Nothing bugs me more than when my fellow Christians and conservatives complain about how oppressed we are. Look at what happens to Christians elsewhere; we’re not oppressed. Life is unfair for us in certain particular ways but we’re not oppressed. We’re all free to enjoy a reasonably high standard of living and participate politically. By world historical standards, that is the antithesis of oppression.
Same thing with most other groups that claim oppression and victimization about everything, including feminists, LGBT groups, and minority activists groups of various stripes. Things are indeed unfair and could use reform. There are some rights not possessed, some inequalities requiring remedy, and some reforms necessary. But oppression is a very different thing.
Oppression is political suppression and exclusion, the systematic deprivation of basic life and liberty, and the conscious perpetuation of intolerable standards of living. It is not mere economic inequality, it is not the existence of opinions and voices that perpetuate narratives contrary to one’s own liking, and it is not corruption and inefficiency in the system of law and order. Oppression is far more sinister than those. Look to the lawless borderlands of the Middle East and Africa or the darkened halls of Russia and China- there you will find oppression. Look to the plight of blacks in the American South before the 1960s. Look to these- there oppression lies.
But we have slowly rooted out oppression from the American shores, and what a journey it has been. Now, in America, all men and women are free. We have not destroyed injustice- and we never will, though we must always try- but we have eliminated oppression from our system. The grave injustices still present- the plights of inner-city blacks and poor rural whites, the sad condition of undocumented immigrants, the accumulation of plutocratic power at the expense of the democratic spirit- these cannot be forgotten and must be combated with all due force and vigor.
But they are not oppression.
Anarchy begets oppression, for anarchy must be stopped and sheer force is the easiest solution. Consolidated power in any field begets oppression, as power consolidated faces no checks against its excesses. A fair penchant of centralized order mixed with a separation of centers of power is the surest guard against both tyranny and anarchy; it is that magic combination which we English-speaking peoples have been blessed to know for the last 500 years of our history, and have worked to progressively make better. It is that which has shooed away oppression, and that which has preserved our freedom.
Here’s the litmus test: If you can observe something that’s unfair, and you can speak out publicly against it, and take meaningful political action against it, you are not being oppressed. And I’d say that although there are many injustices in American society today, at the public level, there is no oppression save for that against criminals and traitors. And that oppression is called justice.
We do not live in oppression; nor do we live in liberty. To live in liberty requires a level of public self-discipline and social capital that our entitled, victimized, success-worshipping culture does not have; we are slaves to our passions. But, there being an absence of true oppression, we DO live in freedom. And for now, that’s enough.
Is privilege a thing? Of course it is. Is injustice a thing? It’s everywhere. Do we have a corrupt ruling elite and high levels of inequality? You’d have to be blind not to see them.
But are we oppressed?
No. Thanks to the enduring viability of our political tradition of liberty, the sweat of statesmen, and the blood of patriots, we live as free men and women, oppressed by no king. Indeed, there are those with powers over us; but they do not oppress us.
It is the task of our generation to reform our political system to maintain our freedom against the shadows of oppression always lurking at the gate. But it is the further task of our generation to reform our society to one of liberty- and that, in truth, is the far mightier challenge.
And fighting oppression when oppression is not there only distracts from that grander purpose.
A few months ago I was invited to apply to speak at a prestigious speaking engagement at USC. I had an idea of what I wanted to talk about- the history and politics of an inclusive, unified, colorblind American national identity.
I also knew that this perspective- which refutes the core convictions of the multiculturalists- was an unpopular one. And I knew that there were people on the selection board who did not particularly like this opinion, and would probably try to shut it down.
So I told the person who had approached me about giving a talk. “You know that whatever I say, _____________ is going to flip out about it, right?”
“Oh it’s ok, you’ll be fine and whatever you say isn’t going to be offensive.”
So I went ahead and wrote up a lecture on how the melting pot was the mechanism of benign assimilation, how there could be no true equality of opportunity and equality of dignity in a society unless there were some common threads binding all its members together, how a common identity mitigated ethnic and racial divisions when faction is already the inherent condition of humanity, how colorblind ethics and colorblind policy are the only true assurances of equal treatment of the members of any race on the merits of their individuality, and how the 100% Americanism of Theodore Roosevelt and the American Legion is a far better approach to approaching national unity than the divisive identity politics and mosaic model we know now.
I presented the pitch to a panel of individuals planning the event, and they said they liked it a lot! Everyone said there weren’t many people around sharing my particular point of view these days, and so they’d be happy to have me speak. They said they’d email me with the final confirmation in a few days.
A few days later I got an email saying I had not been accepted to speak. I had been expecting this, so I wasn’t offended or anything. But, just to confirm that my suspicions were true, I contacted the person who had originally convinced me to apply.
“Yes, you’re exactly right- ____________ heard the pitch and flipped. She said we would have to be oppressors if we agreed with a single word you said. It was so annoying. But she blocked it because she has that power.”
I didn’t try to get the decision reversed. I knew the outcome and I wasn’t about to stoop to fighting it out.
The individual in question, who blocked my speaking, is a leader in the USC activist community and a very competent one at that. They’re very passionate about social justice, about the rectifying of past wrongs committed upon the oppressed, and about providing a voice to the oppressed. In truth, they’re a beautiful person whom I admire, though I disagree with them on fundamental questions.
The activist leader, like so many other activist leaders, is yet flawed- for they are so deeply engrossed by their own self-righteousness, so totally convinced of the pure rectitude of their intentions, that they are willing to abandon core principles of liberalism- tolerance, dissent, freedom of conscience- in the name of the cause they so fervently aspire to fight for on Earth. So radical is their conviction that they would violate those sacred principles of our political tradition, handed down to us by the wisdom of our forebears and secured for us by the sweat of statesmen and the blood of patriots, to preclude what they interpret as oppression. Yet in fighting what they call oppression, in censoring those who hold opinions they believe to be heretical, the saviors of the oppressed have themselves become the oppressors.
