Democrats will not deserve to win in 1982 or 1984 either by offering old programs and solutions that the electorate no longer finds acceptable or by trying to out do the Republicans in dismantling the New Deal and all the other social innovations that have improved the lives of Americans over the last five decades. We must start with the proposition that our philosophy of social justice is sound, as well as humane, and still in keeping with the people's desires. The solutions that are needed are in the area of implementation -- of putting our philosophy, so to speak, on a sound financial and administrative footing.
I, as one Democrat, am not yet ready to concede to the Republicans the role (hitherto so unfamiliar to them) of the "party of ideas." Neither party has yet offered the nation coherent, convincing proposals to resolve the current challenges of protecting the environment, developing alternative energy sources, revitalizing the nation's railways and public transportation, financing higher education, making our cities safer and more livable and curbing the arms race. These are the central issues before the nation, and there is no likelihood that they can be resolved by the philosophy of McKinley, Hoover or Reagan. But neither will they be resolved by timid Democrats who doubt the need and the capacity for strong and imaginative government action. To simply cry. "Get Uncle Same off our backs" is to invite the special interests and the corporate managers to climb onto our backs -- if not to grab us by the neck.
On the operational level, Democratic problems are exacerbated by the disparity of political monies available to two parties as well as by the strong GOP organizational effort that is everywhere in evidence.
All this suggests some positive steps that can be taken by the Democratic Party:
Large special interest constituencies within the Democratic Party must do a better job of informing their own memberships. Political education cannot just occur a few weeks before a general election -- it must be a year-in, year-out program. Otherwise, ranl-and-file members of even the most committed organizations will tend to fall away from endorsed candidates, with resulting losses at the polls. In addition -- and this is critical -- groups with strongly held positions must be willing to accept some element of compromise for the good of both the party and the nation. Until that occurs, Democrats will run the risk of fragmenting into a loose coalition of unbending interest groups, incapable of either winning elections or governing effectively if they do.
Continuing efforts must be made to counter the efforts of the radical right and their instruments in the newly politicized Christian right. This can best be done outside of the official channels of the Democratic Party, not only in appealing to the 52-percent of the nation's voters who went to the polls last Nov. 4, but also in reactivating another 10 to 20 percent of our voting population who have been "turned off" by both major political parties in recent years. Public interest, non-profit organizations that already exist -- or are in formation -- can, over time, deal effectively with the deep-seated un-Americanism of the radical right, but only if they cooperate in a way that thus far has eluded them.
The Democratic National Committee, in concert with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, must adopt the new political technology of direct mail; computerizing the identification of and access to supporters; and the use of attractive, informative and stimulating party periodicals, newsletters and other forms of political communication that have proven to be successful. These steps must go hand in hand with the development of grass-roots organizations through state party committees.
The party should acknowledge the historic inability of Democrats out of power to gather around a specific political program and utilize the abundance of groups outside the party apparatus to develop issues and programs for the party. This will ensure that there is creative thought and at least the opportunity for consensus on issues before they are formally taken up.
Finally, Democrats must not forget their political heritage and traditions.
The social needs met by the programs now under attack by the Republican administration will continue to exist. No president, however skilled a "communicator," is going to be able to end hunger, educate our young, solve the energy problem, clean and conserve the environment, respond to development needs, reduce unemployment and underemployment and defend the nation -- all through the miracles of "supply-side" economics.
We have to go back to the kind of grass-roots organization work that has been the hallmark of the Democratic Party. We need to go back to the people for our ideas as well as for our support.