The Democratic Party is Big but the Ideas Got Small
Let me start with an apology for super slow pace of writing and recommend you follow me on Twitter because it’s where I spend a lot of my time. The news moves too fast for me to write a thousand words at a time, and the rapid-response nature of Twitter is frankly more enjoyable for me.
At their very core the fight between liberalism and conservatism is a fight between moving forward and remaining stationary. Now I don’t actually mean that as a slight against conservatives. I’ve always imagined the so-called ship of state as a car rolling down a hill with a gas pedal and a brake pedal. Too much gas, bad things happen. Too much braking, bad things happen. They both need to work in tandem to ensure that we’re moving forward but at a reasonable pace. I’d love to build a colony on Mars tomorrow; conservatives are the people who stop us from spending a trillion dollars to do it. Keep in mind I’m speaking in very broad strokes and there are lots of places where liberals and conservatives don’t line up with the current American political system.
One thing I’ve always liked about liberalism is that as a movement it embraces the future and sets a sort of standard for what the future could be (even if we fall short). The founding of our nation was done by political radicals. A bold experiment in the idea of self-government. When I think of great liberal Presidents, I always think of Kennedy and his promise of us going to the moon by the end of the decade. Or Johnson and his Great Society. FDR and the New Deal. The list goes on.
We used to be the party of big ideas. I feel like we’ve lost our way in that regard. We still attempt to appeal to a sense of optimism and hope for the future, but it’s not as sexy as it used to be. As problematic as Reagan’s presidency was, at least it had big ideas. A global fight between democracy and Communism, good and evil. When Obama ran, he ran mostly against the previous administration — he wouldn’t be George Bush, we would withdraw from our (big ideas) foreign intervention, etc. Obama managed to pass several big ideas (notably healthcare) but they still weren’t popular until years later. Hillary Clinton ran on adjusting and improving on Obama’s ideas, even when 55% of the country felt we were heading in the wrong direction. She also had some big ideas, but they were usually on her website and less in her speeches.
In my adopted home state of California, we aren’t scared of big ideas. We don’t run from challenges. We embrace challenges as opportunities to think bigger and to do more. While we fight climate change because it’s necessary, it’s also been a boon to our economy here. Solar, wind, renewable energy — these aren’t hippie liberals save-the-trees ideas, they’re better technology. A country that isn’t dependent on foreign oil is a country that isn’t dependent on the cartels who sell it.
I mean as much as I hate Trump, you have to admire the size of his ideas, even if they’re bullshit. A giant-ass wall, covered with solar panels, powering the whole country! Ah! What scope!
We need to embrace those ideas again, to think bigger and to sell bigger. Looking, getting to universal healthcare is a critical goal. But you know what’s fun? The hyperloop. You know what sucks? Flying. Flying fucking sucks. We’re liberals and as part of giving you a green energy revolution, we’re gonna build a train that goes faster than a plan, that’s cheaper than a plane, that allows three carry-on items, and that won’t force me into back spasm-inducing contortions when I fly economy class (can you tell I’ve flown recently?).
But those big ideas don’t just magic themselves into existence. They need the public engaged and they’re, yes, going to require some government money. There wasn’t a private interest in getting to the moon. It was a big dumb expensive idea that the government decided we — as a people — should pursue. And without that, you don’t get a whole host of things we have now like satellite TV. But the impetus didn’t come from the private sector.
Let’s make a Hyperloop. Let’s go after nuclear fusion. Let’s tax some billionaires who made a dog-face filter to fund it. People talk about Making America Great Again and being exceptional by…what, mining fucking coal? Come on. You want to see a shining city on a hill? Let’s build a 21st-century transportation system that’s the envy of the rest of the world. Let’s end our dependence on fossil fuels by making stars in a laboratory. Let’s think bigger, let’s reclaim the idea that we do things because they’re hard but because they’re good. Fuck incremental improvements in car emissions standards. Let’s start at the very bottom, at the square-one ideas, and re-think what a 21st-Century society should look like. Instead of scraping the margins for a percent here, a percent there, tweaking archaic systems to get a shred more efficiency.
I don’t want to Make America Great Again by looking backwards.
I want to Make America Greater than it’s ever been by looking forwards. And we as a party used to know how to do that.
Can we do it again?