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What Democrats Can Say Instead of "No"

Democrats have failed to coalesce around a coherent political agenda. They seem satisfied with name-calling and voting no on anything the Republicans propose. In other words, as one pundit put it “there is plenty of energy, but no direction” in the approach of the Democrats.

The blame for congress’ lack of accomplishments has been laid at the feet of extremists in the grass roots of both parties. The voters on both sides, so the story goes, see any compromise as evidence of disloyalty. Democrats can’t do a lot about grass roots Republicans, but they can attempt to meet the needs of their own supporters with a program that satisfies a progressive agenda without its chief aim being to thwart their opponents. They have to stake out a set of positions that, if adopted, would make them support any politician, regardless of party, who agreed to them. Most importantly, such positions can be a yardstick against which to measure their own party’s candidates. Their elected politicians’ yays and nays can be completely determined by whether or not what they are voting on conforms to this progressive agenda.

Here is what such an agenda should contain:

Universal health care: Free health care should be provided to all Americans, either via government subsidy of insurance premiums (as in Medicaid and Medicare) or government provision of medical services. This can be achieved in one fell swoop or incrementally, by beginning with a public option.

Aggressive carbon emission regulation: Any progressive candidate or program must reinstitute Obama-era emission regulations and extend them. Long-term independence from the use of fossil fuels must be a goal, although transition to alternative fuel sources can be gradual and must be realistic.

Path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants: Those who have been in the United States without legal permission and have not broken any laws except minor ones (e.g. traffic laws, checking in with immigration), should be allowed to stay and pursue citizenship. Violent criminals should be aggressively pursued and deported if they are undocumented.

Reasonable and generous plan for refugees and immigrants: America should welcome refugees and make it possible for immigrants to come to America, join our workforce and become productive citizens. Public programs to support refugees once they arrive have been shown to produce stronger allegiance to the U.S. and need to be part of a refugee program.

Federal program to guarantee civil rights in criminal justice: Persons of color and other minorities are not treated equally by many local and state law enforcement agencies and the federal government must  take actions to insure the civil rights of these minorities when they interact with law enforcement.

Reinstatement of Dodd Frank  or similar controls on the financial services industry: Financial de-regulation risks another economic disaster.

Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United decision: So long as corporations can determine election outcomes the country will not be in the people’s hands.

Support for legislation and Supreme Court nominees that reaffirm abortion rights and equal pay for women: Women’s rights cannot be in jeopardy in the United States.


This is a bare-bones progressive agenda. It does not include foreign policy or international trade agreements, both of which are issues upon which progressives disagree too much to demand adherence to a single position.

None of the above positions is extreme. Most of them are supported by a large segment of the American population. Strict adherence to such an agenda is not a purist position that sacrifices the good for the perfect. By promoting such an agenda, Democrats can reassert their own aspirations for the country.




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