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I would like to build off my reply to Adam’s post about the principles of liberalism by saying the one thing I never thought I’d say: take a look at Tom DeLay’s retirement speech from the House floor yesterday.

For those of you who can’t bear the thought of any more DeLay than is absolutely necessary, I’ll excerpt it here.

“Liberalism, after all, whatever you may think of its merits, is a political philosophy and a proud one with a great tradition in this country, with a voracious appetite for growth.

In any place or any time on any issue, what does liberalism ever seek, Mr. Speaker? More—more government, more taxation, more control over people's lives and decisions and wallets. If conservatives don't stand up to liberalism, no one will. And for a long time around here, almost no one did.”

DeLay shows us the problem with the blue-red divide within America. It is characterizations like these.

Indeed, I believe the Hammer to have, pardon the pun, nailed the problem right on its head. Too often, Democrats come across as tax-happy spendthrifts who claim to know exactly what’s good for you, whether or like it or not. While this philosophy is obviously an exaggeration, it has its basis in some ugly facts.

Democrats seem to be quite fond of taking your money and sending it halfway around the world. I agree that we should be spending more on foreign aid—because, after all, we live in a global world where civil strife thousands of miles away will inevitably affect our peace at home—but I understand the plight of many Americans confused as to why Democrats want to send their money to Africa when there are people starving and unemployed here at home. And foreign aid is only one example of a correct policy that is often the victim of Republican mudslinging.

Democrats need to take control of the debate, and for this problem, I offer a three-pronged approach:

1) Spend wisely. Let’s take a look at the way we spend the taxpayers’ money. Citizens Against Government Waste estimates that approximately 29 billion dollars were spent on pork barrel projects in 2006 alone. This is an issue that stretches across party lines, but an issue Democrats can use to their advantage. Democrats should step up to the plate and take the lead on cutting spending. If Democratic senators and representatives can look past the short-term personal interests served by wasteful pork barrel spending, we can make the Republicans look pretty wasteful. We cannot allow the GOP to have a monopoly on fiscal responsibility. Democratic support for social welfare programs needs to be reexamined. I am not advocating we withdraw our admirable support for those who have fallen on hard times and need a safety net, but we need to make it clear that what our party is proposing is not a “get out of work free” pass, but rather just a hand to catch you and get you back to work when you fall on hard times. While this may be what the party already believes, we as a party seem to have trouble articulating our vision. We cannot concede the high ground to Republicans on this issue; we must make it clear that Democrats are for hard work and the American Dream every bit as much as the Republicans. This brings me to my second point, which is…

2) Articulate the vision.With a few exceptions—Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and Barack Obama come to mind—our party seems to be sorely lacking in an effective verbal advocate. Democrats are not all about liberal tax-and-spend policies, but that does not seem to be the impression of at least half of the country. We are the real party of fiscal responsibility, as the booming economy and Clinton surpluses of the 1990s show, but that is frequently overlooked. Too often, Democrats allow the Republicans to control the direction of the debate. It’s embarrassing. Take, for example, the recent leak of the 2006 DCC agenda (think a Democratic version of the Contract with America), which included, among other things, a hike in the federal minimum wage, reinstating pay-as-you-go budget rules, and… “a sixth plank that has not yet been settled upon.” Yes, we’ve got image problems in this country.

And 3) Explain yourselves. Want to send my tax dollars to Africa? That’s great, now explain it. I am a big advocate of increasing the foreign aid budget, and I’ll tell you why. If a civil war erupts in some two-bit banana republic in South America, no matter how unimportant the country is, it affects the entire region. This in turn destabilizes the world economy. Similarly, in today’s technological world, you can travel halfway around the globe in not much more than a day. Diseases know no borders. AIDS probably started when a few dozen African tribesmen ate some infected chimpanzees. A decade later, we had nothing short of a global health crisis on our hands, one that did not discriminate based on nationality or sexual orientation. If a man catches the flu in Indonesia, he could be on a plane and roaming around New York City within the day. We need to prevent epidemics before they happen, and sometimes, that means treating them before they reach our borders. But we need to make that clear to American voters. It’s easy to fall into trap of acting morally superior, but “it’s the right thing to do” just isn’t cutting it. While the moral obligation to help our starving brethren abroad exists, it isn’t an effective argument for increased foreign aid. Self-interest is. The reason we help those in need around the world isn’t out of selfless interests—it’s out of selfish ones. We want to alleviate conflict and disease abroad before it becomes a problem for us at home. That’s all there is to it, but we seem to have trouble making that clear to the voters.

I’m sure y’all are tired of hearing me beat the drum of the DLC, James Carville, and other moderate (and I believe, highly effective) Dem strategists, but you’re about to hear me again: We have got to learn how to defend ourselves. We need to stop worrying about BS issues Americans don’t care about—stop freaking out about big agribusiness farm subsidies, for example—and get our act together.

We must advocate a vision. We need to offer a way to get out of the mess in Iraq, propose a legitimate plan for the national defense and comprehensive immigration reform, and promise to and then actually cut wasteful spending. We can’t just be about negatives—the failed Busby campaign in California showed us that. Francine Busby ran a campaign that was almost entirely negative. She offered little to the voters of the 50th District in the way of political goals, but instead ran a campaign based on little more than the argument that “Republicans are evil, evil, evil.” She almost won on that alone, but almost isn’t good enough. The Republican Party is irreversibly corrupt, but that alone is not an argument on behalf of Democrats.

To take back our rightful control of the House and Senate in ’06, we have to construct and then successfully advocate for a real vision for America.

But let's start tomorrow. Tonight, feel free to crack open that bottle of champagne (I'll buy), let your hair down, and celebrate the fact that Washington will soon be rid of Tom DeLay.