What do Democrats stand for?

· Democrats

I suspect that we (Democrats) don’t have an organizing principle but instead a motley set of strongly felt ideals. Because of this, we are rarely able or willing to sacrifice specific issues because we don’t have a common goal (aside from opposing Republicans) that we are all willing to sacrifice to achieve.
What is the organizing principle of the party? Social justice? Economic fairness? Liberty? Peace? I’m not sure we’d all agree.
If the organizing principle of our party is winning, then to what end? Right now I think we’re a coalition of freedom lovers and nurturers whose commonality is that culturally we are comfortable with questioning authority and believe the world to be nuanced and subtle.
The other coalition harkens to old-fashioned authoritarianism and paternalism and certainty, order and discipline.
But the issues are spread unevenly among the parties. The economic libertarians are allied with the Republicans because they think not paying taxes makes the economically freer. Few of the leaders of either party are true economic populists (hence the Nader critique).
I used to feel we were overdue for a realignment, but along what lines? I’m neither a libertarian nor a socialist. I think I’m a moderate on most of these axes but I’m alarmed that in most cases the orthodox / authoritarian / right / masculine end of the spectrum is overpowering the rest, so I’ve found myself more closely attached to the center-left Democrats.
I don’t know if we can get a majority as the “anti-party” and I’m afraid that 9/11 gave a real edge to tough-guy paternalism, so organizing around nuance and subtletly and cooperation and questioning things is also going to be tough until bullheaded certainty crashes and burn, unfortunately to the ruin of us all.
I saw the party try to woo responsible Republicans (guess what, nabbing Daniel Drezner didn’t do the trick) behind a responsible facade but ironically Clinton sold responsibility behind his irresponsible charm and Bush sells irresponsibility behind his. The grownup, do-good, middle-of-the-road sensible technocracy that Kerry (and, yes, Dukakis) represented doesn’t seem to have enough flash to sell.
Again, I feel like we need to hone our cherished principles to the few we can’t do without, and then figure out how to gather a majority who can work together. I don’t know if this is a social justice / economic justice majority that cuts across the cultural divide or a cultural progress majority that cuts across the fairness / inequity spectrum, but right now we’re neither and we’re losing.
I think Republicans are losing too. I don’t hate those voters – but I do despise who they are willing to let represent them.
The Lakoff stuff is important. You have to make people who don’t like you and who you don’t like still trust you and you have to appeal to people’s self-interest and their deeper drives.
If my top priority were equal rights (and maybe it is), perhaps I should try to bring out those issues on both sides of the Dem/Republican divide, pitching liberal culture to Democrats and libertarianism and economic equal opportunity to Republicans. This would include gay rights, women’s rights, fighting racism, and getting the government out of our bodies and minds.
If my top priority were economic reform, perhaps I should be in a PIRG type organization and appeal to working people on the basis of limiting the rampages of capitalism with a strong safety net and capitalists on the basis of making the system function well. This would include worker’s rights, workplace democracy, transparency, checks on the financial system, accountability, and so on.
If my top priority is changing the way we relate to the world and trying to bring about an end to violence as a problem-solving tool, perhaps I need to be in a Kucinich-inspired teach-peace movement that again lobbies both parties, but then it’s an uphill battle all the way. I have no idea how to make that work.
Instead I’m in coalition that doesn’t agree on any of the above principles in all cases. Somehow, the Republicans are grabbing the bigger piece of each of these axes.
I’ve gone on too long. This is a glimpse of the turmoil in my mind lately. I still feel like I’m missing a big piece of the puzzle.