The New Democrats
The Democratic Party earned its reputation as the Mommy Party for a reason. No societal problem was so big that a federal government program couldn't solve it. Anybody remember the New Deal? Great Society, anyone? But there's a new breed of young members of the party who are keen on taking the party in a new -- and more productive -- direction.
Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.), Newark Mayor Cory Booker, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris were panelists at a Time magazine breakfast forum this morning at Baur's Ristorante featuring public officials it deemed "hot shots." Their embrace of a post-ideological philosophy toward the problems they must address (that don't rely on Washington) and their unabashed criticism of the Democratic Party showed why they are surfacing on the national radar.
When asked what their common gifts were, Newsom said, "The gift that we share is the willingness to innovate, the willingness to fail. We are not waiting for Air Force One to rescue us." Another gift is a willingness to buck their traditional allies. "We haven't had an honest conversation about things in the Democratic conference," Booker said. He then launched into a discussion about the inability to fire non-performing teachers or to grant merit pay to teachers who go the extra mile. "We're too beholden to special interests," he said.
"We [Democrats] do a very good job of saying what we're for," Davis said. But Democrats "don't do a good job of discussing the things we don't like," he added. And he faulted the party for dealing with people's visceral reactions to their anxieties by making them feel like their concerns are not based in fact. "We have to figure out how to address people's anxieties," Davis noted.
One anxiety is crime. And Harris made a compelling case for why Democrats need to make a connection between education and public safety. Whereas the Dems of old would wax poetic about the root causes of crime, she said, "It's not about rehabilitation. It's about public safety." She followed up by saying something that would have been considered heresy a few years ago: "What Democrats have to do is understand that Republicans have it right" in framing the debate on public safety.
Hearing Harris's blunt assessment was the rhetorical equivalent of opening a window in a musty old room. The fresh air breeds renewal. No matter what happens in November, the change Sen. Barack Obama is looking to bring to America's political discourse and problem-solving is already underway.
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