Democrats go home

My parents taught me to revere Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy. I still do. The wise men who led us to victory in the World War and built the post-war world were mostly Democrats. There were liberals in those days. Men who knew that liberty had to be earned and once earned had to be defended; who understood that with liberty came individual responsibility.

"We dare not tempt [our enemies] with weakness," said John Kennedy at his inauguration, the high water mark of muscular liberalism. He also famously said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Kennedy's words seem quaint today, maybe even conservative.

Muscular liberalism died out in the 1960s and 1970s. Equal entitlement replaced equal opportunity. The need to be strong became the need to be sensitive. The individual was no longer the master of his fate. Now conditions controlled the individual. Liberal leaders began to identify threats instead of opportunities. Experts began to tell us how to live our lives and we came to expect less from ourselves and of other Americans. John Kennedy promised to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." By 1977, Jimmy Carter had "learned" that "more is not necessarily better, even our great Nation has its recognized limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems."

Ronald Reagan rescued America from the Carter malaise. The odd thing was that Ronald Reagan's speeches had the feel of Franklin Roosevelt. It was a historic switch. Free trade, a vigorous defense internationally and the idea of spreading democracy became Republican virtues. People who would have supported Roosevelt, Truman or Kennedy went over to Ronald Reagan and didn't come back. Democrats never understood the appeal of Ronald Reagan in the same way that Republicans never understood Franklin Roosevelt?s. Neither was a great intellect. Both were pragmatic experimenters and great communicators who offered vision and optimism, not detailed plans.

Democrats need to remember what they once knew, that Americans want their government to provide options, not make choices for them. We ask our leaders for broad optimistic vision and general goals. We the people should be trusted to fill in the blanks and maybe take individual risks with our own money. Americans are willing to tolerate some hardship and inequality in exchange for liberty. We are smart enough to know that government can't solve all our problems and wise enough not to let it try.

In other parts of this blog, Republicans have been criticized for advocating that Democrats "improve" by becoming more like Republicans. All I am asking is that you become more like you used to be. Just go home.

Posted by Jack at November 6, 2004 12:29 AM