Column: Forgetting about the base

On Nov. 5, the American people went to the polls to articulate a clear message. They want tax breaks. They support denying collective bargaining rights to workers under Bush’s homeland security plan. They want a new approach to partial privatization of social security and the creation of jobs through a more de-regulated environmental policy.

Or do they?

Others would argue the Republican victory is not a sign of public support for this agenda, but merely a failure of the Democratic Party to articulate an alternative vision. Those critics say the Democratic Party failed to create real differences with the Bush administration and that they abandoned their base by refusing to take a bolder stance against the war in Iraq, the Bush tax plan and the de-regulation of our natural resources.

As the Democratic Party continues to move toward the political center trying to woo independents and non-traditional Democrats, they also begin to articulate support for fewer issues and fail to demonstrate the stark contrasts with the Republicans necessary to energize their traditional supporters.

Democrats could have articulated their vision for protecting the environment by vocalizing their opposition to the Bush energy plan, which sparked a lot of controversy because Republicans wanted a $30 billion dollar tax cut for the oil, gas, coal and nuclear power industries. They could have informed voters about resisting Republican attempts to pass legislation allowing drilling in the arctic refuge, and opposing the Bush logging plan, which gives unfair tax breaks to logging companies – yet the democratic leadership found this unnecessary.

The Democrats could have outlined their work in trying to curb global warming by actively opposing the Bush administration and the oil, coal, utility and auto industries that are against regulating carbon dioxide, but they didn’t.

Democrats could have taken a stronger position in providing prescription drugs to seniors. In the United States thousands of seniors have to decide daily whether to eat or pay for their medicine. Democrats need to articulate a clear message stating that all seniors need access to affordable prescription drugs, reduce the overall cost of nursing home stays, emergency room visits and various other healthcare costs affecting our seniors.

They could have advocated for these reduced costs through the expansion of Medicare or championed an attempt to regulate the many patent loopholes that keep drug costs high, and advocated for ways of bringing new drugs to the market sooner, but they didn’t.

Further, the Democrats could have advocated for tougher legislation against corporate crime in the wake of Enron, WorldCom, Quest and various other scandals that forced thousands of workers to lose their jobs and their retirements plans, while top executives walked away with millions of dollars. With Department of Labor statistics highlighting rising unemployment, and millions of Americans forced into near poverty trying desperately to live on minimum wage, the Democrats failed to address these core economic issues.

They also could have articulated clear opposition to Bush’s tax cut, advocating that the money be placed in social programs, rather than put back into the pockets of the nation’s wealthiest 1 percent, but they didn’t.

It is time the Democratic Party and its leadership to do some soul searching. As it moves toward a more pro-business and centrist platform, their core supporters including women’s advocacy groups, labor unions, civil rights groups and young progressives will continue to look elsewhere in larger numbers for real political representation. Many of these groups feel abandoned by a party that will quickly sell their interests to corporate bidders or ignore their causes because their issues might alienate the “vital center.” The 2002 elections might have been a preliminary indication of what the Democratic Party will look like if these groups did jump ship.

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