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Another Look at the Democratic Agenda

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On June 13th, Democrats unveiled their domestic platform, "A New Direction for America." Coupled with the Dems' defense agenda, "real security," this is the platform that Democratic candidates will use as they prepare for the mid-term elections on November 7th. How cogent is it?

One way to gain perspective is to compare what Democrats are saying to the four ideological pillars of the Republican Party: strong defense, lower taxes, small government, and family values?

Strong Defense While President Bush's approval ratings continue to hover in the thirties, his strong suit remains defense. The June 9-11 Gallup Poll found that fifty-one percent of Americans approve of the way he is handling the war on terror. This explains the GOP resolution introduced in the House of Representatives on June 14th that linked the war in Iraq to the war on terror. The Republican base remains convinced that there is a strong link between 9/11 and Iraq. They buy Bush's pitch, "better to fight them there, so we don't have to fight them here."

The Democratic response has three parts. The first calls the war in Iraq a ghastly mistake, evidence of incompetence, and demands a timetable for withdrawal. On June 15th, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, "[The Democrats'] new direction would say to the Iraqi people: we will not be in your country indefinitely, we will not construct permanent bases, and we will not control the flow of your oil. We will work with you and your neighbors diplomatically to ensure that the reconstruction of Iraq is successful." The second aspect of the Dems response seeks to shift focus to defense of the homeland. Democrats argue that the Bush Administration has short-changed homeland security. One of their proposals is to immediately enact all the recommendations of the 9/11 commission. The third part of the response is to reinvigorate diplomacy; strengthen our ties with our traditional allies so that they can help us in Iraq and the war in terror, in general.

Lower Taxes No sooner had Democrats unveiled their "New Direction for America" than Tom Reynolds, chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee labeled it a "rehashing of the failed, tax-and-spend liberal policies of the past." Dems responded that an essential element of their agenda is "restore the budget discipline of the 1990's that helped eliminate deficits and spur record economic growth." In other words, Democrats advocate a balance budgets, pay-as-you-go philosophy. Their agenda plans to raise revenues by reducing subsidies to HMO's, oil and gas companies, and "tax giveaways that encourage companies to move jobs overseas."

Small Government Neither the Democratic or Republican agenda talks about two topics that concern many Americans: the growth of the Federal government and the stealth construction of a police state by the Bush Administration. Historically, Dems were the Party accused of advocating the creation of gigantic Federal bureaucracies. But five years of George Bush and company have seen the largest increase in Federal spending in thirty years. Much of this has been due to the blank check given to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Democrats talk about reigning in this spending, building a "smart" military, and resetting the priorities for Homeland Security. They also promise that if they regain control of the House or Senate they will launch investigations into the sweetheart deals that have been an ongoing part of the Iraq debacle. However, few Dems have the temerity to attack the "sacred cow" of the Federal budget, the more than $500 billion spent on defense.

The Democratic agenda fails to mention the Bush regime's construction of a police state. Their autocratic design has a broad scope. It begins with the White House plan to eliminate the separation of powers, replace it with an imperial presidency, where what Dubya wants overrides the wishes of Congress and the judiciary. Another aspect is the steady erosion of due process rights for all Americans, who now can have their private conversations monitored, even in church, without any judicial recourse.

Family Values Republicans have cleverly portrayed themselves as the champion of "traditional" family values. Their campaign against same-sex marriage is an integral part of a propaganda campaign portraying them as defenders of the traditional family. Nonetheless, the policies of the Bush Administration have damaged the average American family. Dems address some of these issues in their domestic agenda by calling for affordable health care, lower gas prices, and an increase in the minimum wage, but they fail to mention their values by focusing exclusively on policies. Another face of this issue is the dishonesty and venality that's an integral part of Republican hegemony. Democrats mention this in their "culture of corruption" rhetoric but fail to tie this to the grand design of the Bush Administration: creation of an imperial presidency, election fraud, and pandering to the rich and powerful.

Democrats have produced an agenda that provides Americans with real choices, but their platform lacks bite. Dems describe alternative policies, but not the underlying values. They don't make it clear that they are about "the common good" while Republicans are focused on the individual, "what's in it for me?"

Democrats need to describe the choice in the November election in unmistakable terms. To say that voters will choose between a Republican Party that blindly supports America's slide into fascism or a Democratic Party that wants us to continue as a democracy.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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