Listening for a Voice

I have not heard one word come out of the Democrats’ mouths about helping to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Pointing to Bush’s failures is fine; he brought this upon himself by stifling dissent and operating as if his election gave him a divine mandate. But you cannot create a new vision for the country simply by applying correctives.

This is a moment of challenge to the Democrats. Far too often they fall into the trap of responding to Republican charges or actions rather than initiating a vision of their own.

The prescription drug debacle is the most recent and egregious: the Republicans, opposing any idea of meaningful health reform that involved the government rather than private enterprise, reconfigured the debate to be about prescription drug benefits, and the Democrats bit. They expended all their energy fighting about this tiny part of the big problem rather then keeping their eye and voice on the basic issue: that Americans are terrified of not being able to pay for their health care, and that keeping health insurance is the prime factor in many people’s life decisions, thus stifling the capacity for physical, occupational, and creative movement in this country. But the Democrats bought into the Republican reframing of the issue, and fought over a small and relatively insignificant bone.

Worst of all, they lost. If you don’t think so, ask your mother or grandmother or anyone else who has tried to use that “prescription drug benefit.” Ask them if they understood it; ask them about the “doughnut hole.” Ask them if they are any less afraid and any more secure, and if their limited fixed incomes are any more intact because of this cruel governmental hoax.

The Democrats now risk making the same mistake about other issues. They need to re-envision, not just respond. If repudiating the Republican agenda becomes their focus, it is still the Republican agenda that is shaping our national vision.

We need a new vision of who we are and what we yet can be. No small part of this is applying correctives to failed policies of the past. But it is brave new policies, not policy correctives, that will galvanize us as a nation and give us a new sense of purpose and hope.

Rebuilding the Gulf Coast and the city of New Orleans is a good place to begin.

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