Five Point Plan
July 17, 2002
By Nicholas Pyeatt
As a lifelong Democrat I was disappointed by the banal five
point plan that the Congressional arm produced for the upcoming
election. In a time with so much at stake it was disenchanting
that the party big wigs did not take the opportunity to come
up with a truly innovative document. What part of this document
do I find objectionable? None of it. And that is exactly the
problem. There is nothing in this document that is either
trend setting or objectionable in any way to anyone but the
most froth-mouthed of conservatives.
The Democratic program should revitalize the spirit and motivate
the heart. The ongoing problem for the party is that our elites
have stopped trying to energize the faithful. In the past
five years or more the Democrats have done little to differentiate
themselves from the opposition. Now, they have come up with
a policy document as unobjectionable as it is uninspiring.
I have been more gripped by the list of ingredients on the
back of the cereal box than I was by this document.
It is not that the document fails to address some of the
key issues of the day; it is just that it fails to take any
controversial stands. The plan seeks to protect Social Security
from privatization. While that is an admirable goal, I would
like the Democrats to do more than just defend an existing
program from mutilation. Since the recent fluctuations of
the stock market have softened much of the support for this
plan, it is unlikely that the Democrats would have to do anything
at all to prevent it from occurring. The plan also seeks to
enforce the existing environmental laws. While it is well
and good to say that we should actually enforce our own environmental
laws, doing so breaks no new ground. It is like the comical
sign seen on Texas highways, "Obey signs, state law." Do Americans
need a sign that says, "follow the laws, federal law"?
Ronald Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, claims that the
document fails because it does not follow the model of the
Clinton administration by expanding services while offering
a significant reduction of waste. To disagree, this document
fails because it does nothing to motivate or invigorate the
party faithful. Politics is often "the art of the possible"
as the old quote goes, but campaign documents should not start
from the mindset of being inoffensive. Needless to say, the
government does have some fat that can be trimmed away, but
we must look at the government more as a farmer than as a
butcher. The farmer seeks to make things grow even under the
most adverse of situations. Government likewise should seek
to help the citizenry achieve their potential.
I do not purport to have the answers to all the problems
of government. I do know for a fact the Democrats should do
more than not offend. With the exception of the politically
timed pension reform proviso, the plan's other four points
are holdovers from the yawn-inspiring Gore campaign (and I
say that as a former campaign staff member!).
Democrats should break new ground and hit several of the
areas that are currently being completely ignored or covered
up by the Republican congress and President. Given that the
election of 2000 was a national embarrassment and made us
the laughing stock of the international community, the Democrats
should propose some meaningful national voting rights and
campaign reform. The 2000 election debacle had less to do
with Florida and more to do with a system that lacks comprehensive
standards and allows for ambitious officials such as Katherine
Harris to violate local laws with impunity.
The environmental issue is one of our potential political
strengths, but we have squandered this advantage by taking
no risks on the subject. The critical need in the environmental
debate is for us to reduce the total amount of emissions.
American need and deserve effective transportation options
that allow them to avoid excessive gasoline use. Most people
in this country and almost all of them in the South and the
West lack any options at all. Alternatives on the East Coast
should be improved. The lack of adequate funding sources is
the main barrier keeping states from taking action on this
critical issue; the federal government should relieve them
of the burden. The debate should move beyond the annual debate
on the preservation of Amtrak funding to the more important
deliberation on how we can create a truly national system
of environmentally acceptable transportation.
The health care proviso is also seriously weaker than it
needs to be. While it is great to offer a prescription drug
benefit for Medicare, it is a very cautious and safe plan.
Many Republicans have endorsed tepid support for such a plan,
even John Cornyn here in Texas. It would be preferable for
the Democrats to set a target more far reaching such as national
health care for all young people. Even the most detached of
individuals realizes that the cost of health care for children
is one of the major economic burdens of middle class and working
class families. I would enjoy watching the Republicans come
up with an acceptable reason for opposing such a reasonable
Education is another issue that the Democrats should be able
to use to their advantage. Education nationwide is in shambles
after decades of mismanagement and chronic under funding.
The unadventurous plan offers increases in education funding
but nothing that could be called groundbreaking. The Democrats
should come up with national standards to ensure that all
students are given a minimum education. The people are ready
for someone to take the lead on this issue and so desperate
that they are grasping at snake oil like privatization, year
round schooling, and vouchers. Lunacy such as this only breeds
in areas where an issue is being inadequately addressed.
These are just a few of the more controversial but potentially
more politically effective ideas that the Democrats can use
in differentiating themselves from the opposition. There are
many others that the congressional document ignores entirely
such as fighting corporate corruption, decreasing defense
spending, and increasing the minimum wage. The fact remains:
Democrats will only win if they present a clear alternative
to the Republicans, not if they offer themselves as non-threatening
copies of the Republicans. When a man is offered coffee when
he wants iced tea, his friends should not offer him decaf.