I went to a small gathering of local activists in the Portland area the other day. We talked about many matters, most related to the question of getting the Democrats to take back the political high ground in this country. One of the participants brought up the point that the Democrats have lost the moral argument in the last couple of decades. The Republicans have pushed a message that says that government is the cause of all of our problems and that if we just get rid of its influence on our lives we can achieve great things through our own individual strength of character. This is a message at odds with the traditional Democratic message that this country sinks or swims together and that government is a vehicle by which we can keep all of us afloat instead of just the few who can afford to buy the best life-jackets. Democrats lost sight of that message when they became to focused on the narrow interests of special interest groups (whether it was leftist social organizations in the 70s or corporatists in the 80s and 90s). They lost the moral argument that they knew how best to elevate the spirit of the American people. The Republicans became the defenders of the little guy against the depravations of the government while Democrats became the defenders of the "radical" groups who wanted to use the might of the government to force their social agenda on the rest of us. When the Democrats started to lose the argument they started to lose the power. When they realized they were the power they searched around for the cause and came to the mistaken conclusion that the Republicans had the better argument (self-interest over the interests of all) but that it needed to be tempered with the compassion of Democratic ideals. Thus was born the New Democratic movement of Bill Clinton and the DLC. This was an argument that stemmed the tide, for a while. But it was ultimately a losing argument because it included a concession that the Republican core philosophy was right and the Democratic core philosophy was wrong. All it would take for the Republicans to seal their resurgence into a "permanent" supremacy would be to adopt the New Democratic line about compassionate implementation of conservative principles. Thus was born George W. Bush. What this proves is a basic fact of life: you can't win the game if you allow the opposition to write all the rules. What the Democrats need to do is regain the moral high ground. A narrow focus on issues will get them no where as long as the Republicans can continue to insist that they are the defenders of all that is good and right in the American soul. With that in mind, I give you the following op-ed by Howard Dean that was published yesterday in the Des Moines Register. In it Gov. Dean launches a direct attack on the duplicity of the Bush economic policy. He points out the simple truth that has been known for some time but few have been willing to publicly acknowledge: that the Republican economic plan is to bankrupt the federal government so that it can no longer provide the social services that progressives spent more than a century building:
Deliberately creating such an economic climate is not only irresponsible, it is immoral. The Congressional Budget Office recently announced the federal budget deficit has hit $400 billion. Federal revenues have hit the lowest level since the end of the Eisenhower administration. Unemployment has hit a nine-year high. Make no mistake: We are in the fight for the ideals that make our country strong. On the one side is a Democratic vision of a country in which we commit as a community to providing affordable health care to every American, public education to every child, a healthy environment to our families and Social Security and Medicare to our seniors. On the other is a Republican Party that seeks to privatize Social Security and education and to open our national parks to the highest bidder. The sooner the Democrats recognize this isn't a fight over tax cuts, but a battle for our country's heart, soul and future, the sooner the American people will join our cause. What America needs now is a Democratic Party with the backbone to stand up for the future of our country and against President Bush"s reckless economic policies. It is time for the Democratic Party to speak up and be clear in telling the American people this one incontrovertible fact: We will never achieve social justice in this country without fiscal responsibility. My central commitment upon taking office will be to repeal these tax cuts and to put our fiscal house in order. We must meet our fundamental obligations to teach our children, care for our parents and defend our nation. We will not meet these obligations if we bankrupt our country. My commitment to the values that make us proud to be Americans is absolute. If we fail to defeat this president and stop his radical agenda, we will surrender the central ideal proclaimed from one American generation to the next throughout our history: "We are one nation, and we are all in this together."
Howard Dean understands that this is a battle for the moral high ground. Furthermore, he knows how to make this THE fundamental issue of this election. As he said, this is not about any one particular policy issue. It is about a fundamental disagreement about human nature itself. Are we in this only for ourselves or are we in it for us all? Are we our brother's keeper?