In 1832, addressing the emerging factionalism in America, President Andrew Jackson said: "It is time to pause in our career to review our principles" and "revive that devoted patriotism and spirit of compromise" that distinguished the revolutionary founders.
The same imperative applies today.
The major political parties are dormant because they have so few new ideas and because changing conditions have made the historic quarrels between them largely irrelevent. The Democratic Party thus has an extraordinary opportunity to produce fresh ideas. But it must root new economic concepts -- designed to fulfill a compassionate, unfinished social agenda -- in the market rather than the bureaucracy. And it must reclaim responsibility for reform of our military leading to an innovative and more effective national defense.
Those of us who are Democrats believe our historic principles uniquely qualify our party to articulate the national agenda, propose creative and equitable solutions and rekindle the spirit of compromise and consensus around the common good.
Among the Democratic Party's historic principles: the Jeffersonian principle of a free, competitive private economy; the Jacksonian principle of the protection of the individual from the power of concentrated wealth; the Rooseveltian principle of economic stability wed to social conscience. Thus, from the early principles -- economic opportunity; from the later principles -- economic and social justice.
By reclaiming these principles, the Democratic Party can form a new consensus composed of a middle-income people concerned about economic stability and national security, workers who hope for better opportunities for their children, the elderly, the unemployed, minorities and the young.
America's agenda for the 1980s and 1990s is long and varied. But it has a unifying link. Our nation's ability to provide stable prosperity and economic opportunity for its young people, to ensure the national security, to promote our interest and those of our allies abroad and to achieve social justice -- all depend on the health of our economy. Clearly, the renewal of the Democratic Party must be structured on a new economic keel.
And that, in turn, results from a clear statement of the national economic agenda, an agenda based on the following concepts:
National and personal priorities must be shifted toward production and away from consumption.
Market forces, rather than government allocation formulas, should dictate personal economic choices.
Our definition of "standard of living" should reflect fundamental values such as shelter, nutrition, health, education and employment, not unnecessary luxuries.
The elderly and disadvantaged must be buffed against the shortfalls in a leaner society, not through government handouts but, for example, by non-bureaucratic instruments such as "lifeline" utility rates.
Our commitment to racial justice must be restored -- specifically through employment -- by creating incentives for minority job training in private industry and by making new energy projects and urban modernization high-priority minority employment sectors.
Urban rebuilding can be financed by a "21st Century Cities Bank" capitalized by state budget surpluses and public employee pension funds.
Increased domestic energy production must be balanced with health and safety protection through publicly financed pollution control equipment on coal-burning industrial facilities, increased safety measures on nuclear plants and impact assistance to communites producing synthetic fuels.
Social goals, such as moderate wage and price increases and legitimate environmental standards, should be induces, where possible, through economic incentives rather than rigid, complex regulations.
Workers should be encouraged to share in the ownership of production facilities through employee stock ownership plans or similar proposals.
These illustrative ideas suggest a new consensus can be formed if we pursue historic Democratic goals -- econimic opportunities for the young and the unemployed, social justice for the disadvantaged, restoration of fundamental social goals and values, growth and equity -- achieved not through programmatic solutions that Democrats reflexively propose, but through the natural mechanisms of the marketplace.
And consensus -- Jackson's "spirit of compromise" -- will be necessary, for difficult economic questins, testing the political implementation of these goals, are taking shape on the horizon:
Should U.S. industries be both subsidized and permitted to become more concentrated to encourage competition with foreign counterparts -- when both trends frustrate a true domestic free market economy?
Given that the tools for capital formation are well known and relatively simple (e.g., tax incentives for investment, accelerated depreciation), how should we choose which industries to stimulate or "reindustrialize"?
How do we achieve regionally balanced growith, in a nation of a half-dozen or more disparate regional economies?
Can the tax system -- the benchmark of a just society -- itself be made simple, just and equitable, at a time when it represents the most effective alternative set of fiscal tools to the traditional bureaucratic-programmatic approach to achieving social and economic goals?
Can private industry be induced to undertake risk -- as in the production of dynthetic fuels and renewable energy -- when public policy (and perhaps national security) requires it, but when profits are plentiful from conventional technologies?
Can outdated, burdensome economic regulations to reduced without sacrificing necessary regulatory protection for public health and safety?
Can massive capital be accumulated to rebuild older cities and restore our national infrastructure, particularly our transportation systems, and provide jobs for the structurally unemployed?
These complex questions must be addressed over the next two decades within the context of the national agenda suggested above. But aside from their basic economic character, these issues are noteworthy for their resistance to traditional ideological orthodoxy. The profound differences between Republican and Democratic philosophy and principles remain. And so they should. But the world and its problems change, and outmoded programs and dogmas must give way if answers are to be found.
The Democratic Party offers the best chance for consensus -- through economic oppoortunity and social equity -- and thus the best chance for resolution of the economic agenda. And that consesus can be extended to defense and foreign policy, as well as energy development and resource management.
Kant said: "A democracy . . . is the most complex of all the forms of state, for it has to begin by uniting the will of all so as to form a people; and then it has to appoint a sovereign over this common union, which sovereign is no other than the united will itself."
It is complex to unite the American will. But the Democrats of the future must do it and, once it is done, our national will is invincible.