Editor’s note: The opinions reflected here are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.
On Thursday, Dec. 7, 1972, a full page manifesto ran in both The New York Times and The Washington Post. It was spearheaded by the late Ben Wattenberg (1933-2015) and in response to the defeat of the McGovern/Shriver presidential campaign, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM) announced its formation.
That was two years before I was born and every generation since has offered up a path forward for the Democratic Party whenever it veers off the rails.
The most successful effort to date has been Al From’s Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which opened its doors in March of 1985 and, sadly, closed them in February of 2011.
While the DLC think-tank, The Progressive Policy Institute, continues to operate, a number of likely successors have attempted to take up the reins of the DLC; No Labels, Third Way, The Bipartisan Policy Institute, et al.
The unfortunate truth is, these groups have not had the desired impact that their predecessors have had, and when seen through the prism of this hyper-partisan day and age, it becomes all the more concerning.
The Democratic Party, and that includes the state party here in New Jersey, for all its hopes and all its boasts, has not learned from the defeat of the Clinton/Kaine ticket in 2016.
This is where the “reality therapy” becomes difficult to hear. It appears now that the answer to this loss, for both the national and state party, is to lurch ever more resolutely to the hard left, coalescing around the standard bearers of that wing in Elizabeth Warren & Bernie Sanders.
The promises of the far left are packaged to sound appealing by calling for a redistribution of wealth as well as social engineering, along with a lot of freebies that include among them free college and healthcare.
Many of these concepts are not built on sound policy and, like many ideas that appear too good to be true, fail to stand up to rigorous dissection.
Furthermore, in addition to doubling down on the flawed trend of “identity politics,” the party has also tended to believe (paraphrasing an old Joe Biden quip) that saying repeatedly, and loudly, over and over “Noun, Verb, Trump” as well as “Noun, Verb, Resistance,” will lead to more votes and electoral victory.
It is time for the heirs of CDM and the DLC to stand up once again and be counted. The only real choice for our party, this state and our nation, is to find real solutions to the problems that real citizens are facing every day: The economy, infrastructure, cost of living/quality of life issues and the cost of education.
The party has lost its way and needs to return to first principles, and remember the policies and ideas of our great leaders like Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, many of which were laid out by both CDM and the DLC many years ago.
Democrats must return to a fundamental theme, that economic growth presents the best opportunity for everyone to succeed and that the free market is the true engine of general prosperity.
The right way to rebuild America’s economic security is to invest in the skills and ingenuity of our people. The promise of America is equal opportunity, yet understanding that this does not guarantee equal outcomes.
And, finally a shared belief in opportunity for all, responsibility from all and a universal faith in community and our neighbors.
The Democratic Party’s fundamental mission is to expand opportunity, not government.
We can start right here in New Jersey. Why? Because as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis articulated in 1932, states can be the true “laboratories of democracy.”
In addition, history has shown us that many of the most successful ideas and programs in the “New Deal” of President Franklin Roosevelt were first tried on the state level, when FDR was governor of New York.
With our own election for governor and all 120 seats in the Legislature rapidly approaching, there is still time to change the tone of the conversation and start a new dialogue. But change from within our own party starts with accepting that bankrupt ideas cannot be part of the future.
Now is not the time for common sense Democrats to stand by idly and hoping for the best. Now is not the time for common sense Democrats to appear as shrinking violets. Riding the anti-Trump wave will not last (for that matter, neither will the anti-Christie wave) and when that wave finally crashes and washes ashore, we may feel as though we won a battle or two but ultimately lost the war.
The time is now for Democrats to start talking about serious policy ideas, issues and the future.
Wayne B. Marek
Wayne B. Marek served on the Morris Plains Board of Education from 2009-2013 and was the nominated Democratic Assembly candidate in District 26 in 2015. He was endorsed by the eldest child of Robert F. Kennedy and former Maryland Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, author of the seminal book Reinventing Government; David Osborne, advisor to President Bill Clinton;and Peter Edelman, former senior aide to Sen. Robert F Kennedy and deputy Health and Human Services cabinet member in the Clinton Administration. Interested Democrats can contact Marek here.