Skeleton of a Manifesto

What does should the Democratic Party stand for, as determined by you and me, a wild bunch of liberal/progressive bloggers?

There are issues, and then there are principles.  I’m a principles and process person, so this post is about principles.  (It’s okay, you can put the stem cell research funding on the entry table, it’ll still be there for you on your way out.)  Of course issues are hugely important, since they’re what impact people’s everyday lives.  To have a coherent platform – to have something which the whole party stands for – I believe those positions on issues must flow from our principles.  I want you to question the biiiiiiiiiiig, obvious ones.  I want you to ask “Why?” ad nauseam, like a seven-year-old child questioning a parent.

What principles of government can we all agree upon?  Pointedly, I am not saying, “Why can’t we all get along?”  If you disagree on a point, I want to hear why.  If there’s nothing you disagree with off the bat, I challenge you to find something.  What is missing or miscategorized?  If you think something is of core importance, even if it’s blindingly obvious, I want to hear about that most of all.

Crossposted at Daily Kos

First, let’s throw out some overarching constructs (feel free to skim down to the Principles of Government section if you like):

Government exists for people to obtain individual liberty, limited by the prevention and amelioration of harm to others.

To the traditional core value of freedom/liberty, we add equality of opportunity.

Freedom – It is part of the meaning of life.  It means one can use one’s mind.  It also means one has the capacity, responsibility, and resources to keep oneself alive and choose one’s course.  A human being is sovereign over oneself; a person possesses self-determination.  Without that, one is a slave, less than human.

Responsibility – One is also responsible for oneself, both to oneself and to other people whose lives one influences.  A citizen must be well-informed and must proactively claim one’s liberty, or else one is not fully free.

Accountability – This is the means for enforcing responsibility upon those with power.  Its elements are:

  • Information – Objectively factual information is a prerequisite for rational government.  In its absence, anyone can come up with postulates that justify anything.  In our dealings with each other, we are empiricists.
  • Consequences – Accountability must be consequential, or it is meaningless.  (For example, subpoena power does not truly exist with impeachment “off the table.”)

Internally to our federal government, accountability is also known as “checks and balances.”  Between the federal government and the citizens, the accountability mechanisms are speech, petition, assembly, election, demonstration, disobedience, revolt, and some more in between.

Power – Although there are many kinds of power, most fall under two categories:

  • Political power – Ability to influence what people do, can do, and can’t do
  • Economic power – Control of property, physical objects, and money

Power over others is fine so long as it falls within the consent of the governed.  When an individual accrues too much power, that person can break down the other guiding principles and destroy liberty.

When we rely upon the good will of someone who has power, we lose.  A deal lacking incentives or consequences is folly.  (The root of our current predicament isn’t that the President violated our trust, it’s that anyone ever trusted him in the first place.)  Unaccountable power corrupts unaccountably.

To keep the scope manageable, this exploration is intentionally strong on individual rights and light on powers of government, federalism, and military matters.  Yes, most of this is straight out of the Constitution, but when much of the Constitution isn’t in effect, it’s past time we questioned its content.  Now, on to our compilation of principles.

Principles of Government

Individual liberty and self-determination

Consent of the governed

Social contract (Constitution)

Rule of law

Limited power of government

  • Officials’ power only what the law allows, no less and no more
  • Separation of powers among the legislature, executive, and judiciary
    • Legislature makes the law
    • Executive carries out the law
    • Judiciary interprets the law

  • No ex post facto law
  • Human rights
    • Freedom of speech
    • Freedom of belief
    • Freedom of assembly
    • Petitions
    • Freedom and independence of the press
    • Self-defense
    • Privacy
    • Property

  • Individual judicial rights
    • Innocent until proven guilty (better ten guilty people go free than one innocent person go to jail)
    • No double jeopardy
    • No mandatory self-incrimination
    • Trial by jury of peers
    • Legal representation
    • No excessive bail
    • No cruel punishment

Political accountability

  • Open election of lawmakers
  • Representation proportionate to population
  • Checks and balances between the legislature, executive, and judiciary
  • Governmental transparency and openness
  • Civilian power over the military
  • Prosecutorial and judicial accountability
    • Ability to challenge detention before an impartial judge (habeas corpus)
    • Judge-issued warrant with probable cause for searches
    • No detention without formal charges
    • Public charges
    • Trial in jurisdiction of the alleged offense
    • Speedy trial
    • Ability to face accusers

Individual accountability

  • Equality before the law

Limited individual economic power

  • Competitiveness/antitrust
  • Worker protection
  • Consumer protection

Equality of opportunity

  • Medical care
  • Welfare
  • Retirement security

What do you think is essential for government?

Most of all, I’m pushing for a logical construct wherein any liberal/progressive making a point about a principle or issue can point back to the big-picture principles which we all share.

This post is in response to buhdydharma’s call for a liberal/progressive manifesto.

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    • Simplify on October 5, 2007 at 7:51 am

    Funny, while the poll question randomizer is a great idea for smoothing out responses, it totally messed with my nice little scale o’ liberty…

    • Pluto on October 5, 2007 at 8:07 am

    Excellent. You created a fine trellis upon which to grow a hardy vine of fidelity and vision.

    Okay. Brace yourself.

    I’m not so sure your assumptions about the nuts and bolts of a system of government are a good idea anymore. To wit:

    Separation of powers among the legislature, executive, and judiciary

    Legislature makes the law

    Executive carries out the law

    Judiciary interprets the law

    Okay, this is right out of an 8th grade civics book.

    However, I am beginning to think that the United States would be better served by a benevolent monarchy. With a shitty little parliament and a side dish of formal tradition.

    Think about it. That three part system of checks and balances has been is too easily tricked with a stupid electorate of corporate-programmed of “Manchurian Voters.”

    You can’t bribe a Monarch. And Royalty tends to rise to the occasion.

    I ask you to transcend your programming and consider a new way.

  1. In terms of a contemporary manifesto, could it be summed up as support for the US Constitution?  What would you add or take away from the Constitution we have, if anything?

  2. We are getting a work space together to start collating responses.

    Hopefully I will be pub’ing an essay on Monday asking for formal responses. This is a great start!

    • toys on October 5, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    Is it possible to have a lasting representative government when the people cease to participate actively in it? 

    What happens to a garden when it isn’t tended?

    What happens to a neighborhood when the people don’t maintain the common areas?

    What happens to schools when parents no longer participate in the upbringing?

    Sure, one can hire a gardener, or a street sweeper, or a tutor.  But the people that are hired will look after what’s best for themselves.

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