March 8, 2005

Platform Format

First of all, let me say that I share your assessment that in the absence of some more generalized statement of principles, the Platform can be an overwhelming document. I share the opinions of Shai Sachs and Lee Mintz and some of the other speakers that evening that the Platform should include both a generalized statement of principles and the kind of specific recommendations for policy and legislation that currently constitute the majority of the document.

I believe that you and your colleagues did an admirable job four years ago in creating the Platform. It is an elegant description of what it means to be a Massachusetts Democrat, and something all of us should be proud to support.

Although "a shorter document reflecting core Democratic values" but with fewer specifics about some of the more controversial issues would, perhaps, be more acceptable to voters who disagree with current planks on reproductive rights, universal health care, the death penalty, or gun control, I strongly believe that it would be both wrong and counterproductive for the Democratic Party to compromise on these and other fundamental principles that distinguish us from Republicans.

The way to get more people in our tent is not to make it bigger by watering down Democratic commitments to affordable housing, public education, support for families and children, health care access, adult education and job training, workers’ rights, support for small business, smart growth and environmental protection, criminal justice reform, a woman’s right to choose, public transportation, fair taxes, civil liberties, etc. The way to re-build and reinvigorate the Party and fill the tent is to offer inspiring leadership that re-shapes public opinion, and that rekindles public support for the Social Contract so articulately described in our Platform.

Rather than abandoning the current Platform, I challenge your Committee to devise a short list of Democratic Party principals that would supplement that Platform, serving as an introduction and rational framework for the more detailed elements of policy and legislation which would follow.

Of course, the existing Platform is in need of editing and updating. Just as we do not tear down the whole house when the plumbing or electrical work is in need of repair, or when the décor is in need of updating, so, we should not abandon our Party Platform when a few planks are in need of replacement -- or when the whole document needs a new paint job.

The Democratic Party in Massachusetts beat back every Romney-supported challenge in the 2004 Elections. When Democrats are successful in distinguishing themselves from Republicans, we win elections in this State. If the Party is concerned about the trend among voters to register as Independents instead of as Democrats, then the best thing we can do is, as Howard Dean says, "stand for something."

There is no question that both nationally and locally, conservative voices have gained the upper hand when it comes to getting their message across via the news media. The Right has accomplished what every successful commercial marketing campaign attempts to do: they have built a customer base that, after repeated exposure to conservative doctrine and conservatively slanted news stories, has come to see the world through a conservative lens. The revitalization of the Democratic Party will not come about by conceding the middle ground and shifting our Platform to the right, so as to create a "bigger tent." Instead, we need candidates and a Party infrastructure that are willing and able to fight fire with fire: to assertively and convincing articulate, advocate for, and defend the kind of Democratic vision and principles that form the basis for our existing Platform.

A cogent and compelling Statement of Principles could help frame that effort. However, voters are too savvy and cynical to be convinced by generalities alone. A well-reasoned Platform consisting of the kinds of specific proposals and commitments that your Committee codified four years ago is an essential tool in ensuring Party credibility. What’s also needed is a Party Leadership that isn’t afraid to champion and stump for the things we believe in, a Leadership that has the courage of its convictions and the confidence that comes from knowing that Democrats have the most compelling vision and the most intellectually honest strategies for rebuilding our economy, and restoring the a social fabric that has frayed and torn under years of Republican leadership.

In conclusion, pragmatism and consensus-building don’t have to come at the expense of principled leadership. Democrats should not be afraid of a detailed Platform. If we hope to inspire voters, the worst thing our Party could do would be to water down Platform positions in order to placate opposing viewpoints. A public hungry for courageous leadership will not be drawn into the tent of a political party that appears to be more opportunistic than principled, more concerned with avoiding controversy – or upsetting corporate donors – than with solving social problems. To recapture the hearts and minds of disaffected voters, Democrats must once again become opinion leaders, and not wind socks. Renewed and enthusiastic support for an updated Platform, with a cogent introductory section outlining the core Democratic values that underlie our specific positions would be a great start in reclaiming the political upper hand.

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Thank you for your consideration of my suggestions.

 

 

 

Fred Berman 25 Cherry St. Somerville, MA 02144

(W) 617-349-6209 (H) 617-776-0503 email: fredlori@rcn.com