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Democrats Have No Easy Answers in Election

Tuesday July 08, 2003

Your June 27 editorial “It Could Get Worse” closes by urging the newly formed Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club to take “as part of its mission finding better Democrats for California races, so that we won’t be stuck with embarrassments like (Governor) Davis in the future.” We certainly intend to do our best to meet such a challenge. But you, like us, know this will be no easy matter. The challenge in getting better politicians into office lies in organizing and mobilizing a majority that will elect them. This might be relatively easy in Alameda County, but we’re not doing as well at the statewide level, or in most of the country. Indeed, we are witnessing a rightward shift that is fueled by an administration that is masterful at manipulating people’s fears and obfuscating the issues. 

On the one hand, we are faced with the most dangerous and destructive right-wing government in our country’s history. Every day it extends and consolidates its hold over our national life. It has immense resources, a carefully thought-out strategy, and the misplaced trust of a frightened public. On the other hand, we have a Democratic opposition that in spite of all its weaknesses is committed to the preservation of our basic constitutional liberties, respects what remains of our social contract, and seems to recoil from the Bush Administration’s proclivity for military adventure. However, this opposition is largely bereft of a clear, alternative direction for the country: a deficiency that has been one of the political right’s greatest strengths. 

While we must do everything we can to keep the right from gaining more power, we must also understand that we cannot stave it off for long by electing Democratic politicians who validate its message by retreating or, indeed, embracing its issues. 

We must do two different things at the same time. We must do what it takes to defeat the right at the polls and we have to find a way out of the ‘lesser evil’ trap. We have to create a progressive force that can present a vision of a new path forward for America, a vision that is serious, convincing, and practical. It must be capable of generating the moral capital and organizational energy to overcome the vast resources at the disposal of the right. We believe we see the seeds of such a movement in the progressive insurgency that is presently taking shape in the Democratic Party. Indeed, the impetus for our new Democratic Club came from a desire to participate in this process. 

As progressives we must recognize that our failure to elaborate a positive and realistic alternative vision for the development of our national community contributed to the appeal of the right’s message. Yes, we have had some good ideas. But we are divided up into single-issue groups, more often than not saying no to something – opposing changes and policies we don’t like. That’s not sufficient. We need an inspiring vision of America’s future. Not pie in the sky – but a serious, comprehensive proposal for improving life in our country. We, as a people, need to renew our collective covenant; we must invest in our social infrastructure (health, education, retirement), rebuild the sinews of our industrial economy and learn to better care for our planet that is home to all. We must reject the costly, destructive, and shameful pretensions to empire, recognizing that our nation’s security can only be achieved by working with – not against – the international community. 

We know of no shortcuts or easy answers. We have to think deeply, organize better, and put aside old formulas and pat answers. Most importantly, we must not despair. It seems to us that the right has lost faith in humanity’s future, searching for meaning in boundless acquisition and in the exercise of untrammeled power. Pessimism and disillusionment nourish the soil in which the right flourishes. In a world perceived as ‘zero-sum,’ where one person’s gain is another’s loss, where there are no possibilities of a brighter collective future, the politics of greed, and naked, cynical power win out.  

Our greatest strength is our love for our national community – our resolve to build an America that will be safer, more prosperous, and that will work better for all of us. 

As the Planet editorial noted, the WDRC had a standing room only crowd (160 persons) at its June meeting. Our next general meeting will be July 29 at 7 p.m. in larger quarters: the First Congregational Church at 27th and Harrison in Oakland. The agenda will focus on why and how progressives should fight the recall of Governor Gray Davis. 


Matthew Hallinan and Sandra Chelnov are co-chairs of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club.