`Third way' pols bring Democrats back to their roots

July 14, 1999|By Al From

THE NEXT chapter in one of the biggest political stories of the past decade will be written today and tomorrow when 160 state and local officials from the 50 states assemble in Baltimore to discuss cutting-edge ideas at the Democratic Leadership Council's third annual "national conversation."

These Democratic leaders are part of the new wave of center-left leaders who have assumed power around the globe in recent years.

In the 1980s, conservatives dominated Western governments, with Ronald Reagan and George Bush in the United States, Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain and Helmut Kohl in Germany. Today, progressive centrist parties now govern throughout the Atlantic alliance. This is no accident.

The key to the resurgence of the center-left has been the modernization of progressive politics, which began with the development of the New Democrat philosophy of the DLC at the beginning of the 1990s, and which passed its first test with President Clinton's election as president in 1992. The essence of this change in Democratic politics can be summarized in five points:

Understanding that equal opportunity means promoting private sector growth and giving all Americans the skills and resources they need to succeed, not redistributing income through government.

Aligning our programs and policies with the values most Americans share -- work, family, faith, responsibility, individual liberty, tolerance and inclusion, not treating Americans as members of fragmented interest groups.

Balancing the rights and privileges of citizenship with personal responsibility and mutual obligations, not encouraging a sense of entitlement, of "something for nothing."

Recapturing the spirit of public-sector innovation, not defending government programs or bureaucracies as ends in themselves.

Accepting America's vital stake in leading the world toward political and economic freedom, not retreating into isolationism.

These five principles reunite Democrats with our party's heritage. Indeed, they reflect traditions as hallowed as Andrew Jackson's motto of "equal opportunity for all, special privileges for none;" Harry S. Truman's faith in the uncommon wisdom of common people; John F. Kennedy's call for citizens to "give something back" to the community; Franklin D. Roosevelt's thirst for innovative government; and the commitment of every Democratic president of the century to free trade and U.S. global leadership.

New Democrats have modernized progressive politics by reconnecting Democrats with their heritage, which is appealing to swing voters and independents.

These New Democrats understand that "governing from the center" is not a matter of clever positioning, or efforts to send a different message to different audiences. On the contrary, it involves making tough decisions on issues of most concern to most Americans, and meeting the big challenges of modernizing America to succeed in the information age.

Al From is president of the Democratic Leadership Council.

Pub Date: 7/14/99

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