Democrats Must Make Changes
By Ed Koch
Since the elections, Democrats have declined to take any action
to start moving the party in a different direction. It may happen,
but I doubt it. If changes don't take place, I have no doubt that
the reverses the party suffered this year -- a four-seat loss
in the House, a five-seat loss in the Senate and, of course, an
unsuccessful presidential bid -- will continue.
In order for the Democratic Party to reverse these losses there
has to be a major realignment. The Democratic Party should be
center left. It is or appears to be radical left. My specific
suggestions are as follows:
First, Democrats should organize public discussion in different
venues to seek feedback from various Democratic constituencies
on what the party needs to do to reverse the recent losses. New
ideas, hopefully, would be generated.
Second, Democrats should examine why the South, at one time
a bastion of the Democratic Party, appears permanently lost to
the Republicans. It is no secret that in the South, the Democratic
Party is now overwhelmingly viewed as the party of African-American
voters, and the Republican Party is overwhelmingly viewed as the
party of white voters. It would be easy to simply conclude that
Southern whites left the Democratic Party to demonstrate their
opposition to national civil rights legislation enacted with the
support of Lyndon Johnson and every Democratic president since
Johnson. If that is what has occurred, it may be that the South
is lost for the foreseeable future to the Democrats, and no tears
need be shed. But, if there are other reasons outside of race,
then we should learn what they are and see if the party philosophy
is at fault.
Third, we must make sure we are a national party that is attractive
to every part of our country. Some Republican leaders have stated
that what defeated the Democrats was “guns, gays and God.”
Yet, we know that many negatives can, if appropriately addressed,
become positives. What if, in the case of guns, the Democrats
made that issue a state rather than federal issue and fought for
controls in the fifty state legislatures in accord with local
party interest. New York and West Virginia see this issue differently.
Therefore, the New York Democratic Party would try to pass gun
control legislation in the New York State Legislature, whereas
the West Virginia Democratic Party would focus its energy on other
issues. We should learn what positive results have come out of
the huge effort made nationally for greater control of guns over
the last fifty years, especially in the area of gun injuries and
deaths. The Democratic members of Congress should ask the Government
Accountability Office (GAO) to publicly report on the impact of
gun legislation to date.
On the issue of abortion, we know the country is split. Some
interesting Gallup poll statistics show the following:
In a poll conducted on May 2-4, 2004, when asked, “Do
you think abortions should be legal under any circumstances, legal
only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?”
24 percent responded “legal under any circumstances,”
56 percent responded “legal only under certain circumstances,”
and 19 percent responded “illegal in all circumstances.”
1 percent answered “no opinion.”
In a poll conducted on January 12-15, 2004, when asked, “Now
I would like to ask your opinion about a specific abortion procedure
known as ‘late term’ abortion or ‘partial birth’
abortion, which is sometimes performed on women during the last
few months of pregnancy, do you think that [Rotated: the government
should make this procedure illegal, (or do you think that) this
procedure should be legal]?” 68 percent responded “illegal”
and 25 percent responded “legal.” 7 percent responded,
While the Democratic party must continue to be a defender of
the constitutional right of abortion as articulated in Roe v.
Wade, it is counterproductive for the Democratic party to be seen
as the defender of the procedure known as partial-birth abortion.
The U.S. Supreme Court has in several decisions made clear the
medical procedure must be available if required to save the life
of the mother or safeguard the mother’s health. The Republican
majority , seeking to end the use of the procedure, has enacted
legislation outlawing it by foolishly stating there can never
be a health issue requiring its use. A federal district court
judge, himself staunchly opposed to the procedure, has ruled that
the Congress cannot by declaration eliminate the U.S. Supreme
Court’s health exception. What should the Democrats do?
Offer legislation that defines the health exception, limiting
it to reproductive health, meaning the affect upon the woman’s
ability to bear children in the future.
What should the Democratic party’s position be on gays?
I believe there are three immediate measures that need to be taken
that would be acceptable to an electorate not ready to adopt same-sex
marriage. One, place our military enlistment policy on the same
basis as that of our NATO allies, all of whom permit enlistments
and retention of military personnel who are publicly or privately
identified as gay or lesbian. Punishment for breaches of the military
code should be the same whether the conduct is heterosexual or
homosexual. Second, allow same-sex civil unions all of the benefits
of marriage -- tax, medical, economic and others. Third, enact
national legislation barring discrimination based on sexual orientation
in employment, housing and all other pursuits.
The Democratic Party should also re-examine its position on
public religious activity, including the funding of parochial
schools. The debate on the First Amendment will be whether it
simply bars preferment of one religion over another but allows
support for all equally, or is there a constitutional prohibition
barring any support? It may be possible to chart a middle course
between baring all public support of religion and supporting religious
activity without preferring one religion over another.
Real changes take time, which means that time is of the essence.
Democratic Party leaders at all levels should begin the discussions