Sunday, May 07, 2006

A New Vision for the Left: Part #3: The Speech I’d Like to Hear from a Democratic Leader

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

I am here today to lay out the Democratic Party’s vision for the future. It is the Democrats who are the party of the future, who have a forward-thinking agenda for America. The Republicans claim that they are the party of ideas; well, they have plenty of ideas all right; bad ideas that are taking America backwards, weakening America’s economy, weakening America’s security.

Democrats believe that government has a constructive role to play in American society: to help provide economic opportunities for all, at all stages of one’s life, to assist people in living up to their full potential, while at the same time staying out of people’s bedrooms and private lives. The Republicans have the opposite view of government, the worst view of government; they want the government in your bedroom, but they don’t want it around when you lose your job or you don’t have access to a doctor.

The economic realities of the 21st century are going to be much different than the 20th century, except for one thing: America will remain the leading economic power as long as Democrats are in charge. We are the party that truly understands the changes that are taking place around us. The world is becoming increasingly competitive and industries are changing at ever-faster rates. That’s a good thing– it means greater technological advances, higher living standards, and ultimately more people around the globe to buy American products.

But what is needed in this century is greater flexibility and education in our workforce. No longer can American workers expect to work for a single company for all of their adult lives. Instead they may change jobs and careers many times, and we need to understand that this is the way of the future. To prepare Americans for this type of society, we need to strive for 100% college attendance in America. It’s not enough any longer to simply finish high school; the goal should be to have our children get a college education as well.

We need to make it easier for people to constantly update their knowledge and get new training. We Democrats recognize this. That’s why we want to make higher education more affordable. And we want to put more money into basic scientific research so that the great innovations occur here in America, especially with respect to energy technologies.

The Republicans are doing the opposite, taking America backwards. They are cutting funding for college loans, making higher education even more expensive. They are fighting science and scientists at every turn, on pollution, on global warming, on the morning-after pill. They’re blocking federal money for stem-cell research. This is a recipe for the end of American dominance and we Democrats will fight to change this course. The Republican Party has become the anti-science party and this is a recipe for failure. Democrats are the party of the future, and will promote scientific advances in all areas of the American economy.

While it is dynamism and innovation that drive our economy, it is individual liberties that are at the heart of what it means to be an American. In America, our history has been defined by expanding individual rights: first to women and finally, through the great civil rights acts of the 1960s, to blacks. In neither case is the job over, and there are new cases before us. These individual liberties, liberties for all Americans, are what makes America great. It is time these same liberties, these same civil rights, are extended to gay Americans. They have been treated like second-class citizens for too long.

The Democratic Party is not pro-gay; the Democratic Party is pro-American, and many Americans happen to be gay, whether they be Democrats, Republicans, Red-staters, or Blue-staters. Gays exist in virtually every family, every church, every company, and every neighborhood all over this great country. If we truly care about healthy families, we must make room for gay Americans by granting them equal rights in all areas of society, including marriage. Those who think that gay marriage will weaken the institution of marriage have little faith in that institution. We in the Democratic Party do believe in the strength of marriage, and we know that gays will only add to its strength.

Turning to women’s individual liberties, let me make clear that the Democrats believe firmly that a woman has the right to control her own body, that a woman has the moral authority to decide what is best for her, and that no one else, especially the government, can tell her when and when not to bear children. At the same time, there is much that can be done to reduce abortion rates and to promote family planning, all of which Democrats are at the forefront of, and always have been.

For those of you out there who are anti-abortion, there is room for you in the Democratic Party to help us reduce unwanted pregnancies, to increase access to contraception and sex education, to increase adoption services, to increase economic opportunities so that women willingly choose to bring their pregnancies to term. The ultimate right of women to control their own bodies is non-negotiable in the Democratic Party, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t all work together to make abortion extremely rare.

Let us also not forget that individual liberties extend to even more basic and cherished American freedoms: freedom from unlawful detention and persecution, the separation of church and state, and freedom of speech.

All of these liberties have been under attack by Republicans, who seem to believe that freedom only means freedom to agree with them and their policies and their particular religious convictions. They have somehow come to the conclusion that just because the president says we’re in a potentially never-ending war that he has unlimited power for an unlimited number of years. That is wrong and backwards thinking. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who believe we must trade liberty for security, deserve neither.”

