Despite recent news about our “unprecedented prosperity,” there are many unsolved, horrible social problems that have been largely ignored by both political parties. The nation’s aggregate economic condition may be well, but our social health remains as dismal as ever. Millions of Americans live in abject poverty, more than 36,000 are shot dead every year, nearly a quarter of the population does not have access to quality health care, and most Americans do not even care to vote. Our underlying social problems are endless.
One would expect the cynical Republicans to ignore these issues, and they do a great job at it. Unfortunately, though, the Democrats are just as much to blame, if not more. In the role as our supposedly left-leaning party, the Democrats have been doing a terrible job. Instead of being on the forefront for alleviating our social problems, the world’s oldest political party stands idly by, offering only pitiful, “baby-step” solutions. The Democratic Party shouldn’t be afraid to dream big dreams again.
It is the Democrats that gave America Social Security, civil rights, the Great Society and the United Nations. Now, what is this great force for progress advocating? Not much, except for the occasional tax credit here and there. The Democrats have become afraid to embrace the bold policies they once advocated. They fear that liberalism is passÃ©; well, as far as I am concerned, alleviating poverty, racism, environmental degradation and the like, certainly are not passÃ©.
Like every other dominant left-of-center party in the West, the Democrats should act like a real leftist party: that means supporting universal health care, using the active power of government to eliminate poverty, abolishing the death penalty, instituting tough gun controls, reinforcing affirmative action, preserving America’s historic commitment to immigration, putting environmental protection ahead of economic gain, providing free access to elite higher education, investing heavily in the improvement of public education, promoting cultural awareness through greater funding for the arts and investing in our urban areas. These issues are those of a true left-of-center party.
Unfortunately, the Democrats have opted, for the time being, to be “centrist” and experiment with school vouchers, or extend health insurance to 2 million uninsured, while leaving the other 48 million without health care. Under the leadership of the Clinton/Gore Administration, the Democrats have sold out to the Right. The Republicans have become a full-fledged conservative, right wing party. And the Democrats appear to have now filled the right-of-center vacuum created by the Republicans because of their swift swing to the far right.
As a registered Democrat, I urge the party to recapture its leftist core. In a time of such unparalleled “prosperity,” the Democratic Party must not be afraid to stand up for real, substantive change in American society. Now, more than ever, we can afford to make bold social changes.
America’s atrocious, even sometimes Third World social conditions are the fault of a political system too tilted to the right. If America had a strong left, we would probably not have 36,000 murders, 50 million without health care, subconscious institutionalized racism, or an infant mortality rate comparable to that of a Central American republic.
With a strong leftist force in American politics, there would be a real substantive alternative to the regressive, arch-conservatism of the Republicans. The Democratic Party has lost its soul. It must rekindle the spirit of Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. We need a Democratic Party that will fight for truly progressive policies. In the face of a hardened right wing, the Democrats must take on the role of the leftist party—We must be the party of progress, the party of reform, the party of change, the liberal party.