Democratic Underground

An Open Letter to the Democratic Leadership
November 15, 2001
by Christopher A. Harrison

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To: See Distribution

From: Christopher A. Harrison, registered Democratic voter

Subject: A strategy for the future

I am a registered Democrat. I have always been attracted to the ideals of the Democratic Party - the responsibility of society to provide a framework for its citizenry to succeed, sticking up for the blue-collar workers who built this country, ensuring that assistance is accessible to citizens in their time of need, protecting the environment, protecting human rights, and so on. I have become increasingly alarmed at the right-wing assault on these ideals which has taken place over the past 30 years. I am even more alarmed at the manner in which the very party I believe in has not stopped this assault from taking place.

You see, fellow Democrats, we have allowed the battle to be taken to us. We have attempted to play fair and compromise with a group of people who are not interested in doing either. We have allowed the political climate to shift so far to the right in this country that anything right-wing is considered centrist, anything centrist is considered "off-the-scale liberal" and anything progressive is considered downright communist. It is only the Democratic Party which has the ability to take back the rhetoric and make this country stand for the ideals it should once again.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need a plan. We need a long-range plan of where we want the direction of our Party, and our country, to go. Some 30 years ago, elements of the Conservative leadership set out with such a plan, and their plan has been successful at the expense of the vast majority of the American citizenry. They have seen their vision come to fruition, while we have been too fractious and accommodating to stop them. The time has come for us to formulate our plan, and to stop at nothing until we achieve our goals.

1. REAL AND MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM. Through the massive influx of corporate cash into our political system, concern has moved from the plight of working citizens to the protection of the corporate class. The Republican leadership has almost completely sold out to this principle of "Guarantors of Privilege" as President Harry S. Truman once called them. But we Democrats are not far behind the Republicans in our addiction to corporate cash.. A cornerstone of the argument for campaign finance should be the "clean election laws" currently instituted in states such as Maine and Arizona. These laws do nothing to stifle free speech (money does not equal free speech, no matter what conservatives may say) and they succeed in freeing the recipients of public funds from the shackles of corporate I.O.U.'s. For a Party which espouses to protect the "little guy," settling for anything less than complete reform of our election system is to betray his or her interests in favor of those who can afford to buy access.

2. REINSTITUTE THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE. The elimination of the fairness doctrine during the Reagan administration could be cited as the single event which gave prominence to conservative figures such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and so on. Where are the liberal voices to counter these right-wing pundits? They either don't exist, or they are suffering from a terrible lack of exposure. Corporate interests which own media outlets are not enamored with giving equal time to points of view which run counter to their goals. However, the airways have always belonged to the public, not the broadcasters. As a result, the FCC could demand the reinstitution of the "fairness doctrine," under which every right-wing point of view would have to be followed by a left-of-center point of view. Additionally, television and radio stations could be forced to air public "issue statements" during political campaigns rather than reaping huge profits from political advertising which does little to contribute toward a real debate on policy. Public broadcasting outlets - PBS and NPR - do this already, with the result being that candidates are forced to talk about the issues rather than concentrating on smearing their opponent through sound bites and 30-second ads.

3. STOP THE GLOBALIZATION MYTH. The world has gotten much smaller as communications and transportation technologies have developed. This is a fact which cannot be disputed. We are quickly moving toward becoming a "global society" whether we like it or not. But one of the biggest fallacies out there surrounding this move toward a "global society" is what is commonly termed "free trade." This "free" trade is in fact anything but "free." It is an attempt to make trade an end in itself, rather than a means, thereby forcing poorer nations to become increasingly dependent on the wealthier ones. Eventually, it also widens the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" here at home. We should be promoting economic models which promote independence for both communities here at home and countries abroad. We should be promoting sustenance farming over export farming, at the same time moving back to where trade was recognized as a means to procure materials which you may not have organically; rather than an end in itself with the result being control of the world's resources by corporate interests. The current model of "free" trade goes against everything that the Democratic Party should stand for, and as such, it should be exposed as the scam it really is. The Democratic Party should instead promote economic models of "fair" trade.

4. QUALITY HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION FOR ALL. These are rights of all citizens, not privileges for those who can afford to pay. How can we call ourselves a truly free and equal society when so many of our children are born without access to either of these necessities? This issue should be a cornerstone of our free society, a society which is supposed to give all its citizens an equal chance to succeed.

5. EXPORT DEMOCRACY WORLDWIDE. Too often we have allowed our short-term economic interests to overrule our support of democracy worldwide. This is all too evident from our support of dictators such as Saddam Hussein, Ferdinand Marcos, Manuel Noriega and the Shah of Iran; rebel factions such as the Nicaraguan Contras and the Afghan Mujahadeen; and oppressive regimes such as the Saudi Monarchy. The time has come for this short-sighted policy to stop. The Democratic Party should be leading the charge toward the promotion of democracy throughout the world, even if this support temporarily counters our short-term economic interests. Sure, it may result in some short-term pains such as cutting back on our mass consumerism and moving toward a more stable, conservationist-based economy; but the end result will be a much more harmonious and prosperous world community. If we spread democracy throughout the rest of the world, economic interests will eventually take care of themselves.

