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Bringing Liberals Back to Politics

Gretchen K. Aleks

Much has been made of the Democrats’ losses in the recent midterm elections. Although the occasional crackpot has blamed the party’s losses on the its far left-wing agenda, most people claim that the party leadership’s lackluster opposition to President Bush’s agenda made it difficult for the American public to differentiate between Republican and Democratic policies. With discrimination between the two parties nearly impossible, many voters chose the party of the popular (God knows why) president.

This past week, the Democrats have made efforts to differentiate themselves from Bush and to clarify the party line. The Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), lambasted Bush for his plans for Iraq and questioned whether the United States was making progress in its war on terror. More significantly, House Democrats elected Representative Nancy Pelosi, a liberal from San Francisco, as their new minority leader. Given Ms. Pelosi’s record, her colleagues expect that she will be an active opponent of the Republican agenda. Ms. Pelosi’s ascent to the top of her party in the House will enable the Democrats to articulately and consistently express an alternative view for policy to the American public, a view that was sorely missing before the midterm elections. The hope among Democrats is that when the American public is actually presented with a cogent voice against the harebrained policies of the Bush administration, they will realize the flaws in these policies and support the vision of the Democrats, a vision that was not presented prior to the 2002 midterms.

Although we can expect increasingly vocal opposition to the Republican-dominated government in the next two years, the Democrats need to go further if they hope to gain control of Congress and the presidency in the near future: they need to nominate a liberal sacrificial lamb for president in 2004. Realistically, the Democrats have a very small chance of having their nominee elected president, so they should think instead of what type of nominee would be best for the party’s long-term interests. Bill Clinton won in 1992 in part because he moved the Democrats “toward the center.” Since then, however, the two major parties have views that are strikingly similar, implying that they have moved towards each other.

Unfortunately, the parties have not, in fact, moved towards each other. The Republicans have stayed in place -- yes, they still think women aren’t capable of making their own decisions, homosexuals shouldn’t share the same rights as the rest of America, and African-Americans should be subject to the death penalty while whites should not -- while the Democrats have done all the moving. The fact that the Democrats have moved closer to the Republicans has meant that the majority of political debate has been over whether Congress should pass a really conservative bill or a kind of conservative bill. The fact that all we hear about is conservative policies means that the “center” has been redefined to be a conservative one. Politicians have the ability to define what the center will be; today, the center is to the right of where it was ten years ago. This isn’t because the Republican party is necessarily stronger than it was; it’s because the Democrats aren’t pulling their weight in moving the center to the left.

This is why the Democrats should nominate a liberal in 2004. Someone like Howard Dean, the Democratic governor of Vermont, would be ideal. Dean has embraced progressive taxation in his state while still managing to lower the average income tax, supports universal health care, and has managed to implement a plan in Vermont that ensures that 90 percent of the state’s population has health coverage. A presidential campaign will allow the Democrats to vocalize to millions of voters why we need more left-leaning policies at the national level, and hopefully the entire process will get Americans to realize that there is an entire other side to the political spectrum. This will serve to make the voters more hospitable to a liberal perspective, and while it will take a miracle to elect the Democrat, the voting public will no longer hold the misconception that liberals have no place in American politics. The center will thus be redefined for future elections, not by waiting around for the American public to turn more liberal on its own, but by politicians dragging it their through a liberal example.