Words to Live By


"WORDS" by feuillu on flickr

Hi, and welcome to my first diary post.  I admit, one reason I was hesitant to write diaries on this site is because I tend to ramble, and I was worried that I’d just end up with a lot of half-finished thoughts. I found it easier to just comment on others’ work.

But when no less than Lady Jane Hamsher herself requests a diary post, I snap to it!  So here we go.

In case you didn’t see it, in responding to Travis Disaster’s excellent post, “An Open Letter to My Representative, My Senators, and the rest of the Democratic Party” (For some reason, the “insert link” button isn’t working for me, so here’s the long-form URL:, I went off on a bit of a tangent, getting fired up about how the 2008 Dem platform spoke of giving people “the chance to get a good education, to work at a good job”, etc., etc.

Here’s how I went off in response:

The CHANCE”???? Nice weasel word, Dems; straight out of Bush and the “Opportunity Society”.

“Oh, so you’re starving? Well, don’t blame us! We gave you THE CHANCE to raise and provide your family…it’s not our fault you were too much of a pussy to take that job as a button man for the mob/selling crack/running a Ponzi scheme/whatever. As long as you have THE CHANCE, you can’t blame us for the outcome.”

Although I am now an ex-Dem (see my username), seeing my former Party reduced to such equivocation really annoys me.  So I went seeking evidence that they were once bolder than this, and with the help of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s excellent “The American Presidency Project”, I found a complete list of Party Platforms at this page:

Now, you’ll notice that much of what I’m about to cite comes from “out-year” platforms, ones that were written when the Republicans held the White House.  I suppose it’s easier to make broad statements when you’re not defending your own record.  (Which doesn’t let the weasel-wording of the ’08 platform off the hook, IMO.)  But still, there’s some lovely rhetorical work.

The first one of these I ever found (how I found the site) was the 1976 platform.  I’ll quote it a little more at length than I did before:

The Democratic Party’s concern for human dignity and freedom has been directed at increasing the economic opportunities for all our citizens and reducing the economic deprivation and inequities that have stained the record of American democracy.

Today, millions of people are unemployed. Unemployment represents mental anxiety, fear of harassment over unpaid bills, idle hours, loss of self-esteem, strained family relationships, deprivation of children and youth, alcoholism, drug abuse and crime. A job is a key measure of a person’s place in society—whether as a full-fledged participant or on the outside. Jobs are the solution to poverty, hunger and other basic needs of workers and their families. Jobs enable a person to translate legal rights of equality into reality.

Our industrial capacity is also wastefully under-utilized. There are houses to build, urban centers to rebuild, roads and railroads to construct and repair, rivers to clean, and new sources of energy to develop. Something is wrong when there is work to be done, and the people who are willing to do it are without jobs. What we have lacked is leadership.

Ten million people are unemployed right now, and twenty to thirty million were jobless at some time in each of the last two years. For major groups in the labor force—minorities, women, youth, older workers, farm, factory and construction workers—unemployment has been, and remains, at depression levels.

The depressed production and high unemployment rates of the Nixon-Ford administrations have produced federal deficits totaling $242 billion. Those who should be working and paying taxes are collecting unemployment compensation or other welfare payments in order to survive. For every one per cent increase in the unemployment rate—for every one million Americans out of work —we all pay $3 billion more in unemployment compensation and $2 billion in welfare and related costs, and lose $14 billion in taxes. In fiscal 1976, $76 billion was lost to the federal government through increased recession-related expenditures and lost revenues. In addition, state and local governments lost $27 billion in revenues. A return to full employment will eliminate such deficits. With prudent management of existing programs, full employment revenues will permit the financing of national Democratic initiatives.

For millions of Americans, the Republican Party has substituted welfare for work. Huge sums will be spent on food stamps and medical care for families of the unemployed. Social insurance costs are greatly increased. This year alone the federal government will spend nearly $20 billion on unemployment compensation. In contrast, spending on job development is only $2—1/2 billion. The goal of the new Democratic administration will be to turn unemployment cheeks into pay cheeks.

Wow, a Democratic Party that seeks to eliminate deficits…by putting people back to work!  What a shocking idea!  *eyeroll*  Maybe someone could send a copy of this Platform to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, perchance?

Hopping back four years, to 1972, we find a very simple expression of principles:

We believe in the rights of citizens to achieve to the limit of their talents and energies. We are determined to remove barriers that limit citizens because they are black, brown, young or women; because they never had the chance to gain an education; because there was no possibility of being anything but what they were.

We believe in hard work as a fair measure of our own willingness to achieve. We are determined that millions should not stand idle while work demands to be done. We are determined that the dole should not become a permanent way of life for any. And we are determined that government no longer tax the product of hard work more rigorously than it taxes inherited wealth, or money that is gained simply by having money in the first place.

