The past five years have been tough for those of us who are progressives. While this week's elections were heartening it is clear that the Democratic Party needs to identify new issues and ideas to push in the 21st Century. We need to move forward with the modernization of the Democratic Party so that it remains progressive but also relevant to the needs of Americans.
Despite all the discussion about "values" being the turning point of the 2004 election, national security is clearly where the Democrats lost the last election. The Bush team scared enough people into thinking that Democrats were weak on defense and would let another terrorist attack occur on US soil. While this is obviously not true, the Democratic Party has been uncomfortable with the use of force and in a post 9/11 world we must get over this hump to be a successful national party.
This does not mean supporting the invasion of Iraq or being war mongers. However, we need to convince the public that we are not afraid to use force when necessary and have a strong, reasonable policies to protect our nation.
One solution is to adopt the "Powell Doctrine" which has been abandoned by the Republicans. The Powell Doctrine says that the US should only go to war with clear political objectives, overwhelming force and with an exit plan/rebuilding strategy. This is common sense but this administration has ignored these tenets. Picking up this mantra as the policy of the Democratic Party will help highlight this fact.
The Democratic Party is clearly the party of fiscal responsibility. All you have to do is compare the Clinton years with the Bush years. The 1990s proved that good fiscal policy is good for the economy. We must emphasize this fact. Most people are not better off than they were 5+ years ago and we should link the deficit to the economy as Bill Clinton did so effectively in 1992.
The Democrats should also propose reforms on how the federal budget is developed to bring it into line with 21st Century budgeting. Specifically, the federal government should use the rules that state and local governments operate by - it is okay to borrow for infrastructure and public works, not okay to borrow for operating and entitlement expenses. Operating and entitlement costs should only be funded with tax revenues which would make it much harder for the Republicans to push unfunded tax cuts and corporate welfare programs.
Borrowing should be permitted for public works projects and defense spending because it has tangible value and can amortized over a number years. This would allow the federal government to finance needed infrastructure projects and defense needs in time of war or national emergency but would prevent the reckless tax and budgeting policy we have seen in the last 5 years.
This will likely become one of the biggest issues of the next 5-10 years. We have been reliant on fossil fuels for last 100 years but every year the US becomes more and more dependent on the Middle East for oil. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil could help bring energy prices down while also helping decrease the amount of money being sent to countries which finance terrorists.
The Democratic Party should take Dick Gephardt's mantra that if we can put a man on the moon in 10 years we can make this country energy independent in the same amount of time.
The Republican Party is literally run by former oil company executives and is wedded to the policies of old. The Democratic Party has a unique opportunity to seize this issue and push the US to develop new energy sources which are more affordable, renewable and cleaner.