The Future of the Democratic Party: A Liberal Manifesto
All the pundits are speculating on what Democrats should do to win on the next round so here are my $.02:
(1) Take back the VISION--of the New Deal and the Great Society.
Reaffirm Liberalism's core value: minimizing the extent to which peoples' freedom and opportunities are constrained by dumb luck, e.g. by morally arbitrary, unchosen characteristics and circumstances like race, sex, ethnicity and disability or the social and economic circumstances of one's family of origin.
We can't eliminate the constraints or even come close, but we can move a little ways in that direction: liberals believe that it's worth moving as far as we can in the direction of neutralizing the effects of dumb luck and that the most effective way to do it is through government programs. Good, free public education and income transfers to poor families go some way toward neutralizing the effects of family poverty on children. Health insurance schemes prevent people from being wiped out financially if they have the bad luck to get sick. Anti-discrimination regulations aim to minimize the constraints on individuals the are a consequence of race, sex and ethnic origin.
Some conservatives think that liberals fail to recognize that people are responsible for their actions. The opposite is the case. Liberals distinguish between the consequences of individual's choices for which they are responsible and the consequences of conditions that they did not choose for which they are not responsible. Liberalism is not about care and compassion--it is about fighting against Nature (red in tooth and claw) which deals out people's hands arbitrarily and limits their options. It is about making the world a more rational place by fighting against the arbitrary constraints imposed by dumb luck, in the interest of expanding individual freedom so that individuals, insofar as possible, can live the kinds of lives they choose.
(2) Don't commit to policies that are outside of the VISION.
There's no reason why Liberals understood as keepers of the VISION should be doves rather than hawks (or vice versa). "Peace" got tacked onto the Liberal agenda during the war in Vietnam when, ironically, the Left demonized Johnson, the most liberal of American presidents, for promoting the war in Vietnam. Now Americans misperceive dovishness and, more broadly, wimpiness as the core of liberalism--and Kerry has suffered for it.
There's also no reason why keepers of the Liberal VISION should be environmentalists or take any particular position on most "lifestyle issues." Environmentalism. Some environmental concerns are fundamentally elitist: there's a real conflict of interests between urban professionals who want to preserve wilderness and loggers, factory workers and others whose livelihood depends on industries that encroach on wilderness and degrade the environment.
I'm not suggesting that Democrats should adopt the Republicans' positions on these issues but just that the party should remain neutral on them, as it is on a variety of other controversial issues like the the development of genetically modified foods, animal rights or capital punishment. Democratic candidates shouldn't be required to tow any party line on environmental issues, abortion or any other issues that aren't directly and uncontroversially connected to the core Liberal program which is fundamentally economic: equal opportunity in employment, borrowing and housing, social safety nets, public services and income transfers.
(3) Don't care about don't-cares
A creche in the park for Christmas, prayer in the public schools and "under God" in the Pledge of Allegience? Big deal. Reciting religious formulas in school won't make anyone religious or traumatize anyone.--it's meaningless BS. Planting two ton boulders with the 10 Commandments inscribed won't have any more influence on people than putting buddha staatues in Chinese restaurants. Fundamentalists may have the superstitions idea that these things work ex opera operato but people who object to them presumably should know that they don't have magical power.
Whatever is the problem? Leave it alone.