Democrats should take their cues from history
"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." — Abraham Lincoln, first inaugural address.
Clearly, President Donald Trump is tone deaf to Lincoln's words; it remains to be seen if the Democrats who want to replace him are also similarly tone-deaf, wanting to focus on "gotcha" moments on the debate stage, or whether they can frame their election campaigns around a "vision" of what they want America to be, as Barack Obama did in his Philadelphia "More Perfect Union" speech in the 2008 campaign or as Ronald Reagan did in his "Morning in America" campaign ads in 1980.
David Brooks and Mark Shields on "PBS NewsHour" Aug. 9 said that we've seen Trump replaying his dark message from his 2016 campaign of fear-mongering, using immigrants, minorities and now even a major American city, Baltimore, as tropes to energize his base, while Democrats are yelling or throwing their hands up trying to get the most air time in the recent debates by sowing seeds of division within their party and/or hitting their button points as policy wonks.
Running against Trump, the racist divider-in-chief, may be enough to throw him out of the Oval Office, but at the end of the day the question will be, as in the political film classic "The Candidate,": What do we do now? The campaign should be about competing visions of America, not wonkiness a.k.a. Medicare for All, public option while ignoring the Obama legacy, or Trump's staple of turning the presidency into a so-called reality TV show via Twitter storms and rallies of his 99% white base, which increasingly looks like something out of "Mein Kampf" — (send them back.)
Democrats can't win just being the anti-Trump. They must create a vision which promises to bring us together as a nation across the racial, ethnic, geographical, gender and identity divides.
The best candidate to beat Trump will be the one that can craft a vision of America "from sea to shining seas," which reminds us who we are at our best (hopeful), not who we are at our worst (fearful).
Bernie Sanders can rev up his base by doing his version of Trump — dumping on the 1%.
Elizabeth Warren seems willing to follow Bernie, adding wonky position papers.
Kamala Harris seems content to attack Joe Biden.
So far, the candidate on the Demo stage that has raised the bar and who has the experience to be POTUS is Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who has focused on "the clear and present danger" — climate change.
"When the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterers instead of legislators; the instruments, not the guides, of the people." —Edmund Burke.
My humble suggestion to all the challengers — focus on the great history of the Democratic Party, from FDR's New Deal, to JFK's New Frontier, LBJ's Great Society, to Jimmy Carter's legacy as a geopolitical healer, to Bill Clinton's "It's the economy, stupid" mantra and to Barack Obama's "More Perfect Union" as a foundation to build upon. They don't have to reinvent the wheel; they simply have to remind Dems who they are and where we can to go.
Whether the issue is immigration, the economy or geopolitics — we are strongest when we remember our legacy and values: "e pluribus unum." We are not just our separate (red or blue) parts but, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson said at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, a quilt which is a mosaic of urban, suburban and rural America.
That's how one creates winning coalitions and a kinder, gentler America. It's also how we reclaim the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of the "beloved community on a foundation of hope, not anger, engagement, not resignation" — the "I have a dream" America. Or as Barack framed it in 2008: "Yes we can."
Only then can we live up to our creed of a nation founded in our "unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" — the centerpiece of the American Dream. Whether one's ancestors were First Nations people, indentured servants, freemen, slaves, immigrants or those who seek asylum on our southern border — this is our America, as symbolized by Lady Liberty or the Golden Gate.
Russ Dondero is a Forest Grove resident.
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