I come home late at night
and he is asleep in front of the TV.
He sits upright with his head tipped back,
the remote rests in his lap and Dick Van Dyke trips over his ottoman on the screen.
He is asleep in front of the TV
and I come into the room to shut off the lights.
The remote in his lap, Dick Van Dyke on the screen,
I turn out the light and quietly say goodnight.
I come into the room and put out the lights.
Looking at him, I wonder when his hair got so gray.
Turning out the light, I whisper goodnight.
My dad stirs and mumbles in reply.
I look at him and wonder when he went so gray.
It must have happened when I was out with my friends or while I was away at school.
He mumbles goodnight and drifts back to sleep
or sometimes he gets up and joins my mother, so is already sleeping in the next room.
His hair went gray while I was out with friends or away at school.
What changes he must see in me
when he gets up to join my sleeping mother in the next room.
I’ve grown three feet while he was at work.
I wonder what changes he sees in me
and if he can take pride in the things he sees.
I grew three feet while he was working
and I inherited his penchant for puns.
I want my dad to be proud of what he sees in me.
We grow old before each other’s eyes
but we can always depend on one another for a pun.
Though we seem quite different, I see myself in what I know of him at my age.
We grow older before each other’s eyes
while he sleeps in front of the TV.
I see myself in my father
when I come home late at night.
Every presidential election year, the Democratic National Committee comes together to draft a new platform for the party. This is a time for the party to look over what has occurred in the last term and to plan for the future. The written party platform documents for the public what the Democratic Party stands for and what it means to be a Democrat. According to the party’s most recent platform:
If one theme runs through the 2000 Democratic platform, it is this: if America is to secure prosperity, progress, peace and security for all, we cannot afford to go back. We must move forward together and we must not leave anyone behind (“DNC: Democratic Party Platform”).
This statement attempts to characterize the party as forward thinking and liberal but in actuality, it tells us very little about what it means to be a Democrat. It is bland rhetoric that basically states the party wants a better future, which is self-explanatory. So, what does it mean to be a Democrat? For what does the Democratic Party stand? It seems at times that the party itself is currently unable to answer these questions.
To understand where the party stands today, it is important to look at its past. The party finds its origins in the Democratic-Republican Party, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson as an opposition to the Federalist Party and to fight for the Bill of Rights. In 1800, Jefferson became the party’s first president. In the mid-1800s Andrew Jackson emerged as a leader of the party. During the period known as “Jacksonian Democracy” the national convention process and the party platform were created. Issues that concerned the party in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century included agricultural reform, women’s suffrage, graduated income tax, and direct election of Senators (“DNC: History of the Democratic Party”).
Democrats of the twentieth century focused much attention on social programs. Under Woodrow Wilson, the Federal Reserve was created and the first labor and child welfare laws were passed. During his presidency Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the “New Deal” programs in an attempt to relieve Americans from the strains of the Great Depression, although the economic success of these programs is debatable. While Harry Truman occupied the Oval Office, the military became racially reintegrated, the United States helped with the reconstruction of Europe under the Marshall plan, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed. John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson both worked for civil rights and the end of segregation during their time in office. Kennedy created the Peace Corp and the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were passed during the Johnson administration. Johnson pledged himself to a war on poverty and created moderately successful “Great Society” programs, including Medicare. President Jimmy Carter was central in negotiating peace accords between Israel and Egypt (“DNC: History of the Democratic Party”).
This history demonstrates the attention to social programs and reforms that has characterized the Democratic Party. The party is now preparing itself for the 2004 election. However, there seems to be a loss of focus throughout the party’s ranks. It seems that since the last Democratic platform was written in 2000, the party’s platform has become lost in internal struggles and almost blind opposition to the ideas and actions of the Bush administration. The party whose focus is supposed to be on the future seems to have its heart and mind set on the “glory days” of the Clinton Era rather than on what the party needs to do to improve the future of America and to assure success in the 2004 elections.
Just about anyone in the Democratic Party will criticize the foreign and economic policy of President George W. Bush without a second thought. Currently there is a television add running in Illinois sponsored by the supporters of Democratic candidate for Senate Blair Hull. The thirty-second spot uses the majority of its time to express distaste for Bush’s handling of Iraq and his “tax cut for the wealthy” (Hull). Hull’s advertisement makes no mention of his opponent and little mention of who he plans to solve these problems. This kind of statement seems characteristic of the Democratic Party today. The only thing the entire party seems to be able to agree on is that Bush is not performing well as president. The party defining itself as the “anti-Bush” party is problematic because it creates a void that it does not fill. The Democrats seem eager to attack the Bush administration’s policies but is not nearly as quick to offer better policy of its own. The problem may be that there is dissent within the party about what policies should be supported.