This arrangement is pernicious both for the intellectual minorities, such as myself, and for the power-grasping activist minorities who make a business out of censorship, seeking out every last possible oppressive social construct to boycott or shut down. It is bad for intellectual minorities (such as temperamental conservatives, in my case) because their right to express themselves is curtailed by their fellow citizens. It is bad for activist minorities because they wind up preaching to the choir in an echo chamber, smugly self-satisfied in their rightness, slowly growing lazy and soft as their former intellectual adversaries no longer provide a challenge. The decadence of any absolutist ideology that has won sets in, and lacking a true rival, it ceases to innovate. It ceases to be relevant to the most fervent of its supporters. When it eventually does whither away, useless, it is replaced either by the temperance it fought or by a dark extremism far worse than it ever was, one which devours its own ancestors.
In a word, the tendency of left-wing intellectual activists to seek to shut down those points of view they deem oppressive is not only illiberal, it is self-destructive. Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of the human soul is written a general truth: power consolidated oppresses, then decays. This holds true in the world of ideas just as truly as in the world of politics, and it has been the work of Western civilization to forge a system where ideas could exist in tension with each other, without their great champions dashing each others’ brains on the rocks. Perhaps ideological purity can secure stability in a civilization, for whatever period of time, but it must, in time, break down. Thence chaos shall reign til another unjust peace is secured by the imposition of another ideology. No, it has been the great blessing upon the English-speaking peoples for the past five centuries, that contending points of view have been protected and the diverse array of ideologies have interacted with each other and grown better, rather than seeking hegemony and the destruction of their peers. The engine of our innovation has been the great debate’s continuity. The allowance of doubt and the tolerance of dissent are part of what has made us civilized, and these blessings do not come naturally to the human heart- they have been the result of centuries worth of trial and error, sanctified by ink and blood.
Thus it always dismays me to see acts of intolerance committed and liberal principles renounced, in the name of some ideology or other. My own fellow “conservatives” in the Republican Party, on the Tea Party Right, are as guilty of this intolerance as are the blubbering activists of the Left. Extremism in the defense of liberty is a terrible vice, and moderation in pursuit of justice is a tremendous virtue. Censorship motivated by extremism- an assault upon liberty itself- is a revocation of our fair Western heritage. It is the duty of civilized persons to stand against it whenever they see it in any form.
I’m not angry that I was censored, at least not in a personal outrage sort of way.
I am concerned, however, for the fate of our civilization.
The Millennial’s Call to Action: A Plea to Bring Back the Third Way Democrats and the Rockefeller Republicans
By Sam Dorn (D-NY) and Luke Phillips (R-CA), students at the University of Southern California
We come from two different backgrounds and two very different ways of thinking. One of us is a Third Way Democrat, a native of New York, and has worked on campaigns from the local to the national level. The other is a Republican of the Teddy Roosevelt ilk, a Virginian in California, and a policy thinker. Both of us are proud of our parties, but we are ashamed of what they have become in recent years. We both see the same thing – a breakdown of the grand pragmatic tradition in American politics, caused primarily by party domination by extremists, and a resulting culture of gridlock, partisanship, and ideological warfare in Washington D.C.
The fundamental cause of this crisis, we believe, is the abandonment of the politics of national interest and common sense in exchange for the divisive politics of identity, class warfare, and ideology. Decades ago, these tendencies were fringe elements that managed to take over their parties- Barry Goldwater in 1964 and George McGovern in 1972. Today, the ideological heirs of these revolutionaries command serious popular attention and drive the parties’ dialogue to the extremes, from Elizabeth Warren on the Left to Ted Cruz on the Right.
These red-meat Republicans and dyed-in-the-wool Democrats are far too extreme for the moderate majority of the American people, who see government neither as a savior nor an oppressor, who see social decency as more important than religious dogma or political correctness, who want a fair market economy where all can compete and who equally disdain the overbearingness of the regulatory state and the unfair oligopoly of the major corporate entities and banks. America is a middle-class nation; unfortunately, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are a middle-class party.
Here are our ideas on how the Democratic and Republican Parties can and should change from within, altering their platforms and ideologies to be more moderate, pragmatic, and oriented towards a growing middle class and a responsible citizenry.
Sam on the Democrats
The Democratic Party was founded on the idea that government is not a tool of the wealthy aristocracy, but is rather an instrument for the benefit of the common man. For too long, we have strayed from that idea, believing that more government and more bureaucracy are the best ways to solve our problems. They are not.
In large part, this idea stems from the necessary actions taken by Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman to avert economic collapse and ensure postwar security. What the Democratic Party forgot, however, is that both Roosevelt and Truman believed bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy is meaningless. Every action they took was designed to improve the life of the common man – and they understood government couldn’t fix every problem.
Lyndon Johnson echoed the first part of that sentiment, but he forgot the second. In his estimable quest to eradicate poverty, he presided over a dramatic expansion of the government. With the exception of a few programs – notably Sargent Shriver’s Peace Corps and Head Start, both of which placed a heavy emphasis on local, rather than federal control – this new behemoth government spent much but accomplished little.
In 1988, the Democratic Party found its soul again. Led by Bill Clinton and Al From, the party discovered a middle path between big-government liberalism and bare-bones conservatism. They called themselves the Third Way Democrats. In their manifesto, the New Orleans Declaration (available here), they charted a new course, one that embraced the traditional values of the Democratic Party but respected the power and role of the free market. At its center was this line, renouncing the old orthodoxy: “It is our belief that the fundamental mission of the Democratic Party is to expand opportunity, not expand government.”
