The Democrats’ Dilemma
By Jerome Grossman
When Democrats talk about their party these days, it sounds like a ritual confession. They apologize for being too liberal. They are afraid of being tagged as antimilitarist. They are talking about saying "no" to the large, influential special interest groups that have traditionally been identified with the party.
To do so would be to reject their history and their reason for existing. For more than 150 years, the Democrats have been the party of social and economic justice, representing the interests of small farmers, immigrants, religious and racial minorities, trade union members, poor people, women, and other out - groups. For the first hundred years, the Democrats were antistatist. Their platforms called for laissez-faire, states rights, and low tariffs. To Jeffersonians and Jacksonians, the state was a bastion of wealth and privilege, and to be antistatist was to be democratic and egalitarian. However, from Roosevelt's New Deal, the party learned to use federal power to promote economic justice. From the civil rights revolution, the party learned to use federal power to promote social justice. Now the party has to figure out how to keep its commitment to democracy and equality while weaning itself from an excessive reliance on government.
This is no small problem. The Democrats dilemma is a major issue for industrial societies in the twentieth century: Can you advance the cause of social and economic justice without increasing the power of the state to dangerous levels? The serious social democrat will say no, but you can ensure that the power of the state is democratically controlled. The answer won't get you very far in this country, where suspicion of government is a primordial value.
One thing is sure. The Democrats cannot turn their backs on the women, the workers, the blacks, and the peace activists, because without these special interest groups they wouldn't have a party.