The Maryland Public Policy Institute
The 2012 general election campaign officially begins this week with the opening of the Republican National Convention, followed next week by the Democratic Convention. The parties’ presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, have been telling voters for months that this November’s election is a pivotal choice between contrasting philosophies of government. Yet so far, the American electorate has not pivoted toward either the Republicans or the Democrats. Polls show the contests for the White House and control of Capitol Hill are close.
To help both parties, I have some suggestions for how they can improve their politics and policies. Below are suggestions for Democrats; last month I offered some for Republicans.
Become liberal. Following George McGovern’s landslide defeat in the 1972 presidential election, the Democratic Party began separating itself from liberalism, the belief in the importance of civil liberties and skepticism of government authority. That separation gained momentum in the last two decades, as opinion polling found that the term “liberal” had fallen out of favor with Americans. Today there are few true liberal Democrats left—and those who do exist are relegated to the party’s marginalized American Civil Liberties Union wing.
Democratic politicians still offer the occasional paean to “diversity,” but they’ve spent the last decade attacking civil liberties. Among their targets: freedom of speech (Citizens United), freedom of religion (Chick-fil-A, Catholicism), the right to self-defense (Heller v. D.C.), the right to petition government (McCain-Feingold), property rights (Kelo), the right to privacy (the wars on smoking and food), and due process rights and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures (Obama administration extensions of the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 powers).
It’s often claimed that the
Become progressive. Once the Democratic Party repudiated the “liberal” label, it rebranded itself as “progressive.” The label is ill-fitting. Progressivism has historically referred to policies intended to help the poor and working class, but today’s Democratic Party is primarily focused on delivering government benefits to the urban and suburban upper class and reshaping the country to their preferences.
From high-speed trains projects to hybrid cars subsidies, Democratic policies and planks are chock full of gifts to the upper class and impediments to the poor and working classes. The largest federal program, Social Security, has slowly been transformed into a regressive program that redistributes income from poorer, younger generations to wealthier, older generations, yet Democrats will not hear of reforming it. (The same arguably is true of Medicare.) Democrat-advocated land-use and transportation policies push working class families and the poor into costly, cramped housing and congested roads, while reserving comfortable suburban living for the upper class. Democratic opposition to school choice and other educational reforms trap many of the poor and working class in failing schools and flawed pedagogies, perpetuating generational cycles of disadvantage. Even the Obama administration’s signature achievement, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is intended to force poorer, younger working families to subsidize the health care of older, wealthier people.
Democratic politicians will protest that they are progressive because they want “the rich to pay their fair share.” By this, they mean that they want to increase taxes on a few extremely wealthy households and give the money to politicians so they can buy more government goodies for the upper class.
Democrats need to realign their policies toward helping the poor and working families. Just as important, they need to realign their attitudes. Comments denigrating the working class’s interests and intelligence, and disparaging them for “cling[ing] to guns and religion,” are not progressive.
A platform of protecting civil liberties and helping and respecting the poor and working class would be attractive to voters. I hope Democrats adopt it.
 Thomas A. Firey. “A Little Advice for Republicans.” Herald-Mail (
 Thomas A. Firey. “The Myth of the Citizens United Monster.” Herald-Mail (
 Thomas A. Firey. “Liberty: Tastes Like Chicken.” Maryland Public Policy Institute Blog.
 Doug Bandow. “Why Does President Obama Dislike Freedom of Conscience?” Forbes.
 Robert A. Levy. “District of Columbia v. Heller: What’s Next?” Cato Unbound.
 John Samples. “Freedom of Speech, Except When It Matters.” McClatchy-Tribune syndicate.
 Ilya Somin. “Robin Hood in Reverse: The Case against Taking Private Property for Economic Development.” Policy Analysis no. 535 (Cato Institute).
 Thomas A. Firey. “Smoking Bans Are Dangerous to a Free Society’s Health.”
 Patrick Basham and John Luik. “A Happy Meal Ban Is Nothing to Smile At.” Spiked (Online).
 Julian Sanchez. “Leashing the Surveillance State: How to Reform Patriot Act Surveillance Authorities.” Policy Analysis no. 67(Cato Institute).
 Randal O’Toole. “High-Speed Rail.” Downsizing the Federal Government (Cato Institute). June 2010.
 Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren. “Plug-in Pablum.” National Review (Online).
 Randal O’Toole. “The War on the Working Class.”
 Avik Roy. “How Obamacare Drastically Increases the Cost of Insurance for Young Workers.” Forbes (Online).