Why do so many of us identify with the Democratic Party?
Why the left?
Why not somewhere else on the political rainbow?
Where to begin…
Our party looks like America. We gather, in conscience, under a tent of ideals, a canvas unlimited in scope, imagination, and capacity to shelter those in need. We are not crowded with one race, ethnic group, religion, sex, or sexual persuasion.
We do not judge others from a lofty perch. Outsiders do not need an expensive ticket to join our party. Everyone is invited, and no one is turned away for failing to meet a popular standard. We embrace those who may not be asked to dance at parties elsewhere. Some of our guests may be a little too wild for “conventional” tastes. But generally, no matter who or what we embrace as Democrats, we find that the revelers in our party are more congenial than anyone cavorting at the country club next door. And we celebrate our differences with an outstretched hand.
Admittedly, we harbor some proud justifications for our political affiliation. We are liberals because we believe there are, on the other side, more individuals who embrace the limits of our potential. McCarthy, Atwater, Nixon, Schlafly, Limbaugh, Agnew, Bush, Cheney, Palin, Starr, Rove, Ashcroft, Coulter, Robertson, Chambliss, Delay, Falwell, ad nauseam. There will always be individuals who seek out and celebrate the worst in human nature, people whose greediness and arrogance are outdone only by perpetual feelings of intellectual superiority and misplaced entitlement.
There will always be souls who view the suffering of others as somehow deserved.
There will always be individuals who are dismissive of, unconcerned for, and arrogant toward people of lesser wealth, lesser ability, lesser intelligence.
There will always be people who treat differences as weaknesses. Who have little or no respect for honest laborers. Who trust the free enterprise system to cure all ills.
There will always be those who demand self-sufficiency from the poor but welcome perks themselves.
There will always be those who discriminate indiscriminately, who paint blame with broad strokes: ethnicity, race, immigration status, economic position, sexual orientation, religious identity (or lack thereof) are all reasons to withdraw, to point fingers, to seclude and to mourn — rather than to embrace and celebrate.
For some, differences are dangerous; conformity is calming. Change is terrifying. Stagnation is not only pleasing, it blocks out any perceived danger of upheaval, of metamorphosis.
There are, of course, some on the other side who do not fit these generalities. But this begs the question: Why associate with such a damning legacy?
Why celebrate the worst of human nature? Why seek out the lowest common denominators of human thought, habit, and emotion? Why look for reasons to suppress and to stereotype, rather than to exult in humanity?
Our choice is primarily a positive one. We are Democrats because we believe our party has, over the the years, most closely supported our political ideals: civil rights and equality of rights, protection of the disadvantaged, thoughtful pragmatism in times of war and peace, collective stewardship of the environment, strong public schools, separation of church and state, a role for the government in promoting the general welfare of all its citizens, a strong, sensible, diplomatic foreign policy.
We are progressives because, as we study our past, we find that our ideology has proven right much more often than not. Our efforts led to the civil rights movement that is now (almost) universally accepted as the correct position, even by those who fought it tooth and nail 45 years ago. It was primarily the left that led opposition to the Vietnam War once it spiraled out of control, while the other side labeled anti-war protesters “un-American” and “dangerous.” Progressives viewed Richard Nixon as a troubling fraud when he was the darling of the right. Our party opposed Ronald Reagan’s economic policies, and those policies nearly bankrupted our nation. Many in our party warned America that George W. Bush was a blustering little bully, and that his policies would divide us, consume our budget surpluses, derail our economy, drive away allies, destroy international goodwill, and make the world a more dangerous place. The Bush legacy speaks for itself.
We are all that’s left because we revere so many of our party leaders of the past and present: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, George Marshall, John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Earl Warren, Ellis Arnall, Charles Weltner, William Fulbright, Scoop Jackson, John Lewis, George McGovern, Sam Nunn, Robert Drinan, Jimmy Carter, Andrew Young, Warren Christopher, Walter Mondale, Wyche Fowler, John Kerry, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, Mark Warner, Evan Bayh, Jay Rockefeller, Max Cleland, Buddy Childers, Mildred Greear, Ted Sorensen, and now Barack Obama. This list is partial in past and present scope, and it will undoubtedly grow with the future.
Not that our progressive heroes don’t have faults. We have our share of charlatans and lechers. But in general we prefer our flaws to those of the other side. We recognized and embraced the blemished brilliance of Bill Clinton, because we knew that his unrivaled ability to lead our country outweighed any personal flaws. Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, Richard Russell, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Byrd, Bo Ginn — despite the imperfections of these Democrats, their common legacy enriches the lives of future generations. It seems that, throughout history, those who proclaim the most public godliness often turn out to be rats, while those who confess a sinful nature compile saintly public records. We will take Cleveland over Blaine, and the lustful Clinton over Bush’s skin-deep piety any day.
Our forefathers understood that it is perfectly legitimate for us to covenant together as a society to pursue goals for the common welfare. We embrace that. It is in our interest as a nation for all our citizens to have equal opportunities for education and medical care. Our party also embraces (and protects) the many things that enrich humanity and celebrate diversity — music, art, literature, public broadcasting, scientific research, space exploration, environmental preservation, animal rights. It is in our national interest that big business be regulated; that laborers receive a fair and equal wage; that the difference between the rich and the poor not be so extreme that it foments hatred and rebellion. All of us are incredibly fortunate to have been born with intellect, vigor, health, emotional stability, connections, and good fortune; it represents the best of human nature when we use these gifts to provide for the less fortunate.
We chose our party very carefully. As progressive Americans, we have always been proud, and at times even felt vindicated, by our choice. In 2008, our hard work led to an election victory that was celebrated around the world as, yes, a breathtaking example of human triumph. We know that our liberal philosophy is best for our brothers and sisters, our beloved country, and our collective future.
We are clearly, proudly, plainly, undeniably, comfortably, to our yellow-dog marrow, what’s left in America.