Bringing The Dem Platform Up To 1948

Monday, August 04, 2008 at 01:16 PM

The great Texas progressive Jim Hightower has occasionally been urged to moderate his insistence on fundamental change. His response is a classic of disdain: "The only things in the middle of the road are yellow stripes and dead armadillos." As it writes its 2008 platform, the Democratic Party should remember Hightower's wisdom. This is no time to be going backward, either on principle or as a tactical concession.

However, there are plenty of Democratic ideas that still need implementing. Many of them were stated in the 1948 platform but were deflected by the anti-Communist backlash that the Republicans used to tar almost every progressive idea for 60 years with the name of socialism. The best Democratic principles are not new, but right.

As the conventions prepare to get underway, the question is whether the sclerotic Democrats of the center will be adult and mature enough to support the party even when it stakes out positions to the left. The Washington consensus has been so polluted by conservative extremism that it is not even in the middle anymore, but holds positions considered hard right in many another civilized land.

The temptation of press, punditry and campaign professionals is, as always, to sell out the party anytime it acts less Republican and more Democratic. Progressive activists are the only things standing between the party and the professionals urging a series of humiliating, unsuccessful and unnecessary surrenders.

The well-padded alarmists of the center, like the establishment as a whole, think Democratic victory can come only at the expense of Democratic principles. They fail dismally to trust the generous and fair instincts of the American people. This mistrust always lies behind the fear that Democrats can't win if they are full-throated in pursuit of constitutional restoration, economic justice, social equality, military restraint, environmental progress, sustainable agriculture, infrastructure investments, electoral reform, and diplomatic activity including strong international institutions.

The downside of a Democratic right turn -- always misdescribed as a "return to the center" -- is not that real Democrats will walk away; only party-hack centrists do that -- as we saw in 1972. No, the danger is not electoral, but practical: that the public's business will not be done in as thorough a manner as dire circumstances require. Right turn or not, the Democrats are headed for an historic win. They might as well get all the benefit of it by not turning right at all.

To stiffen the squidgy spines of the centrists before they try to suck all the meaning out of "Democrat," let's take a look forward to the Democratic Party Platform of 1948. This is the one that elected Harry S. Truman and threw out the Republican Do-Nothing 80th Congress. Its unfulfilled promises, languishing these 60 years in the face of right-wing frothings and centrist timidity, show a path toward electoral muscle.

The 1948 Democratic platform explicitly applied Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 Four Freedoms to the United States. Roosevelt had called for "freedom from want, which ... means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants ... [and] ... freedom from fear, which ... means a ... reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor."

On this basis the 1948 platform called for a surprising number of things that still need doing:

We reject the principle -- which we have always rejected, but which the Republican 80th Congress enthusiastically accepted -- that government exists for the benefit of the privileged few. To serve the interests of all and not the few; to assure a world in which peace and justice can prevail; to achieve security, full production, and full employment -- this is our platform.

Excerpted, here is what the Democrats of 1948 said about foreign policy:

  • "We support the United Nations fully and we pledge our whole-hearted aid toward its growth and development."
  • "We advocate the effective international control of weapons of mass destruction, including the atomic bomb ..."

Excerpted, here is what the Democrats of 1948 said about domestic policy:

  • "Adequate food, clothing and shelter -- the bare necessities of life -- are becoming too expensive for the average wage earner and the prospects are more frightening each day."
  • We shall endeavor to remove tax inequities and to continue to reduce the public debt."
  • We are opposed to the imposition of a general federal sales tax."
  • We advocate such legislation as is desirable to establish a just body of rules to assure free and effective collective bargaining."
  • We favor legislation assuring that the workers of our nation receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex."
  • We favor the enactment of a national health program ..."
  • The disabled veteran must be provided with medical care and hospitalization of the highest possible standard."
  • We pledge an intensive enforcement of the antitrust laws. ... We advocate the strengthening of existing antitrust laws by closing the gaps which experience has shown have been used to promote concentration of economic power."
  • The Democratic Party commits itself to continuing its efforts to eradicate all racial, religious and economic discrimination."
  • We recommend to Congress the submission of a constitutional amendment on equal rights for women."

A few of these inflammatory 1948 paragraphs could be embodied in the 2008 platform to ginger it up and scare Fred Hiatt, David Broder, Rahm Emanuel and Steny Hoyer. In the wilderness of today's alleged moderation, the old fires of the New Deal and the Fair Deal can still generate a lot of steam, if used.

Sen. Barack Obama has said he would dedicate his first term to achieving return of troops from the Middle East, establishing universal health care, and dealing with energy over-use. These are huge and worthy goals.

But let us not forget these other principles, stated in the flush of victory after World War II but long since neglected and disused, which would compel even greater voter enthusiasm for the Democratic ticket. That the Washington consensus disdains them as insufficiently moderate is, perhaps, their highest recommendation.

James McCarty Yeager is a writer in Washington D.C. A substantially similar version of this article appeared in the Aug. 1 Progressive Populist.


Right on! Jim Cox, former Louisiana State Senator and now an Obama Delegate to the 2008 convention

Add in something on the need for Americans to have reasonably good paying jobs and you're close to a platform.

But why stop at 1948? Let's go back to FDR even earlier, addressing issues and problems that sound depressingly similar to today's America:

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state. That, in its essence, is fascism.

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.

True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we now know that it is bad economics.

A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.

Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.

Here is my principle: Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle.

I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm.

Selfishness is the only real atheism; aspiration, unselfishness, the only real religion.

But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings.

Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.

In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or else all go down as one people.

It is an unfortunate human failing that a full pocketbook often groans more loudly than an empty stomach.

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.

Not only our future economic soundness but the very soundness of our democratic institutions depends on the determination of our government to give employment to idle men.

The virtues are lost in self-interest as rivers are lost in the sea.

There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.
[Obama ought to seriously consider dusting that one off and laying it at McCain's feet, over and over and over again in as many states as he has money to contest.]

We are trying to construct a more inclusive society. We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.

Whoever seeks to set one religion against another seeks to destroy all religion.

Kind of gives the lie to the old axiom live and learn, doesn't it? Maybe "Live and forget?"