In a debate at the University of New Mexico on September 4, 2003, eight Democratic candidates for president appeared to only be able to agree that Bush’s handling of the economy and the war in Iraq were improper. The candidates even disagreed on whether or not the war in Iraq was the correct decision. Senator Joe Lieberman who, along with fellow candidate Senator Dick Gephardt, voted in favor of sending troops to Iraq last March, said he supported more sending more troops to Iraq to help protect the troops that are there now. Former Senator Carol Mosley Braun feels the war on terror “got off on the wrong track” by going to war in Iraq. Senator Bob Graham, who has opposed the war since the beginning, calling it “the wrong war against the wrong enemy,” said he would support the Bush administration’s financial requests to help pay for the ongoing costs of war (“Democrats Slam Bush on Iraq, Economy”). Even those candidates who supported sending troops initially and support sending more troops now disagree with Bush’s handling of the situation in one way or another. Those who opposed the United States’ actions in Iraq are now speaking of Bush’s new attempts at passing a UN resolution with condescension. Through all the criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq, very few of the Democratic candidates seem to be able to offer viable solutions of their own.
Not only did the candidates disagree on how the situation in Iraq should be handled, there was also a wide range of opinions on how to fix the struggling economy, for which all seemed to agree Bush’s tax cut was partly responsible. Several Candidates, including Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt, support completely repealing the tax cut in order to fund programs such as universal health care. Gephardt asked, “Why would we want to keep anything of the Bush tax plan? It is a miserable failure” (“Democrats Slam Bush on Iraq, Economy”). Lieberman disagreed with the complete repeal of the tax cut. He argued:
Getting rid of the entire Bush tax plan…is the wrong policy for America. We Democrats fought hard to protect the middle class, we Democrats fought hard to provide a tax cut to the middle class. If you do as Howard Dean wants to do, a family earning $40,000 is going to pay an additional $2,000 in taxes (“Lieberman opens anti-Dean offensive”).
Lieberman also stated his opposition to Dean’s plan to revoke international trade accords that do not meet U.S. labor and environmental standards, saying that if Dean were elected and followed through with this policy, “the Bush recession would be followed by the Dean Depression” (“Lieberman opens anti-Dean offensive”). The vast discrepancies among the Democratic candidates span the foremost issues of the day. Their ideas concerning foreign and economic policy seem to find consensus only in their disagreement with Bush.
These debates are simply a public display of the schism is dividing the modern Democratic Party. The two main factions in this divide are represented the Dean campaign and its supports and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). According to the DCL, “the ‘Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,’ as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean likes to call it, is an aberration…defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist interest-group liberalism at home” (Goldberg 1). The Dean camp represents what can be viewed as the more leftist side of the party while the DLC represents the more moderate constituency. These two factions are pulling the party in opposite directions and further blurring its ideology. There appears to be almost as much animosity between the two sides of this dispute as there is between the Democratic Party as a whole and the Bush administration.
There is some disagreement about what type of voters the party should be attracting. The DLC branch of the party seems more interested in attracting the undecided voters from the middle whereas the grass-roots branch that backs Dean is more interested in recruiting non-voters. The leftist side of the party feels that voters do not understand that they are being lied to. Robert Reich, a prominent liberal who served as Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, says the American people are being fed “a nonstop diet of lies and angry, snide, resentful, bitter diatribes by right-wing radio talk-show hosts and right-wing TV talk-show hosts.” He also feels that “the typical American doesn't know what the facts are” (Goldberg 2). Members of the DLC view this as a dangerous way of thinking. Their policy director Ed Kilgore believes it amounts to “telling people they're stupid for not understanding what we understand” (Goldberg 2). The leftist faction of the party feels that the problem at the core of this situation is voter indifference and they see the loudly expressing their message as the only solution. The DLC feels that “liberals are a minority not because most Americans don't understand them, but because they disagree with them”(Goldberg 2). The extreme left of the party seems to take for granted that if people knew what they perceive to be the truth, they would obviously agree with their agenda. It is not wise to assume that people are uninformed and to push a party’s view to the fringe of voters. However it would also unwise to alienate a large group of voters whose beliefs are less moderate.
It appears the Democratic Party is being pulled in two directions by these internal struggles. The party’s goals are unclear and so is their constituency. According to polls thirty-three percent of Democrats consider themselves liberals with forty-three referring to themselves as moderates and twenty-three percent viewing themselves as conservatives (Goldberg 2). In order to gain focus the party must do much more than define itself as the anti-Bush party. It must decide what it is for rather than simply pointing out what it is against. The party must decide whether it is the party of grassroots progressives and liberals or the party of the moderates and the swing voters. The party is experiencing an identity crisis of sorts. This dilemma has ramifications that extend beyond one election. The party must focus on where it stands on the important issues facing America. If they focus on issues rather than on a person they oppose, the Democratic Party has propel American away from the politics of personality and toward politics based on the issues.
Curry, Tom. “Lieberman opens anti-Dean offensive.” MSNBC. 4 Sept. 2003
“Democrats Slam Bush on Iraq, Economy.” FOXNews.com. 5 Sept. 2003.
“DNC: Democratic Party Platform.” Democratic National Committee.
“DNC: History of the Democratic Party.” Democratic National Committee.
Goldberg, Michelle. “The Democrats’ brewing civil war.” 12 July 2003.
Hull, Blair. Television advertisement. Paid for by Hull for U.S. Senate.