It turns out that I don’t have a very good idea how to get elected to Congress. I lost the Democratic primary last week because Madeleine Dean ran a great campaign, and most voters wanted to support women and new blood for the U.S. House. I get it, and will give my full support to Madeleine in the general election.
But I do have a few ideas about what Democrats need to do in order to win the battle for public support against Donald Trump. Anger at Trump is not enough – we have to stand for something, and convince the public that our ideas make sense.
The president and his conservative allies in Congress want to cut taxes for the wealthy, shrink government, and withdraw to an America First isolationism, while insulting friend and foe alike. This will not benefit working families struggling for a better life, nor will it keep us safe.
The Democratic Party must do three things to win public support.
- Our platform must be both socially liberal and fiscally responsible.
- We must accept the obligations that come with being the only super power that supports freedom and liberty around the world.
- We must show respect to our political competitors so that government will work again.
The first challenge is to get our fiscal house in order. Bill Clinton showed us the progressive way to balance the federal budget, with modest tax increases on the wealthy and careful reductions in spending that protected low-income and other vulnerable Americans.
We will not be able to pay for any of the programs we advocate as progressives, such as better schools, better health care, more jobs, and a cleaner environment, unless we have sustainable funding and an orderly and rational process to balance revenues and spending. It is no good to balloon the debt our grandchildren must pay.
We should start by rolling back Trump’s tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, reclaiming $1.5 trillion for other priorities and deficit reduction. We should re-balance our excessive military spending. We certainly live in a dangerous world, but we currently spend as much on our military as the next eight countries combined. The number two military spender is China, which we outspend 3-1. We outspend Russia 9-1. We need a thoughtful review of our military budget that would save tens of billions of dollars while still keeping us safe.
Second, Democrats must welcome the challenges that come with being the world’s primary defender of freedom and liberty. We must robustly support our international alliances, mutual defense pacts, and fair trade agreements. We need the U.N., NATO and other multinational organizations as much as the rest of the world does. Our existing agreements keep us safer. Trump’s chaotic behavior on the world stage risks our safety.
Third, we must return respect to our political arena. Our federal government must be able to level the playing field, provide a strong social safety net, and strive for social justice and economic opportunity for all. We will never achieve those goals if the current hyper-partisanship continues in Washington. The president is a huge part of the problem, and so are the leaders of both parties. We must respectfully listen to our opponents with open minds and the desire to find common ground. Political compromise is never easy, but it is absolutely essential if we are going to make Congress work for us again.
Donald Trump offers bombast, chaos and division. Congressional Republicans are enabling him. Democrats will win and govern with success by embracing fiscal responsibility, international leadership, and respectful political debate.
Joseph Hoeffel is a former member of Congress from Montgomery County, and also served as a state representative and county commissioner. He is the author of two books on politics and government.