An electronic acquaintance on an e-mail listserve I belong to posed a challenge in all seriousness a year or so ago that I just had to chuckle over. He was wondering why post-modernists generally, and the political left particularly, had no "manifesto," no (in the words of the Cambridge Dictionary) "written statement of the beliefs, aims and policies of an organization, especially a political party."
I noted that commonality of beliefs is certainly foundational to the manifesto of any group, and therefore post-modernists are unlikely to agree on enough to construct, let alone to rally around, a bona fide manifesto. When you focus on the individual -- or on small groups -- the common good seems to recede into the background. When you look at all of reality as essentially just a sham designed to justify an unequal social distribution of power and wealth, then you will always be looking out for your own best interests and "let the devil take the hindmost."
This is the foundation of the cheap right-wing accusation, I believe, that the Democratic Party "has no plan," not just for Iraq, but for anything. This is the foundation of the perception that "the Democratic party doesn't stand for anything." The Democratic Party, being since the middle of the twentieth century a coalition of marginalized people and groups in the US -- workers, the poor, African-Americans, and increasingly in the last quarter of the century women, gays, lesbians, and those who wish to protect the environment -- has necessarily been a party with the biggest tent and the most diffuse message. This is the Democratic Party's greatest strength; it is also, history suggests, its biggest weakness.
GOP propaganda snipers over the last third of a century have been fairly successful at "picking off" the various Democratic constitutencies with a powerful rifle of recreant rhetoric. "Radical feminism." "The homosexual agenda." "Big labor." "Tree huggers." "Welfare queens." Poor folks lacking "personal responsibility." "Murphy Brown" working women lacking "family values." The hardest working, the least well-paid, the un- or under-represented, the disenfranchised, the disadvantaged, the victims of discrimination, folks who would just like to get by, to live their lives, to raise (or even to HAVE) their families, and to have the same opportunities as the rest of America -- THESE folks, Americans all, have come to be known, thanks to GOP propaganda, as "special interests." Not the oil or energy companies, not the media, not Halliburton, not the defense industry (what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the "military industrial complex"), not the coal-mining industry, not the arms industry -- not any of the huge corporations (many of them multi-national or foreign-owned) who can afford to spend billions of dollars every year to influence our representatives in Congress -- THESE are NOT the "special interests." It's the "little guy."
And yet...understanding, as Jacques Ellul points out, that effective propaganda must be built on at least the germ of truth, can we say that the left (In America, anyway -- anywhere else in the world we'd be the solid center) bears no responsibility for its disorganization and lack of focus? Have we focused far too much on our own parochial concerns and ignored the larger, far more important issues that we now see threatened? Have we, as women, been far too concerned with "a woman's right to choose" and not nearly enough with the human right to a job and a living wage? Have we, as gays and lesbians, been too focused on the Catholic Church's antipathy toward homosexuality, and ignored its progressive stance on labor, healthcare, and issues of social justice? Have we, as workers, focused too much on our own working conditions, our own work week, our own paychecks, without paying sufficient attention to the plight of poorer Americans?
We now have control of the US House of Representatives. As I write this, it looks very much as though we have won control of the US Senate. Why am I not dancing for joy?
We didn't win. The Republicans lost. Because of their venality, their corruption, their inflexibility, their incompetence, their pig-headedness, their obnoxious self-righteousness and their sheer hypocrisy (go ahead, throw a dart at the GOP; you'll hit someone who fits at least one, maybe more, of the above) the GOP surrendered control of the Congress. Now the Democrats have it.
So, what are we going to do about it?
Will we become beholden to corporate interests?
Will we forget who we work for?
Will we continue, as the Republicans began, to hold the Constitution of the United States in contempt?
Will we become rigid ideologues, believing that a global, un-regulated, laissez faire, "free market" economy is more central to American values and more deserving of our defense, even to the point of pre-emptive war, than the Bill of Rights?
I hope not. I pray not. And I don't believe we will.
But will we put the interests of some Americans (whether they be Catholics, women, Jews, African-Americans, Gays, workers, or corporate CEOs) ahead of all Americans?
Let's never forget that the thing that most closely binds us is our common humanity. The very fact of our humanity endows us with certain unalienable rights, among those being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let's never forget that those unalienable rights are enshrined for us all in the first ten amendments of our Constitution. And let's never forget that when one person is denied his rights, all people are diminished. And America is diminished.
Let the Democratic Party be known as the party of human rights. Let it be known once again as the party of social responsibility.
We'll be okay.