WASHINGTON — With America at war and corporate scandals multiplying, Democrats have a historic opportunity to realign politics with a platform of patriotism, integrity, and opportunity.
Democrats must resist the temptation merely to exploit public outrage, and instead offer powerful reforms even when they challenge the interests of political contributors and lobbyists who will fight them aggressively.
Writing in The Weekly Standard magazine about John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, Noemie Emery argued that certain 20th-century leaders transformed their parties into "patriot parties," and inspired generations of Americans to public service as a higher calling. Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan attained special places in history. Democratic leaders should remember that three of them were progressive reformers who boldly challenged the status quo.
Democrats should aspire to the mantle of being America's patriot party: supporting the president when the country is at war and calling for a new economic patriotism that promotes business prosperity while demanding integrity.
President Bush should offer and receive bipartisan support for national security initiatives. Democrats should seek prompt approval for his proposal to create a Department of Homeland Security.
In the tradition of former wartime leaders, President Bush could appoint a prominent Democrat such as former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia as head of the new department or as White House security adviser. But to aspire to true patriot party leadership, Democrats should call on every American, including business leaders, to share the roll of honor of heroism and ask what they, too, can do for their country.
It is wrong when some Americans race into burning buildings to save lives, while others engage in insider trading, corporate ripoffs, and accounting fraud.
It is wrong when senior citizens fear for their security as their 401(k) retirement plans are decimated, and families lose investments designed to pay for their kids' college study, while growing numbers of corporate insiders are forced out in disgrace and Wall Street firms line up to apologize for miserable advice and major transgressions.
Patriot presidents lead. Teddy Roosevelt fought the abuse of monopoly. Franklin Roosevelt fought Wall Street corruption that contributed to the Great Depression. John Kennedy took on US Steel when he felt it violated the national interest. Democrats can assume this mantle today not merely with political sound bites, but with hard reforms opposed by special interests.
A patriot party should stand for:
Ironclad reform in corporate accounting that ends conflicts of interest once and for all.
A new era of integrity on Wall Street in which stock analysts give sound advice to investors rather than hustle investment banking deals.
A new respect for fiduciary trust from corporate directors, who should be guardians of integrity for shareholders, and not apologists for business as usual.
A flat-out ban on government benefits to firms that reincorporate offshore to avoid their duty to America.
There should be prompt public disclosure of any corporate insiders buying or selling their company stock and complete disclosure of the true interests of those who promote or attack stocks in major media. For those who break the law especially while others risk their lives the punishment should be jail, no matter how wealthy and powerful they are.
A patriot Democratic Party would have a positive agenda for prosperity.
Why not lower the capital-gains tax for middle-income Americans, lifting markets for those who have been hurt and making capital available for honorable companies creating jobs and growth?
Why not have a special place in the party for a new generation of CEOs who are entrepreneurial heroes, especially those who are women, African-American, Asian, and Hispanic?
Why not challenge President Bush in 2004 to a two-party "straight talk express" in which both candidates travel the trains together, as President Kennedy and Sen. Barry Goldwater once discussed, giving voters a debate worthy of our democracy?
We are a nation of heroes. A true patriot party would challenge political and business leaders to a new level of integrity and character, where a rising tide truly lifts all boats, where public service is a badge of honor and patriotism a way of life, in corporate suites and main street united together.
Brent Budowsky, a Washington-based entrepreneur, was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D) of Texas.