A party united

By Daniel Stratford

Boston College campus (FotoCommunity.com - Abakam)

If there is anything that warms the heart of a devoted political science major, especially one active in the political realm, it is the great spectacle of party conventions and conferences.

Without a doubt, political parties are the epitome of political participation, incorporating everyone from normal voters and grassroots organizers and poll-checkers to state and federal party leaders. This stimulation of participation elevates political parties to the realm of the “great chains of being” of the body politic. This is not to say they are a monolithic Alpha and Omega of politics, but they aid greatly in linking together the myriad factors, issues and processes involved in elections and making the electoral process that much more efficient.

This is why I was so excited to have the honor of attending the College Democrats of Massachusetts Convention at Boston College this past weekend. There is nothing more enjoyable, in the opinion of this writer, than traversing the corners of our great commonwealth with his compatriots from the Student Government Association and the University of Massachusetts Democrats, who often belong to both organizations. This alone is a testament to how much of a community-builder politics can be – it not only is a vehicle for advancing the people’s business, but ensuring the continuity of that sometimes amorphous mass of “the people” itself.

Though there is a great temptation to use this column as a veritable wellspring of adulation for the Massachusetts Democratic Party, it would be in the better interest of the public to describe who was present there and the implications for the upcoming elections in 2012.

Though it is fashionable to speculate about whom the Democratic Party will field to challenge Scott Brown for his seat in the United States Senate, there was a plethora of viable candidates who could readily rise to the challenge, from Massachusetts Senator Ben Downing, to Alan Khazei, Bob Massie, and Mayor of Newton Setti Warren.

Khazei in particular stood out not just for his philosophical adherence to progressive causes, but for his involvement in acts of social entrepreneurship that prove his temporal commitment to them. Downing is always a welcome presence, and serves as a testament to the maturity and propensity towards deliberation that still flourishes in the Massachusetts State Senate.

He serves as the honorary chairman of College Democrats of Massachusetts, a position previously held by the late Edward Kennedy. In my humble opinion Downing has been one of the most fervent and determined advocates for Western Massachusetts in that most august body.

The presence of these great personalities was certainly welcome, especially considering the precarious balance of power in the federal Senate and the equally precarious federal budget situation. This is a resounding example of why party conferences and conventions such as that at Boston College, even on the university level, are such an important instrument in the management of our great republic – they allow the convergence of the elected, candidates for election and the most devoted portion of their electors in the same place.

However, one of the most moving speakers of that storied weekend was Ayanna Pressley, one of four at-large councilors of the Boston City Council, and the first black woman elected to that position. Her biography of rapid advancement through the ranks of American society, from the tribulation of poverty to the position of at-large city councilor, is inspiring, and a fitting example to all who seek elected office. What was particularly outstanding about Pressley’s address on Sunday was her commitment to the sanctity of the legislature – the idea of governing in the best interest of the people rather than by the people’s opinion alone, imperceptive and imperfectly informed as it may be.

Though some may decry this principle as radically authoritarian, with conventional wisdom being that the role of the legislator is to act as a mere tool of their constituents, it in reality harkens back to the very birth of modern conservatism under Anglo-Irish Member of Parliament and political philosopher Edmund Burke. Burke enumerated in a speech to his constituents in Bristol, England in 1774, that, despite the fact that he as their representative ought to “…live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication…” with their constituents, he also owed his constituents “…not only his industry, but also his judgment; and he [would] betray, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

It is ironic that this bedrock principle of classical conservatism – which the author of this column greatly respects and meticulously studies, despite his progressive sympathies – has faded so far into the channels of political thought that a thoroughly progressive Democrat from Boston has come to identify it as one of her own. This should not be perceived as devious or straying from the message of the Democratic Party. In fact, from talking with my fellow delegates at the convention, it seemed to be right on par with our party’s message – that our nation is, at heart, a civic-mined republic, with popular participation necessary for purposes of legitimacy, but with government serving as the enlightened standard-bearers of the people. In this sense, the truest irony is that modern Democrats are the real little “r” republicans in the American body politic, especially among our generation.

The convention served as a similar entity, though perhaps somewhat detached from the tendencies of a civic republic, being a strictly intra-party organization. However, the principle behind the convention remained the same – that political parties unite generations of activists. They are incubators of political leadership on both sides of the spectrum. However, as made evident by Pressley’s partial resurrection of the philosophy of Burke, it, in the opinion of the author, sometimes just takes a Democrat to pragmatically govern.

Dan Stratford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].