Since the rise of the moderate and conservative factions of the Democratic Party in the late 1980's, it has become regularly accepted party dogma that it is necessary to change the Democratic Party in order to appeal to business, "moderates" and "swing voters." Crudely, the basic proposition behind this philosophy goes like this:
In order to appeal to "moderates,""swing voters," and business leaders, Democrats need to pass laws that appeal to such people.
I am not going to debate this proposition right now. Instead, I would like to offer a different tactic:
When in power, Democrats need to pass laws that structurally alter the electorate and make it more friendly to progressive ideals.
The next time there is either a Democratic President or Congress, here are some legislative suggestions that may not appeal to business, swing voters or "moderates," but would go a long way to toward a structural realignment of the electorate favorable to progressive politicians:
Pass national, public and private-sector card check.
As a union organizer I am biased, but I cannot think of a single piece of legislation that over the long term would improve the lives of more Americans or better allow for a future, progressive America to come into being. It is entirely possible that if national public and private sector card check were passed in 2005, by 2025 union membership as a percentage of the workforce would triple to around 40%.
There are few, if any, better demographic indicators of how a region will vote than union membership as a percentage of the workforce. In 2000, Al Gore won 20 states. Only two of those states were not in the top twenty of all states in terms of union membership as a percentage of the workforce. Just imagine how politics in this country would change if nationwide union membership was three times its current level. Just imagine how the power structure in this country would change. It is Holy Grail kind of stuff.
Universal Voter Registration
While states have a significant amount of control over voting eligibility, it would not be impossible to pass legislation guaranteeing a person's right to vote simply based upon being an American citizen--no registration required, no circumstances under which it can be revoked. Perhaps a constitutional amendment would be necessary. Still, by outlawing disenfranchisement for any cause, this legislation would probably significantly increase the percentage of non-white voters in the electorate.
In 2000, according to CNN exit polls, only 22% of minorities voted for Bush. However, due to extreme voter disenfranchisement (based significantly upon recent crime legislation and criminal prosecution patterns), minorities only made up 20% of the voting population. According to the 2000 U.S. census, non-Hispanic whites constituted 69.1% of the population. Assuming both the census and the CNN exit polls are correct, had whites and non-whites voted in equal proportion to their percentage of the population as a whole, Gore would have received 52.18% of the vote, and Bush would only have received 44.05%--a 7.6% shift to Gore.
D.C. and Puerto Rican Statehood
While public sector card check and universal voter registration can be passed on state levels by Democratic Governors and legislators in lieu of Federal legislation, adding new states to the country requires Federal approval. If D.C. statehood is not passed the next time Democrats control the House, Senate and White House, the party should fold up tents. With D.C. statehood, 600,000 citizens who have committed no crime other than living in D.C. would be allowed to vote in Congressional elections. This is not even to mention that it would bring the Democrats one seat closer to a majority in the House, and put two Senate seats in the bag.
Puerto Rican Statehood is trickier, since within the last decade Puerto Rican voters have narrowly rejected becoming a state on two occasions (FWIW, independence never received more than 10% of the vote in either referendum). Further, Puerto Rico has its own political parties, so it is not clear whether Puerto Rican statehood would make the electorate more progressive or not. Still, if Puerto Rico and D.C. were both states, it is quite possible that Tom Daschle would still be majority leader, that Democrats would only be three or four seats down in the House, and that Kerry would have eight more electoral votes as part of his base come November.
I do not dispute that it is often necessary to appear "moderate" in order to win elections. However, sometimes looking tough on crime results in massive disenfranchisement of your own voters. Other times, "not bowing to Big Labor" weakens your most powerful supporter while further strengthening some of the most powerful supporters of your advisory. Elections are not all about image. Organization, material power and the demographic structure of the electorate are also extremely important. For Democrats to oppose D.C. statehood, private sector card check, and universal voter registration is to engage in slow, long-term suicide. If, in order to look "moderate," you help pass a law that structurally tilts the electorate in favor of conservatives, it will not be long before you are once again viewed as a flaming liberal.
Update: I produced a diary defining card-check and listing some of its advantages.