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                                       politics + culture

Sunday, January 15, 2006

taxpayers and citizens

This essay stands at the juncture of two moments that embody a contradiction.

On the one hand, barring a Congressoinal spinal transplant, Samuel Alito looks likely to be confirmed by the Senate of the United States to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. This one act will move the Supreme Court firmly towards a pro-executive, pro-corporation, anti-liberty, anti-privacy majority for a generation; it will profoundly affect the life of every citizen...in every state...every single day.

On the other hand, the President of the United States and the GOP leadership have brought our nation to the brink of two crises:  an ongoing constitutional crisis regarding Presidential authority and abuse of power, and a crisis of corruption in our legislature in which our government has literally been bought and sold to the highest bidder. One can only stand in wonder and dismay that Congress will put Samuel Alito onto the Supreme Court in this context.

Citizens of good faith and common sense on all sides look on this situation with trepidation and concern.  Our government is out of whack.  Congress does not reflect our common values; not simply do our representatives on both sides of the aisle "roll over" for the executive branch, but they are grossly ineffective and wasteful. Instead of representing us, Congress seems to be merely full of itself.

Our Congress is stuck, like a broken record, at the juncture of a partisan divide.  Listening to the sounds emanating from this ugly broken record has given every citizen of this nation, regardless of party affilliation, real cause to doubt our leadership in Washington D.C.

As we have thoughout this nation's history, it is time for everyday citizens to come together and do something about this state of affairs:

It is time for a broad movement of taxpayers and citizens to demand accountability from our government.  That movement, in fact, already exists in our midst.


For Democrats, this moment represents a grave failure.  We seem to have neither the power to halt this fundamental change in the Supreme Court nor have we the congressional power to investigate and challenge the dual crises infesting the executive and legislative branches of our government.

This impotence does nothing less than challenge the rationale for our party's continued existence.  It is the ugly fruit of our failure to reform ourselves in the 80s and 90s.  It stands for our failure to understand the thirst for reform among our nation's citizens and our own grass roots.  It stands for our failure to understand how, despite broad zones of common ground, this nation's citizens are sick of the status quo and resent the Democratic Party's role in building it.

For the nation as a whole, it is clear that a broad majority would agree that something needs to change in Washington.  People are sick of vilification, of party squabbling and Senatorial primping, they are sick of a failure to reform basic problems like health care, pensions, and education.  People are sick of a government that has sunk, once again, further and further into curruption and debt.

The premise of this essay is simple.  In the face of all of the above:

The Democratic Party cannot do it alone.

In 2006, this is obvious...especially to those citizens who are sympathetic to some Democratic ideas, yet whom we have given little reason to join us in common cause.  For its own survival, and, frankly, the sake of the nation, I would argue that the Democratic Party has no alternative but to join a larger movement of taxpayers and citizens demanding accountability from government.

Simply put, we Democrats must remake our party in the name of good government that transcends partisan lines, or we will watch our party wither and die.  

Democrats must seize this moment.  We must reform ourselves in 2006 with a national statement that makes clear our values and commitments.  We must offer a clear, distinct alternative...a politics of contrast. Regretfully, however, a politics of contrast is not enough.  Not simply because it will get lost in the partisan circus of DC, but because we have yet to prove to the nation that we are a new breed of Democrats.

Accordingly, at the same time as we mount our own, new, Contract with America, the Democratic party must join a broader group of taxpayers and citizens...at times as leaders...and at times being but one member of a coalition sending a broader message:

The time for accountability is now.

Anything less than broadening of our party's message beyond mere partisanship, anything less than outreach to the nation as a whole, is doomed to break apart on the rocks of the GOP majority in Washington and in the jaws of a media that, like FOX News, is owned by the powers that be.  They will brand us as "partisan Democrats" whatever we say; in fact, that is all they ever do.

In that context, we cannot change this country alone, nor can we change this country with business as usual.  If we are to survive and grow, this new Democratic party must reform, reframe and reach out to every taxpayer and citizen in this nation. We must break the national partisan logjam once and for all.

I am convinced we can do this and stay true to our values and ourselves.  I am also convinced that a failure to reach out and reform and broaden our party will mean that we will have failed our people, failed our voters, and failed ourselves.

In many ways, we already have,


Our nation is poised for a moment of upheaval and reform.

I think of the folks who voted for Perot in the 90s, of the folks who voted for Nader in 2000, I think of the independents in this country who voted for John Kerry over George W. Bush, I think of the Libertarians and their concerns with individual liberty, I think of all those Republicans who voted for John McCain in that brief moment in 2000 when the GOP seemed on the brink of embracing real change.  Finally, I think of the movement for Howard Dean and the continuing activism of DFA within the Democratic Party.

There is a common message in all of these votes, in all of these insurgent movements in our recent history, and that is:

  • business as usual in Washington must change

  • government must be made accountable to the people

  • We do this with sunshine provisions; we do this by making Congress relevant again by allowing legislation from all parties to reach the House floor; we do this by instituting meaningful campaign finance reform; we mandate that our representatives get out of DC and back in their States and districts listening to us, where they belong; we do this by instituting "paygo"; we do this by demanding that town halls and citizen meetings be an essential part of our democracy. We take the best of what Nader and Perot and McCain and Feingold and Dean have put on the table: and we demand it of our government.

    It is time for the Democratic party to get over itself and join this movement.  It is time for the "old guard" to make way for fresh voices.  It is time for pragmatism to trump ideology; it is time for blowhards to be replaced by everyday citizens.  It is time for a "citizens movement" that kicks the corrupt bastards out of their comfy leather seats in Washington D.C.

    It is time, for the sake of our democracy, to change the face of the Democratic Party.


    I know there are some who will doubt that core commitments will get lost in this shuffle...that a rhetoric of reform and outreach will mean that longstanding commitments to civil rights, fighting poverty and working for peaceful solutions to conflict will get drowned in a more "moderate" message.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.  There is nothing moderate about real democracy.

    There is no greater or better vehicle for making democratic reform in this country than finding a way for all of us to sit at the table and take our country back.  In fact, as a progressive Democrat, I am convinced that we have no better hope for persuading our fellow citizens of the value of our ideas, of our dignity as individuals, of the true need for progressive reforms and equal rights, than the formation of a true, broad citizens movement for accountability from government.

    We are taxpayers and citizens, too.  All of us.  We all deserve a seat at that table; we all deserve to have our voices heard in Washington.  Any movement of taxpayers and citizens, any movement that creates real accountabilty and equality of opportunity to be heard, should benefit all of us.

    That is all we've ever asked for.  We in the trenches know that our ideas and our voices are some of the most powerful arguments for change.  We are ready to make our case to the nation.


    These are dark times.  These are difficult times.

    The ingredients for changing these very times, however, are within our reach.

    It is time to make change.  It is time for patriotic Americans to put aside our prejudices and biases and work together.  It is time for the Democrats to "crack the eggshell" of the old party, and build a new one in its place.

    We are taxpayers.  We are citizens.  We have done this before.

    It's called democracy.

    It's high time we dust off our losses, rise up and, once again, reach out to our fellow citizens.  We have so much to lose and everything to gain.

    It is 2006.  If it was worth fighting for when we've failed, then it is worth fighting for period.

    It's time, once again, from the grassroots, to fight to take our country back.


    • " . . .our government has literally been bought and sold to the highest bidder." Uhm, actually, I think it was a no bid contract.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:31 PM  

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