Since election night last November, many have suggested that I should have run on the Republican ticket. While I would do some things differently, running as a Democrat is not one of them. The course of my campaign only confirmed my decision that the Alabama Democratic Party is the right place for me, my family, and the people of Alabama.
Even now as many elected-Democrats expediently switch parties and others declare the death of the Democratic Party in Alabama, I foresee just the opposite. November 2, 2010 can represent the hurtful, but necessary, opening salvo of the renaissance of the Alabama Democratic Party. My hope rests, first, in the fact that the people of Alabama, themselves, harbor an independence of spirit and a vitality of moral conviction capable of transcending today’s stifling political environment and empty sloganeering. Secondly, the heritage of the Democratic Party includes the historic mission necessary to sustain and lead such an endeavor.
In recent decades, however, instead of working out this mission for modern times, the Alabama Democratic Party rested on past accomplishments and entrenched power-sharing arrangements. It surrendered the intellectual and moral high ground and thereby failed to inspire this generation to claim the banner of the Democratic Party. Having “always been a Democrat” or, as some even bragged, being “born a Democrat” are unacceptable as a raison d’être. My generation’s parents are now Republicans and the next generation has now been “conceived” as Republicans.
So where do we, as Alabama Democrats, go from here? If we were honest, none of us have all the explanations. Our current situation is well expressed by Wendell Berry’s poem, The Real Work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
We have a lot of real work to do: a lot of rebuilding and rediscovery.
The Alabama Democratic Party must offer the people a distinct vision and agenda of reform. To be successful, it will need be an enlivening third-way: an alternative to the stupefying labels of right/left, conservative/liberal. The people of Alabama yearn for something that is not on the table currently. Generally today, Alabamians do not fit well within either party or the stated platforms. Our people demand something unique and different.
This alternative path cannot be some triangulation strategy nor a Republican-lite gimmick. Neither does it include an ideology of “completing the the New Deal.” Only 21st century solutions which appeal to Alabamia’s deepest convictions, morals, and spiritual heritage will suffice to satisfy this desire.
As I stated earlier, I have hope and not despair. Despite the biggest partisan wave in Alabama history, my campaign only lost by 357 votes out of 37,029 cast. So, I took great encouragement that my platform and ideas resonated with the people of District 13: mostly rural, white voters. A clear, principled, and responsible platform, in deed, can create political impact.
Because of the political trade winds, Kelly and I sensed from the beginning that we had to provide the voters of District 13 a reason to vote Democrat. Unfortunately today, when Alabamians think Democrat, they think “Gambling.” Or “Pro-Abortion.” Or “Homosexual Marriage.” Or ‘Socialist.” Along these same lines, I was surprised at the number who questioned how one could be a Democrat and a Christian. These brands and perceptions cannot continue; if they do, Democrats will indeed cease to exist as a viable option for decades.
Alabama Democrats must work again to reclaim our historic role and re-identify our party with Alabamian’s deepest beliefs. Because Alabama is a religiously grounded society, in my campaign, I always sought to frame, interpret, and explain my platform and policies within a moral and even Christian context. I appealed to an older religiousness, rooted in piety, rather than political dogma. I refused to allow the other side to claim the exclusive mantle of morality. I would often explain that although I am pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, I believe that our Christian principles have a much broader application than a few narrow social issues. For instance, as Christians we are called to advocate for the human dignity of workers in the workplace, environmental stewardship, restorative justice within the courtrooms, continued racial reconciliation, and a just immigration policy, to name a few. Even at “Republican” house-meetings, rarely would someone expressly disagree with these statements; instead, it was usually received with head-nodding approval.
For the future, I suggest the solutions that the Alabama Democratic Party offer for the current illnesses within our state and economy pass several criteria. First, our issues must be expressly and overtly family- and community-centered. Second, all efforts must be authentically a pursuit of the Christian concept of public justice and the common good. And, lastly, these efforts must be accompanied by an express commitment to Thomas Jefferson’s desire to break unhealthy concentrations of power: both political and economic.
When people think of the Alabama Democratic Party, they must begin to think family, community, civic responsibility, and the Christian notion of the God-given dignity of all people. In the coming weeks, I hope to detail some specifics here, but broadly our platform might include the following:
- Relocalizing the Economy. From agriculture to manufacturing to energy-production to banking, we need to empower locally-owned businesses to meet our local needs, locally.
- Rejecting Crony Corporatism. In a day when those who are positioned to “work the system” abuse the public coffers as a source of loot and use the arm of the government as a instrument of plunder, we need to return to Andrew Jackson’s slogan: “Opportunity for All, Special Privilege for None.”
- Rebuilding Wealth-Producing Assets in the Poor and Working Classes. Working people are far less economically secure than ever before in US history yet the upper-classes live in a Second Gilded Age. We must intentionally return economic power to the working people by developing sustainable and wide private-ownership of assets and capital; build, to steal a phrase, “An Ownership Society.”
- Re-humanizing the Economy: Alabama Democrats should purge our minds of the current idolatry of the market and develop policies which treat economics as if families, communities, and our posterity mattered. There are “weightier matters” and considerations than merely ballooning corporate profits-sheets. There are ideals and institutions worthy of protection from modern inhumane market-forces. The economic war which was unleashed against our families and communities over the past several decades must be turned back.
- Revitalizing our Democracy. The greatest existential danger America faces is not al Quida but our own loss of trust in our government and accompanying failure of moral legitimacy of our democratic institutions. While Republicans will try to close the system against broad-based participation, Alabama Democrats need to lead the charge to enhance the legitimacy of elections, encourage civic participation, and invigorate every person’s vote to really mean something.
- Republicanizing (little-r) the Democratic Party. On many of the hot-button issues, without compromising our individual principles, we need to demonstrate a vigorous fellowship (or in old times, civic republicanism). Engaging these deeply personal issues in a civil dialogue on the merits of arguments without engaging in mortal combat will prove quite attractive to the electorate. It will go a long way towards eliminating the untrue perceptions which have been advertised so well by Republicans. Being a Democrat does not require unanimity nor uniformity nor union but neighborly-cooperation in our mission. An internal unity of togetherness can become a positive credibility factor in our campaigns and outreach.
Again, we have only ourselves to blame for our present position but, in the words of T.S.Eliot,
Where the bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each
Every man to his work.