’68 and ’64 were mostly “We did this!  And this! And this!” and ’60 spent a lot of time talking about the “missile gap” and such silliness, but the 1956 platform was a lovely collection of fightin’ words.  Here’s the Preamble:

In the brief space of three and one-haft years, the people of the United States have come to realize, with tragic consequences, that our National Government cannot be trusted to the hands of political amateurs, dominated by representatives of special privilege.

Four years ago they were beguiled, by empty promises and pledges, to elect as President a recent convert to Republicanism. Our people have now learned that the party of Lincoln has been made captive to big businessmen with small minds. They have found that they are now ruled by a Government which they did not elect, and to which they have not given their consent. Their awareness of this fact was demonstrated in 1954 when they returned control of the legislative machinery of the Federal Government to the 84th Democratic Congress.

From the wreckage of American world leadership under a Republican Administration, this great Democratic Congress has salvaged a portion of the world prestige our Nation enjoyed under the brilliant Administrations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

Our Democratic 84th Congress made one of the greatest legislative records in the history of our country. It enacted an active program of progressive, humane legislation, which has repudiated the efforts of reactionary Republicanism to stall America’s progress. When we return to the halls of Congress next January, and with a Democratic President in the White House, it will be the plan and purpose of our Party to complete restoration and rehabilitation of American leadership in world affairs. We pledge return of our National Government to its rightful owners, the people of the United States.

Ha!  Not pulling any punches on Ike, despite his heart attack the year before, are they?

(Eisenhower, you may recall, did not die until 1969.  Which led to the best political joke of 1970:

“It’s 1955.  A man picks up  a newspaper and reads that President Eisenhower has had a heart attack.  Surprised, he accidentally steps off the curb and into traffic, gets hit by a bus, and knocked into a coma.

“Skip ahead to today.  The man finally comes out of the coma, and as the nurses are ministering to him, he says, ‘Please, I have to know…is President Eisenhower all right?’

“The nurse is confused by the question, but answers:  ‘I’m sorry, sir, but President Eisenhower is dead.’

“The man begins sobbing, ‘no, no, no’ and so on. The nurse asks him what the problem is.

“‘Don’t you see??’ the man cries.  “This means that Nixon is president!'”

Heh, I love that one.  Although Obama continues to make Nixon look good.)

Anyways, back to the 1956 platform:

The Republican Brand of Prosperity.

Substituting deceptive slogans and dismal deeds for the Democratic program, the Republicans have been telling the American people that “we are now more prosperous than ever before in peacetime.” For the American farmer, the small businessman and the low-income worker, the old people living on a pittance, the young people seeking an American standard of education, and the minority groups seeking full employment opportunity at adequate wages, this tall tale of Republican prosperity has been an illusion.

The evil is slowly but surely infiltrating the entire economic system. Its fever signs are evidenced by soaring monopoly profits, while wages lag, farm income collapses, and small-business failures multiply at an alarming rate.

The first time-bomb of the Republican crusade against full prosperity for all was the hard-money policy. This has increased the debt burden on depressed farms, saddled heavier costs on small business, foisted higher interest charges on millions of homeowners (including veterans), pushed up unnecessarily the cost of consumer credit, and swelled the inordinate profits of a few lenders of money. It has wrought havoc with the bond market, with resulting financial loss to the ordinary owners of Government bonds.

The Republican tax policy has joined hands in an unholy alliance with the hard-money policy. Fantastic misrepresentation of the Government’s budgetary position has been used to deny tax relief to low- and middle-income families, while tax concessions and handouts have been generously sprinkled among potential campaign contributors to Republican coffers. The disastrously reactionary farm program, the hardhearted resistance to adequate expansion of Social Security and other programs for human well-being, and favoritism in the award of Government contracts, all have watered the economic tree at the top and neglected its roots.

Democratic Principles for Full Prosperity for All:

(1) We repudiate the Republican stunting of our economic growth, and we reassert the principles of the Full Employment Act of 1946;

(2) We pledge ourselves to achieve an honest and realistic balance of the Federal Budget in a just and fully prosperous American economy;

(3) We pledge ourselves to equitable tax revisions and monetary policies designed to combine economic progress with economic justice. We condemn the Republican use of our revenue and money systems to benefit the few at the expense of the vast majority of our people;

(4) We pledge ourselves to work toward the reduction and elimination of poverty in America;

(5) We pledge ourselves to full parity of income and living standards for agriculture; to strike off the shackles which the Taft-Hartley law has unjustly imposed on labor; and to foster the more rapid growth of legitimate business enterprise by rounding this growth upon the expanding consuming power of the people; and

(6) We pledge ourselves to expand world trade and to enlarge international economic cooperation, all toward the end of a more prosperous and more peaceful world.

Democratic Goals To Be Achieved During Four Years of Progress.