After almost 30 years, it is time to return to that legacy and to write a new New Orleans Declaration; not a warmed-over agenda from the 1990’s, but instead a brand-new set of ideas designed to implement pragmatic progressivism for today. And yet, the core of this new Declaration must be the same: Fight for the common man. Create economic opportunities. Enhance basic services. Respect the individual.
As Democrats, we know government has a role to play in helping everybody get their piece of the American Dream. Without government’s necessary hand to protect fair play in the market, a livable environment, and the necessary basic services, society would collapse. We must, however, recognize that government cannot solve every problem and that we cannot tax and spend our way to success. For the common man, the question is not who is ascendant in the political parlor games of Washington. Instead, he cares about whether he has a good-paying job with which he can support his family and raise his children. The common man does not want to live on government handouts. All he wants is an equal chance to succeed. What does that entail? It means a leaner and more efficient government, one that promotes small businesses, rather than hindering them. It means a simpler and fairer tax code. Most of all, it means a smaller government, one that lives within its means, and works to promote opportunity.
Indeed, the common man does not want a government that seeks to fulfill his every need. What he does expect from his government is competency in administering the basic services that make his ambitions to succeed possible: a quality education for all Americans regardless of where they live; well-maintained roads and infrastructure to enable the flow of goods and labor; safety for himself and his family. As President Clinton told us in the 1990’s, “The era of big government is over.” For too long, Democrats been silent and complicit as the federal government has ballooned to unimaginable proportions, seeking to solve every problem by creating a new agency or by writing a new regulation. That mentality must be eradicated and government as it exists must be streamlined, consolidated, and made more efficient.
Democrats must also recognize the boundaries of what government should be addressing and what it should not. Fighting against bigotry and intolerance is non-negotiable and is a historic legacy of the Democratic Party. At the same time, Democrats must also recognize that everyone has right to believe what they will and it is not the government’s role to play arbiter. Finally, the Democratic Party must understand that those who disagree with us are not our enemies; that those who are pro-life are not all intent on removing a woman’s right to choose, and that those who are against gay marriage are not all necessarily homophobic.
What then should the Democratic Party stand for? It should be a party that gives a hand up, not a handout. A party that aspires to give everyone the opportunity to succeed – but does not begrudge those who already have. It is a party that reflects Obama’s focus on fighting for the little guy, Clinton’s empathy for other’s pain, Carter’s devotion to human rights, Johnson’s zeal for civil rights, and Kennedy’s call to service. It is a party that understands faith is a key component of the common man’s life, that the free market is the best job creator in history, and that obstinacy and unwillingness to compromise is of no good to anybody.
We are Democrats – and proud of it. We were founded to fight for the common man – let us return to that principle.
Luke on the Republicans
The Republicans need to move beyond the Reagan-Goldwater legacy and look back to three of their greatest presidents – Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. It is these three men who articulated what a powerful, populist, progressive conservatism can look like.
The first principle is national unity. From Abraham Lincoln’s epic struggle to save the Union to Teddy Roosevelt’s condemnation of identity politics and “hyphenated Americanism,” the Republican Party has always held that America is a national community that is and ought to be more unified than diverse. Clearly there will always be innumerable communities within that community – but it is the things that unite them and bring them together which should be emphasized and celebrated. This doesn’t mean pandering to the conservative base, though that base should be included in the party’s broader coalition. This means adopting a colorblind and duty-based civic identity around which to rally Americans, a unified and inclusive melting pot of which all can be part regardless of race, region, or religion. This sort of identity is the only one that can keep together an increasingly diverse nation.
The second principle is an activist, efficient, and limited government for the public interest. From Lincoln’s approval of the Railroad and Homestead Acts to Roosevelt’s trust-busting and support of progressive reforms to Eisenhower’s funding of the Interstate Highway System, Republicans have always been big supporters of public education, national infrastructure, and technological innovation. The essentials of the welfare state and social safety net, too, define the party, and we should make a point of not only keeping the best of the institutions that progressives have built, but on running them as efficiently as is possible. Government cannot and should not solve every problem, but it should do whatever it can to enhance the competitiveness and robustness of society as a whole without becoming smothering. Republicans should focus not on small government, but on good government. Dwight Eisenhower was one of the most fiscally conservative presidents we ever had, yet he presided over an era of public works and growing public investment. That is the kind of Republicanism we should strive for.
The third principle is a commitment to equality of opportunity and broad-based economic growth. Republicans have always favored expanding equality of opportunity for the poor and marginalized, from Lincoln’s work to provide free land to farmers (including freed slaves) to Roosevelt’s labor legislation to Eisenhower’s support of the Civil Rights Movement. But Republicans have also always sought broad-based economic growth, to create more economic opportunities for people legally free, but economically shackled. Hence, Republicans have always tried to grow the sectors of the economy that employ the most possible people at the best possible wages. This is broad-based growth, as opposed to financial growth that looks strong on paper, but does not benefit the masses of the middle class. An increasingly wealthy society where all are eligible to share in that wealth by the fruit of their labor is the Republican ideal, and we must strive to limit artificial barriers to that growth while actively promoting further growth.
These three principles require us to step back from the socially conservative appeals of the Religious Right, from the ultimate laissez-faire ideology and anti-government paranoia of libertarian fundamentalists, and from Wall Street’s commitment to absolute financial growth which primarily benefits the elites, as opposed to broad-based industrial growth that creates opportunities for the middle class. We need to decide what kind of country we want to live in, and thereby adjust our thinking. Do we want to live in a united, inclusive country with a growing economy open to all and with a responsive, responsible government? Or do we want to live in a socially intolerant, impoverished plutocracy of the sort that the current conservative ideology appears to be leading us towards? A return to Progressive Republicanism would take us towards the former; staying on course with extremist conservatism would take us towards the latter.
