Democrats: A Party of Beggars
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Democrats: A Party of Beggars

They Need an Agenda for Governing … But They Keep Just Asking for Money

Dear Democrats,

Welcome as it is to see momentum building toward a major election effort this year, I’m still waiting to see what the program is other than being against Trump and #MAGA.

Of the more than 25 emails a day I get from different Democratic organizations, at least 24 of them are asking for money, usually just to build a campaign war chest; I’ve stopped answering the phone. Though some are better constructed than others with an actual issue in focus, as a group, the emails are growing more pathetic in tone with every issue is a crisis this week. Rarely do they even mention toward what purpose contributions will be spent. Many just say that Democrats need to build donations just because Republicans are collecting donations from people better economically fixed than I am.

We all understand money is the engine of campaigns. But it’s January, and we’ve created a weariness about money and politics. Individual Dems want dough, the committee to elect women wants money, the separate Democrat committees for House and Senate elections, governor candidates, left-handed Democrats … the list goes on. It makes you long for the one they don’t ask: If you send money once, these messages will disappear.

If I could send back something other than pre-determined checklists, I’d send this message: We’re waiting to hear what Democrats stand for, rather than just what they are against.

After all, that’s what went wrong with this recent Democratic stand in the Senate that shut down the government for a weekend. Democrats opposed what Trump and conservative Republicans wanted on immigration policy, but, for negotiating reasons, never quite made clear what Democrats principles are.

Indeed, someone (like Trump) looking at the Democratic tactics could—and does—say that Democrats simply are against whatever the White House is seeking, and not putting forth a real solution. His easy to understand label: Obstructionist.

We can quibble about the details—New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the minority leader, did put a lot on the table, taking from the Republicans’ list of long-term wants in that case, but that hardly was a Democratic vision statement. Democrats should not put forth that we are victims of the Trump state, they should be making a case.

I intensely dislike the Republican program; it favors the rich at the expense of the middle class and more vulnerable, it adds to a sense of division in the country, it values business over consumers and ignores environmental threats, raises money for the military while undercutting food stamps and eliminating support for arts and education. But at least I can understand the message: For Republicans, jobs, jobs, jobs are created when you free business to make more money.

It is heartless, but straightforward. So too is their social policy—“merit” should win, meaning white people should prevail in a society that has institutional bias built in along racial lines, and internationally, “America First” means arming the military to the teeth and bullying anyone who does not do our bidding. As I said, it is wrong-headed, but completely understandable.

At the moment, the Democratic message is multipronged and diluted: We’re against what Trump and Republicans are for, we want more jobs but we disagree about how to get there, we want environmental concerns mixed in with business, we want to own #MeToo without having to earn it by having our own candidates live it. The progressive agenda is clearer on taxing the rich to attack income disparity. The overall Democratic pragmatist arguments coalesce around something like whatever works to avoid terrible outcomes.

Hey, Bernie could do it: You knew what he stood for. Hillary couldn’t. Trump did, and a number of Republicans we hardly remember couldn’t. Why is this so difficult?

The way politics lines up now, it is easy for Republicans to routinely raise new diversionary issues to throw mainstream Democrats a repeatable curveball.

With the hundreds of thousands who are willing to march in the streets for issues like equal pay for women, for more job training, for depending on science rather than ideology, for freedom of choice, for reducing hate, you’d think that Democrats could create clear messages that indeed recognize the greatness of Americans rather than business alone.

Yet the prospects for clear leadership ahead on a national basis, the idea of finding an appealing candidate with a clear reason for seeking the presidency seem less than sparkling.

With emails that beg for $5 donations as their entire substance, what is the expectation of candidates and a central message that is meaningful? The message being sent is that we want money, not ideas. In fact, the messages indicate that our candidates will follow your checklists of what single issue is most important to you, if you only check off whether tax cuts or abortion concerns are at the top of your concerns.

Let’s face it, these are come-ons to build mailing lists for more requests for donations, not petitions to express a need for a different point of view in Washington. I think Republican leaders are aware of most “Democrat” protest positions even as they do the opposite.

Dear Democratic leaders, here’s what I’m seeking: Thoughtful leaders who can persuade others using reason, common sense and a healthy dose of empathy who actually will approach issues of government as real problem-solvers and will follow through with workable solutions. That may not fit on a bumper sticker, but that’s what I want.

I don’t care if you get re-elected. I don’t care if you don’t have enough campaign money.

I care that you tell truths, that you actually go to work on public issues and consider this work public service rather than self-promotion. I want you to care about people as people and not just as pawns. I want to hear workable ideas about making health affordable, about attacking opioid abuse, about turning the mess of immigration into a workable system. That’s what draws the campaign money—some belief that this candidate will make a difference. I want the subways to run on time, and I want to create job training along with these jobs that are supposed to just appear like magic. I want an education president, an environmental protection and consumerist president, I want someone who will think in the foreign arena before shooting off his mouth.

The campaign money will take care of itself.

January 29, 2018