Better Than Altruism

Until recently the Democratic Party had shown no signs of being able to take advantage of the public's disillusion with the current administration and its right-wing agenda. Even now it is unclear if they will be able to seize the public’s disaffection with the failed agenda of Bush’s party. This fecklessness is due, we are told, to confusion in the ranks and conflicts over policy. Democrats have always been a disparate bunch, and at this point the party contains anti-war activists, pro-war strategists, social idealists, and pork-barrel pragmatists.

Fractured parties aren't in a position to rule, nor do they even deserve to. The Democrats' former coalition, which began with FDR in 1932, was based on altruism. Without turning into a social welfare state like Britain under the Labor Party, America decided to help the poor, provide a social safety net for the elderly, and afford civil rights to people of color. That work is largely done, and until a new coalition is built, one foresees an impotent Democratic minority having a hard time, if not an impossible one, returning to power.

So, what lies beyond the politics of altruism? Could it be a politics of consciousness? "Consciousness" means being aware. Arguably there is a silent majority who is already aware of certain facts being drummed into our heads every day:

· The Earth is warming gradually, giving rise to ecological imbalance.
· Power is shifting eastward to China and South Asia.
· Poverty is on the increase in America.
· Radical Islam opposes modernism.
· Religious fundamentalism is growing in almost every society.
· Energy resources are being steadily depleted.
· The Iraqi war is going disastrously badly.

So much for the diagnosis, which is dead simple. But the Democrats--and those who might shift to their side--don't believe in the cure. The cure isn't a mystery. It's easy to state, in fact.

· Put global warming on the international agenda as a top priority.
· Build strong favored-nation ties with China and South Asia.
· Support populist leaders among the poor and give them more economic aid.
· Let Islam develop on its own, without our interference.
· Let Islamic countries take the lead in fighting terrorism, aided by the entire international community.
· Offer people a moral alternative to fundamentalism.
· Put massive funding into new energy resources.
· End the war.

These aren't radical proposals. They are ideas that, if we are lucky, more voters would support than not. That's the point of an opposition party: it finds a way to satisfy voters who aren't satisfied by current politics. I don't see prominent Democrats stepping up to the plate, though. The Democratic elite is inertial, and that won't work: The Republicans already fill that slot.

Yet all of these points are in a way self-evident. Civil rights for blacks and giving the vote to women were also self-evident. History took its time actually bringing them about, but does anyone think our future consists of ignoring China, warring in the Middle East, allowing religious intolerance to spread at home, and living with oil at $100 a barrel? If the Democratic Part won't seize the future now instead of praying that Bush single-handedly sinks the Republicans, they don't understand how power works or how to fill its vacuum.