In early 1964, shortly after the death of John F. Kennedy, a young group of Progressive Republicans who called themselves “The Ripon Society” published a manifesto, “A Call to Excellence in Leadership” (available here) on principles and policy ideas that should guide the Republican Party. They wrote at a time when the excessive government growth of the New Deal and Great Society was strangling and bankrupting the country, and when the reactionary antics of the McCarthy and Goldwater conservatives threatened national unity. It is time for a new Call to Excellence in Leadership, updated for the realities of the 21st century. May it come sooner rather than later.
If the Republican Party can rediscover its Founding roots and grow back into its true heritage, there is no limit to the good it can do for this country. The Rockefeller Republicans of the mid-20th Century, including Thomas Dewey, Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton, and George Romney, generally held to these ideas before being pushed out of the party by the ascendant conservatives. It would be foolish to repeat that mistake by pushing conservatives out of the party; but a return to a diversity of views within the GOP, and hence debate between Rockefeller Republicans, Reagan Republicans, and Tea Partiers, would be beneficial for the party’s policymaking process and public image.
We have yet to see a national leader rise to prominence who can inspire the moderates of the GOP to rally to them; we hope to see one soon.
If these ideas sound abnormal and unconventional, that’s because they are indeed out of the ordinary for today’s political climate in Washington. But they have been tested by experience, having shaped and molded the America we inhabit today by the great leaders of both parties- from Jackson to Kennedy to Clinton among the Democrats and Lincoln to Roosevelt to Eisenhower among the Republicans. These great presidents served the common people, strove to make government more efficient, responsive, and effective, worked to open up more opportunities for the average American, and fought tooth and nail for national honor. Their historical legacies are stark reminders of their talent, intellect, and character.
Where are these statesmen today? Who will build upon the best pillars of the past, establishing the foundations of a bright and glorious future for American posterity?
A few things are certain. Our country needs more practical politicians, from both parties, committed to problem-solving rather than posturing, compromise rather than conflict. The looming crises we face – including a monstrous national debt, an unsustainable entitlement system, crumbling infrastructure – will not wait and let us catch our breath. They demand action now, and the extremists are not willing to do what is necessary. It is our opinion that the politicians most likely to stare down the great challenges of our day, in both parties, will come from the political center. The American people need more of these bold moderates, who are willing to work together to build a brighter future for our country based on new ideas and timeless principles.
We can only hope that the men and women who can make these reforms in our respective parties will rise up and take the helm of leadership. We will do all we can to support them, and to support the cause of the future of a strong and free America. Our generation has a tremendous task before it- to fix our broken political system and recast the American Dream. As Theodore Roosevelt said, we must dare mighty things; as John F. Kennedy said, we must not shrink from this responsibility- we must welcome it. Fellow millennials, let us rise to the challenge before us and bring moderation, pragmatism, and cooperation back to Washington. The future of our country demands nothing less.
This piece was sent to Sam Dorn by Al From in Spring 2015. I have republished it here.
ABOUT THE DLC
Formed in 1985 to revitalize the Democratic Party and lead it back into the political mainstream, the Democratic Leadership Council has grown rapidly to become a vital center for progressive ideas and policy innovation.
The DLC is a new generation of elected Democrats from all over the country and all levels of government—men and women who are tackling the challenges of a new political era with vigor and imagination.
Their purpose is to lay the intellectual and philosophical basis for renewing the Democratic Party’s capacity to provide national leadership. To that end, the DLC explores and develops creative policy approaches to fundamental questions of national policy. And, by championing far-reaching ideas such as civic obligation and voluntary national service, the DLC is forging a new Democratic agenda for the 1990s and beyond.
At the same time, DLC members hold fast to enduring Democratic principles- our party’s historic commitment to individual liberty, upward mobility, equal opportunity, resolve in defense of freedom, and civic responsibility.
The Democratic Leadership Council includes nearly 400 elected officials in federal, state, and local posts around the nation. Currently chaired by Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, its previous chairmen are Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, Senator Charles S. Robb of Virginia, and House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt off Missouri.
The New Orleans Declaration
A Democratic Agenda for the 1990s
This statement of Democratic principles was endorsed by the Fourth Annual Conference of the Democratic Leadership Council in New Orleans, Louisiana, March 22-25, 1990.
With this New Orleans Declaration, members of the Democratic Leadership Council reaffirm our commitment to the fundamental values and principles that have traditionally guided our party- and can unite it again today.
This Declaration carries forward the best of our Democratic tradition: Jefferson’s belief in individual liberty and responsibility; Jackson’s credo of equal opportunity for all, and special privilege for none; Roosevelt’s thirst for innovation; Truman’s faith in the uncommon sense of common men and women; Kennedy’s summons to civic duty and public service; Johnson’s passion for social justice; and Carter’s commitment to human rights.
It declares our beliefs that the fundamental mission of the Democratic Party is to expand opportunity, not government; in the politics of inclusion; that America must remain energetically engaged in the struggle for freedom in the world; in deterring crime and punishing criminals; in the protection of civil rights; in the moral and cultural values most Americans share—liberty of conscience, individuals responsibility, tolerance, work, faith, and family; and, that American citizenship entails responsibilities as well as rights.
We believe The New Orleans Declaration represents a turning point for Democrats. It declares our intent to transcend our differences, set forth our principles, and forge a broad national agenda to restore America’s economic strength, expand opportunity for every citizen, and promote freedom and democracy in the world.
Even in an era often dominated by 30 second sound bites and by campaign consultants and large television buys, we believe ideas count. The New Orleans Declaration is a clear statement of ideals in which we believe and ideas that will further them.
The specific proposals we offer in The New Orleans Declaration do not attempt to address every national need or solve every national problem. Nor do they represent the official policy of the Democratic Party, or even every member of the Democratic Leadership Council.
