Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

September 8, 2005
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

The biggest disaster to hit the United States in my lifetime (maybe since the Civil War, even) is not named Katrina, it's called George W. Bush. I'm sorry I voted for him, but please let me explain: George Bush and the Republican Party stated clearly what they wanted to do (lower taxes, less Federal interference in private business and local affairs, and ending terrorism.) I believe in those things. I also believe in a lot of other things, including making sure people already flattened by a natural disaster don't get left to die.

I might have voted for a Democrat if the Democratic Party ever made a clear, simple case for what they want to do, but it's too confusing to sort through all the hundreds of things that will benefit this minority or that sub-group or the other special interest over there to figure out what the Democrats are going to do for all of us. But it would be hard to do a worse job than the Bush Administration with Katrina, so I'm ready to believe the Democrats could do better. Is there any way to find out how without hearing about evil property developers draining swamps, and allocating money for college women's field hockey teams, and ensuring that gay men can be Scout Masters?

Waverly, MN

Dear Ron,

Well, the Federal Government may not be small enough to drown in a bathtub yet, but it's having one heck of a time staying afloat in Lake Pontchartrain. Do you think Mr. Grover Norquist is happy?

I realize that when you say that you believe in "less Federal interference in private business and local affairs," you don't mean that the Federal Government should butt out of disaster recovery. However, the problem is that the line between what seems like an annoying and pointless government regulation on an average day might make a huge difference in how well the government can respond to situations like Katrina.

And in the case of property developers draining swamps you've chosen an unfortunate example, since the shrinking of wetlands on the delta contributed greatly to the impact of the storm. Regardless of the moral culpability of any individual developer or group of developers, the combination of scorn for "tree-hugger" concerns, willingness to ignore scientific data about natural flood patterns, and desire for quick profit in a booming real estate market had deadly results for many of our fellow-Americans. And most of those affected had neither control nor say in the decisions that led to that development, nor did they make any profit therefrom. They merely had the misfortune to live near the former wetlands.

However, I will gracefully accept and acknowledge the overall substance of your complaint: Democrats have done an outstanding job of misrepresenting ourselves through poor communications. Too much information, too much detail of too little relevance to too few people, contradictory information, excessive spin (yes, we're not immune to that all-pervading political virus), too much detail and not enough big picture - our Party is guilty as charged. It confuses and discourages many Democrats, too.

What Auntie Pinko would like to hear the next Democratic candidate for the Presidency say is something like this:

"My Administration will provide for the safety of Americans by investing in a strong infrastructure of Federally-coordinated, funded, and controlled basic disaster preparation and response services that will work closely with local governments, and fund local governments to participate and enhance those services as needed for their unique needs."

I also think it's time for the United States to switch over from the "Rambo" mode of international problem solving to something more along the lines of the Kennedy or even Eisenhower model. The next Democratic candidate for the Presidency could say something along the lines of:

"My Administration will provide for the security of Americans by using a vigorous program of diplomacy, economic incentives and sanctions, and coalition-building to limit the access of terrorists and governments that abuse human rights to financial and material resources, and to assist governments struggling to build more equitable and prosperous nations in achieving their goals."

And finally, given the 'perfect storm' of economic crises that are building rapidly to a head, I would want that candidate to say something similar to:

"My Administration will provide for the prosperity of Americans by providing incentives and sanctions for businesses to keep and create quality jobs for Americans, and helping businesses meet the cost of a strong workforce by ensuring the availability of quality education, health care, housing, and transportation."

This Democratic program to ensure safety, security, and prosperity will carry a price tag. But compared to the costs of tax cuts for the wealthy, a futile and deadly military adventure in Iraq, and the devastation of a major American city, it will be pretty cheap. Handing out pork piecemeal, tax cuts, nickel-and-diming essential budget items may appear attractive, but as my own grandmother used to say, "penny wise, pound foolish!"

The Democratic Party isn't perfect and Auntie doesn't cherish the illusion that all Democrats agree with me about priorities, or that all Democratic elected officials would make such choices. But as you point out yourself, Ron, could it possibly be worse than what we have now? Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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