- js reader version
- view hidden posts
- tags and related articles
by E.J. Dionne, Jr.
Wednesday, May. 21, 2003 at 3:06 PM
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:
Change Links September 2018 posted
More Scandals Rock Southern California Nuke Plant San Onofre
Site Outage Friday
Change Links August 2018
Setback for Developer of SC Farm Land
More problems at Shutdown San Onofre Nuke
Change Links 2018 July posted
More Pix: "Families Belong Together," Pasadena
"Families Belong Together" March, Pasadena
Short Report on the Families Belong Together Protest in Los Angeles
Summer 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert!
Watch the Debate: Excluded Candidates for Governor of California
Change Links June 2018 posted
The Montrose Peace Vigil at 12 Years
Unity Archive Project
Dianne Feinstein's Promotion of War, Secret Animal Abuse, Military Profiteering, Censorshi
CA Senate Bill 1303 would require an independent coroner rather than being part of police
Three years after OC snitch scandal, no charges filed against sheriffs deputies
California police agencies violate Brown Act (open meetings)
Insane Company Wants To Send Nuke Plant Waste To New Mexico
Change Links May 2018
Worker-Owned Car Wash on Vermont Closed
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
More Local News...
Paraphysique de psychosomatique
Chuck Grassley: Women Abusing, Animal Murdering, Illegal War Supporting Criminal
Finance Capitalism and the Digital Economy
Muselières syndicales, muselières patronales
Jeff Bezos, Amazon, The Washington Post, Whole Foods, Etc
Why Choose Nut Milk Over Cows' Milk
Antrhopocène, le grand effondrement
Creative Destruction Hack Diamonds Windows/iOS/Android - Creative Destruction Generator
The Dictatorship of Corporations
18 Lethal Consequences Of Hunting
Paraphysique de l'outplacement déontologue
Creative Destruction Hack Mod Generator
Shopping du bashing
After Lehman Brothers, Experts Say Global Financial Crisis Can Happen Again
“Animaniacs in Concert!” Starring Voice Legend Rob Paulsen
Probabilités de fin d'humanité
Florida Area of Migrant Farmworkers Denied Right to Construct Health Clinic near NaplesCIW
Propagande de virus, virus de propagande
Steer clear of work morality!
Sweatshop Lodge Ceremony Continues in US Fed Prisons Led by Inmates
Paraphysique de l'origami
The Shortwave Report 09/07/18 Listen Globally!
August 2018 Honduras Coup update
Du réussissement putréfié
Brett Kavanaugh Filled The 5th Circuit With Execution Judges
Augusta Georgia Woman Gets 5 Year Prison Sentence for Writing About Russians Crime Acts
More Breaking News...