6. PRESERVE THE ENVIRONMENT. I often shake my head over how the GOP can beat us in elections based on this issue alone. As citizens of the planet, we have a responsibility to do what we can to protect and preserve the earth for the use and enjoyment of future generations. We must lead the charge in promoting economic models which encourage preservation and protection of the environment rather than encouraging deforestation and degradation of the planet which we all inhabit together. Destruction of the earth is something for which people and businesses should be punished. Instead, the current economic model allows them to profit from this destruction, and it is the global community which suffers in the end.

7. FAIRNESS IN THE TAX CODE. Simply put, those who make more and can afford it should pay more than those who can't. But the current plan is much to complex. A close childhood friend of mine who is a graduate of the Wharton business school and an accountant for Ernst & Young once remarked that as a CPA even he couldn't understand the federal tax code. The current code is also full of loopholes which allow the wealthy and corporate interests to exploit the code for their own benefit at the expense of society as a whole. The Democratic Party should be pushing for a slightly progressive, easily understood tax code with a minimum of deductions to ensure that everyone truly pays their share.

8. PROMOTE DOMESTIC BUSINESS. Establish incentives to encourage employment of American workers within United States borders. Penalize corporations who cut jobs domestically in order to move them overseas where labor costs are much less. Encourage the unionization of US workers. Repeal Taft-Hartley in order to facilitate more unionization among workers. Push for repeal of "right to work" laws. Economic independence both at home and abroad is one of the best weapons at our disposal for combating poverty.

9. END THE DRUG WAR. After more than 25 years and billions of dollars, drugs are just as readily available in this country as they were in 1975 - if not more so. We also have large segments of mostly minority populations behind bars for non-violent offenses. The drug war costs us not only billions of budget dollars each year, dollars which could be better spent on education, but it also tears apart the fabric of our society. The Democratic Party should spearhead the call to reform drug policy in the United States by focusing on treatment, education, and decriminalization instead of continuing to follow policies which do not work.

10. TAKE THE FIGHT TO THEM. For too long we have allowed the right to paint us in terms of our own choosing. We must begin painting them in terms of our choosing, to expose their rhetoric for the straw man argument it truly is. We must continually pound on such issues as "corporate giveaways" and "voodoo economics." Every time a conservative utters the words "tax-and-spend liberal," counter with "subsidy and deficit conservative." We need to get mean, and we need to take the battle to them. So long as they control the terms of the argument, they will continue to control the popular debate.

I realize that I am far from a policy maker with experience in any level of government. But I also realize that the beliefs I have are far from isolated. Given the right argument and the right strategy, but most of all by upholding the right principles, we will be able to see America return to its ideals of a government "of the people, for the people, and by the people." The core beliefs of the Democratic Party espouse these ideals. It's high time we got back in the business of working to achieve them.

Sen. Thomas Daschle Rep. Richard Gephardt
Sen. Harry Reid Rep. David Bonior
Sen. Byron Dorgan Rep. Martin Frost
Sen. Tom Harkin Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Sen. Robert Byrd Rep. Charles Stenholm
Sen. Carl Levin Rep. David Obey
Sen. Paul Sarbanes Rep. Ike Skelton
Sen. Kent Conrad Rep. John Spratt, Jr.
Sen. Ernest Hollings Rep. George Miller
Sen. Jeff Bingaman Rep. John Dingell
Sen. Max Baucus Rep. John LaFalce
Sen. Joseph Biden Rep. Henry Waxman
Sen. Joe Lieberman Rep. Steny Hoyer
Sen. Edward Kennedy Rep. Tom Lantos
Sen. Patrick Leahy Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
Sen. Christopher Dodd Rep. Nick Rahall
Sen. John Kerry Rep. Ralph Hall
Sen. John Rockefeller Rep. Nydia Velazquez
Sen. Harry Reid Rep. Howard Berman
Sen. Daniel Inouye Rep. James Overstar
Sen. Bob Graham Rep. Lane Evans
Sen. John Breaux Rep. Charles Rangel
Sen. Jack Reed
Sen. Mark Dayton

CC: Sen. Paul Wellstone Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.
Sen. Russell Feingold Rep. Marcy Kaptur
Sen. Hillary Clinton Rep. Nita Lowey
Sen. Charles Schumer Rep. Eliot Engel


The author is the trade issues lead for the Lower Hudson (NY) Sierra Club and an Irate Citizen.

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