In all areas of the government the Republicans have tried to inject religion into policy decisions that affect all Americans. This is backwards thinking: policies should be based on the public interest, not on one group’s religious beliefs. Under the GOP we are witnessing attacks on women’s rights in states such as South Dakota, where the legislature seems to think that bringing back the days of back-alley abortions is a good thing. And now we have numerous states, led almost exclusively by Republican leadership, that are trying to ban gays from adopting children; trying to take us back to an era where gays were considered unfit to be parents.

The Democrats stand firmly against this backwards thinking; we believe strongly that religion should not be imposed on people by the government: that is an absolute abuse of our democratic system. As Democrats, we believe that our values and arguments, based on reason, science, and our belief in the freedom and liberty of all Americans, are what this country needs today. We believe this no matter what your religion, no matter whether you have a religion at all.

On the topic of families, the Democratic Party recognizes that the majority of American families don’t fit the stereotypical model. Americas has many single parents, both moms and dads, families where one parent works, some where both do; we have families with gay or lesbian parents, we have adoptive parents, foster parents, all sorts of family situations. All of these families deserve our support; they also deserve policies that recognize their unique circumstances and challenges so that we can ensure that all families are healthy and strong. This includes flexible work hours, increased access to child care, and basic affordable health care for everyone. In the richest country in the world, it should not be a privilege to have access to a doctor when you are sick or your child is not well; it should be a right.

Once again, Republicans want to take America backwards with respect to family values. They only want to recognize one type of family and ignore all others. Under their leadership, health care has become less accessible and nothing has been done to help families cope with the many demands of the modern workplace. They seem more concerned with preaching to America about family values than actually doing the hard work to make lives for all American families healthier.

They spend more time trying to convince Americans that basic healthcare is socialism or would automatically lead to huge government bureaucracy, than actually trying to make America healthier. This is wrong. We can have the benefits of market competition and also ensure basic health care for everyone. If you want an example of a misguided government program, look no further than the Medicare Drug Bill crafted by Republicans. Maybe that’s why they don’t want health care for all; their one achievement in this area has been a disaster!

Our physical and mental health are strongly tied to the environment. And one thing that all Americans have come to agree on is the need for us to be good stewards of the natural environment. Americans realize that it is a false choice between jobs and the environment, or between economic strength and the environment; we can and must have both. Democrats realize this: we want to expand wilderness areas, fully fund the national parks, and make major improvements in air and water quality that will boost productivity and decrease health care costs.

Unfortunately, Republicans once again are stuck in the old thinking that says that we have to choose between the environment and the economy. Backed by their special interests, they have chosen to weaken clean air and water standards, to weaken the Endangered Species Act. They have even tried to auction off parts of our national forests. They seem to think that just because terrorism, jobs, and healthcare dominate the concerns of most Americans that they can operate behind the scenes and undo the environmental progress of the past decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The Democratic Party will always be committed to moving forward on the environment, not backwards; committed to seeing that tomorrow’s generation inherits a healthier environment than today. This means that we must take the issue of climate change seriously and begin to enact policies to deal with it. The Republicans want to ignore it and hope it will go away; but it won’t, and it will only get worse if we don’t act.

This brings us to the most important issue of all, national security. Given all the threats America faces, it is crucial that we have a comprehensive national security strategy, not one that simply thinks there is a military solution to every security threat. A comprehensive strategy must look at both defense and offense. It must include risks from global diseases and environmental catastrophes. The Republicans are so fixated on narrow views of national security that even when a hurricane strikes, one that we had a week to prepare for, we were caught off guard. That is unacceptable.

We Democrats believe fully that the U.S. should help spread freedom and democracy around the world; after all, it was Woodrow Wilson who first put forth these ideas. But this has to be done intelligently. America cannot and should not try to democratize regions by military force. The primary role of the U.S. military is to defend against our enemies, not to do nation-building. The Republicans used to believe that, but they have turned that around, again moving America backwards.

In this world we will never be able to kill every terrorist, make ourselves 100% safe from every possible attack; anyone who tells you that is lying. But what we can do is greatly minimize the risks. We can manage the threats and take steps to decrease them so that Americans can feel safer and more secure both at home and abroad. But this requires international cooperation and choosing the right priorities. Most importantly, it requires leveling with the American people at every turn, informing them about what are the gravest and most immediate threats, and what are the costs and benefits of different courses of action. If we are going to ask American soldiers to give their lives to make us safer, the American people deserve to understand exactly what is at stake. The Democratic Party will never scare Americans into action; but when we act we will act decisively, with a clear plan, with sufficient resources, and with the will to achieve victory.

I thank you all for your time. I ask you to help the Democrat Party reclaim American values for the 21st century, and make sure America’s brightest years are still ahead of us.

J.S.

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