The presupposition of what follows is that politics is the art of the possible. Democrats have taken a beating in recent decades by being too far ahead of an electing majority on matters in the moral- social-cultural area. They have been too much in the control of a variety of interest groups that moved the Democrats into an agenda favored by the more progressive cultural elements in society who tended to be more educated, more prosperous, and to be in the professions -- the "knowledge industries" dealing more with ideas and with providing services that require education or special training than with actually producing goods or providing services as the basic level -- manufacturing, driving trucks, working in dry cleaning establishments, the food industries, and the like. Support for labor weakened; in fact, many saw working people as culturally backward racists. Maybe this is enough to suggest the idea, though much needs to be said.
As a result we lost the most conservative area -- the South -- and became alienated from working people and from far too many of the common folks -- the average Joe and Joan across the country -- the plain, good folks many of whom populated the churches of the middle and lower classes.
As a result we got Nixon, Reagan, and Bush 1 and 2.
I am a democratic socialist and very liberal on the cultural issues. But there are not enough of my kind to elect a Congress and a President, except maybe in San Francisco. You cannot wield political power unless you get it. I am not much in favor these days of being a voice crying in the wilderness with my idealistic vision. There is work to be done in the culture winning more people to liberal ideals of peace and justice, but politics is the art of the possible. Therefore:
In preparation for 2008 Democrats should focus on the following:
1. Declare themselves to be against abortion. They should announce that abortion should be legal, safe, and as rare as possible. The only solution to this problem is to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Hence, Democrats should invite Republicans to joins them in a crusade to prevent unwanted pregnancies by every effective means including sex education that focuses on pregnancy prevention, abstinence, and safe sex.
2. They should forget gun control, oppose a federal constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage, and otherwise leave the matter up to the states. There is further work to be done in the culture before much progress can be made politically on the issue. Gradually, it will happen starting in the Northeast and the West Coast and slowly work its way through the country, as is happening. Democrats should say as little as possible about prayer in school and the like, and take moderate positions when subjects like this cannot be avoided. The cultural issues have been killing Democrats for decades. Democrats should go slow on them and fight in winnable battles on the liberal-moderate side in areas that offer that possibility.
3. On Iraq they should seek a bipartisan solution or let the Republicans settle it. There is no good policy at this point, and whatever course is taken will leave Iraq in chaos for years. Democrats do not want to get credit for a policy that will lead to further disaster and violence, and there is no policy that will not do exactly that. Both parties must bear the blame if necessary, and Republicans should be seen as having major responsibility for the outcome if a genuinely bipartisan solution is not possible.
4. Domestically, Democrats must return to their New Deal roots to the extent they can find issues on which they can be successful. The heart of the agenda should be on the welfare of families. Helping families is the central focus. Around that can be built the following: increasing the minimum wage, increasing support for child care to enable both parents to work if they want to, strengthening welfare policies to make them more humane, i. e., require work but provide the means to make it possible to get decent jobs at good pay with child care and whatever other support is required, improving the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), support labor in its attempt to organize and to remain strong as a counterpoint to big business, assist families and students in getting a college education, and the like. Finally, they should push environmental and energy initiatives to the limits of winnable possibility.
5. Crucial is a reform of health care. Incremental gains may be all that is politically possible at the moment, but movement should be in the direction of a one-payer system that does something like universalize Medicare. Appeal to business by proposing to take health off their agenda as a cost. We must educate the public on the facts and counteract the myths, dogmas, falsehoods, and scare tactic of free-market zealots and Republicans sponsored by the enormous power of the insurance and drug companies. A universal health care plan can provide better care at lower costs with greater efficiencies than the awful system we have now that leaves 45 million plus people without medical insurance.
This suggests a direction and a set of guidelines -- moderate on social-cultural issue, strong focus on helping middle class and lower income families and individuals.
This would help Democrats become the party of Roosevelt, Truman, and Johnson (the latter on the domestic, not the Vietnam side) again. They won.