Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

February 24, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

The Democratic Party has finally elected a Chair with a little backbone. I have to admit, I was ready to bail on the Dems if they elected another spineless BushCo appeaser, so I'm glad to see Howard Dean take over. The issue isn't how liberal or moderate the Chair is - it's how well he'll stand up and oppose Republican attempts to return America to the 19th Century. In this respect, Dean seems ready to do better than most of the candidates who wanted the job.

I've already signed on to the DNC website and left a feedback note about the directions I think the Democratic Party should take in the next four years - mainly a successful midterm election, preventing Bush from gutting the social safety net, and keeping us from getting mired in any more illegitimate wars to manipulate the American people and boost his own fragile little ego.

What would your advice to Dr. Dean be? Where do you think he should take the Democratic Party over the next four years?

Redmond, WA

Dear Andrew,

Auntie is tremendously pleased to see Dr. Dean at the helm of the DNC, if for no other reason than how effectively his leadership seems to be re-animating the interest of Democrats like you. I'm glad he's pledged to make the national Party leadership more responsive to the local Party organizations and their concerns. I think we've suffered from an "inside the beltway" myopia that has kept us from being able to communicate effectively with many of our traditional constituencies.

But I think that if we concentrate our efforts only on opposing the current Administration's agenda (no matter how satisfying that might feel) we will continue to lose ground. If I were to have an opportunity to give "Auntie advice" to Dr. Dean, it would look something like this:

Dear Dr. Dean,

Congratulations on your election, and welcome! I'm sure you know by now we all have high hopes for your leadership, and are ready to assist you in revitalizing the Democratic Party. You've asked for feedback on where the Party should be heading, and here is mine.

Dr. Dean, I think we need to reclaim one of our most valuable traditional constituencies: America's working class. The millions who are struggling to get by on three jobs. The ones working in checkout lines, reception desks, driving trucks, and waiting tables. The ones making painful tradeoffs every day between a doctor visit and paying the electric bill. The ones whose pride in America and the American Dream is tempered by the fear that they will never manage to achieve it, or hang onto what they can achieve.

The GOP has already set us one example of how to reach these folks: keep the message simple, and keep it focused directly on something that connects to powerful feelings. Hot button issues like 'guns, gays, and God' have great emotional impact, but I think we can do much better. We should go right to the core of what is really important, and make one simple promise:

"The Democratic Party will not rest until any American willing to work forty hours a week can support a family of four in safe and decent living conditions."

This is a long-term objective, and it can't be accomplished with one simple law or bill or regulation. It provides us with a framework to address a whole range of progressive issues, from banking and usury reform, to domestic security (safety!), to housing policy, to universal access to health care. Everything that needs to be accomplished to make it possible for American families to meet the goal of ONE full-time job enabling a family to live in safe, decent conditions can be put in this context.

It is a simple goal and one that can be easily articulated by any and every Democratic candidate for office, regardless of where they stand on the progressive/moderate spectrum. We know it is achievable because it has been achieved before. It allows each Democrat to put her or his particular policy concerns (the environment, health care, national security, labor policy, etc.) under the same umbrella, and work toward the same end.

I think that by articulating all of our Party's goals and policies in these terms, we can reclaim our traditional constituencies and add to them as America's growing ethnic minority populations continue to integrate into our mainstream economy. It will unite progressives who want to see a more equitable economic structure with moderates and conservatives who want to see our society support "traditional family values."

I wish you all success, Dr. Dean, and hope that you can help our Party unite around a powerful vision for America's future.

Auntie Pinko

I agree with you, Andrew, that it's essential for our Party to maintain strong, principled opposition to regressive GOP initiatives. But that alone won't be enough. Unless we can offer a vivid, positive vision for change - our vision - we will still be allowing the GOP to define us. And if they define us, they will continue to win. I'm glad you raised the issue, though, and thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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