Today the Weekend Reader bring you The New Democrats and the Return to Power by Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council. The New Democrats and the Return to Power features From’s guidelines to reforming the Democratic Party back to the Clinton era. From was an integral part of rebuilding the Democratic Party in the 90’s and leading the way for the progressive movement, but where do his policies stand within the framework of modern politics? The excerpt below highlights a few of From’s suggestions for the Democratic Party. Do you agree with From’s centrist policies? Tell us in the comments section.
You can purchase the book here.
Bill Clinton and the New Democrats saved the Democratic Party from the political wilderness.
The American people had simply lost faith in the party’s ability to govern the country. Bill Clinton and the New Democrats restored that confidence.
Before 1992, Democrats had lost the popular vote in five of the six previous elections. Since 1992, they have won the popular vote in five of six elections.
That is not to say that President Barack Obama, a transformative political figure, would not have been elected in 2008 had it not been for Bill Clinton and the New Democrats. But his road would have been much steeper. He would have had to convince the voters—as Clinton had to—that Democrats could be trusted with national power.
But what about the future? Do New Democrat principles still apply?
Yes. Times have changed. America has seen dramatic changes demographically, socially, and technologically in the last two decades. The challenges are different today than they were in the 1990s, and so the policies must be different to meet them.
But the core principles of the New Democrat movement—its animating principle of opportunity for all, its ethic of mutual responsibility, its core value of community, its global outlook, its emphasis on economic growth and empowering government, and its embodiment of values like work, family, faith, individual liberty, and inclusion—are as viable and useful for meeting today’s challenges as they were for meeting the challenges of the 1990s.
I believe that in those principles and in the history of the New Democrat movement, there are lessons for both political parties today. And I believe that if either party—and I certainly hope it would be the Democrats—puts together an agenda for the future that furthers those principles, it would both break today’s polarized political gridlock and build an enduring political and governing majority.
For my party, it means thinking big, promoting a new politics of higher purpose. It’s time to go beyond class warfare and identity politics. Class warfare offers politically appealing rhetoric, but it divides our country and provides no real solutions to our nation’s problems. Identity politics tends to protect the status quo and offer equal outcomes while tamping down the promise of equal opportunity (our pre-Clinton problem) by using government redistribution policies to hold our coalition together.
I’m all for redistribution—that’s why a progressive tax system is the only fair way to pay for government. But without private sector growth, a redistribution strategy is self-defeating. That’s why Democrats cannot afford to lose our appreciation for business and the private sector. It is a growing, prospering private sector that lets us do all the good things we want to do with government—we have to create and grow wealth to have wealth to redistribute.
So what would a New Democrat agenda to tackle today’s and tomorrow challenges look like? Here are some ideas.
First, we need to make clear our higher national purpose: to grow the economy, create jobs, and bring America together again.
Second, we need to get back to the fundamentals to create a sound environment for growth. We need to get our fiscal house in order. Whether it’s a plan like the one offered by former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson or some other plan, we need to adopt and enforce a blueprint that will cut the deficit and build confidence in the private marketplace. Such a plan will undoubtedly require spending reductions, modernizing entitlements, and increasing revenue by reforming the tax code, and it will require investments in people, infrastructure, and energy that will help grow the economy.
Third, we need to overhaul the tax code to lower rates and eliminate costly loopholes. In closing loopholes, we should follow a simple policy of cut and invest: We will invest in activities that help the whole economy grow, but we will eliminate subsidies that go to individual industries, particularly subsidies to prop up dying industries.
Fourth, we should eliminate the payroll tax, the tax on work, and replace it with a carbon tax on polluters. The payroll tax is among the most regressive taxes on the books. To recruit professionals and high-income workers who are in high demand and short supply, an employer will gladly pay both the employer and employee parts of the payroll tax. But for less skilled, low-income workers who work in jobs for which workers are readily available, an employer can, in essence, make them pay both sides of the tax in the form of lower wages. If they don’t like it, the employer can simply hire somebody else for the job.
I know the argument that we can’t cut the payroll tax because it pays for Social Security. I believe it’s a phony argument. For decades, we’ve been borrowing from the Social Security trust fund to pay for general operating expenses of government, basically using the trust fund as a piggy bank to fund the deficit.
No single action we could take would create more jobs than cutting the tax on work and lowering payroll costs significantly for employers. And replacing the payroll tax with a green tax would be an effective, market-oriented way to improve the environment by putting a real cost on polluting. If a carbon tax or another green tax does not raise enough revenue to keep Social Security in the black, then we could supplement it with general revenues raised from a reformed and more progressive income tax.
Fifth, we need to end the demagoguery on all sides and modernize entitlements. Fixing entitlements like Social Security and Medicare is necessary to save them. Avoiding needed reforms under the guise of protecting beneficiaries is a fool’s mission. If we do nothing, these programs will run out of money and no one will receive benefits. Fixing Social Security may be the easier of the two. Raising the retirement age gradually for future recipients—say, those now under 50 or 45 years old—would probably do the job.
Purchase the full book here to read the rest of From’s suggestions for reforming the Democratic Party.
From The New Democrats and the Return to Power by Al From. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd.