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The 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 goal.

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.

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