The Democrats' Contract with America

For the first time, I’m seeing important folks explicitly agree with what I’ve been saying for years. According to The New York Times:

So the question is: what should such a campaign consist of? I think it’s got to have at least three features, and I’ll list them in order of specificity:

  1. A catchy name.
  2. A PR-friendly format.
  3. Positions and proposals.

The catchy name that’s being bandied around is “America Can Do Better.” Honestly, I think the Democrats Can Do Better: this name is still an indirect attack on Republicans, and that’s going to get folks thinking about Republicans, and we want them to be thinking about Democrats. What would be a catchy name? Maybe “Democrats: A New Hope,” or something. Words to include: Hope, Democracy, Everyone, New, Together. That sort of thing.

PR-Friendly format. I’ve said it before: I think the Contract with America was a brilliant format. A slogan, a 12-point (I think) proposal with one sentence per point, a brochure with a paragraph per point, a book with a chapter per point, and a set of legislative bills. Beautifully constructed. I don’t think the Democrats are likely to improve on this format; they should copy it for themselves, unless there’s a great reason not to do so.

Positions and proposals. Here’s the meat of the thing, and here’s where I’d like the debate to be (unless folks get more interested in the points above). What proposals should go into the contract? I’m thinking there needs to be a mix. These are in no particular order.

-How to deal with poverty
-Environmental issues
-Civil Rights
-Fiscal responsibility
-Domestic security
-Environmental issues
-Fighting terrorism
-Encouraging democracy
-Supporting human rights
-Building free and fair trade
-Reducing certain sorts of weaponry (landmines and nukes, e.g.)

There’s the twelve areas I’d focus on. What do y’all think: different areas? What would you put as proposals in these areas?

Republicans, of course, are welcome to participate in this debate. However, I’d appreciate it if your participation were constructive: mocking Democrats for being a bunch of losers, or throwing out obviously conservative (or satirically unproductive) proposals, is not constructive. Think of this as a chance to brainstorm about a winning strategy for the Democratic party.


I agree with a lot of what you’ve got listed. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that such a laundry list is easily countered with the Republicans’ version:

Domestic Proposals:

  • Cut Taxes
  • Fight Terrorism
  • Fight Terrorism
  • Fight Terrorism

Foreign Affairs Proposals:

  • Fight Terrorism
  • Fight Terrorism
  • Fight Terrorism
  • Fight Terrorism

Whether or not this is what the Republicans will actually do, I suspect this is what they will beat the Democrats over the head with.

No offense, I hope, LHoD, but if you are going to rule out conservative proposals from the start, then you are not likely to hear much by way of “new proposals”.

If any part of the recent electoral troubles of the Democrats is due to their being too far to the left, then ruling out any moves to the center is going to leave those troubles unaddressed.

I’m just saying.


You may well be right. Currently, though, the political landscape looks something like this:

Democrats: Republicans suck!
Republicans: Yeah? We’re cutting taxes and fighting terrorism!
Democrats: Yeah, but you’re making debt for our kids, which sucks, and you suck at fighting terrorism!
Republicans: At least we’re not criticizing tax cuts and preventing the fight against terrorism!

Out of all this, the only positive proposals that voters have heard are the “cut taxes, fight terrorism” one. Their suckitude doesn’t matter if they’re the only ones on the table.

If the Democrats put forward a platform like the one I’m proposing, then voters will be able to compare the Democrats’ vision to the Republican’s vision. As an extra handy bonus, the only thing they’ll have to evaluate the Democrat’s proposals is what each side says is going to happen: that is, they’ll get a bad take on them from the Republicans, and a good take on them from the Democrats. When evaluating Republican proposals, they’ll be looking at the last six years. And most voters aren’t happy with the last six years.

I’m not saying that the Democrats are a shoo-in (is that spelled right?) with such a list of proposals; however, I’d argue that putting together a strong platform like this represents our best chance.


I’m not ruling out middle-of-the-road proposals. Those, I think, are a legitimate area of debate.

However, proposals that are as conservative as, or more conservative than, Gingrich’s proposals in 1994 are obvious nonstarters for this. Can we agree on that?

And I’m not necessarily saying that we need to revamp the Democratic platform entirely. Proposals that have been in the platform for decades may still be appropriate. I’m talking about packaging a set of proposals that will have a clear, unifying theme that will energize current Democratic voters and bring over at least 2 or 3 percent of those fence-sitters who voted Republican in the last cycle.