Taken together, however, they form a coherent and innovative approach for strengthening our country, reinforcing mainstream values, and enabling millions of our citizens to realize America’s true promise of equal and expanding opportunity- a blueprint for change that most Democrats can embrace.
We view this New Orleans Declaration not as our final word, but rather as a fresh point of departure for a vigorous national debate on how to lead America forward in the 1990s. We believe this Declaration will help put the DLC in the vanguard of that debate.
Charles S. Robb
Richard A. Gephardt
John B. Breaux
Barbara B. Kennelly
William H. Gray, III
James J. Blanchard
America is at a turning point, and so is the Democratic Party.
Around the world, democracy has triumphed, thanks in no small part to the faith, resolve and sacrifices of the American people.
Yet as we celebrate and work to consolidate freedom’s gains, Americans face a new challenge: to rebuild the foundations of our own economic security. America’s economic power and international leadership are slipping at the very moment nations are rushing to embrace our values.
This is no time for caution and complacency from our leaders. The measure of a president is not his standing in the polls, but America’s standing in the world.
We want more for America. In the past, at moments of national crisis or uncertainty, Democrats have stepped forward to provide bold ideas and imaginative leaders. The time has come for a new generation of Democrats to lead this country forward.
Here as elsewhere, the old isms have run their course, and old politics must give way to new realities. The political ideas and passions of the 1930s and 1960s cannot guide us in the 1990s. Together we pledge to overcome the forces of inertia and orthodoxy in both parties that keep America from moving forward.
Today, we declare our intent to transcend our differences, set forth our principles, and forge a broad national agenda to restore America’s economic strength, expand opportunity for every citizen, and promote freedom and democracy in the world.
With this Declaration, we take our case for change to the people.
WHERE WE STAND
We don’t need polls to tell us who we are. We know where we stand, and we reaffirm the enduring principles that guide us.
In keeping with our party’s grand tradition, we share Jefferson’s belief in individual liberty and responsibility. We endorse Jackson’s credo of equal opportunity for all, and special privileges for none. We embrace Roosevelt’s thirst for innovation, and Truman’s faith in the uncommon sense of common men and women. We carry on Kennedy’s summons to civic duty and public service, Johnson’s passion for social justice, and Carter’s commitment to human rights.
We believe the promise of America is equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.
We believe the Democratic Party’s fundamental mission is to expand opportunity, not government.
We believe in the politics of inclusion. Our party has historically been the means by which aspiring Americans from every background have achieved equal rights and full citizenship.
We believe that America must remain energetically engaged in the worldwide struggle for individual liberty, human rights, and prosperity, not retreat from the world.
We believe that the U.S. must maintain a strong and capable defense, which reflects dramatic changes in the world, but which recognizes that the collapse of communism does not mean the end of danger.
We believe that economic growth is the prerequisite to expanding opportunity for everyone. The free market, regulated in the public interest, is the best engine of general prosperity.
We believe the right way to rebuild America’s economic security is to invest in the skills and ingenuity of our people, and to expand trade, not restrict it.
We believe that all claims on government are not equal. Our leaders must reject demands that are less worthy, and hold to clear governing priorities.
We believe a progressive tax system is the only fair way to pay for government.
We believe in preventing crime and punishing criminals, not explaining away their behavior.
We believe the purpose of social welfare is to bring the poor into the nation’s economic mainstream, not maintain them in dependence.
We believe in the protection of civil rights and the broad movement of minorities into America’s economic and cultural mainstream, not racial, gender, or ethnic separatism. We will not tolerate another decade in which the only civil rights movement is backward.
We believe government should respect individual liberty and stay out of our private lives and personal decisions.
We believe in the moral and cultural values that most Americans share: liberty of conscience, individual responsibility, tolerance of difference, the imperative of work, the need for faith, and the importance of family.
Finally, we believe that American citizenship entails responsibilities as well as rights, and we mean to ask our citizens to give something back to their communities and their country.
GOALS FOR AMERICA
Democratic Ideas for the 1990s
As we enter the 1990s, we believe Democrats must be the architects of national purpose, not just the mechanics of government policy.
With this Declaration, we offer a set of ideas for moving America forward. These proposals do not attempt to address every national need or solve every national problem. But together, they would strengthen our country, reinforce mainstream values, and enable millions of our people to realize America’s true promise.
Our ideas address challenges the Republicans have failed to meet. In the last decade, Americans have witnessed a real decline in U.S. economic power. The world’s greatest trading nation has become its greatest debtor nation, putting our economy at the whim of foreign lenders. The federal government has been immobilized by insolvency, sharply limiting our ability to invest in the future. Our children have slipped behind in educational attainment and our workers are less literate than many of our international competitors, just as the best jobs have begun to migrate across national borders to the most highly skilled workers. Our products no longer set the world standard, as U.S. managers in industry after industry have surrendered technological leadership to competitors from Japan and elsewhere.
Here at home, the social fabric of our society has been weakened. The Republicans have redistributed America’s wealth upward, further widening the gap between rich and poor. Their policies have left America with one of the most regressive tax codes in the world. Ad they have drained moral urgency from the fight against poverty, even as an underclass of homeless and jobless has emerged in our cities.
Unlike the Republicans, we believe that with purposeful leadership, the American people are willing to tackle these challenges. Our ideas for the 1990s offer bold new ways to solve them.
- REBUILDING U.S. ECONOMIC SECURITY
America lost ground in the world economy of the 1980s. We believe the 1990s must be an era of national renewal—a time to restore America’s economic strength and technological leadership in world markets. We need an economic strategy that plays to America’s enormous but neglected strengths—an unparalleled scientific base, a top-flight system of higher education, a skilled and flexible workforce and a vibrant entrepreneurial tradition.
