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'It's time to fight'
Two US senators take on Bush

A clarion call for Democrats


PUNDITS AND POLLSTERS are today weighing whether the elections of 2002 reflect a mandate. Letís end that debate. They do. There is today a mandate to change politics in this country and the direction of this nation. Increasingly voters are assaulted by appeals to our worst instincts, and increasingly people recoil from participating. Republicans have given those who believe in their agenda a reason to vote; Democrats have failed to excite those who share our cause. But together, both parties have failed to provide the broader leadership all Americans deserve.

One of the reasons so many Americans arenít interested in politics is that they think politicians arenít saying anything very interesting. Indeed ó the biggest threat to our country is not from our opponents, but from the growing ranks of voters who have stopped listening to either side. We must reach out to the politically homeless ó and give them a home again in their own democracy. People donít want a war of words; they want a contest of ideas ó with action and results.

We Democrats must have the courage of our convictions. We must be ready to refuse the course of least resistance, to confront the seemingly popular, and to offer a vision that looks beyond the next poll to the next decade and the next generation. Instead of just quoting the words of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, we need to match their leadership with our own, with daring and commitment, with new thinking equal to a new and different time.

We must begin by demanding a different, better, fairer economic policy that grows jobs and creates wealth for all Americans. We must say it plainly: stop the new Bush tax cut for those at the top and instead relieve the growing burden for those in the middle. Stop turning record surpluses into a new river of deficits. Stop shortchanging education, health care, and even national security to satisfy the demands of special interests at the expense of both prosperity and social progress.

I want a whole set of choices too long deferred put back on our national agenda. We can build housing and renew community. We can have smaller class sizes and after-school safety for children. We can keep our promise to veterans and break the gridlock on our highways. We can clean up our lakes and rivers and escape the stranglehold of foreign oil by inventing our way to energy independence. But we cannot do any of these things unless we stand up and end forever the charade that you can do them and still afford new tax cuts for those who need them least, at the expense of those who need them most.

We can safeguard Social Security for the next generation and keep Medicare out of bankruptcy. But to do it, we must end the deception and special-interest agenda that wastes billions in giveaways to companies like Enron, WorldCom, and the biggest corporations. It violates fundamental fairness. It violates common sense. It violates basic economics ó and it cheats the next generation by borrowing from our children.

We must repel an assault on 50 years of struggle and progress by protecting civil rights ó resisting the heavy hand ó and rejecting the narrow vision of John Ashcroft! But we must also offer a new vision of tolerance and inclusiveness that respects the rights of all Americans, asks more of each of us, and helps empower the next generation of women and minority entrepreneurs.

And it is time to demand a different, better foreign policy ó one that enlists our allies instead of alienating them and that relies on the strength of our ideals as well as our arms ó a foreign policy that honors vigorous and honest debate instead of discrediting it. I am prepared to go to war if we must ó I have gone to war before ó but America should never go to war because it wants to: it should go to war only because we have to. And without an imminent threat, I will fight this president trying to do so unilaterally, pre-emptively, and precipitously. Yes, we must strive to disarm weapons of mass destruction; but we must also seek to end the threat of mass starvation and disease, to stay the course of democracy and human rights, to be tough on terrorism, and equally tough on the causes of terrorism and instability. We must do this not just because it is right but because itís essential to our national security. There is nothing smart or strong or patriotic about a new unilateralism that scorns our responsibility to the global environment. This is the only environment we have ó the only world we have ó and we have an obligation to protect it.

But to do any of these things in the world, Democrats must be willing to stand for something. We must resist a new, at least attempted orthodoxy in our party that does a disservice to more than 75 years of our history ó a new conventional wisdom of consultants and pollsters and strategists who argue as a matter of political strategy that Democrats should be the party of domestic issues only. I donít believe that. I donít believe we can offer real leadership to our country if that is to be true. I believe we need to talk about all the things that strengthen and protect America, and that we need a vision that extends to the world around us. Remember that the presidency has three key job descriptions: chief executive of the fiscal and domestic policies of the United States; head of state and therefore the nationís chief diplomat; and commander in chief of the nationís military forces. We dare not say we offer leadership and then avoid discussing two-thirds of the job.

We need to remember that this vision is not recent ó it is as old as our party itself. Woodrow Wilson was elected during peace, but he led during war. Franklin Roosevelt was elected to tackle the Great Depression, create Social Security, and put America back to work. But shame on anyone ó Republican or Democrat ó who conveniently forgets that he did those things stubbornly, consciously, even as he responded to Pearl Harbor and marshaled the nationís troops from Normandy to Iwo Jima. And Jack Kennedy didnít try to change the topic when President Eisenhowerís vice-president, Richard Nixon, raised in a debate the subject of foreign policy. He challenged America globally, and insisted that we can and should do more ó not because these things were easy but because they were hard.

That is the standard of leadership and engagement and vision that defines our party, and it must be our standard and our vision if we are to lead this nation once again.

In short, Democrats need to be ready to fight ó not for the sake of fighting, but to fight for better choices that must define our party. America deserves better choices ó real choices. Last Tuesday proved that we may be divided in this country in the votes that were cast, but we arenít divided in our priorities or purpose. We Democrats can provide leadership ó and America will win.

US Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts was just re-elected to serve a fourth term.

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Issue Date: November 14 - 21, 2002
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