The Public Interest

The visions of the Democratic Party

Samuel P. Huntington

Spring 1985

THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY lacks a vision. Few propositions about politics in 1984 command more consent than this. Is it, however, meaningful, relevant, or even accurate? Do major political parties have visions? When have they in the past? It can be plausibly argued that as collective entities major political parties generally do not have visions; they have platforms, issues, themes perhaps, which are quite different things from visions. Small, extremist, ideological parties, on the other hand, usually do have visions, often quite elaborate and precisely articulated ones. The absence of party vision may well be a sign of strength and vigor rather than the reverse. Individual political leaders, on the other hand, can and do have visions. At times such visions have been articulated with compelling urgency: John F. Kennedy’s vision of a country “moving again”; Ronald Reagan’s of a country “standing tall”; and, most notably and effectively, Martin Luther King’s dream of a country where race did not count and everyone was “free at last.” These visions helped to promote more active and interventionist foreign policies, more robust national defenses, and federal action against racial discrimination and segregation.

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