Every political party has its loyal base. As generally the most active and generous party supporters, the base expects much from the party leadership. Often, however, the party finds itself in a strategic dilemma when the will of its base seems to contradict the will of the majority of non-base voters. For the past 12 years, the Democrats were outmaneuvered by the Republicans in handling this strategic dilemma and thus subjected to treatment as a minority party.
The Democratic Party’s base tends to be liberal in many issues. It often pressures the party to stand for its belief and present a clear distinction from the Republicans. However, there are also sizeable numbers of moderate voters in this country who have strong reservations against the partisan liberals (or conservatives) who try to impose radical, off-the-mainstream ideology to society.
Many liberal Democrats criticize the moderates for their willingness to compromise. However, I argue that even a small step of progress is better than an unfulfilled call for grand change. To achieve its vision for America, the Democratic Party must first be in control of the Congress and/or White House and, to do so, the party must embrace its moderate members who can win in the swing districts. These seats will be heavily challenged by the Republicans in the next election; for the Democratic Party to retain them it should permit independent voices from its moderate members on issues sensitive to their districts.
Then are moderate Democrats a burden for the party leadership? Hardly. Ideological conformity is rarely a good thing for a national party. A political party should be open to ideas from all political spectrums, keeping in mind that efficiency is more important than ideological purity. Rather than frowning on moderates’ dissent, the party leadership should be open to change and reform. While the core values of the Democratic Party (supporting the public through responsible government) should be firmly proclaimed, there are different ways to promote its values through government.
By no means am I suggesting the Democrats should be compliant and docile for the next two years. The Democrats in Congress should be forceful and decisive in handling national challenges, such as Iraq’s reconstruction and the budget deficit. At the same time, the Democrats should choose their legislative battles with care. While most voters are demanding real action from the Congress, many have reservations to what they fear as a liberal agenda from the Democrats (like raising taxes). There is no need for Democrats to take polarizing position on a wedge issue and paralyze the legislative work in Congress. Rather, the party should be willing to take tactical retreat in sensitive issues (like guns and abortion) and put its flaming passion into passing laws with broad public consensus.
Flaming passion for one’s beliefs is important, but to win public trust the Democrats must also display good stewardship and a willingness to listen to public opinion. The Democrats should realize they are in power not because the public has become liberal, but rather because the GOP hasn’t done its job. In the next two years, the Democrats in Congress should work with willing Republicans to promote neither liberal nor conservative causes, but rather correct solutions for the nation’s problems. Only when the Democrats first prove their leadership in finding pragmatic solutions for the nation’s immediate problems would the voters be willing to give them further mandate to form a unified government in ‘08.
Jong Eun Lee is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and a liberal columnist for The Eagle.