  1. Fiscal responsibility. As long as the Republican party seems to have abandoned this, and in light of the good fiscal track record of the Clinton administration, the Democrats should pick it up as a permanent plank. We won’t spend more than we bring in, and barring emergencies we won’t raise taxes more than [set some percentage caps in various areas].

  2. Individual personal freedom. The Democrats as the party that says you don’t have to justify your actions, the government has to justify prohibiting them, whether those actions be gay marriage, gun ownership, physician-assisted suicide, or marijuana smoking.

  3. Fairness. The Democrats reprise their historic commitment to an egalitarian society but clear the air a bit on tactics and approaches. Ameliorative programs such as affirmative action and voting-rights clauses that concentrate minority voting power are to be considered appropriate if temporary — they exist to rectify a problem and the intention is to phase them out as they succeed. Or if they don’t, for presumably obvious reasons. The Democrats make a commitment to the population that is not historically disenfranchised, to include them in considerations of fairness, while continuing to redress structured inequalities in America.

  4. International Politics. The Democratic Party says the way to protect and enshrine American values in an international political world is not to retreat defensively behind political protectionist policies, nor to belligerently attempt to remake the world to our liking via force, but to engage in international bodies that deploy democratic and fair decision-making mechanisms, as a equal and as a contributor to the common good.

Here’s a linkto the Republican contract.

Then I suppose it depends on what you would consider “as conservative as Gingrich’s proposals in 1994”. Are you ruling out a line-item veto for the President, and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution?

Or are you limiting it to social issues like gay marriage and abortion?


I think the Democrats could include a line-item veto and a balanced-budget amendment. Personally, I’m leery of a balanced-budget amendment, but I know people who would love one. I liked the line-item veto myself. Another thing they could put in, which neither party seems to want, would be a ban on riders and the like.

Ahunter: you had this independant voter interested until #4. Any political party that says, or implies, or allows it to be implied that they will always defer to the UN is dead in the water.

Okay, then: what would you propose? Frankly, I don’t understand what you mean by “allows it to be implied.” It’s almost certain that the Republicans will imply UN control of any Democratic party that makes any overtures at all toward increased cooperation with other countries; are you saying that the party must refute such charges, or that they must show themselves to be even more in favor of unilateralism than the current administration?

Ideally, in the spirit of what I’m asking the Democrats to do, I’d like to see folks in this thread put forth their own proposals instead of just criticizing those of others. What do you think would be the appropriate approach for Democrats on the world stage? Keep in mind that a successful proposal must both energize current Democratic voters and win over some (not all) fence-sitting voters.


I’m and independant, libertarian/fiscal conservative type. But, I would actually be willing to consider voting democrat from time to time if they changed their platform. Here’s my take on these:

If the answer of how to deal with poverty continues to be the standard “give more money to poor people” than this is a loser of an issue for the democrats.

IIRC, Bush actually spends much more on poverty than Clinton did. Point this out. Urge restraint in spending money on the poor. Follow the Clinton example of cutting the funds to the “welfare queens”. Outflank the republicans on the right of this issue. Seriously. Clinton did this once already with great success.

The Dems already have the environment as a winning issue. People who consider the environment a huge issue like the greenpeace crowd are a solid voting block for the left. Howsabout tapping into another huge group of environmentalists: Hunters! Hunters raise twelve times as much money for environmental conservation as the other 90% of taxpayers combined. (Cite is a factcard given to me in my hunters ed class by the Conservation Officer.)

I’m not saying you need to become a conservative, gun totin, southern bubba party. Just stop what hunters see as continuous attacks against their sport. Put a muzzle on Feinstein and Schumer and Kennedy and the others who hunters see as wanting to ban guns and hunting.

You’ll probably never have hunters voting democrat in large numbers, but you can at least deflate this group by not inflaming them so much to vote against you.

Affirmative action is a losing issue for the left. It’s racism. Most people properly see it as racism. The platform here should be that you are against racism, not just against racism for certain groups and for it for others. This is really hurting the democrats, IMHO.

This is another winning issue for the dems. The teachers unions already lean heavily left. If anything, I’d say back off a little bit on being in bed with them. They are hated by many with good reason.

I know that for ideological reasons the left will never like the idea of vouchers. Howabout encouraging some competition for teachers instead? Make it easier to fire bad teachers and hire good ones. Give incentives for people to become teachers. The unions would hate it, but what are they going to do, vote republican? No way.

