August 28, 2013

THROWDOWN THURSDAY: Being More Than the “Other” Party

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A few days prior to last November’s general election, a friend of mine told me that he wasn’t going to vote, but that I shouldn’t worry because “everyone he knew was supporting President Obama.” After all, as he put it, to support the Republican Party you’d have to be “crazy.” I found this conversation extremely concerning. I gave my friend the spiel I had been regurgitating ten times a day imploring him to vote. Yet, months later this conversation has stayed with me. Not just because of his apathy, but because this smart Cornell student clearly believed that the Democratic Party was just the reasonable alternative to the “crazy” Republican Party.

Democrats cannot thrive in the long run if we are just the alternative to a Republican Party that veers farther and farther from mainstream. Being the sane alternative has won us elections, but for Democrats to succeed as more than just the party of “not Republicans” we must ensure that people — particularly young people who are forming their political identities — understand what the Democratic Party stands for. So, for my first column I thought I’d address this problem by outlining a few of the many reasons I’m a Democrat.

The first reason I’m a Dem is because I know government can genuinely do good. I’m not naïve; government can be a blundering bureaucratic nightmare at times and government solutions cannot solve every problem. That said, government can work to keep us safe, build infrastructure, ensure justice before the law and promote equity in opportunity. And, beyond these most basic functions, our government — at the local, state and national level — should be a place where bright minds come together to craft smart public policy. The narrative from the other side is that government can only get in the way, but time and again we’ve seen good government policies actually solve problems. I wouldn’t be where I am today if the G.I. Bill hadn’t given my grandfather a chance to continue his education and create a better life for his children and grandchildren. When government is done right, those are the sorts of things that can happen. A democratically-elected government will always be flawed, because all people are flawed, but I’m a Democrat because I think government can do good.

The second reason I’m a Democrat is because of our party’s genuine commitment to seeking diverse perspectives. There is a stereotype that the Republican Party is the political home of old, white men. This is unfairly simplistic, but the perception makes sense when the Republicans are contrasted with the Democrats. We truly are a party of inclusion where issues that affect underrepresented communities are seen through the lens of that community. I remember the pride I felt when the statistics about delegates to the Democratic National Committee came out. The DNC had almost 500 delegates who were members of the LGBTQ community including 13 openly transgender delegates. Almost a quarter of our convention delegates were black. The Republican National Convention had a total of 13 percent minority representation among their delegates — a percentage that has been shrinking since 2004. This illustrates the diversity and inclusion that makes me proud to be a Democrat. When I think about the collection of people who wrote and voted on each party’s platform, I am proud to put myself in the camp that opts for inclusiveness and diversity.

I could go on and on about what makes me a Democrat. From the environment, to the courts, to education, to social justice, my reasons for being a die-hard Dem are numerous. Furthermore, not one of those reasons is based on the feeling that the other side is unintelligent or “crazy.” Yet, that is the message voters often hear. Our battle cry should not be, “Republicans are crazy,” but rather: “Listen to how great Democratic ideas are.” (Not quite as catchy, I know).

Recently, Democrats have been able to win elections based on the extreme and out-of-touch positions of the Republican Party. However, if we do not make our values clear to people like my non-voting friend, we’ll never foster the kind of support and loyalty we need in young voters. We can’t raise the next generation of Democratic voters on pure anti-Republican rhetoric. Democrats need to makes sure that, as a party, we give voters something to vote for, not just define whom they should vote against.

Max Schechter is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the President of the Cornell Democrats. He may be reached at mschechter@cornellsun.com. Dem Discuss appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Max Schechter