Old institutions and entrenched interests are slowing America’s adaptation to the new realities of a post-industrial, global economy. We need fundamental changes in the way our society is organized to do business.
Therefore, we propose a new set of public and private actions designed to create a more dynamic, democratic capitalism:
-Reordering federal tax and spending policies to create a sound fiscal environment for growth and enterprise, and to restore tax equity;
-Instituting sweeping reforms in public education;
-Enlarging the nation’s supply of skilled workers through a nationwide system of youth apprenticeship;
-Making strategic public investments in human capital, infrastructure, and technology;
-Expanding international trade, opening markets to U.S. goods and fighting protectionism both in our market and abroad;
-Spreading individual ownership of economic assets, through employee stock ownership, savings incentives and other means;
-Promoting gain-sharing plans to link pay to performance for workers and managers alike;
-Encouraging more workplace democracy to ensure greater flexibility and productivity, and;
-Guaranteeing that no American family with a full-time worker lives in poverty.
- A NEW SCHOOL OF THOUGHT
In order to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, we must radically lift the level of public education in America.
We applaud the national education goals, recently adopted by the governors and endorsed by the President. They focus on performance, and are rooted in the realities of the global economy. All children must be physically and mentally ready to learn when they start school. The on-time high school graduation rate should go from 75% to 90%, the international standard. When they graduate, all students should have a core of learning in language, math, science, history, and geography, and national tests at the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades should measure their progress towards this goal. Our students should lead the world in math and science achievement, not lag behind in 13th, 14th, or 15th place as they do today. All our workers should be literate and should have access to a world-class system of lifetime learning. And all our schools should be safe, disciplined, and drug-free.
The problem is, we cannot achieve these goals without a radical restructuring of American education in every state and school district, and without a real commitment from our political leaders to close the huge gap between what they say and what they do about education.
At the state and local level, that means we need to take bold new steps to:
-Involve business and community leaders in dealing with the social problems that plague America more than her competitors, including high rates of teen pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, and high school dropouts;
-Give parents more choice in the schools their kids attend;
-Expand incentives for gifted students to enter the teaching profession, and provide opportunities for academically qualified adults who don’t have education degrees to become teachers;
-Ensure that children spend more time learning each year;
-Hold parents accountable for the role only they can play in making sure their children come to school and in encouraging them as they learn; and
-Give individual schools through their principals and teachers the freedom to experiment and the power to make decisions that sanction problems and reward success.
At the national level, the President and Congress need to fulfill their long-recognized obligation to provide preschool education for all children who need it. We believe that no American should be denied the opportunity to attend college or get post-secondary training solely for lack of money. By offering young Americans substantial college aid in return for national service, we can achieve that goal. We also must establish a national report card, issued annually, on the performance of students, schools, states, and the national government in moving toward the achievement of national education goals for the year 2000.
- YOUTH APPRENTICESHIP
Lifting academic standards is half the battle—the U.S. also urgently needs to bridge the gulf between school and work. Germany and other nations have long used school-based apprenticeship systems to help their non-college-bound youth get the skills they need for rewarding jobs and careers. To improve the job prospects and productivity of the “forgotten half” of young Americans who do not attend college, the U.S. should likewise build a nationwide youth apprenticeship system in our schools.
Under youth apprenticeship, U.S. high schools would add a vocational education track that includes extensive on-the-job training at local businesses. With government acting as a catalyst, schools and businesses would work together to blend strong academic and technical learning with work at job sites for students who seek certification in an occupational field rather than a college education. By connecting success in the classroom with the chance to acquire marketable skills, youth apprenticeship would also give at-risk students a powerful new incentive to stay and do well in school.
Taken together, youth apprenticeship and voluntary national service can create a universal path to a good job or college education for all Americans willing to work hard or serve their country.
- NATIONAL SERVICE
For a decade, the Republicans have undermined America’s sense of national purpose by exalting self-interest over common interests. It is time to define new duties for citizens as well as government. And it is time to replace the politics of entitlement with a new politics of reciprocal responsibility.
We propose a new, civilian version of the G.I. Bill that would promote upward mobility and encourage Americans to serve each other and their country. We envision a series of voluntary national service opportunities springing up in communities across the country: a Citizens Corps that offers educational and housing assistance to those who volunteer for public service; a Teacher Corps that would remove barriers to entering teaching; an Earth Corps to enlist youth in the battle to protect the environment, here and abroad; and a Police Corps to combat crime by putting more police officers on the streets.
- THE POLICE CORPS
Government’s first responsibility is to keep public order and protect law-abiding citizens from harm. Where government has failed in that duty, our poorest citizens have suffered most. Yet in recent decades, the U.S. has unwittingly allowed itself to unilaterally disarm in the domestic war against violent crime.
In 1950, there were more than three police officers for every violent crime reported in American cities. Now, more than three violent crimes are reported for every cop. We propose a Police Corps to restore public order in our communities and protect citizens by putting more police officers out on the streets, fighting crime. The Police Corps is, in essence, an ROTC program for police officers. In exchange for four years of college education and training, participants would give four years of service in their state or local police departments.
The Police Corps answers the need for a constructive federal role in fighting crime, which is chiefly a local responsibility. It would significantly expand the supply of college-educated police officers, and make special efforts to recruit more minorities. Just as important, it represents a new commitment to the philosophy of “community policing”—a preventive approach to crime that puts cops back on the neighborhood beat.
- ENVIRONMENTAL SECURITY
The environment has become a matter of family safety and national security. For a decade, the Republicans have failed to protect our air, land, and water from pollution. They have refused to take the lead, as America must do, in combating the global ecological crisis.