This is a huge issue that you can take advantage of. Bush was not a fiscal conservative during his first term. Myself and many others hoped that he would become one in his second term. This isn’t coming to pass.

Bush has really pissed off his base with his big spending ways. Conservatives in general have really left a huge openning here. If the Democrats can somehow transform themselves into a party of small government, less spending, and fiscal responsibility than they will demolish the Republicans in elections. You can’t do this just by raising taxes, mind you. You need to cut spending in meaningful and long term ways. Press for a balanced budget ammendment. Get a process or law that won’t allow new spending without cutting some old spending to compensate. Come up with a plan and run on it.

I would propose this:

The Democratic Party supports the free market and free enterprise. We believe, however, that the free market system has been “gamed” by the wealthy. Our evidence is that fact that the top 2 percent of wealthy individuals control 60 percent of the wealth in this country (I’m not sure what the actual numbers are, but they’re something shocking along those lines). We believe that the middle class is the true barometer of the healthy of our economy and our society, and we propose to create laws and regulations that will increase both wealth and the job opportuinities for the middle class.

Along those lines, we also believe that increased job opportunities for the middle class will help the poor, as it has been demonstrated in the past that when the middle class is doing well, the poor are frequently able to enter the middle class and remain there more easily.

We also believe that a healthy middle class also helps the wealthy and corporations, as a wealthy middle class is much more able to purchase goods and services.

Debaser, your take seems to involve backing off on issues that you perceive as winning issues for Democrats. Do you believe that this will successfully energize the Democratic base?

Again, I’ll point you toward Gingrich’s model. He did not back off on issues such as being tough on crime, advocating military strength, advocating tax cuts, and weakening federal control of education. He took these “winning issues” for Republicans and highlighted them. By doing so, he energized the base and showed fence-sitters that the Republican party had positive proposals.

Can you provide a cite on this?

Interesting idea. How would you put this into (relative) specifics? That is, how would you put it in a single sentence?

Can you provide a cite for the claim that most people see it as racism? I’m very skeptical of this. Again, if the Democratic party abandoned support for affirmative action, many in the base would see this as a betrayal, and this would enervate the base. A successful proposal won’t enervate the base: it’ll energize it.

What positive proposals on education would you make? Backing off from the unions isn’t a proposal. A proposal might say:

You might not like this proposal, but if not, an alternate one would be great. Remember: energize the base, persuade 3-5% of fence-sitters.


I think it’s a great idea, but…

It needs to be a list of specific deliverables-- things that can be measured and checked off the list. No fuzzy goals like “end discrimination in the workplace”. The GOP Contract wasn’t perfect in this respect, but it was pretty good. Most provisions were related to the passage of sepcific bills. My fear for the Democrats is that they’ll end up with a hodgepodge of liberal themes that mean nothing because they don’t want to offend anyone or leave anyone out.

LHoD: Can you turn your proposals into specific policy actions? It won’t do any good to talk about “civil rights”. If people see that as meaning SSM, the proposal is DOA. Even Affirmative Action is unpopular with a signficant majority of Americans-- almost everytime an anti-AA ballot inititive is offered, it passes easily.

Bit by bit, I’ll try to turn proposals into specific policy actions. I definitely agree that my list above isn’t nearly enough for even the one-page handout: that’s just a list of suggested areas in which specific proposals should be offered. My education proposal in the post above provides an example of what the one-page sheet should have.


Look at prop 209 from CA (1996) as a good example of what I was talking about concerning Affirmative Action. It passed with 54% of the votes.

Ooops. I copied the wrong part of your post, LHoD. I meant to copy the part about AA.

As an amendment to my proposal, we could add:

No Democratic elected official or candidate will ever call an economy “healthy” or “vibrant” if wages are stagnant and job growth is stagnant, falling, or rising at a very low rate, even though corporate profits and overall GDP is up. We Democrats will assume that something is SERIOUSLY out of whack with the economy.

On the one hand, that’s a pretty weak cite for the statement that “most people properly see [AA] as racism”: instead, it shows that 54% of Californians voted for a proposal that ends certain types of AA. That’s not most, that’s not all AA, and that’s not evidence that those who voted in favor of this proposal did so because they view AA as racism.

On the other hand, I will agree that AA is a touchy subject and is highly controversial. It’d probably be a good idea for “Bringing America Together” (or whatever) to focus on civil rights issues other than Affirmative Action. I’m not sure how that would look: ideas?