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Tom Reston: Returning Today's Democratic Party to its First Principles

Macmillan Publishers

For years, many political observers have asked “What’s wrong with the Democratic Party today?” One of today’s prominent political writers believes Democrats have caused much of their own current grief by departing from their historical core principles.

The writer is Tom Reston. If his last name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the middle son of the legendary political writer James Reston who plied his craft, principally in the New York Times, from the mid-1930s to the early 1990s. Like his dad, Tom Reston tries to make sense out of what sometimes seems a senseless political landscape. And to those who say today’s Democratic Party is a mess, Reston replied, “What else is new?”

“It’s always been a mess. It’s never really hung together. Except every once in a while they are able to bring themselves together and create a public narrative, a coherent explanation about why the nation should place its trust in the Democrats,” he observed.

Instead, believed Reston, today’s Democratic Party tries to be all things to many different disconnected groups of people.

“It is very fragmented based on different identities and there is no effort to get the groups to talk to one another. There’s no effort to construct a coherent narrative about why the groups should hang together.”

Reston has written a new book entitled: “Soul of a Democrat. The Seven Core Ideals that Made the Party and the Country Great.” The most fundamental of which, he asserted, dates back to the time of Andrew Jackson. Brutal racist though Jackson may have been, Reston thought he laid down a fundamental marker upon which the Democratic Party would be based for more than one hundred years. It would be the party of the “little guy;” “the outsider.”

“It was the beginning of the Democratic core ideal of economic justice. Well what does the ‘outsider’ mean in America today? Who is the ‘outsider?’ What kinds of ‘outsiders’ do Democrats stand for? Why don’t they stand for ALL ‘outsiders’ instead of just a few discrete groups of outsiders?”

Reston asserted there are 7 Democratic Party principles in all:

“They are: the party of the people, the fight for the outsider, the social gospel, a faith in ideas, economic security for all, and in foreign policy, ‘redeemer nation,’ which is a combination of high ideals and hard interests and all persons are created equal.”

Which led him to write his latest work.

“It’s sort of a guide book for how to conduct the conversation about these various elements of the Democratic Party’s soul and how you might put the contradictions inside the soul, how you might compose the contradictions and put them back together.”

Reston is now in Tallahassee and he’ll be at Midtown Reader this Saturday, Jan. 12 to expand on all these ideas in person.

“I’m going to be answering questions about my book. It’s going to be at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening. It’s a very interesting community and I imagine there are people with all stripes of opinion and I’m looking forward to talking about a different kind of Democratic Party.”

It’s a discussion that should interest political fans of any party affiliation.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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