Defining Dems II
Column by David Cox
Throughout their history, Democrats have been the party of opportunity. It still is.
Last week, I called it the party of ideals rather than ideology, which is why Democrats generally govern more effectively than Republicans. One of its fundamental ideals is for every American to share in the opportunity of this nation. I think this ideal is the second defining mark of Democrats, in history and today.
Last week 231 years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal.” With that ideal in mind, he wrote into Virginia’s constitution the mandate of providing an education for each child at public expense. He saw that education provides the ticket for a person to advance in life. No less important, an educated citizenry, he believed, is essential to preserve the democracy that the Declaration of Independence proclaimed.
Both remain true.
Andrew Jackson swept into office as a “man of the people,” an orphan who became president. He spent his years opposing privileged elites who in his view held down average folk. His ideal was practiced by Franklin Roosevelt, who provided the protection of the Social Security system, and who brought electricity to farms like the one in Tennessee where my father grew up.
We take such things for granted, but it took strong and visionary leadership to accomplish them. So, too, we take for granted the ideal that every qualified citizen over 21 gets to vote. When I was a child, it wasn’t so. Democrats were the ones who led the effort to end discrimination, for denying the right to vote because of the color of one’s skin violated the ideal of equal opportunity for all.
Sadly, many Democrats in Virginia stood against this, as they also stood against equal opportunity in education (read, “integrated schools”). And Lyndon Johnson correctly predicted the demise of his own party in the South because of the civil-rights position he held. He acted, though, not out of political expediency, but because of what he believed.
Now, what right-minded person would disagree?
So what are the challenges of our day? Let me cite two. First, and perennially, education. It is still the ticket to success. John Edwards, born to a mill-working family, was the first of his clan to attend college. He now runs for the presidency. But a first-rate education these days demands a first-rate start.
Tim Kaine was elected governor on the pledge to provide pre-kindergarten opportunities for any child whose parents wish it. I support him completely, because I know that the pre-K experience makes a difference. A superintendent of schools once told me that every child that came to kindergarten from Yellow Brick Road, the largest early-education center in Lexington, came ready to learn. And a national leader in secondary schools said that to increase high-school graduation rates, start with pre-school.
YBR-type programs pay dividends. They should be available for any parents who want their child to have it.
At the other end, community colleges like Dabney S. Lancaster provide outstanding opportunities for those who may not be able otherwise to get to college. Teaching this last year at DSLCC has impressed me with the interest and ambition of the students. Many are taking advantage of new programs that provide them entrance to universities to complete their four-year baccalaureates.
But Dabney, like all the community colleges, very much needs more support in order to maintain and advance a mission that is truly crucial for many people in our area to get an education that will advance them, equip them to serve us all, and promote that educated democracy Jefferson envisioned.
A second issue that concerns me is voting. Votes don’t matter when the outcome is foreordained by politicians who draw safe districts for themselves. Gerrymandering became the political game that Democrats and now Republicans have been playing to keep themselves in power. It was wrong for Democrats, and it’s wrong for Republicans. For that reason, I, like Creigh Deeds, support removing the redistricting process from the realm of politics as much as possible.
With the next redistricting to follow the 2010 census, now is the time to act. We fought a revolution on ideals such as the equality of opportunity. Upholding the ideal remains for us to strive to fulfill.
David Cox is the Democratic Party nominee in the 24th Senate District. This column appeared in the Rockbridge Weekly on July 3.
The views expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect those of management of The Augusta Free Press.