Since losing the presidency and assuming its status as the unqualified minority in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, there has been a good deal of talk about the Democratic Party becoming simply the “Party of No!”

This role, made infamous by Republicans over the past eight years, culminated in the cynically unconstitutional and treasonously un-American act of refusing even to consider a president’s Supreme Court nominee, reducing public respect for our government to an all-time low. It has also led to the election of superficially popular but governmentally dysfunctional “strong men.”

For Democrats to reprise this role would, I believe, be a tragic mistake, both for their party and for our country.

“But it worked,” some Democrats argue. Aren’t Republican victories in recent elections proof that saying or, more accurately, just shouting, “No!” works? I don’t think so. Our current president may be a Republican in name, but the reason he was elected and whatever he may espouse at any given moment have only accidental and temporary relationships to any programs that Republicans have proposed over the past eight years.

He is our president not because of anything “Republicanism” stands for, but because he was able to win the votes of (or at least convince not to vote) millions of people who voted for Democrats in 2008 and 2012, particularly several hundred thousand voters in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.

He won not because these voters suddenly “saw the light” about Republicans, but because they were fed up with Democrats. Millions of dollars were wasted on tired slogans about “fighting for working families” and “making ‘the rich’ pay their fair share.”

Whatever Democrats say they stand for, it certainly hasn’t resonated with enough people to maintain, much less build, on the party’s electoral totals of 2008. This failure and the electoral results noted above hardly bode well for a new, louder message of “No!” If our state and our country are to maintain a healthy two-party system, and if one of those parties is not to be a fearful, backward looking, white, Christian fundamentalist, nationalist party, Democrats and Republicans have to do better than “No!”

As a longtime observer and commentator on public policy trends in Maine, I have more than a few suggestions about what both Democrats and Republicans should propose and discuss in their legislative deliberations. But before elaborating on any specific ideas (more on these later), I think it is more important to set the context in which they (or any others) should be considered.

Our government operates on four P’s: principles, programs, parties and people.

• Principles are foundational beliefs on which our society does or ought to operate – all people are “endowed by their creator” with “inalienable rights,” all people have the right to exercise their liberty as they choose, the right of a government to restrict the rights of its people (have laws) derives only from the assent of those people.

• Programs are specific laws and actions designed to achieve a particular purpose – public funding of education, a minimum wage, limitations on degree of control of a given market, fundamental research about the laws of nature, maintenance of a healthy environment.

• Parties are groups of people who try to gain the electoral support of sufficient numbers of people to acquire, change and use the powers of government.

• People (often, but increasingly less frequently, grouped in family or other household units) are the fundamental unit of society; the possessors, creators and pursuers of the “happiness” documented in our Declaration of Independence; the ultimate purpose of government and its only source of legitimacy.

To my mind, the reason that respect for government is declining and the reason why “No!” is a recipe for continued failures in what Lincoln called our “experiment” in democracy is that both parties have become trapped looking down at the fourth P rather than up at the first two. They have become trapped in a vast marketing campaign to win votes – a perpetual search for whatever is “trending” at the moment – to the exclusion of any consideration of what principles they espouse and what programs will actually attract people to them rather than drive them away from “the other guy.”

There is, I believe, a tremendous opportunity for both so-called major parties to develop positive programs to which people are ready to say “Yes!” if only they can be explained in their own right apart from the rigid and increasingly irrelevant marketing slogans of the past.

Charles Lawton, Ph.D., is a consulting economist. He can be contacted at:

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