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Ask Auntie Pinko
March 14, 2002

Dear Auntie Pinko,

What do you think the Democratic Party does or should stand for?

St. Paul, MN

Dear Randy,

Bless you! Auntie Pinko just adores these big, philosophical questions that allow her to burble on about ideology and principles.

What is the Democratic Party, and what makes us different from other parties?

It might be useful to approach this via the history of the Party.

The Democratic Party was founded by Thomas Jefferson as a congressional caucus in 1792. Its purpose was to fight for the Bill of Rights, in the teeth of Federalist opposition. In 1798 it was officially named the "Democratic-Republican Party" (confusing, isn't it!) and Thomas Jefferson was the first Democratic President in 1800.

However, the kind of two-party politics we recognize today was in its infancy then. Factions within the Party espoused a wide variety of issues and agendas, mostly concerned with the emerging government structure, and peace vs. war, isolationist vs. internationalist questions.

The left/right dichotomy that characterizes American politics today really emerged in the mid-19th century with the candidacy of Andrew Jackson. Jackson was a populist who believed in the maximum possible access and control of the ordinary citizen in the government process. He also believed in the ability of government as an instrument to carry out the will of the people-a positive force in social evolution. (Though he wouldn't have used those terms, he was a plain-talking, even salty-tongued man who let actions speak louder than words.)

In the late 19th century the Democratic Party moved from focus to focus. They focused on enfranchising and empowering the waves of immigrants pouring into American cities, giving them a voice in the political process, and creating channels for them to participate directly. This focus had two consequences: First, it built the Party an enormous base of hard working volunteers and loyal voters, and second, it brought the issues most important to these urban masses into the Party's agenda.

As the 19th Century turned over into the 20th Century, the Democratic Party moved on to making the lives of Americans safer and healthier. Safe food and better, safer working conditions were tough fights against the captains of industry who saw any government regulation as an unfair restriction on their ability to make profits. (Sound familiar? It should.)

As labor movements gained momentum in the early 20th century, they naturally gravitated toward the Democratic party, with its huge base and well-established organization. Their agenda was to give workers a leverage that would balance against the power of money and capital. And while this, too, was fought tooth and nail by many captains of industry, a few did recognize the seed of an essential economic truth: empowered labor would help distribute wealth more evenly, producing larger, more prosperous working classes and a stronger, demand-driven economy.

In the aftermath of the market failure of 1929, the Democratic Party recognized the need for an infrastructure of resources that would allow working people to build economic security for themselves and their families. To achieve this it would be necessary to reform the banking and credit structures, ensure a stable retirement for workers, and bring quality health care within reach. These have been Democratic goals ever since.

Are you seeing a theme here, Randy? Democrats stand for two things: keeping control of the government in the hands of its citizens - all citizens, not just the wealthy special interests - and using government as a tool to build a better society for everyone.

I think that about covers it, and thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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