We support a Strategic Environment Initiative to provide more vigorous American leadership on global warming, ozone depletion, sustainable development, and other pressing environmental issues. Here in the United States, industry needs to start providing the level of environmental protection the American people want and deserve. Polluters should be help responsible for their actions, and where pollution is a crime, executives should go to jail. Moreover, the time has come for market-based solutions that will make polluters pay the true costs of pollution, and reward consumers and manufacturers for actions that make good environmental sense.
In the 1990s, environmental protection will be a precondition for economic growth. We need stronger national efforts to promote recycling, preserve wetlands, provide safe drinking water, and clean up hazardous waste.
- GUARANTEED WORKING WAGE
Millions of hard-working Americans live in poverty even though they have full-time jobs. We propose a Guaranteed Working Wage that would enable all full-time, year-round workers who support a family to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
Under this proposal, the current Earned Income Tax Credit would be redesigned and expanded so that it, together with wages they earn by working and the food-stamp benefits for which they are eligible, would raise the total incomes of full-time, year-round workers who support a family above the poverty level. Fully implemented, this Guaranteed Working Wage plan could end poverty for nearly four million Americans in families with a full-time worker. It would also help another seven million poor Americans in families with part-time or part-year workers.
- INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT ACCOUNTS
We need a welfare system that will help people climb out of poverty, not keep them poor. We propose to create new savings accounts called Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) in order to help low-income families save and to build financial assets. IDAs are modeled after Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and likewise would receive favorable tax treatment. However, government would also match contributions to IDAs by low income citizens, and those savings accounts would be restricted to four purposes: post-secondary education, home ownership, self-employment, or retirement.
The administration has proposed a generous new tax break on savings for the upper-middle class. We believe any new savings plan should instead make saving easier for those who can’t already afford it.
- EMERGING DEMOCRACY INITIATIVE
We support creation of an Emerging Democracy Initiative that would move quickly to export democratic capitalism and democratic values to emerging democracies. Every dollar spent transforming major dictatorships into well-functioning democracies strengthens our strategic position in the world, and helps create new markets for U.S. products.
We need to move beyond traditional forms of economic and military aid by providing new forms of democratic assistance—from American scholarship programs for foreign students to democracy grants and technical expertise for groups working to build democratic institutions within their countries. Financed in part by transfers from the military budget, the Initiative could operate through existing channels (AID, the Peace Corps, etc.) and be expanded through a kind of “freedom-sharing”—sharing the welcome burden of democracy-building with our allies.
- PAYING FOR PROGRESS
To build a solid foundation for our future economic security, we must invest so that our economy can grow—and we must pay for those investments.
We need a new, common sense approach for dealing with the Republican legacy of fiscal paralysis. We cannot continue to allow the cynical use of the social security apparatus, raised from a regressive tax on labor, to mask the true scope of America’s fiscal crisis.
The old budget politics of the right and the left don’t work anymore. We can’t tax our way out of the deficit, and we can’t cut our way out, either. We have to invest and grow our way out. To make room for strategic investments in our public infrastructure and human capital—such as those we propose in this Declaration—we will need to cut spending and raise revenues.
Sensible deficit reduction requires neither taking a “meat axe” to federal spending nor placing an excessive tax burden on average families, but rather a reordering of federal tax and spending priorities to create a sound environment for growth and enterprise. That means taking a hard look at federal entitlements and subsidies; cutting spending for low priorities and eliminating outmoded programs; reducing the military budget to adjust to new world realities; making strategic public investments in human capital, infrastructure, and technology; turning over to the states functions that they can perform better than Washington; and, restoring to progressivity the tax code.
We believe in financing the operations of government through progressive taxation. The U.S. has one of the world’s least progressive tax systems, thanks largely to the steady rise (including seven increases in the last decade) in the Social Security payroll tax. The payroll tax burden on average American families needs to be reduced and progressivity restored to the overall tax structure so that Americans are taxed according to their ability to pay.
These ideas will help us meet the challenges of the 1990s—to restore America’s economic strength, expand opportunity for every citizen, and promote freedom and democracy in the world.
They represent a starting point—not an end—to our agenda for America. We have other goals as well: to fight the scourge of drug abuse by placing every drug user into treatment by the end of this decade; to assure basic health insurance coverage for 31 million Americans who are now uncovered; to provide every family with the opportunity to secure decent and affordable housing; and, to accomplish a smooth transition from the defense buildup of the 1980s to the economic buildup of the 1990s.
This is what we want for America—a chance to serve, a duty to learn, and new paths to prosperity, in a society that is just and a world that is safe and free. We invite the American people to join our cause and help us build a better and stronger America in the 1990s.
I’m torn over that goddamn religious freedom law recently passed in Indiana, the response to it from outfits as diverse as the Huffington Post and the National Review, and the broader implications for American culture and society as a whole.
As a Pope Francis liberal Catholic, I believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church, which does not encourage Catholics to recognize gay marriage, and I support the gospel of love and tolerance for all human beings, including our LGBT brothers and sisters. As Pope Francis said, who are we to judge?
As a Progressive Republican of the Lincoln-Roosevelt ilk, I believe that the Republican Party must be both a driver of the future and a preserver of what is best of the past, and above all things a big tent composed of diverse groups. The GOP must protect the rights of LGBT people as much as it should protect the rights of the religious faithful.
As for the circumstances of the law and the broader implications for our society, I support tolerance of those of all walks of life involved- I call upon the Christian businesses to be tolerant of the gay couples they have refused to serve, and I call upon the gay couples to recognize that those of certain religious traditions- include Christianity, Judaism, and Islam- are not obliged to recognize their marriage in a religious sense.
The sheer extremism of both sides’ responses has been ridiculous. I’ve seen articles on the Huffington Post suggesting that homophobia is the only reason a business would discriminate against gays, and I’ve seen articles on the National Review suggesting that every business has a “right” to discriminate as it pleases. I see a lot of pundits with strong cultural views ignoring the facts of the cases and stirring up the pot to advance their agendas.
