Here’s a debate I would like to see about the future of our country brought to you by the two wings of the Democratic Party. Let’s call them, imperfectly, the pro-growth and fairness sides of the party.
First, for the fairness side: Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) opening statement:
“Today’s Democratic Party must first tell the truth about what has happened to America. For almost 40 years we have enacted policies that have benefited the wealthy, hollowed out the middle class and left millions stuck in poverty. We have created and tolerated a political system that only works for the rich and powerful. We spend trillions on tax breaks for the wealthy and for corporations, but we are told we can’t afford universal health care, free college tuition or decent roads and highways. This isn’t how it has to be; this is a choice others have made for us, and we can make a different one. You don’t have to live like this, in fear that you’re going to get sick and not be able to afford it; in frustration that you work like a dog and still can’t afford to provide a better life for your kids; in anger that the system is so damn stacked against you. We have the resources in this country to provide better lives for all our citizens who are willing to work for one. We can afford health care for all; free college and vocational education; massive new investments in infrastructure and science. In short, we can be a better country. It’s up to us.”
For the pro-growth side, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.):
“The answer to a better America isn’t to redistribute the spoils of a shrinking economy; it’s to distribute more equitably the benefits of a growing economy. If we want our kids to have a better life and our parents to spend their later years in peace; if we want to rebuild our highways and subways, lift people out of poverty, create new, high-paying jobs, and maintain our economic and military competitiveness, all roads lead to economic growth. America wasn’t built on promises we can’t pay for; it was built on a guarantee of opportunity. And what made this possible for generations of Americans was a virtuous cycle of expanding output of factories and farms which fueled the ability to invest in education, infrastructure, defense and social programs. Today, with accelerating technology revolutionizing virtually every aspect of work and personal lives, there are unparalleled opportunities and risks. We need to be the party that embraces those opportunities the way Americans have before when faced with change. We seem to be a nation that has lost its nerve; we can’t withdraw further into ourselves by building bridges to the past, like Republicans propose, or by promising to make America more comfortable while it withers, the way some Democrats promise. We have got to stop complaining and start believing in our country and each other again.”
These two mock opening statements are a fair representation of a debate that needs to take place in the Democratic Party. Right now, the only compelling case is being made by the Warren side of the argument. But it is also important for Democrats to hear a different perspective, one closer to the words I put in Moulton’s mouth. The party has thrived before under pro-growth leaders such as President John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, but today’s Democrats, not unlike Republicans, see most of the energy, passion and money gravitating to simplistic populist messages. Republicans are increasingly nativist; Democrats leftist. One approach has already won an election; the other could in the future. But, neither philosophy can govern, and neither will build a better country in the long-run.