The term above was synonymous with the Democratic Party well into the 1930s. Republicans didn't object because they, like many of the Framers, saw "democracy" as the mob, as opposed to our representative form of government.
Tonight's first debate will allow us to take soundings of the Democratic presidential candidates. It will surely be more substantive than the GOP Klown Kar shows. But I don't expect much from the questioners or the mainstream media. For example, the usually excellent McClatchy D.C. bureau produced a set-up story asking such hardball questions as, "Will Clinton be able to articulate a softer side...?"
The last time we elected a candidate people wanted to have a beer with, we got George W. Bush. Warren G. Harding was also a charming fellow.
Meanwhile, the victim/'ism" politics and symbolism that all right-thinking people (in the liberal echo chamber) agree upon will not win a general election.
So, a bit of a reality check.
The president is the chief of one branch of one segment of our federated form of government. Any candidate needs to make the point that she or he can only get so far as long as this broken and radical Republican Party controls the Congress (and most statehouses). None will state this important truth because it would imply weakness.
It didn't matter. In office, Roosevelt was highly effective, not least for his willingness to experiment, to "do something" to address the nation's suffering. Nobody would have presumed to want a brewski with the Squire of Hyde Park. But FDR had overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress. Without this, the Depression would have lingered at its worst and perhaps produced a revolution (and the only revolution that ever worked out reasonably well was ours).
Today, we face a host of issues that the Republicans will not even acknowledge. Can we expect "the Democracy" to even hint at them? Here are a few:
1. The Deep State. This goes beyond the Military-Industrial-Congressional complex and has been made much worse since 9/11 and the Cheney presidency: a permanent, unelected and unaccountable secret bureaucracy that costs a trillion dollars a year and threatens our liberties.
As I've written before, I think history will judge Barack Obama much better than contemporary feelings. But there's a fascinating backbeat to David Bromwich's Harper's essay, "What Went Wrong?" It is how the idealistic, anti-war new president was co-opted or frightened into taking a different course by this powerful shadow government.
The Deep State must be outed and tamed. Will a Democrat step up?
2. Endless war. Why are we still wasting money on Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting in Yemen, financing a proxy war in Syria — all without the congressional approval demanded by the Constitution? Why are we antagonizing Russia with no sense of history or that other nations have interests, too?
None of this is in our national interest. Indeed, it is making us weaker. It is hurting our economy — "military Keynesianism" does not repay its investment (nobody is invading us). It is also further coarsening an already coarse society with sometimes lethal consequences on the home front.
Meanwhile our legitimate defense needs are not being met with such scandalous procurement problems as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which will not fare well when the next war comes with a "peer competitor." What say you, Democrats?
3. The reality of the economy. We've lost millions of well-paid jobs and more are on the way out, merely from offshoring but also a new generation of automation, robots and artificial intelligence. The "gig economy" is mostly newspeak for desperate freelancers and temps lacking the secure, full-time jobs with benefits that built the American middle class.
If I hear one candidate talk about "roads and bridges" tonight, the television goes off (if not out the window). We have too many roads and bridges. What we do need is investment in 21st century infrastructure such as high-speed rail, rebuilding our conventional passenger rail system, rail transit, etc. This would create not only construction jobs but permanent ones in building/maintaining the trains and operating them.
We need to be spending on research, seeding new industries such as clean(er) energy, etc. These investments — funded partly by borrowing at some of the most favorable interest rates in history — will more than repay their initial costs. It will create an economy that grows out of debt — the only way it can be done.
Hillary Clinton has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Is she ready to move beyond the entire neoliberal agenda?
Finally, we need to return to a progressive tax system, get big money out of politics, and make unionization easier. Sanders will no doubt shine on the rhetoric here. But the successful candidate must convince the white working class that these things are in their interest — and get a progressive Congress.
Hovering over all this is climate change. Our entertainment is dominated by zombies and we see terrorists under every bed overseas (but never among the groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center). But here is a genuine existential threat. Meeting it will require fundamental changes. Who will tell the people?
This column is meant as a starting point. During and after the debate, I look forward to your thoughts.