Republicans believe that yesterday was better than today, and Democrats believe that tomorrow can be better than today.
I don't mean this as a sarcastic jibe or as a dismissive putdown. Central to the conservative message is the idea that things were better some unspecified period of time ago. For some it is probably as short as a few years ago under President Bush before Obama got elected, for more it was probably the 1980s under Reagan, and still others yearn for a mythical 1950s that never really existed. This fetishizing of the past is probably most apparent in the Religious Right's cries of "the moral decline of America" and "the destruction of the nuclear family." But it's not constrained only to the socially conservative. When the call goes out to combat "job killing overregulation" it is inherently a call to return to a simpler time before such regulations were put in place. Whether socially or economically, Republicans tell us, the only way for things to get better is for us to go back.
And that's where we part ways, because there's a reason that Democrats are called "progressives." We view our history not as a mythical paradise to which we yearn to return but as the ongoing story of our nations struggle to improve itself. Because when I hear talk of the moral decay of America, I don't think "they're right, gay people marrying is going to ruin everything," instead I remember that in the 80s we ignored the AIDS epidemic, in the 60s segregation was the law, before that lynchings were common, further back we had racial slavery, and all I can think is "surely we are better now." When I hear corporate lobbyists decrying regulations I remember that before regulations were put into place to stop them their bosses sold tainted food, employed child labor, and chained workers inside burning factories. I remember that preceding the passage of these "burdensome" regulations their was inevitably some disaster, humanitarian or financial, large or small, caused inevitably by greed, that it was designed to prevent from happening again. And I think "surely we are better now."
And more I think "can't it be better still?" A black man is 3.5X more likely to receive the death penalty compared to a white man for the same crime. Women still receive .77 cents on the dollar for the same work. The wealthy can still crash the global economy in unregulated markets in the quest for even greater wealth. Surely we can do better than that. And that's what the Democratic Party fights for.
While beloved by the Right, the Founding Fathers are not much listened to. The put in the preamble to the Constitution our nation's purpose:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.They knew then what we know now: we are a great nation, but not a perfect one. Indeed our job is to become "a more perfect union," to do better than those who came before us, to learn from our mistakes.
I believe that tomorrow can be better than today.