All the talk about how Democrats need to go back to the grassroots to resurrect the party, and how we need to compete in every state, at every level of political office, be it the local water management district, library board, school board, or county council, has reminded me of a favorite topic of mine, a thesis point, if you will.
My thesis point is that a return to the grassroots is important for reasons beyond the mere building of the party's infrastructure and farm team. It is necessary to demonstrate that Democrats can make government work (again).
Democrats suffer from a Yes, But What Have You Done For Me Lately? problem. If you remember from a recent post of mine, I bragged about liberalism's accomplishments in the last century as a reason why the party shouldn't be embarrassed about its liberal roots. Although I still hold to this, I also have to point out that the party's last period of remarkable contributions was 40 years ago.
One of the "downsides" to the party's success at the national level with civil rights legislation, Medicare and Medicaid, higher education assistance, and so on, was that it took it's focus off of the state and local arenas of political action, believing, rightly in many cases, that federal action was preferable to state and local action because the latter was restricted by a lack of resources or political will to address problems, or both.
But the result of this has been stagnation at the national level as liberalism has seemingly run out of ideas, its candidates and platforms derided for being out of touch, and its past a target of Republicans calling for change. Another result of the national strategy was that the party suffered a drought in its state and local farm team, as Republicans gained in strength in state legislatures, and so fewer Democratic officeholders were ready to make the leap to Congress and beyond.
With fewer state and local officeholders, and few recent national accomplishments, its little wonder that many members of the party's elite have become defensive about the whole progressive agenda and at times frequently battle with Republicans for the contention of who is the true conservative. This is a significant tragedy of both political and policy proportions.
One of the benefits of returning to the grassroots to contest seats for every office is the opportunity to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, and to get involved in making government work again, to actually solve problems and make things better at the local level to the extent possible.
As I hinted above, we know that many problems, such as poor schools, poverty, crime, and the lack of adequate health care are in part the product of broader, national and global structural conditions, but at the same time, Democrats need to recognize the opportunities for creating effective change and improvement in our communities where possible.
The result of this will be not only a party that has a longer list of candidates ready to run for higher offices, but also a stronger party with new and proven ideas for making government work and improving people's lives.
In future posts, I will attempt to add more meat to this idea.