Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Democratic Mission

(This started as a comment to Mike's post below. But I got to rambling, and decided to let this stand on its own assorted appendages.)

Thanks to Mike, for his thought-provoking posts on invigorating the grassroots. The Montgomery County Democratic Party is lucky to have someone so dedicated to that project.
“The mission of the Democratic Party is to make our representative democracy effective.”
seems not quite enough for me. My Libertarian and Republican friends would certainly agree with that goal, officially at least. "Effective" for a Libertarian would mean something very different from what it means to me, however.

But Mike is definitely on the right track for a “Mission Statement” for the Democratic Party.

Maybe it would be enough pragmatism to satisfy me to edit your statement as follows:
“The mission of the Democratic Party is to elect candidates who will work to make our representative democracy more effective.”
I don't see how a major political party can pretend that their primary goal is other than to put in office those who agree with basic party principles. As I see it the Democratic Party is that group of citizens more ready to covenant together (representative democracy) for the common good. We believe that government, the people’s servant, can be harnessed for that general welfare.

And, let's face it, too much exactitude of mission and you may have an interest group, a caucus, or a minor party rather than a major political party in America.

When it comes down to it there will always be a tension between the idealists and the pragmatists. Every vote I have ever made, with the exception of my votes for Terrell Shaw, have been for someone with whom I disagreed to some extent. I have some close friends who chose in 2000 to support Ralph Nader! A principled vote? Definitely. From their point of view Ralph Nader was a better candidate than Al Gore or George Bush. Was theirs the right vote for someone who cares about the environment, civil rights, or a diplomatic foreign policy? Absolutely not.

Who wins matters. There comes a time to choose the lesser of the two imperfections -- the two with reasonable shots at election.

Yes, I want the Democratic Party to encourage participation from anyone willing to be involved. Yes, I want us to make representative democracy as effective as we can. But I also want to defeat Republicans and elect Democrats, because, over the course of my life I have seen that, for all its warts, the Democratic Party has served America better. And I really want that to happen in 2008. One more companion for Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy may set the Court in right-wing concrete for the rest of my life and greatly endanger the America we leave to my daughters.

I have a good friend who was for many years the best public servant I have ever known. In his early political career he was a very principled maverick. He was often at odds with the party leadership. Later he decided to become a part of the leadership. He had to compromise. He had, he says, absolute freedom to propose, discuss, even rant and disagree, up till the collective leadership made a decision, then if he was to continue in leadership he had to go along with most of the leadership decisions. He felt he was more effective in influencing legislation as a part of leadership than as the unbending maverick even though he had to take a lot of grief from friends like me sometimes.

I believe we need the mavericks. The Jesse Jacksons, Dennis Kuciniches, even Ralph Naders, Pat Robertsons, Ross Perots, Henry Wallaces, Libertarians, Mugwumps, Bull Mooses, Populists, etc. are important to the dialog. And their ideas that gain traction may become parts of major party platforms. But we also need the pragmatists.

After reading your words I searched for the 2004 party platform. As far as I know, that quadriennial statement of principle is the closest thing we have to an official statement of mission for the party.

Here are the closing words of the 2004 platform:
We pledge to stand up for our beliefs and rally Americans to our cause. But we recognize that disagreements will remain, and we believe disagreement should not mean disrespect. Members of our party have deeply held and differing views on some matters of conscience and faith. We view diversity of views as a source of strength, and we welcome into our ranks all Americans who seek to build a stronger America. We are committed to resolving our differences in a spirit of civility, hope and mutual respect.
That's the America we believe in.
Somewhere in there, I suppose, is a goal of effective representative democracy.

How about the Preamble as a basis for our mission statement?
The mission of the Democratic Party of America is to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Still, the other guys, and each of us, for that matter, will read somewhat different meaning in these words. And any words must be followed by real implementation to be more than platitudes.

I have rambled too much and should edit this mightily, but I gotta quit for now.

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