Three Things

There’s a helluva lot of soul-searching among Democrats right now. I figured it might be useful to mention the core of my Democratic beliefs, if only to start a conversation.

Social Security, equality, health care.

That’s it. Oh, there are a lot of other things embedded in there, things like the minimum wage, civil liberties and progressive taxation, but when I get right down to it, I’m a Democrat because Democrats fight for Social Security, equality and health care, and Republicans don’t.Social Security means a lot more than just transfer payments to retirees. It is a modicum of income for families who have their primary breadwinner disabled, or die. It is a balm to the persistent and eternal worry about what will happen when we get old. It is a great foundation of the American economic engine.

Like all forms of insurance, Social Security allows people to do things they otherwise couldn’t. If Americans had to worry that they might wind up in starvation-level poverty in their old age, they’d have to save more rather than spending on consumer goods, and they’d be more hesitant to take risks like changing jobs or careers. – The Economist

This point doesn’t get mentioned enough in the debates over Social Security. The fact that we have universal retirement income insurance means that people are more willing to take risks during their prime working years, and it is the willingness to take those risks that drives innovation and economic growth.

Equality throughout history has been a tough word to cope with. It’s the idealistic rocks on which so many good intentions founder. And when Mr. Jefferson encoded the equality of all men in our founding doctrine he set a bar that we can never reach, but one that we do better in trying to achieve than we would without it.

For Democrats, equality has been with us for good or bad since the beginning. In the eras of Jefferson and Jackson we fought for the equality of the poor man with the rich man at the ballot box. We fought for the equality of the immigrant with the native in the years before the Civil War. It is when we shy away from equality that we fail and lose. By failing to recognize the equality of black and white (and brown, and red, and every other color) we cursed ourselves with irrelevance in the management of the Nation for decades. And we deserved that irrelevance.

Democrats came back only when we began to find, once again, our dedication to equality of rich and poor, and then man and woman, and then, finally, belatedly, black and white. We are constantly challenged by equality, again today native and migrant. And gay and straight. Equality is hard, but it always, always prevails.

Being a Democrat, to me, means never saying “that’s enough equality, thanks.”

Health care is a helluva lot more than must-buy insurance. But it starts there, perhaps. Just as Social Security started small, so too does health care as a right start small. It started with our Veterans, believe it or not. The first group of people in our country to get national, universal health care. And here’s the funny thing, it worked. It’s not perfect, but it is way more consistent across boundaries of wealth and power than any other system in the country.

From there we provided care to the old, and poor. And in my short political lifetime, for kids. It is often forgotten that the second bill that President Obama signed was one making childrens health insurance the law of the land. The great health care battle of 2009 is not over. We are now in the winter of that war, with a grand strategy of exchanges and rules in place that will take years to come to fruition. But unlike the other side we have years. Universal civil rights took years. Universal retirement insurance took years. Heck, universal unemployment insurance took years. “The arc of the universe is long, but bends towards justice.”

And as with Social Security, universal health care will reduce the risks of taking risks like switching jobs, or starting your own company. It will provide a critical form of social insurance that reduces the worry and timidity of creative, innovative people. It will spur creativity, and economic growth.

And all three are things Democrats stand for, and Republicans stand against.

And that’s why I stand with the Democratic Party, today.