Searching For The Democrats

Tuesday July 27, 2004

Many readers will ask why anyone in their right mind would go to either the Democratic or Republican convention, why I would willingly submit to endless queues for security checks, only to spend even more hours enduring formulaic political harangues. The answer is that I’m here because at age 63, after forty plus years of voting for Democratic candidates, I still nourish the hope that my party will emerge as the DEMOCRATS—as the unmistakable champions of human dignity, peace and justice, and saving the planet. From my experience at the 2000 convention, held in Los Angles, I know that I will not be alone in nurturing these hopes, that for every professional politician, lobbyist, or celebrity groupie, there will be several participants that want to take back our country, who continue to believe that America can be a beacon of democracy.  

There will be three signals as to whether or not the 2004 version of the Democratic Party intends to defend what some have called “deep” democracy and stand as a real alternative to the Busheviks. The first is the Democratic platform, the second their slate of candidates for the House and Senate, and finally, their presidential candidate, John Kerry. This article surveys the Democratic platform (available at www.democrats.org/about/platform.html). 

A couple of months ago I was at a party in the Berkeley hills and had a conversation with UC professor George Lakoff, the author of the notable Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. George is interested in fine-tuning the Democratic message and had been trying to get access to the Kerry inner circle so that he could sell them on a possible campaign slogan, “Help Us Make America Strong Again.” 

I haven’t talked to George since, but his slogan seems to have been well received; on the campaign trail Kerry is using “Let America be America Again,” and the title of the Democratic platform is “Strong at Home, Respected in the World.” The platform preamble asserts that Democrats want “a strong, growing economy,” “strong, healthy families,” and “a strong American community.” One can almost envision an advertisement claiming, “Eat Democrat and build a healthy body eight ways!” 

One of the problems for the Democrats is how to build upon the energy generated by the Dean campaign without turning off swing voters, to capture that sense of outrage without the manic outbursts. The Democratic platform won’t accomplish this. I can’t envision anyone reading this document, jumping up and yelling, “Give me a Democratic victory, or give me death!” It is a safe document, one that contains something for all wings of the party, but it lacks the bite that a truly progressive document would bring and, therefore, it won’t generate new enthusiasm.  

The most interesting platform item is the inclusion of “Energy Independence” as an important aspect of national security policy. It’s impossible to imagine a similar item in the Republican platform. 

The biggest disappointment is the section on the war in Iraq. The platform writers begin by noting that everything about this war has been flawed: “this administration badly exaggerated its case…did not build a true international coalition…disdained the United Nations weapons inspection process… did not send sufficient forces into Iraq…[and] went into Iraq without a plan to win the peace.” Rather than state the obvious, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit” (to quote LBJ), the Demos wimp out; their plan is not to withdraw troops but rather to internationalize the mission. The document warns, “If we fail to create viable Iraqi security forces…there is no successful exit for us and other nations.” Unfortunately this is what seems likely to happen—Iraqi security will worsen, leading to civil war. The Democrats give no hint as to what they would do if this occurs. It’s deeply ironic that John Kerry’s famous speech to Congress, against the Vietnam War, was in response to the policies of Richard Nixon, who won the 1968 presidential election, in part, by saying that he had “a secret plan” to end that war. Now it appears that Kerry and his advisors have their own version of a secret plan if the situation in Iraq further deteriorates. 

Republicans bluster on about the military being our best defense, but Democrats believe that a strong America depends upon the resolution of domestic issues such as the creation of meaningful jobs and provision of a healthcare system that works for all Americans. It’s easy to see these issues as differentiators in the election: Bush will continue to advocate tax cuts as his sole economic policy, along with further privatization of health care; Kerry will focus on specific programs for job creation and government mandates to extend healthcare to all children and most Americans in need. 

In summary, the 2004 Democratic platform is one that Kerry can comfortably run on, but one that is unlikely to win over voters who are fed up with the war. However, if the economy continues to be shaky, the domestic policies may help the Democrats win over undecided voters. Of course, besides the substantive issues of the war and the economy, voters will have to make an assessment of character: Is John Kerry a thoughtful, pragmatic statesman or a flip-flopper? The Democratic platform will not help voters answer these questions. Maybe Kerry’s speech will. Stay tuned. 


Bob Burnett is a retired Cisco Systems executive and a Berkeley resident.