As for my own view, most observers would consider me to be conservative on this case. I support the law- I don’t think businesses that are de facto Catholic businesses (just as there are Asian-American haircut places, Jewish firms, and Democratic consultancies) should be forced to violate the consciences of their owners. Coercion that forces them to do something recognizing a gay wedding (such as catering it) violates their religious conscience, and thus undermines religious liberty.
Here’s my case- if a one-man business, a home-run wedding planner, happened to be Catholic and happened to cater specifically to Catholic weddings, they would most likely refuse service to a gay couple that asked to have their wedding planned, for simple reasons of faith. The Catholic wedding planner would be violating his religious conscience if he chose to recognize a wedding which his faith did not view as valid.
Now, if the gay couple sued on anti-discrimination grounds, I think the business should be protected. And that’s what the law does- it protects business owners who refuse to provide gay weddings with their services, on religious grounds. Let’s call a spade a spade- it protects discrimination. But it is a faith-based discrimination, one founded not in hate but in the devout’s perception of ultimate reality.
Indeed, this law could be abused, and that requires vigilance. If a restaurant owned by Catholics refused to serve a gay couple because they were gay, that would be unjust discrimination and it would be wrong, for it discriminates against individuals because of their unchangeable personal characteristics. However, if that same restaurant refused to cater a gay wedding on grounds that it did not consider it to be a wedding, it would have a stronger and in my opinion more valid case, as it would be refusing to acknowledge a social arrangement it did not see as valid. There’s a world of difference between discriminating against individuals, and discriminating against social arrangements that violate one’s conscience.
So there’s my view. Am I a bigot for it? I don’t know; I would hope not. In a nutshell, though, I don’t think religious discretion should be entirely illegitimated on anti-discrimination grounds.
I think what liberals forget is that religious liberty and civil tolerance are coequal, and what conservatives forget is that obnoxious defense of religious liberty looks like intolerance (and sometimes is.) Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote an article for the Washington Post recently, arguing that the Republican Party, by supporting the RFRA in Indiana, was making itself look reactionary, intolerant, bigoted, and backwards. And he’s right. If the GOP continues to entertain the blatantly anti-gay social conservative wing, the one that sponsors de-sexualization camps and teaches that homosexuality is a choice, then it deserves to be consigned to the dustbin of history. We do not need the reactionaries in our party, and we should not protect their rights at the expense of the rights of our LGBT brothers and sisters.
At the same time, we must not relinquish the rights of the religious faithful out of deference for the rights of the LGBT community- these rights must be protected equally. David Brooks wrote a thoughtful article at the New York Times recently, suggesting that the absolutism characterizing the liberal response to the RFRA was itself extreme, intolerant, and unjust, as it did not take seriously the notion that religious organizations and individuals ought to have freedom of action over their own domains. If liberals, out of excessive zeal for the rights of the LGBT community, correspondingly ignore the needs and opinions of religious middle America (the historic driver of lasting progressive change, by the way) then they deserve to be seen as intolerant bigots in their own way. The rights of the religious deserve protection as much as the rights of the LGBT minority.
It’s perhaps ironic that this is all happening around Easter season, the holiest time of the year in the Christian tradition. And that means this is the perfect time to reflect on that core principle of Christianity as it pertains to this situation- unadulterated, unconditional love for all human beings, regardless of whether or not their actions and decisions fit neatly into our ideological or religious understanding of reality. One can love the businesses in Indiana and disagree with them and boycott them, and one can love the LGBT couples in Indiana while not viewing their marriage as legitimate and while refusing them a specific service. The point is not harmony or even agreement. The point is tolerance for each other’s differences in decision and opinion, out of a loving respect for the sheer humanity contained within the breast of each person. We might well want them to change their actions; but the love is the more important thing. And the debate around this issue has revolved not around unconditional love, but around vitriolic hate.
Before I am accused of being a reactionary conservative, let me state a few of my other opinions. I support gay marriage being legalized in all the states, and I support equal rights in all fields for the LGBT community. I support the equal treatment of all human beings, and I support a reasonably laissez-faire view of public policy on sexuality. I don’t think the state has any business in interfering with what consenting adults do in their bedrooms, regardless of my personal judgment on that activity.
But I also support the liberty of religious groups, individuals, and associations like businesses and clubs, not to discriminate against individuals but to discriminate in choosing whether or not to violate their own consciences. These cases will never be clear-cut, never black or white. There’s always going to be a lot of jobs for lawyers, and there’s always going to be tension between the religious community and the LGBT community. That’s not about to go away.
But we need to learn to live together and tolerate different ways of life, and the decisions people make. That goes as much for Christians (and Muslims and Jews) who believe gay people to be particularly sinful and pernicious, as for liberals and progressives who believe religious believers to be homophobic and hateful. True tolerance implies discomfort, and true diversity implies tension.
The Catholic faith is doing a good job updating itself for the 21st Century, being more open and tolerant and loving while still staying true to its core principles and traditions.
The Republican Party, on the other hand, has quite a bit of work to do. It hasn’t yet found that big-tent balance by which it can protect the rights of both the LGBT community and the various religious communities, and forge them into a broader, more inclusive and unified coalition. But I believe we can get there, both as a Party and as a country. The California Republican Party’s recent chartering of a Log Cabin group is evidence of meaningful progressive change.
And just as I have faith and hope in Jesus’s rising tomorrow to redeem us stupid humans for our sins against each other, I have faith that we of this greatest nation on Earth can and will redeem ourselves from this pernicious tribalism, and forge a new level of social acceptance and understanding that will take us to new heights. By the time our grandchildren are running the show, these battles will be a thing of the past. May we do the good work of forging that consensus.