We are two Democrats, one of us a baby boomer and the other a millennial. Not only are we of different ages, but we also have vastly different perspectives. Despite this, we hold similar core values. For different reasons, we feel that the Democratic Party has left us. What we are concerned with here is addressing challenges to our core values as a society and redefining what being a Democrat means in today’s circumstances.
While we both believe in social compassion, we do not believe that a political party that exists solely to be compassionate, to protect social programs, or to raise trillions in revenue represents us.
We believe in a vibrant, aggressive American economy enhanced by growth, innovation, and progress. These words have ceased to mean anything in our national dialogue. They have not been articulated, let alone strongly advocated, by Democrats recently, including the president. The same can be said for the Republican Party.
We are faced with an administration that focuses principally on so-called fairness and redistribution— key issues to Democrats of any age. But the Obama administration is seemingly unconcerned with stimulating the economy, despite the president’s 2011 proposed American Jobs Act. Beyond this, we fail to see the centrality of economic growth in Democratic messaging. Unless we have a growth-oriented economy, we have no prayer of succeeding as a nation or as a party.
What’s more, as Ben Casselman writes in The Wall Street Journal, the jobs recovery that we are seeing—albeit limited—is proceeding on two different tracks. The young, undereducated, and unemployed are not experiencing the recovery that those with decent jobs have. It follows that we need specific, tailored sets of initiatives for these groups and, crucially, for minorities.
Indeed, the Republicans do not have a plan themselves, which should make it all the more appealing to Democrats to do this. They must advocate an agenda to educate people, provide job training and empowerment for those in poor communities; an agenda to address educational choice, vouchers, and specific tax breaks for employers who are prepared to invest in areas of high unemployment and low economic growth.
In the same way that Bill Clinton was able to revive the Democratic Party through the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1990s, we stand for a new Democratic Party dedicated to addressing the new realities of stagnant growth, a fatally compromised American dream, and a set of economic and budgetary challenges that put America’s leadership at risk and our ability to meet the basic needs of our citizens in peril.
And as Al From, the founder and former CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council, argues in his new book, The New Democrats and the Return to Power, there is an opportunity to create a movement on the left that’s based on the economic centrism, national security, and entitlement reform that provided Clinton such success during his two terms. From’s book is certainly a useful reminder that there is currently no centrist Democratic agenda which is—in our opinion—the only way to resurrect the party.
As more Americans realize that the basic American bargain—hard work and playing by the rules in exchange for increased opportunity and a better life—is gone, the need for a re-envisioned Democratic Party becomes imperative. Jobs are scarce, education is inadequate, health care is in crisis, and retirement programs are going bankrupt.
These are serious concerns for both of us. Unless we save entitlement programs, there will be no safety net for the millennials and those who come after. What’s more, older people have paid into these programs and deserve to be cared for as they age—both as a basic human principle and by virtue of their financial contribution over decades of working life. Unless we get entitlements under control, our budgetary problems, whether it be in the immediate or more likely in the next 20-30 years, will cripple our nation. For the basic bargain to exist, we need to have social policies that work and fiscal policies that are responsible—they cannot be mutually exclusive.
We believe the answer with health care is making the Affordable Care Act work, not politicizing it. If we need to extend the time frame for the individual mandate, then so be it—we need to make sure that it delivers on the promise of affordable health care for all. We need to consider options like the extension of the enrollment deadline as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and nine other Democratic senators suggest, as well as options like purchasing insurance across state lines and tort reform. And even though the president has only vowed to keep his promise that nobody will lose their plan if they want to keep it—though only for another year—because his back was up against the wall, he must follow through.
The Democrats must commit themselves forthrightly to energy independence and explicitly make clear that we have to finish the Keystone Pipeline, continue the judicious use of fracking all the while being as sensitive to the environmental effects of both initiatives and to the impact of climate change on our nation and world.
Despite these crises, our political leaders offer no coherent and compelling message that balances social justice, economic growth, and the hard realities of what we face. The American dream doesn’t work anymore—not for the baby boomers and not for the millennials.
It is not at all clear that Democrats today are able or willing to stand up for American values and support fiscal discipline and tough national defense at the same time. Indeed, we support gay marriage and women’s rights, especially the right to choose. But the notion that Democrats can’t back at least some modest spending cuts and reforms to entitlements is dangerous and counterproductive. And while the Obama administration claims to be solely concerned with the middle class, we see no evidence that its policies have been effective in generating jobs or improving education.
We witnessed a world aghast at the division and partisanship that is destroying Washington just a few weeks ago. As we teetered on the brink of defaulting on our debt, voices around the globe called us out for what we have become: dysfunctional.
We have heard it from everyone—from the Chinese, key figures in the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, Mexicans who referred to our politicians as “berrinche”(spoiled little rich kids), and our own business leaders, who pleaded with legislators to work out a compromise before we shattered the world economy. And the American public spoke out, too—young and old—calling on Washington to get its act together.
Though the Republicans rightly bore the blame for the government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis, the Democrats were hardly innocent. President Obama was nearly as uncommitted to compromise as House Speaker John Boehner; he only appeared more level-headed.
Neither party was in the right here. The Republicans’ flaws are fairly obvious, but the Democrats have more work to do than is commonly acknowledged.
Democrats need a new agenda, a new bargain, and a new set of policies to encourage growth, tax reform, and entitlement reform. The party must come to terms with a sobering truth: If we are not as fiscally prudent as we are socially compassionate, we will accomplish nothing.
Ours has been, until fairly recently, a vibrant two-party system. We are both supporters of and have worked for independent candidates and will continue to do so—especially as today’s Democratic Party fails to produce exciting, centrist candidates that recognize our real fiscal, social, and geopolitical challenges and show willingness to address them through compromise and common sense.
We must recognize the challenges that the new multipolar world poses. We cannot step back and believe that a less confrontational posture will lead to peace with intractable adversaries. Instead, we need a reassertion of our values based on competitiveness, a revitalized American military, and a renewed American spirit—no more turning inward, no more shirking our responsibilities.
The United States is founded upon the greatest and most enduring set of political principles in history, but today we seem unable to live up to them. You can’t have a successful American dream with no jobs, no safety net, and a stalled economy.
Our salvation lies in the possibility of a re-envisioned Democratic Party—a party that stands by the values that we hold dear while also advocating responsible policies, not just compassion.