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November 07, 2002

Policy Break


I’ve done my best to avoid the whole topic of politics lately, but I was struck by the juxtaposition of two columns on the NY Times Op-Ed page. One was by that Democratic party supporter, Bob Herbert. It was headlined “Tiptoeing to Defeat” and could be summed up by the following excerpt:

Despite the economic burdens that the middle and working classes are shouldering, despite the two million jobs lost and the scandalous concentration of wealth and income in the precincts of the very rich, the Democrats have yet to offer a compelling alternative to the reverse Robin Hood policies of the G.O.P.

In short, the Democrats lost because they didn’t hold true to their core beliefs. Now on the same page we had an opinion piece by David Sahmbaugh on the possibility of the Communist Party ‘losing’ China. But in it, he again and again refers to simply “the party” and when I first picked it up, I was confused about which party he meant. Then I started noticing how much of the column could be describing today’s American Democrats as well as China’s commies.

Widespread alienation and cynicism exist at all levels of society about politics and the party…Rampant corruption has laid bare the insufficiency of the legal system…

Gee, I suppose anyone who has read about how the cigarette industry settlement is being carved up or about what’s happening with asbestos litigation might agree with that statement. And of course, one should keep in mind that the trial lawyers are the biggest financial contributors to the Democratic party.

Many of the party’s current problems are the result of broad processes associated with socioeconomic modernization and greater social stratification. Significant parts of society have been left behind as others have benefited from market reforms.

This is a fairly accurate description of modern America, too. But other than continuing to call for incrementally increased income redistribution, the Democrats have very little to offer here, intellectually. The Dems are remarkably silent on how to get more people to play and win the game of capitalism, being of the conviction that most of the population will never be able to take risks or plan for the future like adults.

Even the parts of society that have experienced some economic gains pose new challenges for the party. These gains have led to rising…demands for improvements in health care, public safety, jobs, education, environmental quality and care for the elderly. The party at all levels is attempting to meet demands brought on by the breakdown of many social services, but it cannot fully meet these demands, in part because it has suppressed avenues of input from the people themselves.

With the Democratic position being that the only solution to any problem is big government programs or employer mandates, the challenges facing modern America are not really solvable—too many needs, too few golden-gooses to pluck. But the Democrats remain stubbornly disinterested in, say, self-help or civil-society input.

Maybe Mr. Herbert should take another look at his own “core beliefs”—they might not help the Democratic’s political fortunes as much as he thinks they would.



posted by Friedrich at November 7, 2002


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