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The Alarm Has Sounded

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or months before Election Day, a score or more of Democratic politicians, their campaign managers and communications directors, wives and friends, and allies sent message after message. The subject lines ran from dire to dreaming. A few said "Don't Delete!" which prompted faster deletion. Many called the recipient "friend" and "valued supporter." A handful came close to calling the Speaker of the House and the Senate Minority Leader the anti-Christ. However, most of the messages were positive and pointed to specific actions Democrats would take if they could hold the Senate and make gains elsewhere. Now, the messages have pretty much stopped. Democrats were drubbed on November 4, 2014.

Aside from partisan redistricting, Democrats are victims of four trends begun under Ronald Reagan in the 1980's. First, Reagan made hatred of the federal government the dominant meme in the GOP. Being the Great Communicator, he laid the groundwork for it to become the overriding thought about politics in bars, barber shops, and bargain stores. Even more damaging, this idea and its policy consequences have left the poor and working classes, generally supporters of Democrats, convinced that the government cannot and will not help them, so why participate in elections.

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Second, after the de-escalation of military programs following the Vietnam War, Reagan promoted a more active use of the armed forces overseas and sought costly equipment. Armed intervention has been nearly continuous ever since. Military contracts have ballooned. The so-called war on drugs also escalated under Reagan. The 1986 law intended to stem drug trafficking has been misused; more than half of all prisoners in the federal correctional system are incarcerated for mandatory length drug sentences. With this trend has come increasing money spent on prison facilities. These decisions come at the expense of keeping the deficit down and maintaining the socioeconomic safety net, two areas of policy at which Democrats excel.

Third, almost every Republican politician has signed Grover Norquist's no new taxes pledge despite the obvious conflict it poses with their oaths of office. The result has been that efforts to close tax loopholes or return the federal tax structure to the progressive, growth inducing structure of the 1950's and 60's are non-starters. No legislation with a price tag gets much, if any, Republican support unless the proposed act robs Peter to pay Paul. The federal government does not bring in enough money but better to limit the government as much as possible, relying on blunt instruments like sequestering, than do something as breathtaking as raising revenues and cutting military and other expenses after considered debate. Then again, the GOP has shown no interest in trying to balance the budget since Newt Gingrich was Speaker.

Fourth, Reagan began the trend of spending great amounts of money to get elected and confining most campaign appearances to select audiences. Gone are the days when volunteers went door-to-door for candidates and hosted parties for local politicians. Opportunities to meet candidates organized by civic organizations like the League of Women Voters and the Jaycees are extinct. Now, those running for office spend millions on commercials, glossy mailers, and robo-calls. Rarely do the contents of these communications contain any substantive policy positions. Mostly, they smear the opponent. Respond to any request for a donation and the aforementioned e-mail messages begin pouring in. Raising money has become a full-time job for elected officials who supposedly already have one: representing their constituents.

Despite the brief reign of McCain-Feingold, where politicians find money to fund their campaigns has always been an issue. The Supreme Court only blasted the doors off a structure that already had every window open. Money influences policy making. The effect is that members of Congress make decisions based on the interests of corporate and wealthy donors more than two-thirds of the time. The entire basis for the Supreme Court decisions striking down campaign finance rules is false according to the evidence. Given that corporations and wealthy individuals find their interests best protected by Republicans, Democrats are at a disadvantage.

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Where do Democrats go from here? Interestingly, one of the few e-mail messages sent on November 5 was a call to action. Instead of donations, a progressive group wants to build an army of volunteers who will go door-to-door to introduce their fellow citizens to progressive candidates in the 2016 elections. Democrats have a registration advantage in many states that have bought the Republican line or voted out Democrats in 2014. Even in the reddest of states, Democrats exist in large numbers. Mobilization of these citizens will not be easy. Before it can happen, the Democratic Party must establish what it represents.

The most successful Democratic politician on the campaign trail in 2014 was Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Warren's message is to reestablish regulation of Wall Street and banks, reduce the terms of student debt, reset income taxation to Clinton-era levels and use the Buffet Rule, limit campaign funding, enact reasonable safeguards regarding the sale of firearms, end discrimination of the LGBT community, balance the budget, protect women's health and economic rights, pass comprehensive immigration reform (including the DREAM Act), attack the issues that lead to bankruptcy, and cut spending on the military. None of this is radical. Indeed, it is more centrist than progressive and encompasses many longstanding Democratic policies.

In short, the way has been established. What is needed now is leadership, not by politicians, but by "blue" groups., Bold Progressives, and many others need to rally around a set of principles and make their positions known to the wider populace, not just those who have accounts with ActBlue. Education of this country's citizens is necessary. Let the Republicans pray on fears, real or imagined. Democrats need to build a broad foundation of active participants conversant in how the party will recreate the America that supports all individuals in their quest to live happy, prosperous, healthy lives. In the end, the new progressive message is to turn the clock back to before Reagan began our downfall. How conservative is that?

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Bear Kosik's evaluation of the state of democracy in the USA, Restoring the Republic: A New Social Contract for We the People, was published on March 30, 2016. His novels, novella, and full-length plays are available on Amazon and Smashwords. (more...)

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