Politics & Prose July 2004


An advance look at the speech John Kerry will—or at any rate should—deliver at next week's Democratic convention in Boston

My fellow Democrats, my fellow Americans:

"Here, the people rule," nineteenth-century Americans delighted in telling king-ruled European travelers. Here, the people rule. Few Americans would make that claim today. Money rules today. In 2002 Democrats and reform Republicans took a first step toward ending money rule, passing a bill banning "soft money," the unlimited contributions made to both parties by powerful special interests. It was called the McCain-Feingold Act, but I think it will come to be known as the "Save the Soul of the Democratic Party Act." For it began a process of reform that is returning our party to the people.

John Edwards and I have raised millions and will raise more. But not a penny from soft money. In November, with your help, we will go to the White House without a golden chain around our necks—something unprecedented since the advent of soft-money in the 1970s.

Yes, more reform is needed, and, starting with full federal funding of Congressional campaigns and a mandate to broadcasters to provide free time on the public airwaves for the public's chief business, we will get it done. But, thanks to McCain-Feingold, we will be free to serve the public interest as no administration has in modern times.

When we leave office, I want it said of us that we routed the special interests. I want it said of us that before every decision we asked, "Is this good for America?" Not, "Is this good for our contributors?" I want it said of us that we made it possible for Americans once more to declare with pride, "Here, the people rule."

That is the central message of our party. We have no reason for being if we forget it. One Bush Republican party is enough. "Some people call you the elite," the President quipped before an audience of corporate executives. "I call you my base." He never spoke truer words. That elite rules his party, though not the Republican party of Senator McCain and his fellow Republican reformers. The future, I am convinced, belongs to them—to a reformed GOP facing a reformed Democratic party. But first Bush has to go. It falls to us to deliver both parties from his elite.

Our tradition prepares us for this task. The Democratic party began on just this note of bipartisan reform. Andrew Jackson stated our credo 174 years ago in his message to Congress vetoing the Bank of the United States, an eighty-percent privately owned corporation that had been awarded the keeping of government deposits and protected from competition by government fiat. "The rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes," Jackson declared.

Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought to make themselves richer by act of Congress. Social inequalities will always exist, but when the laws undertake to add to natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics and laborers—who have neither the time nor the means of securing such favors for themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice to their Government.

Jackson's target was not inequality. He was a reformer; not a revolutionary. His target was favoritism, cronyism, inequality on government-furnished stilts. Government, he said memorably, should "confine itself to equal protection, and, as heaven does its rains, shower its favors on the high and the low, the rich and the poor."

How has the Bush Administration matched up against the basic American value of "equal protection"? Like "heaven does its rains," has it "showered its favors on the high and the low"? The record is clear.

Senior citizens wanted a prescription drug benefit under Medicare, one that would cover the drugs they need and lower their cost. But they had neither the time nor the means to be heard in Washington. The drug companies had both, and their stenographers in the Republican leadership took down their words. Wrote a bill that gave billions in subsidies to big insurance companies to administer the drug benefit—a "benefit" that blocked the federal government from using its buying power to bargain down the cost of drugs on behalf of seniors, and that offered only spotty coverage. The drug and insurance companies contributed millions to Mr. Bush in 2000 and to Republican congressional candidates in 2002—and they got what they paid for.

Citizens of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New England wanted the Clean Air act enforced against midwestern power plants; particle emissions were killing their lakes and giving their kids asthma. But they had neither the time nor the means to be heard in Washington. The power companies did. They lavished campaign contributions on the Bush Republicans, and got what they paid for—permission to pollute till the last lake downwind dies.

Presented by

Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992). More

Jack Beatty"The Atlantic Monthly is an American tradition; since 1857 it has helped to shape the American mind and conscience," senior editor Jack Beatty explains. "We are proud of that tradition. It is the tradition of excellence for which we were awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. It is the tie that binds us to our past. It is a standard we won't betray."

Beatty joined The Atlantic Monthly as a senior editor in September of 1983, having previously worked as a book reviewer at Newsweek and as the literary editor of The New Republic.

Born, raised, and educated in Boston, Beatty wrote a best-selling biography of James Michael Curley, the Massachusetts congressman and governor and Boston mayor, which Addison-Wesley published in 1992 to enthusiastic reviews. The Washington Post said, "The Rascal King is an exemplary political biography. It is thorough, balanced, reflective, and gracefully written." The Chicago Sun-Times called it a ". . . beautifully written, richly detailed, vibrant biography." The book was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle award.

His 1993 contribution to The Atlantic Monthly's Travel pages, "The Bounteous Berkshires," earned these words of praise from The Washington Post: "The best travel writers make you want to travel with them. I, for instance, would like to travel somewhere with Jack Beatty, having read his superb account of a cultural journey to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts." Beatty is also the author of The World According to Peter Drucker, published in 1998 by The Free Press and called "a fine intellectual portrait" by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Book Review.

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