove that 2006 wasn't a fluke. <<

    The DNC gives me more hope for 2008 than the Congressional leadership or Future Pac or some of the statewide campaigns.

    Notice what it says:

    *Show up everywhere (don't believe the nonsense that "we have to target"---if Ron Paul can raise that kind of money, are Democrats saying they can't?)

    *Run on our values (don't let anyone tell you what your values are--if you want an AG candidate who talks about election law, for instance, don't settle for someone who only talks about other issues).

    *Offer clear solutions on the critical issues (a friend of mine who was once a legislative staffer annoyed a lot of people who were asking him to endorse a statewide candidate--he said "show me a candidate who has a vision for the future and a plan to carry it out--so far I don't see any of the candidates doing that")

    Adam, best of luck in your efforts.

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    Great article, Adam. Where's the link?

    [Charlie Burr, Editor--Here it is. Sorry about the technical difficulty we were having earlier. It's very much worth clicking through and checking out.]

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    End of the first paragraph, Sal.

  • Gary Lapon (unverified)
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    ...it is ultimately not the responsibility of our leaders to provide a blueprint of ourselves as citizens, but rather quite the opposite-- it is the responsibility of the people to provide their leaders with a Vision of who they are and where they want to be lead.

    While I disagree with the specifics, I think the general form of this statement is of primary importance. Let me shift it a bit to fit what I think is the situation we're facing:

    Our leaders will not respond to our demands unless we organize ourselves in a genuine attempt to achieve them without their consent.

    FDR is a great example. The self-proclaimed "greatest friend the profit system ever had," Roosevelt's "vision" (more importantly, his policy) was directly linked to the grassroots political situation during his term as President. There was a flourishing of unionization, class struggle, and mass radicalization. FDR had a couple of choices in terms of how to respond. He could do nothing and risk the collapse of US capitalism, or he could give a slice to the working class in order to save the rest of the pie for business. He did not give up reforms because he was a particularly nice guy, but because the self-activity of working class and unemployed Americans made the alternative worse. Since then, as the pressure on the politicians from the grassroots has declined with the level of unionization and class struggle (over the last 30 years), the gains of the New Deal have been increasingly rolled back. The participation of both Democrats (RFK was appointed by the Joe McCarthy, who lent his name to McCarthyism, as assistant counsel on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation and had a "fondness for McCarthy"...his later shift left tailed public opinion, further evidence of my thesis.) and Republicans in the purging of the labor movement of radicals during the red scare of the 1950s laid the groundwork for that roll-back, which reveals the true interests of the two parties (in favor of business to the detriment of workers).

    JFK is another example. He did not support the Civil Rights movement out of the goodness of his heart. His support can be attributed to the strength of the Civil Rights movement, an attempt to co-opt the movement before it became more radical.

    The Republicans and Democrats have one principle: they support the interests of big business. They are the parties of big business, as their corporate campaign contributions and lack of other principles prove. To suggest that there is some core set of principles in either party beyond that is misleading. Both parties are principled opportunists. How else to explain the Democrats' shift from the party of the Southern plantation slaveowner elite to the party of Jim Crow racists to the party of limited social democracy (under FDR) and civil rights? Or the Republicans' shift from the party of radical Reconstruction to the party in the White House when Roe v. Wade was one to the party that disenfranchised tens of thousands of African-Americans in Florida in 2000?

    The Republicans and Democrats seek to represent the interests of the wealthy. The only way to get them to listen to the rest of us is to organize and struggle for what we want: an end to the war, health care for all, jobs, education, human dignity. Only when these struggles grow to the point where the politicians become afraid enough of us to seek to appease us will any real reforms be tossed our way.

  • LT (unverified)
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    There is a very interesting book titled Hubris by Isakoff and Corn. I have been listening to the audio book.

    Very interesting story behind the Iraq War. According to this book, both Joe Biden and Dick Armey (for their own reasons) questioned Bush's Iraq resolution.

    But Dem. Leader Dick Gephardt was going to run for president and his political advisors wanted him to make sure he didn't look "soft on national defense". So he ended up making a deal with Bush on the resolution.

    According to this book, Biden tried to get support for the Biden-Lugar resolution and got reactions from Republicans like "you expect us to be to the left of Gephardt??". And Armey was getting "the train is leaving the station, you'd better get on board" peer pressure from Republicans.

    So, the concern should not be about "the Democrats" but about individuals. That requires paying close enough attention to know which individuals to trust.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    But Dem. Leader Dick Gephardt was going to run for president and his political advisors wanted him to make sure he didn't look "soft on national defense". So he ended up making a deal with Bush on the resolution.

