OPINION: Democratic Candidates Lack Vision

Posted 8:56 p.m. Dec. 3

by Bernard Pollack

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON–Often younger voters are chastised for their low voter turnout, growing apathy and disillusionment towards the political process. For young Democrats, many of us decided to bow out at the polls this past Election Day, reflecting the argument that Democratic politicians are simply refusing to address our issues or have abandoned their progressive ideals. The Democratic Party seems to lack the conviction and courage to take risks.

Lost are the days when bold vision defined a Party that brought our country the New Deal and the Great Society, the days of valiant advocacy of civil right and social and economic justice. Today Democratic leaders, motivated by short-term polling and managed by savvy consultants, have failed their constituents – especially union members and those Americans not sitting comfortably in the middle class. Trying desperately to be like Republicans, the Democrats have forgotten who they are and will continue to lose until they remember.

In addition, our youth makes it difficult for many of us to understand the urgency of issues such as social security and access to prescription drugs for seniors. Consequently, it is time politicians galvanize us with brave positions on issues we can relate too, the way the late Senator Wellstone of Minnesota did so successfully, inspiring us to knock on doors and believe in something greater then our own self-interest. Issues like access to higher education, daring initiatives for public schools, the expansion of Medicare, environmental conservation, and civil rights are issues that will incite us to act. When the Democratic Party, as I believed they did in 2002 and in 2000, refuses to outline a bold agenda and draw stark differences with their Republican counterparts on these issues, youth do not feel compelled to vote let alone volunteer their time.

With the recent announcement of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts forming a Presidential Exploratory committee for the 2004 elections, Vermont Governor Howard Dean’s announcement this past April, and many others expected to follow suit in the coming weeks, this is an extraordinary opportunity for multiple voices to debate and improve the overall discourse within the Party.

Unlike other Presidential hopefuls like Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle, and Representative Dick Gephardt, Kerry has defined a sharp alternative to recent policies enacted by the Bush administration.

Kerry has issued sharp criticism to Bush’s tax cut plan saying that it is merely a tax relief for the most wealthy. Rather than preferring to roll back the planned reductions, like other Democratic opponents, he would prefer instead to cut the payroll tax. While a decorated Vietnam War veteran, Kerry is still willing to break from President Bush, stating that he does not support a unilateral attack against Iraq.

Kerry, at the very least will offer a clear contrast to former Vice President Al Gore, if he decides to run. Gore, who just recently completed a book tour, is also trying to use populism, echoed in his new-found support of a Universal Health Care plan, to reflecting the changing political climate. Yet, given Gore’s sharp criticism of Senator Bill Bradley during the 2000 Democratic presidential primaries over such a plan, his sincerity deserves questioning.

There is also little indication that Gore’s Vice Presidential Candidate in 2000 Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, also connected with the centrist leaning Democratic Leadership Council, will bring the Democratic Party in a new direction. Lieberman has consistently voted for proposals like the Welfare Reform Act, the Telecommunications Act, Free Trade and those brought forth by the Pharmaceutical industry, which undermines the interests of the vast majority of his constituents.

Despite dismal mid-term elections, former minority leader Dick Gephardt has an opportunity to highlight his ability to break from these centrist positions of Gore should he decide to enter the fray. A strong advocate for America’s working families, Gephardt has disagreed with Gore and former President Bill Clinton by rejecting trade agreements like NAFTA, Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, Fast-Track, and the FTAA, agreements that cost hard-working Americans their jobs and weaken environmental standards. Gov. Dean and Sen. Daschle also have also taken strong positions in support of a more equitable trade agenda and can use that record to contrast themselves with Gore should he decide to run.

As the pool of presidential hopefuls widens, youth can be rest assured that with the announced candidacies of Kerry, Dean, and others soon to announce, we will be able to choose who to support based on broad policy differences and heated debate over issues likely to ensure. As a consequence, the Party will begin to define itself, thus giving its constituents – including youth and those jaded by the Party, a reason to vote and become politically active this time around.

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