Sunday, April 02, 2006

A New Vision for the Left: Part #2

Revised Statement of Principles

Last week I introduced the following mission statement as a summary of what a strong, reasoned, and politically astute Leftist party could use to summarize its key values and beliefs, while at the same time differentiating itself from the right:

We believe that American prosperity depends on well-regulated markets, effective government, economic security as well as economic strength, personal liberty for all, healthy families, and a comprehensive strategy for national security.

This was a starting point, and the comments I received demonstrated that there was much room for improvement. Before I discuss revisions to this statement, let me make a few things clear:

1. The main reason I am suggesting that this vision be taken up by the Left and Democrats is because the Right and the GOP have been taken over by religious extremists, who don’t respect individual liberties, along with corporate cronies who represent the antithesis of true conservative principles (just look closely at the energy bills or the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill). I do not believe that the Democrats or the Left are inherently superior to the Right or the Republicans, and I look forward to the day when the GOP returns to its classic conservative roots.

2. The question that then naturally arises is whether the Left and Democrats are actually serious about articulating and fighting for the values and policies I am trying to lay out; the fact that I seem to be spending more time trying to come up with a concise message than they are is perhaps evidence that the Democrats aren’t serious about putting forth an alternative vision for America. This may be true, but right now the Democrats offer the only short-term hope. If they fail to coalesce around the key values that I believe are essential for American prosperity, it may be time to consider developing a viable third-party in American politics. (As further evidence that the Democratic Party doesn’t get it, their latest motto that they keep pushing is “America Can Do Better”; talk about setting a low bar! I think my idea, “The Party of the Future”, is much better.)

3. The modifications I have made to the above statement were driven not by a desire to “frame” issues in ways that pull on the heart strings, or to make bad policies appear better; both of these are equivalent to putting lipstick on a pig. The Democrats and the Left have spent way too much time wondering whether they should talk more about religion, and about how to sound tough on national security. These efforts seem to me both condescending, and proof that Democrats are largely bereft of their own core values. What they need to do is concisely and clearly articulate consistent principles in the best way possible; that is the exercise in which I am engaged (not choosing the core values themselves, which I laid those out in detail in earlier pieces (here, here, and here).

Once again, I’d like to express my thanks for all of your comments. Here’s the revision of the Left’s new statement of principles, with some additional commentary below:

We believe in economic opportunities for all, the sanctity of individual liberties, promoting healthy families, stewardship of the natural environment, and a comprehensive strategy for national security.

1. “Economic security as well as economic strength” was not the best way to express the key sentiment on the economy. I chose “opportunities” instead of “prosperity” because the free market system does not guarantee outcomes (sometimes individuals or businesses do fail), but we can ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate and thrive in the market system. Implicit in economic opportunities are the types of policies needed to ensure economic security since individuals with greater opportunities are best able to respond to the changing dynamics brought on by globalization. I also chose not to use the word “fair” because of its unfortunate protectionist connotations.

2. I purposefully used “sanctity” before individual liberties because individual rights are truly at the core of what it means to be an American, and denying these rights is a major breach of American tradition (let alone the Constitution). We need to remind people that we don’t live a country where the majority simply tells minorities what they can or cannot do, but where individual choices and freedoms are afforded great deference.

3. Just about everybody agreed with the phrase “healthy families”. What I particularly like about it is that it alludes to health care (which currently is the #1 issue Americans are most concerned about), as well as the need for policies that recognize a variety of family structures (e.g., single moms and families with gay parents). The Left desperately needs to show that it is pro-family (but not anti-gay or anti-woman), and that it is a champion for affordable health care.

4. An explicit statement about the environment was needed. I chose the word “stewardship” because it gets at the heart of the situation: we can choose to exploit the environment or be good stewards of it. Overwhelming majorities of Americans want the latter path. Also, as with the term “sanctity”, stewardship connotes reverence and respect.

5. Everyone agreed on the need for “comprehensive” national security instead of simply “strong national defense”. This is crucial because the Left needs to show that it is committed to a broad-based strategy for security instead of a narrow military vision.

In summary, I think this is getting closer to a short and sweet statement of principles that could appeal to a sizeable majority of American voters (i.e. a winning political strategy at the national level). What do you think?

J.S.

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