- js reader version
- view hidden posts
- tags and related articles
by E.J. Dionne, Jr.
Wednesday, May. 21, 2003 at 8:06 AM
The core divide in American politics now is not between liberals and conservatives, or between capitalists and socialists. It is between libertarians and commun-itarians.
Kerry's call to service - Massachusetts senator attacks Bush on 'communitarian' grounds
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Washington Post Writers Group, 05.20.03
WASHINGTON -- Democrats are so obsessed with telling people who they aren't that few voters know who they are.
For two decades, Democrats have spent much of their time running away from ghosts. No, the Democrats would say, we're not tax-and-spend liberals, we're not weak on defense, we're not soft on crime, we're not feckless on family values.
Face it: the Democrats have real image problems -- witness their three presidential losses in the 1980s. Without strategic corrections and a little blurring of the past, they never would have won the White House in 1992 or 1996. But the costs of fuzziness have become plain in the face of a Bush White House determined to bull ahead with one tax cut after another. As the poet suggested, passionate intensity defeats the lack of all conviction almost every time.
A New York Times/CBS News Poll last week captured the Democrats' problem: While 53 percent of Americans said that Republicans had a clear vision of where to lead the country, only 40 percent said that of Democrats. The standard response at this point is a call on Democrats to move sharply leftward and offer voters "a choice, not an echo." That was Republican Barry Goldwater's battle cry in 1964. You may recall that Goldwater moved his party to the right, captured all of six states and lost in a landslide. The Democrats' problem is not about ideological positioning -- an insider game, anyway -- but about conviction. It's about picking the right fights, and drawing the right lines.
That's what made Sen. John Kerry's Monday speech about service and citizenship so interesting. Of course, no one can be against national service or patriotism. President Bush speaks often about these subjects and has appointed some good people to lead his service effort. He could have killed the AmeriCorps program, President Clinton's creation. Instead, he morphed it into his USA Freedom Corps.
True enough. But Kerry gave the service idea a new twist. Drawing from fellow Vietnam veteran John McCain's rhetoric -- Americans, Kerry said, "think elected officials no longer ask them to serve a cause larger than themselves" -- the Democratic presidential candidate cast patriotism and community-mindedness as the opposites of "get-mine and get-out rhetoric" and of "a creed of greed." These he associated with the Bush overall approach to domestic policy.
Linking patriotism with an ethic of public responsibility allowed Kerry to launch a critique of the administration's tax policies -- "for the first time in this nation's history, the most privileged among us get enormous tax breaks during a time of war." It also opened the way for assaults on Enron, polluters and corporate lobbyists. As McCain has shown, populist sentiments have a broader reach when they are rooted in the national interest and the common good than when they are simply a lead-in to a catalogue of economic complaints.
Kerry backed up his patriotic populism with serious service initiatives. His Service for College plan would give young people who gave two years of service four-year scholarships, set at the tuition rate of the public universities in the volunteer's state. He'd make a service commitment and serious civics instruction requirements for high school graduation. He proposes Summers of Service for high school students, and an Older Americans in Service program that would allow seniors to earn tuition credits for their grandchildren, or for any child they chose to help.
Kerry's speech underscores that the core divide in American politics now is not between liberals and conservatives, or between capitalists and socialists. It is between libertarians and communitarians.
Libertarians believe that tax cuts are always better than government programs, that private striving and self-improvement are the central acts of American citizenship, and that where the government and the market are concerned, the government should almost always get out of the way. Communitarians also see the market as useful and private striving as essential. But they insist that preserving the individual freedom that makes both possible is a cooperative endeavor. Self-rule in a democracy demands not just private creativity, but public commitment. Government needs to assert itself when private markets fail, and when markets fail to serve the common good.
Bush is not a pure libertarian, as critics of his Justice Department would note. But his tax policies are consciously aimed at so depleting the federal Treasury that the government's capacity to act will be constrained for a generation. If the boldness of Bush's vision does not call forth a comparable boldness from those with communitarian commitments, Bush will win by default. Kerry's call to service is a useful start in redefining the terms of the battle ahead.
Report this post as:
GUIDE TO REBEL CITY LOS ANGELES AVAILABLE
lausd whistle blower
Help KCET and UCLA identify 60s-70s Chicano images
UCLA Luskin: Casting Youth Justice in a Different Light
Change Links April 2018
Nuclear Shutdown News March 2018
Join The Protest Rally in Glendale on April 10, 2018!
Join The Protest Rally in Glendale on April 10, 2018!
Spring 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert!
Anti-Eviction Mapping Project Shows Shocking Eviction Trends in L.A.
Steve Mnuchin video at UCLA released
Actress and Philanthropist Tanna Frederick Hosts Project Save Our Surf Beach Clean Ups
After Being Told He's 'Full of Sh*t' at School Event, Mnuchin Demands UCLA Suppress Video
Resolution of the Rent Strike in Boyle Heights
What Big Brother Knows About You and What You Can Do About It
Step Up As LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Steps Down
Our House Grief Support Center Hosts 9th Annual Run For Hope, April 29
Don’t let this LA County Probation Department overhaul proposal sit on the shelf
Echo Park Residents Sue LA Over Controversial Development
Former Signal Hill police officer pleads guilty in road-rage incident in Irvine
Calif. Police Accused of 'Collusion' With Neo-Nazis After Release of Court Documents
Center for the Study of Political Graphics exhibit on Police Abuse posters
City Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Claiming Pasadena Police Officer Had His Sister Falsely Arre
Professor's Study Highlights Health Risks of Urban Oil Drilling
Claims paid involving Pasadena Police Department 2014 to present
Pasadenans - get your license plate reader records from police
LA Times Homicide Report
More Local News...
Doxa du lobby
Tech workers organize
Architect Stephen Francis Jones
UN Forum Wrestles with Economic Policies 10 Years After Financial Crisis Islands Call for
Shadowgun Legends Hack and Cheats
What does the Quran Say About Islamic Dress??
Biodiversité ou la nature privatisée
The Market is a Universal Totalitarian Religion
Book Available about Hispanics and US Civil War by National Park Service
The Shortwave Report 04/20/18 Listen Globally!
The Republican 'Prolife' Party Is the Party of War, Execution, and Bear Cub Murder
Paraphysique de la dictature étatique
Book Review: "The New Bonapartists"
The West Must Take the First Steps to Russia
Théorie générale de la révolution ou hommage à feu Mikhaïl Bakounine
The Shortwave Report 04/13/18 Listen Globally!
“Lost in a Dream” Singing Competition Winner to Be Chosen on April 15 for ,000 Prize!
The World Dependent on Central Banks
Ohio Governor Race: Dennis Kucinich & Richard Cordray Run Against Mike DeWine
March 2018 Honduras Coup Again Update
Apologie du zadisme insurrectionnel
ICE contract with license plate reader company
Black Portraiture(S) IV: The Color of Silence...Cuba No...Cambridge Yes
Prohibiting Micro-Second Betting on the Exchanges
Prosecutors treat Muslims harsher than non-Muslims for the same crimes
More Breaking News...