    In other words, "Dick, don't do what's right for the nation. Don't give a damn about the young men and women whose lives and bodies will be sacrificed on the altar of lies the Bush Administration is building. Think only of yourself, the party and the corporations that will benefit and fund our campaigns." There was a similar story about Kerry's vote for war. Unfortunately, the same can be said for practically all of the politicians in Congress who voted for the war - Clinton, Schumer, Feinstein and the rest of the senators on this vote. McCain may have been one of the few exceptions. War for him appears to be the first choice to resolve a foreign policy problem - real or perceived. Edwards was also something of an exception because he and his wife were opposed, but a report that came out some time ago indicated that Bob Shrum worked on Edwards on behalf of the DLC and the rest of the party oligarchy and persuaded Edwards to vote for the war over his and his wife's better judgment. Anyone thinking of voting for Edwards for president would do well to read "Liberty Under Siege" by Walter Karp to learn from Carter's experience what it is like for someone to be president with his own party leaders colluding with the Republicans to undermine him.

    So, Democrats, that is part of your party's makeup. It's not as much the party of the people as you would like to believe. Part of the party can make that claim, but they have little say in the decisions that stick. Sure, they give you crumbs like the minimum wage, but they go along with screwing working people with deals like NAFTA and CAFTA. You can change that to some extent at the next election by voting for candidates who are not beholden to the party bosses. Steve Novick and Cindy Sheehan look to me like two of the best bets for that job. Many of us who are independents will join you if you give us good candidates.

    The only consolation for Democrats facing this grim fact is that the Republican party is just as bad. That is what is known as a dubious consolation and a tragedy for our tottering republic.

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    Both parties are principled opportunists.

    I agree with Gary on this and on the general gist of his comment.was, it seems clear that they inspired the entire nation, not just one political party. More to the point, it seems clear that

    To the extent that FDR and JFK inspired us to what was possible rather than what their intent was to inspire the entire nation rather than just their political base. Indeed the first three words of the Constitution refer to the entire populace not just political partisans.

    Bill's mention of Carter and how Tip O'Neil actively undermined him is highly relevant here too. One could argue that Congressional Democrats undermining Carter contributed greatly to the rise of the religious right to power.

    Ironically, in context of this post, Ronald Reagan understood the value of inspiring the people... ALL the people, not just his political party, as a means of forcing Congress to be cooperative.

    In general terms I am now and long have been highly skeptical about whether party loyalists can distinguish between what's good for the party and what's good for the country. And while I laud the call for We the People to rise up and assert ourselves, filtering it through a political partisan lens seems to me to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

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    Wow... somehow those first two paragraphs got garbled pretty badly. Not sure how that happened... It should read:

    I agree with Gary on this and on the general gist of his comment. To the extent that FDR and JFK inspired us to what was possible rather than what was, it seems clear that they inspired the entire nation, not just one political party. More to the point, it seems clear that their *intent* was to inspire the entire nation rather than just their political base. Indeed the first three words of the Constitution refer to the entire populace not just political partisans.
  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    Here is an interesting survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. A quick perusal indicates that Democrats in Congress have been more supportive than Republicans. Interestingly, McCain only scored a "D" and that or less is what many of the loudest-mouthed "patriots" also got. Oregon came out reasonably well, but it was disappointing to see Earl Blumenauer down in the "C" category with Smith and Walden.

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    So which video are we meant to be viewing?

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    Perhaps one of the first ways to begin to defeat the oligarchy and get us on the road to electing leaders and representitives who work for us and not the corporate masters, is to enact Campaign and Election Finance Reform - publicly financed elections take the corporate bucks out of the equation. Accountablility to We The People, imagine that. Dennis Kucinich has a lot to say about this at this section of his website, what do the other Presidential candidates have to say?

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    Perhaps one of the first ways to begin to defeat the oligarchy and get us on the road to electing leaders and representitives who work for us and not the corporate masters, is to enact Campaign and Election Finance Reform - publicly financed elections take the corporate bucks out of the equation. Accountablility to We The People, imagine that.

    This will mean waking up the American people to rise above being consumers and members of political organizations with tribal mentalities that persuade them voting for their crook is okay. It means taking "I pledge allegiance ... to the republic..." seriously and not something to be mumbled with indifference.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    <h2>Excellent article. Bill some great thoughts, as a NAV I encourage you dems to tell Pelosi to stop with the partisan politics and start working for the good of the country instead of pushing for soundbyte political messages against the republicans for next year.</h2>
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