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One of the more peculiar events of the Industrial Revolution in England is the story of Ned Ludd. Today we recognize the term “Luddite” as someone who simple-mindedly fights technology and scientific progress.
It should be noted that whether Ludd himself existed or not is a matter of historical dispute. Nonetheless, a movement was organized in his name, spreading rapidly throughout England and finding a core of laborers unhappy with the increasing mechanization of their jobs. What resulted was the systematic destruction of many textile mills and industrial machines.
Why do I bring up this bit of history now? Well, it seems to me that the Democratic Party, which tries to bill itself as “progressive,” is in danger of becoming the Luddite Party.
While I have disagreed with liberal dogma in previous columns, the current problem facing Dems is less about ideology than about policy. The simple fact of the matter is that they are out of ideas. This is especially true on the matters that now concern Americans most -- national security and the economy, both of which have been traditionally Republican issues. If Dems are to make any progress in elections, if they are to take the offensive, they must start playing on Republican’s turf.
The list of GOP accomplishments and goals should make clear why the American people want conservatives running the legislature. Republicans have proposed initiatives in education such as school vouchers and charter schools. On the environment, Republicans created pollution credits that companies can buy and sell, reducing pollution at a much lower cost than straight out regulation. An issue likely to be discussed this legislative term is the creation of private Social Security accounts, so that workers can decide for themselves what to do with their retirement money.
Whether you agree with these ideas or not, they are all original, small government solutions to the social problems that the Democrats have usually been most trusted on. Republicans have the advantage of the free market, which generates a great number of new ideas that can be made into government policy. But instead of attaching these ideas to problems they claim to care about most, Dems have instead attacked viciously, opposing a number of key measures. This simplistic opposition to progress is the greatest threat facing them; in a reform-minded America, they are quickly becoming the anti-reform party, the Ned Ludd Party.
Democrats have not been able to match Republicans in the battle for new ideas. Instead, they continually return to the old line: “If it moves, tax it; if it still moves; regulate it; and if it stops moving, subsidize it.” The party stands for nothing more than high taxes, big government, and sucking the brains out of unborn children.
As the The Economist pointed out this summer, “Opposition usually provides parties with a chance to recharge their intellectual batteries…. Nowadays you only have to compare the neo-conservative Weekly Standard with the leftish American Prospect to realize that intellectual excitement in Washington remains on the Right.”
Especially on the war on terror and the economy, Democrats have to offer something fresh. Stalling the creation of the Department of Homeland Security without a doubt led to the defeat of Senator Max Cleland in Georgia. Having two Congressmen fly to Baghdad to denounce President Bush hurt their election chances more than anything Richard Gephardt ever did.
Democrats have half-heartedly supported the war and offer no alternative to the war on terror. Which prompts voters to ask why they should want the Republican-lite variety instead of the real thing. On the economy as well, Dems attack the President on his economic leadership without a plan of their own.
Other than John Edward’s proposal to raise taxes, which is, of course, the dumbest thing you can do in a recession, Democrats have nothing. They are unwilling, as are some Republicans, to cut spending and lower taxes. Even if the economy tanks, Democrats must still have a logical proposal in 2004 if they are to retake power. The Ned Ludd Party needs to offer an alternative, not just denounce everything the Bush administration does.
In the end, ideas are what matter. Democrats need new policies, especially on matters such as national security. Liberal think-tanks must propose creative solutions to problems. Otherwise the Dems will be fighting a defensive battle, and losing the war.
America is changing, demographically, economically and ideologically. If the Democrats are to survive as a party, if they are to bring anything to the table other than more taxes and regulation, they must shed their simplistic opposition to change.
Voters are too smart for the shrill Ned Ludd routine year after year. And if they don’t find a new act, Democrats will not be a serious party for much longer.
The column above is from The Tartan, the student-run campus newspaper at Carnegie Mellon University. Suneal Chandran is a sophomore staff writer with the paper. The Fox News Channel is available to Carnegie Mellon students through their campus cable system.