Dems Forward to 1948

By James McCarty Yeager

“The only things in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead armadillos.” — Jim Hightower

As the real campaign gets underway, the question is whether the sclerotic Democrats of the center will be adult and mature enough to support the party even when it stakes out positions to the left. The Washington consensus has been so polluted by conservative extremism that it is not even in the middle anymore, but holds positions considered hard right in many another civilized land.

The temptation of press, punditry and campaign professionals is, as always, to sell out the party anytime it acts less Republican and more Democratic. The combination of progressive activists and the blogosphere on the Internet is the only thing standing between the party and a series of humiliating, unsuccessful and unnecessary concessions.

The well-padded alarmists of the center, like the establishment as a whole, think Democratic victory can come only at the expense of Democratic principles. A dismal failure to trust the generous and fair instincts of the American people always lies behind the fear that Democrats can’t win if they are full-throated in pursuit of constitutional restoration, economic justice, social equality, military restraint, environmental progress, sustainable agriculture, infrastructure investments, electoral reform, and diplomatic activity including strong international institutions.

The downside of a Democratic right turn (always misdescribed as a “return to the center”) is not that real Democrats will walk away; only centrists do that—as we saw in 1972. No, the danger is not electoral, but practical: that the public’s business will not be done in as thorough a manner as dire circumstances require. Right turn or not, the Democrats are headed for an historic win. They might as well get all the benefit of it by not turning right at all.

To stiffen the squidgy spines of the centrists before they try to suck all the meaning out of “Democrat,” let’s take a look forward to the Democratic Party Platform of 1948. This is the one that elected Harry S. Truman and threw out the (Republican) Do-Nothing 80th Congress. Its unfulfilled promises, languishing these 60 years in the face of rightwing frothings and centrist timidity, show a path toward electoral muscle.

The 1948 Democratic platform explicitly applied Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 “Four Freedoms” to the United States. Roosevelt had called for “… freedom from want — which … means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants. … [and] … freedom from fear—which … means a … reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor. …”

On this basis the 1948 platform called for a surprising number of things that still need doing. “We reject the principle—which we have always rejected, but which the Republican 80th Congress enthusiastically accepted—that government exists for the benefit of the privileged few. To serve the interests of all and not the few; to assure a world in which peace and justice can prevail; to achieve security, full production, and full employment—this is our platform.”

Excerpted, here is what the Democrats of 1948 said about “Our Foreign Policy: We support the United Nations fully and we pledge our whole-hearted aid toward its growth and development. We advocate the effective international control of weapons of mass destruction, including the atomic bomb. ...”

Excerpted, here is what the Democrats of 1948 said about “Our Domestic Policies: Adequate food, clothing and shelter—the bare necessities of life—are becoming too expensive for the average wage earner and the prospects are more frightening each day. We shall endeavor to remove tax inequities and to continue to reduce the public debt. We are opposed to the imposition of a general federal sales tax. We advocate such legislation as is desirable to establish a just body of rules to assure free and effective collective bargaining. … We favor legislation assuring that the workers of our nation receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex. We favor the enactment of a national health program. … The disabled veteran must be provided with medical care and hospitalization of the highest possible standard. We pledge an intensive enforcement of the antitrust laws. … We advocate the strengthening of existing antitrust laws by closing the gaps which experience has shown have been used to promote concentration of economic power. The Democratic Party commits itself to continuing its efforts to eradicate all racial, religious and economic discrimination. We recommend to Congress the submission of a constitutional amendment on equal rights for women.”

A few of these inflammatory 1948 paragraphs could be embodied in the 2008 platform to ginger it up and scare Fred Hiatt, David Broder, Rahm Emanuel and Steny Hoyer. In the wilderness of today’s alleged moderation, the old fires of the New Deal and the Fair Deal can still generate a lot of steam, if used.

Sen. Barack Obama has said he would dedicate his first term to achieving universal health care, return of troops from the Middle East and dealing with energy over-use. These are huge and worthy goals.

But let us not forget these other principles, stated in the flush of victory after World War II but long since neglected and disused, which would compel even greater voter enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket. That the Washington consensus disdains them as insufficiently moderate is, perhaps, their highest recommendation.

James McCarty Yeager was Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s press secretary in 1976 and now lives and writes in the Fourth Ward of the District of Columbia.

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2008

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