By adhering to these principles, we shall strive to attain by 1960 the following full prosperity objectives for all American families:

(1) A 500 billion dollar national economy in real terms;

(2) An increase of 20 percent or better in the average standard of living;

(3) An increase in the annual income of American families, with special emphasis on those whose incomes are below $2000;

(4) A determined drive toward parity of incomes and living standards for those engaged in the vital pursuit of agriculture;

(5) The addition of all necessary classrooms for our primary and secondary schools; the construction of needed new homes, with a proper proportion devoted to the rehousing of low- and middle-income families in urban and rural areas; the increase of benefits under the Old Age Assistance and Old Age Survivors Insurance Programs; a substantial expansion in hospital facilities and medical research; and a doubling of our programs for resource development and conservation; and

(6) National defense outlays based upon our national needs, not permitting false economy to jeopardize our very survival.

This country of ours, in the factory, in business and on the farm, is blessed with ever-increasing productive power. The Republicans have not permitted this potential abundance to be released for the mutual benefit of all. We reject this stunted Republican concept of America. We pledge ourselves to release the springs of abundance, to bring this abundance to all, and thus to fulfill the full promise of America.

These are our Democratic goals for the next four years. We set them forth in vivid contrast to Republican lip-service protestations that they, too, are for these goals. Their little deeds belie their large and hollow slogans. Our performance in the past gives validity to our goals for the future.

Apparently I was overly impressed by the “raise the standard of living by 20% in four years” bit when I first posted this;  a look at the 1976 Platform points out that a 4% annual increase in the standard of living was the historical norm, so the Dems were merely pledging to raise that to 5%. Still well above the poverty of ambition found nowadays, and (some “free trade” and “defense” talk aside) a stirring document to read.

Since I was going to the effort to make this a separate diary, I decided to do a little more checking.  I haven’t been through all the platforms (there are 43 of them, from 1840 onwards).  Heck, I haven’t even glanced at the FDR platforms of the New Deal era.  But I thought I’d look at what the Democrats stood for, even when they weren’t doing so well.

Remember 1924?  The Democrats took 103 ballots to nominate John W. Davis, the poll tax-supporting anti-lynching-law-opposing Wall Street attorney, who was promptly crushed by Coolidge?  And yet, even in all that mediocrity, the platform still reflected some ideals (even if they couldn’t get that anti-Ku Klux Klan plank passed):

Democratic Principles

The democratic party believes in equal rights to all and special privilege to none. The republican party holds that special privileges are essential to national prosperity. It believes that national prosperity must originate with the special interests and seep down through the channels of trade to the less favored industries to the wage earners and small salaried employes. It has accordingly enthroned privilege and nurtured selfishness.

The republican party is concerned chiefly with material things; the democratic party is concerned chiefly with human rights. The masses, burdened by discriminating laws and unjust administration, are demanding relief. The favored special interests, represented by the republican party, contented with their unjust privileges, are demanding that no change be made. The democratic party stands for remedial legislation and progress. The republican party stands still.

Arguably just boilerplate…but the sort of boilerplate I like, I admit.

On the other hand, some people might prefer this:

For nearly three years the world has endured an economic depression of unparalleled extent and severity. The patience and courage of our people have been severely tested, but their faith in themselves, in their institutions and in their future remains unshaken. When victory comes, as it will, this generation will hand on to the next a great heritage unimpaired.

This will be due in large measure to the quality of the leadership that this country has had during this crisis. We have had in the White House a leader—wise, courageous, patient, understanding, resourceful, ever present at his post of duty, tireless in his efforts and unswervingly faithful to American principles and ideals.

Constructive plans for financial stabilization cannot be completely organized until our national, State and municipal governments not only balance their budgets but curtail their current expenses as well to a level which can be steadily and economically maintained for some years to come.

We urge prompt and drastic reduction of public expenditure and resistance to every appropriation not demonstrably necessary to the performance of government, national or local.

Yep, that’s the Republican platform of 1932, the election campaign which Dave Barry once summarized thusly, “the Republicans renominated President Hoover, who pledged that if re-elected, he would flee to the Bahamas.”  Still, our current president, Barack Hoover Obama, might enjoy that platform, as it seems to conform to his thinking.

Or…does it??

One of the serious problems affecting our banking system has arisen from the practice of organizing separate corporations by the same interests as banks, but participating in operations which the banks themselves are not permitted legally to undertake. We favor requiring reports of and subjecting to thorough and periodic examination all such affiliates of member banks until adequate information has been acquired on the basis of which this problem may definitely be solved in a permanent manner.

Now that almost sounds like they’re calling for legislation that could be a precursor to that dirty-commie Glass-Steagall Act and things like that.  Stopping the banks from expanding their operations into non-banking sectors?  Horrors!  No wonder Hoover lost.

Thank Heavens there’s no chance of President Obama messing with our great financial institutions in such a manner.  He, not Hoover, is the truly “faithful to American principles and ideals.”

Well, as I feared, I’m way too wordy (was the “This means that Nixon is President!” joke really necessary?  Probably not), and to quote Buffy Summers, “Okay, now you’re abusing sarcasm.”  So that’s all, folks.  Hope you liked it.

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