Where Do We Go From Here? Pt IIb
There is a great reckoning coming. This national party is coming to a close. The dollar seems poised for imminent collapse. Tuesday’s announcement from the Bank of South Korea suggests just how close we may be to some kind of economic meltdown. Koreans hold less than 6% of Foreign US reserves. Together China and Japan have about 50%. Imagine what would happen if they announced that they were giving up on the dollar. We have deficits as far as the eye can see. No willingness on the part of the Republican Party or leadership to talk seriously about the deficit or about the trade deficit. No willingness to part with their adherence to more and ever greater tax cuts. We owe foreigners a lot of money and we are poised to owe them more. The Republicans are toying not just with our national welfare but with our very sovereignty. We have a major health care crisis. Not simply because 1 in 5 Americans has no health insurance. But because costs are rising ever faster, more and more of our GDP is consumed by health care, and it’s not as if people are making a conscious choice between consumption of health care over other goods. Our education system is failing and a bipartisan group of state officials just gave the Bush administration’s main contribution to this issue an F. The gap between the wealthy and the poor continues to grow. The middle class is increasingly squeezed. We are dependent on foreign producers of petroleum. And the earth is warming with no foreseeable intervention planned from the nation that contributes the lion’s share of the carbon emissions that are responsible for this warming. The issues are real and vast.
So where does the Democratic Party stand on this? What is its narrative? James Carville presciently notes that it hasn’t got a narrative but a litany. Polls show (as I repeatedly stress) that people do not trust the Democratic Party and do not know what it stands for anymore. America need a simple, compelling story that articulates the Democratic vision and which adheres to Democratic values. Democrats need to be willing to articulate it even when there are political risks involved. After the Yankees lost to the Red Sox in the baseball playoffs last year, after being several outs away from winning twice, Derek Jeter was asked if losing this way hurt more. He looked at the reporters and said losing stinks however you do it. It doesn’t matter if you lose four straight or lose 4-3, you still lose. Democrats could use a little of this medicine. At the rate we are going, it doesn’t much matter if we lose 51-48 or 62-38.
What does matter is that Democrats rally around their core beliefs. We need to do this and we need to do this now because the coming crisis engendered by Republican polices presents the best chance in half a century for Democrats to seize the national subtext. When the dollar falls and interest rates spike, the economy will stall. Millions will go bankrupt and Americans will witness one of the most drastic declines in their standard of living in the nation’s history. This will be the time for Democratic vision. This will be the time for a Democratic voice that shows the need for stewardship of the land, for policies of compassion in health and social protection, for initiatives that begin to protect us from the sway of foreign petroleum producers, for responsible budget policies and progressive tax structures, for investments in the future through real investments in education, and for policies that get America’s debt habit and poor savings under control. The time for this kind of leadership is coming and Democrats need to be ready by highlighting its imminent arrival and beginning to articulate the vision of what to do -- no matter how far fetched, how liberal, how dated, how politically risky.
One of my favorite stories in politics comes from Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. The candidate Willie Stark finds his political voice and campaigns against political corruption but loses to his opponent. Afterwards, a disaster at a school that results from corrupt dealings among officials convinces people that Stark was right and he sweeps to victory in the next election. There may not be immediate pay off to saying what you believe and campaigning on what you think is right. But there is always a payoff to standing for the truth as you see it. If Democrats can coalesce around their vision and begin to articulate it, they will reap large dividends soon. More importantly, Democrats need to stand up and point out what is wrong and what is coming. Their foresight will be rewarded because sooner or later, we all pay the piper.